Make a stand for what you believe in and do what feels right in spite of any judgment or disapproval from others-Heron
Living a life among people as a person continues to teach me we’re simultaneously starving for and terrified of truth. We tend to prefer convenience over substance; less reliable but often more accessible and accepted. A salesperson approaches asking what you’re looking for and you say you’ll know it when you see it. You wander around the store holding a shirt, a scented candle, a ridiculously tall pair of shoes and a lampshade. It’s been hours. You’ve had to pee for the last 45 minutes but you hate public bathrooms. Are you finding everything ok? No. I mean yes. I’m fine. You weren’t looking for a lampshade, hooker shoes or a blouse but at least you can light the flame of your complacency and that will feel like you’re doing something. I wandered around the house all weekend avoiding this piece for the same reasons we find ourselves doing anything and everything else besides dealing with reality; it’s hard. It’s work. It’s uncomfortable and the ride is usually one we go on alone, like the big scary roller coaster. Sometimes you can convince a friend or two to get on with you, after committing yourself to being flipped upside down, but they’re usually not in the same frame of mind about it and spend the 3 seconds closing their eyes and screaming bloody murder. Telling the truth indeed, feels like death at first and anyway, if we wait too long to welcome this guest, heed their warnings and make changes, the consequences are ultimately fatal. We miss the life we were put here to live. If we pump the breaks on doom and gloom the avoidance of actual or ego-death make interesting stories, outstanding soundtracks and beautiful paintings; they’ve also kept me in a career the past 15 years or so. It’s both painful and a humbling privilege to witness the divine human dramedy; but I don’t like seeing people needlessly suffer. There’s always a better way though I’m inclined to remember all the time I spent playing out my avoidance in part because I’d been asked to and in other part because it’d kept me safe. Truth is revealed in layers parallel to our achieved safety and the ones we’re brave enough to pull back. Jefe called it Bible wallpaper which I couldn’t possibly love more; the scriptural writing has been on the proverbial cave wall for over 2,700 years, but even better, the Cheesecake Factory menu has over 250 items sure to be much tastier.
For the third time since I moved to the west coast my stationary vehicle was hit and broken by someone who was either failing to pay attention or spiraling out in some unattended, accidental trajectory. The auto-shop probably has me flagged on their frequent-flyer list, but like some public services, treat me like a stranger. If I recognize someone in my town I say hi and learn their name because pretending I don’t see them feels creepy and rude. Is recognition harmful? Maybe it feels like a burden to some. Anyway, I completely resent having to take time out of my life to fix something that someone else is responsible for breaking, even if they didn’t mean to do it. That very notion is what kept me from working the twelve steps of codependent recovery which was offered way back when my dad had started his recovery from drinking. The social worker said I could go to some group called Ala-teen and instead I went to Roller Kingdom every weekend waiting for someone to tell me how great my bum looked in acid wash skinny jeans. I wasn’t the one with a problem. I barely even drank soda. Years later while sitting in one of an endless string of therapy sessions to help me to stop playing razor games, I declared, “He broke it why should I have to try and fix it!?!” On that occasion I was referring to a different kind of irreparable brokenness and my shrink was attempting to teach me coping skills meant to fill the emotional potholes like some holistic healing salve. Her medicine was admittedly better than mine. She had a kind face and was always very present and patient. The skills she taught me were lovely, I just found more safety and contentment in the pain. Maybe you can relate. I was a deflowered ragamuffin from the projects who couldn’t see any realistic way out, yet again and again I was met with an opportunity to try. Thankfully, conscious beings, ragamuffins included, are infused with a stubborn will to live. Compassion, it turns out, is a more delicious side dish than even smashed cauliflower. Though we probably need both.
Sometimes when people invite you to get better they don’t mean for you to become healthy and start living in wholeness, they simply mean for you to stop being a problem for them. Dysfunctions are like dominoes. When one person starts addressing their part it inadvertently highlights the other pieces, whether they’re falling, standing or still in the box. You pick up your pieces and construct something new which is then open to opinion. Don’t move there. Why did you do that? You can’t take that one. It’s mine! Part of the reconstruction hopefully comes with direction about how to stand in the face of unsolicited poking. I once had a friend who’d been smothered by his engulfing mother. Emotional incest hasn’t achieved the same fame and recognition as Kylie’s Lip Kits so lots of people stay stuck in the awkward waltz until the dancing pair bumps into one or the other’s hidden addictions; like plastic surgery, porn or capitalistic nepotism. This friend of mine had literally grown crooked; his spine twisting to such a degree it began crushing his heart and lung requiring surgery involving corrective rods and a life of chronic pain. Standing up is daunting with or without a handicap. Speaking the truth shatters comfortable illusions and ruptures accepted paradigms. People lose their familiar roles, fear retributions for past mistakes, the search for a new script and the creative energy to craft a new story. My clients used to say they preferred their identity as ‘chronically mentally ill’ because Liz, every time I get better my family or my kids or my boss start asking me to do more and more and then they hate me again when I can’t keep up. They use for me money or help, or they get mad at me for getting better. They get jealous or they bring up the past and start fighting with me or blaming me, even for things I didn’t do. The only time they leave me alone is when I’m sick. Boundaries and change are the computer reboots of human behavior; we’ll do it later, later, later meanwhile Trojan Horses have invaded and ransacked our files, sometimes deleting our history.
I didn’t want to file any of the claims from my faultless accidents. I didn’t want to stop what I was doing, have difficult conversations, confront people, negotiate and spend the time and inconvenience it was going to take to make the repairs. I actually feared that one of the people would kill me. Not a joke. I was afraid if I held them accountable for the damage they caused they would get so upset they’d actually do something to really hurt me. It’s not a crazy thought considering the very first liable party was a person who threatened to harm not just me, but other people I loved if I ever said a word about it. The day I finally mustered the guts to refuse him, which happened to be Easter, he stared at me in the rear view mirror all the way from Connecticut back to Rhode Island. An hour or so after we got dropped home he was pacing the neighborhood and maybe only I could see him ducking in and out of the bushes of the junior high across the street. I knew he’d be at the window later that night and was racking my brain with an escape. Could we go to Nana’s in Cumberland? Could I convince my neighbor friend to take in me and my brother and sister? Once a week or so, she’d let me climb in her window after bedtime to play Mighty Bomb Jack, trade Tiger Beat posters of Kirk Cameron and Chad Allen and eat gumballs. I’d never asked if my siblings could come but I was sure she wouldn’t mind. The smoke from inventing elaborate escapes must’ve become visible because my mother finally looked at me and said ‘What the heck is wrong with you!? You’ve been pacing since you got home.’ The truth spewed out like a burst water plug. I thought it might drown my family. I felt gross, terrible, responsible and puffy from the hallmarks of an ugly-cry. My mother said no, which is a completely appropriate response. My father growled like an other-worldly beast, indicating I’d awoken his bear. He left. My brother and sister dissolved into peripheral dark corners which I assumed meant they were safe. All that followed in my blurry memory was an uneventful, different silence. During and after my parents divorce, which I partially blamed on myself, I was told to lie about everything, especially that. There’d be no claims filed, no accountability held, unless you count the anonymous midnight beating and the one awkward DHS interview full of sign language and mumbles. It would have to suffice. Besides, body parts on cars have clearly determined values paid for by the insurance of the party at fault. As a survivor we could send an estimate for our damaged goods and drag the whole thing out in some gruesome display of exhibits; I personally prefer to entrust the case to a higher court rather than having my value amorphously determined by some variation of a Judge Judy. I’m the boss applesauce!
Years later in a moment of tiredness after working a string of shifts I came home to shower, eat and head back out to work some more. Summer on the Vineyard, if you’re smart, meant working as many jobs as you could to save college tuition and still pay rent. The problem on that afternoon was a $300 phone bill (long before cell phones but still probably in relation to some boy) wasn’t getting paid fast enough according to my stepfather who’d decided to take time off from working and focus on converting his 8 tracks to CD’s. I decided to point out the truth of our job to free time ratio and he decided to kick me out. Honesty was clearly not winning me any points. Silence simultaneously shamed me into a self-kept prison of anxiety where I’ve remained to varying degrees ever since. Recovery was the real turning point. You can’t get better without getting honest. My sponsor was the person who held me up and taught me all the new ways to live till I was solid enough to stand on my own and do it. Her only request for helping to save my life was pay it forward. Gratitude for being unconditionally loved by a total stranger is a powerfully motivating force.
The truth is this, death is inevitable but there is one way which offers new life if we choose it. Listen, unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it’s never anything more than a seed; all tough and hardened on the outside with this untapped potential life story inside. If it gets buried, gives in to the vulnerability of grief or self-admissions about the truth of the past or whatever else can bury you like a mountain of debt, memories, abilities, differences, loss or even gifts, and you let it get watered with grace, love, patience, forgiveness; it sinks deeper into the compost of faith. Then, one sunny day you thought might never come, it sprouts into new life multiplied, prosperous, generous, meaningful and substantial. Clinging to this old way will destroy you and maybe even the people around you . But if you let it go, reckless in your love and willingness, you’ll have life real and eternal, forever.