“There’s a little black spot on the sun today, It’s the same old thing as yesterday.” -Sting
My father self-admits to abandoning the 12 steps during his recovery because there were certain events from his past he preferred to ignore. “I didn’t want to apologize for things I don’t want to remember…there was nothing I could do about them.” Beyond memories of blackouts, broken objects, blind rages and road trips was a childhood full of hurts and overwhelming responsibilities. This is not an excuse. It’s an explanation. My father is the oldest of four boys. He started drinking when he was 9 discovering, while fishing for his dinner off a bridge, that a couple of beers took the edge off the sting of his father’s backhand, his mother’s ineptitude and poverty. In every other area of life my father sought knowledge, voraciously, recognizing information as a way out. He’s almost compulsive about it, but when it came to examining himself, the mirror is empty. Pain makes us want to forget which is why addiction and social abuses are so rampant. Pain is the result of our belief in our separateness from others, ourselves and from a neverending, unconditional source of love, which is sometimes called God. If I’m numb and putting down the next guy I can temporarily feel ok about myself. Most religions and tribal creation stories teach some theory of original sin, fault or separation from love and then give us accompanying instructions on how to reconnect; if you understand this as kind of important you might see why so many wars get fought over which god is the right one. Science refers to the whole thing as a big bang; an explosion of dark matter and light. Either way, once upon a time there was a fracture and it created divisions which resulted in wounds perpetuated by a universal fear of being unloved. Since the beginning of recorded history are mans’ attempts to conquer our inherent differences and vulnerabilities. Every 50 to 100 years since roughly 1200 BC there’s been some major war interspersed with peripheral battles of who’s right and who’s silenced. The big fight is always accompanied with a side of bickering. Christian! No! Jewish! No! Orthodox! No! Lutheran! No! Unitarian! No! Muslim! No! Buddhism! No! Pagan! No! Rastafarian! Maybe not, but legal weed is pretty cool so those guys can stay. One group distrusts and therefore rejects the unknown, misunderstood beliefs and lifestyles of the other until someone is defeated and someone else is declared the major, right minority. Several teachers have suggested we’re all equal and there’s actually enough of everything for everyone. While this is likely true, we’ve proven ourselves a stubborn bunch.
I showed up to my grandfather’s funeral weighing roughly 90 lbs. Going hungry’s been my preferred method for managing pain most of my life. Reconciliation with my father began in the street in front of his father’s house on the day of burying the dead. They’d both been sober by this time and mended more than a few fences. My dad said in part, his relationship repairs with his dad began when I was born. He suggested we not wait till his death to begin ours. Tragically it wasn’t alcohol that killed Aldege, but instead some foolish collision in a Walmart parking lot. I remember my Pepe as a tiny man with a big heart. He loved fish tanks, pastry, cigarettes, gardening and music. The men in my father’s family are equal parts addict and artist and anyway the two go hand in hand. I love my dad and respect how he’s managed to navigate life in spite of the hurdles. He’s done bad things, but is not the sum of those mistakes. Neither are we. Reconnecting took place through a series of letters we’d started writing when I was a freshman in college. He’d been a volatile drunk and I was, despite his sobriety, still afraid of him. Spending time alone with him meant getting to know him as a sober person and was built on his willingness to be honest, consistent and available and my willingness to be forgiving, self-possessed and open to the process. His sexual innuendos, sadly, didn’t end with his drinking but bother me less the older I get, mostly because I have the distance and freedom to determine my exposure and retain a litter box of my own ego defenses; humans are flawed by design, I think. Everyone, at any given moment is doing their absolute best. Over the course of my adulthood I’ve reshaped the archetype of my father from Bear to Papa Bear. The once towering man full of the rage of his own wounds is now a shrinking, bowlegged friend of the forest.
Pain and ignorance are initially, inextricably linked. At the moment of trauma our first cry is NO! We raise our fists and signs in protest and say it can not be despite the fact that it was or still is. We shove against reality because what we’ve been confronted with challenges our way of being and we discover ourselves devoid of any ability to manage the truth; like birth we come into the light, screaming. What is ignorance? Ignoring. To ignore something, consciously or otherwise is a choice. What are we ignoring? Painful circumstances we’ve no answer for or ability to solve. As a society we collectively acknowledge and direct our sympathies and charity toward things we agree on like certain cancers, veterans, abused and homeless animals, individuals with disabilities we can see and pronounce, visible poverty in foreign countries. We remain ignorant to, we ignore, every other social illness and injustice because it’s too painful, complex, deep, boring, intense or we can’t fathom a solution or retribution; including what is painful, misunderstood or unjust in our own lives. It’s a parallel process. A single mother with several children from various partners living in poverty refuses to acknowledge her current partner is molesting them. She chooses her partner over her kids calling them liars because she has no skills to manage the horror of reality and her own history of similar abuses which were never addressed because she was abandoned by her parents. I’m not speaking of any particular woman I’ve worked with but rather a composite of similar circumstances encountered in ten years of practice. It’s initially heartbreaking and defeating but if we’re to create space for repair a suspension of condemning judgement offers more hope. Time, understanding and efficacy help shift us from anger to acceptance. Acceptance allows us to see the changes needed to prevent people from continuing to choose turning a blind eye, hurting themselves or hurting others. Media teaches us to be very reactive, maybe as a way of demonstrating we care. Rabble! Rabble! It’s something we can do, now! I’ve found no sustainable peace or resolve in those moments of blame and aggression but impassioned anger does have its place. Failure to rage at intolerable cruelty leaves us open to repeat offenses. I found screaming in my car in the years following my divorce a cathartic outlet. My CODA sponsor encouraged the healthy anger I’d felt towards the people and behaviors which had been truly abusive, reminding me that acknowledging and labeling poison is our best defense from ever taking it again.
I’d agreed to have lunch with him. My dad drove an hour and a half north of Blackstone to pick me up and drive along the north shore from Bradford to a fishing wharf in southern New Hampshire known for their fresh smelt. I was curious about reconnecting with him since he’d consistently responded to my letters and was sending me much needed checks in the amount of $20 a week. I’d used the first month of checks to buy one of the seven books I’d considered stealing. The previous summer I’d saved enough in cash to pay rent and my portion of tuition almost to the dollar. Food, a car, books, supplies; a joke. I’d taken a work-study in the mail and copy center checking in box after box with a cow hide pattern. Anyway, I’m as old as pre-internet college and as poor as not affording a Gateway. The entire drive he graphically detailed everything wrong my mother had ever done in his opinion, how rampantly and blatantly she’d lied, her suffocating codependence, how she tricked him into getting her pregnant, how she left him at the very worst and sickest part of his disease and how that turned out to be his cure. He was grateful for all of it. I was ready to vomit in the passenger seat of the same truck he’d once pulled over on the side of the highway with my brother and sister, too drunk to get us home. I’d clung to the belief my mother was the saint she portrayed because believing anything else was too scary. Children especially defend their image of a parent because we’re biologically programmed to view separation as death. Mothers often remain sacred, mine was no exception. She was, after all, the one saddled with us, her 3 mostly accidental children. It’s an unfair reality; men can leave and no one has proof to condemn them for who or what they’ve left behind, but women often bare the marks and burden making it complicated for everyone. There was one day in particular during my divorce and its accompanying depression where I was laying on the floor of my studio apartment, negotiating a load of laundry against the abject weight of grief. I didn’t have the energy to cry, let alone eat or work my full time job (I did them anyway. I did them all anyway.) and thought of my mother and every other woman who’d married the wrong person and was left with children to care for. Good God! We barely knew how to care for ourselves. Buried in a beige rug in that moment I actually cried for my mother. The night my father dropped me off following our fish fry I’d had a nightmare about her; she’d died as if psychically wounded from my unspoken accusations and stared at me through the dish sink window of our Oak Bluffs house with that face of deep, maternal disapproval; How dare you judge me against his word. My guilt, her version of the truth…there was no winning. I loved them for what they’d given but needed to discern and embrace reality if I were to ever promise myself sanctuary beyond the past and self-abuse. I called bullshit with a heaping helping of compassion for all of us. Maybe it didn’t change them but it was the beginning of wisdom for me.
Certain pathologies are fixed as part of protecting a deeply wounded, fragile ego. The small inaugural crowd will end up being explained by a belief that we’re the uneducated, pathetic, neurotic, masses in need of their superior instruction. You don’t win in the traditional sense with a narcissist or their often unwitting entourage. This is all we know as right and good. I truly intend for the best because I’ve never seen or dare consider any other way. I recommend disengaging, healthy detachment. Making a life out of sarcastic memes, listing the obvious faults of a sociopath, belittling a culture or class, providing ourselves with convenient, oversimplified explanations provide temporary relief from our distress but offer no real change of hope. Too much venting feels like too much fast food; tasty now, tasteless later. Our pain becomes our prison usually because we believe we’re powerless to get out. The same is true for the king of his own pain. Rule the people, ignore the hurt. Leaving our family home is sometimes decided for us. Leaving a tyrannical boss, leader or shadow is not as easy but not impossible either. Grace is a far reaching gift.
Yesterday a friend posted an image of a white man holding a sign which indicated his willingness to give up some of his unearned privileges so women could have more and we’d be a few steps closer to equality. Thank you tall, self-assured, white guy. He demonstrated what’s needed to move forward; a willingness to let go of the way it’s been and together, construct something new. We tend to hang onto our sad stories demanding they be acknowledged or believing our sad story has the power change their mind. It doesn’t, unless it’s one of the few socially sanctioned sad stories we’ve got a solution for. Homeless animals +Sarah McLaughlin= Donations. I feel better. When the women’s rights movement began we had specific requests about what should stop, start and continue but there were lingering gaps about the redefining of gender roles, identity and deeply embedded power structures. Child-free woman? By choice? You must hate kids. On the contrary, I value children and wish we’d stop exploiting them, as in don’t make a 7 year old hold a provocative sign advertising sentiments she can’t yet conceptualize. But we do because it seemed right at the time. Working couples, whether they’re raising children or not, are still fighting about domestic responsibilities. We wonder about the new rules of engagement, silently fretting over how we’ll get our needs met; the primary driver for beliefs and behavior. Healing is cyclical, nonlinear and multi-directional. The formula we use to conduct healing in our own lives is the same we can apply to our communities, workplaces and the world at large. It requires love, understanding, establishing shared definitions, a spectrum of awareness extending beyond the little town we grew up in, a set of guidelines for conducting ourselves and a forum where respectful dialogue can begin. Without ground rules and indicators of safety we remain fixed in our protective perspectives, positions, actions or inactions. We stay stuck in hurt or illusions. Understanding the impact of trauma and approaching one another with this insight offers tools and hope. We don’t have to be afraid yet our fear makes perfect sense.
Blessed are the rich in bank account, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mock those who mourn, for they will be validated.
Blessed are the megachurches that preach the prosperity gospel while shitting on the vulnerable, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for inequality, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the callous, for they will receive high-fives.
Blessed are the corrupt in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the warmongers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are celebrated for their deeds of injustice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
My dear friend, I only left out your playfully designated ‘author’ because I promised never to use Jesus as a weapon. He was the first documented socialist, likely involved with a prostitute named Mary Magdalene and my favorite messenger of love. Choosing love is a good place to begin, again.