The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.- Joseph Campbell
Thoughts on authenticity having been turning over in my head like warm compost all month. It’s been a season of wild weather; fires, floods, hurricanes. Nature is a kind of messenger sometimes. What could be more honest than the ocean or a blazing field? What does it cost to live our truth? What if we can’t afford to? What if we can’t afford not to? Like everything else I’m guessing possibility lives somewhere between idealized self-actualization and complete denial. I worry about never being fully healed, germs, rejection, punishments, being seen, remaining invisible, or having a doctor tell me I need to gain back the weight I lost; trauma chem-trails in the life flight. The latest game is playing hide and seek with mirrors, facing reflections in pieces. Fear gets expressed in all different ways depending on how we’ve been hurt; avoiding, shopping, getting a boob job, blaming things we did on other people, anger masked as jokes, one upping everything anyone else says. To varying degrees we do what we do as part of navigating or avoiding how we see ourselves and our situation. Context counts. Peaceful wholeness might be equal to whatever resources we’ve got within our awareness of what is. Oh it’s raining. Namaste in bed. Oh, that person will be there. Namaste home. Oh the world is exploding. Namaste chill. Just when you figure out summer, the fall comes and you’re cursing everything in your closet; literally and figuratively. In the empty silence of a failed marriage all my dirty laundry surfaced and I had no desire to be here now. I also had no money or car to make leaving a comfortable possibility. My first clue; getting real means getting uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve heard of winter. Push eventually came to shove and my 3 suitcases and I found a way to roll out. The exit looked nothing like Liz Gilbert’s magical world tour of self-discovery turned best selling novel and awesome film featuring one of my all time favorite actresses. People kept saying I should read the book, watch the movie. You’ll love it. It’s so great. I avoided it like the plague believing my inability to go on a fancy restoration quest was further proof I was gross, stupid, worthless, stuck and unlovable. If it can’t be that, why bother, right? I should just keep my head down and wear the rags. Eventually I realized my discomfort didn’t lie with emptiness, but rather with experiencing fullness. Hunger hurts but starving works when it costs too much to love. Empty has always been my comfort zone. Fullness is the whole big juicy picture.
Despite our differences I’m glad she told her story; we look to each other for inspiration, a better way than we could imagine on our own. I might never go to India but she challenged me to think. Comparison is a dangerous fault in western cultures; a hole we can fall into fueled by media and I’m guessing propaganda that serves different people in different ways. Thankfully divorce is akin to open heart surgery and I eventually came around. Once I stopped judging and started listening I heard a helpful lesson: Ruin is the road to transformation. Hurt is humbling. Harnessing it, which requires sitting on trauma like a rider taming a wild horse, offers protection. I discovered strengths I didn’t know I was allowed to have. You learn to take deep breaths, filter everything through your own moral compass while doing your best to keep moving in the direction it’s pointing while understanding what’s right for us can be different than what’s right for someone else. Experience has taught me its best to move slow since the earth is round, I’m wrong alot, none of us can see in the dark and answers tend to arrive along lengthy orbits, circling gifts disguised as mistakes.
I prayed, eventually loved and if you consider Cool Whip and polenta food, I guess you can say I ate. More like attempted to swallow calories with the least amount of effort while choking on a tidal wave of grief. I also worked full time, went into relapse and battled anemia for 6 years as a result. Terrifying. Pain has lots of natural consequences best met with compassion. Infusion room nurses are the kindest people on earth. The chair became one of my teachers. Two hours is a long time to sit still when your mind is racing and there’s an I.V in your arm. I took it as an opportunity to brush up on meditation and re-read the Boundaries book. All tolled I spent over a 100 hours practicing to become Yoda while my body did its best to metabolize ferritin. I would’ve preferred one of those retreats where you curl up on satin poofs, journal deep thoughts into recycled paper and nourish your spirit with bedtime phoenix mantras sung in a foreign language by a Sherpa, but iron’s expensive. That was a shitty realization. The money I spent on being consumed with not consuming would’ve taken me to Europe, twice. Here’s the miracle, provisions showed up. I worked the steps with a sponsor I met in a free online divorce support group who I thank god for every day. Climbing took all the extra energy I didn’t have, but I did it somehow knowing there was more peace waiting at the top. An ashram in Bali with my own guru or a dinner party on a piatza in Italy would’ve sucked so much less than examining my nightmares and horrible choices resulting from the lowest self-esteem. Turned out I did have a guru. His name is George, a pastor I bumped into while running from new responsibilities. I made friends; the kind who cry and laugh with after you go out with your salsa instructor who tells you while you’re on the date that he’s actually cheating on his girlfriend. I wondered what I needed to buy that would send a loud and clear signal that I was a real person and not some thing people could keep using up. A better phone case? A haircut from one of those salons that smell like magazine perfumes? I was constantly afraid there was something inherently wrong with me and someone somewhere had the cure-all that would fix it. How do we be our self in the world and stop getting messed with? Turns out this was not the right question. Recovery was teaching me it was an inside job but I still didn’t know how to make my outsides match my insides once I found my guts. The body speaks when we can’t and mine kept saying ouch. Hurt has a way of blinding us to available help. We question, avoid, bargain with or accept truth in measures parallel to our abilities, at the root of which is whether or not doing so will equate to getting us whatever it is we think we want. Kit De Luca said “It’s easy to clean up when you got money.” Yep. Money doesn’t grow on trees and trees don’t need it. It can buy you the basics and depending on how much you have, some really nice basics but it can’t buy love. Some of us can afford to look less uncomfortable than we feel. Maybe that’s the same as buying time against the inevitables of being human. The sweet spot for getting real might be found somewhere between crippling adversity and a little good credit.
My mother threw a borrowed electric typewriter out the dining room window of our apartment. In fairness it’d been a rough week. She was trying to balance a flimsy paper plate overflowing with the needs of her three children, a rocky marriage, full time job as a caregiver to disabled adults, the endless needs of a friend who cried more than all the kids in our neighborhood combined and finals. She was studying to become a respiratory therapist. A few days earlier she’d put two petri dishes on the dining room table with specific instructions for us to not touch them but they each had these round pink and white Pez candies in them and we had to know what would happen if we introduced the candies to play-dough. Like maybe they could be friends. Based on her reaction to the spoiled bacteria experiment, that was the wrong idea. Sometimes I helped her study. She made vocabulary flashcards of biology terms. My favorite thing to do at the grocery store was practice grand battement jete into a fouette while shouting out tracheotomy! billy ruben! Frosted Flakes! down long supermarket aisles. The highlight of the trip was no doubt the cereal aisle. Despite my commitment to being a great study partner, I didn’t want to miss the chance to vote on the weekly, solo box of sugar cereal. Plus, multi-tasking is a family trait. Whatever you do, do something else too. An adopted mantra for those who find themselves searching for purpose at extreme ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. You could say it’s a choice. For some, it’s a given and those don’t seem to give back. I think for it to mean anything, to feel justified we’ve got to earn it.
I loved her determination. The typewriter had eaten her final paper. Right after chucking the antique Apple, she vented about misogynistic professors who target women for failure, said she’d show him what’s up, gathered her notes and declared the intention to do it again. When you can’t afford the right tools you have to do things twice with half the reserves. We’re also prone to make our biggest mistakes when we think we’re under the scrutiny of our worst enemies because we care too much about what they think or what they can do to us. How brave we are depends on who has power and how much we’re ready to sacrifice. Some days we might wear a little more concealer, we need a foundation right? It’s sad in a sense because even if we do our absolute best a good bully can find fault, instill fear or at the very least put up some kind of road block leaving us to make hard choices. This is especially problematic when the bully is our self, a cultural set-up or fragment of personal history we haven’t mastered yet. No where in life do we have a formal system for learning how to navigate social problems which is probably why we throw things out windows. Is that surrender? In one of our rentals the landlord was intentionally refusing to fix things, making well timed excuses about rotting plumbing, a moldy basement, sand flea infestations and the porch steps which had all but crumbled into the yard. The house was intended for his son, but we later heard he fixed it up and rented it out at twice the price to the already exploited Brazilian workers, because he could. Confronting him would’ve essentially meant homelessness. We couldn’t afford a better interim plan, financially or otherwise. My mom and stepdad were planning to move to the South at the end of the summer so rather than deal with it we stuffed everything we couldn’t fix into an abandoned Oldsmobile carcass in the driveway; literally white trash. I hadn’t thought this was an issue till I went to a training in my grown up life and felt myself shrinking into a chair while a smart women gave a Power Point on a family whose property had become “a nasty, disgusting nuisance”. She clicked through multiple slides of a familiar looking yard saying things that made me want to bury this part of my life into a deep, undiscoverable oblivion. In spite of the shame I asked what happened to the family after they were evicted, their property had been repossessed and their belongings discarded. She said she wasn’t really sure but they’d probably become “transient”.
One of the classes my mom took us to was psychology. One night we learned about Johari’s Window. It’s a personality model which says we each have public, private, personal and unknown parts of our selves. I took notes in the dark auditorium and quickly began pathologizing my entire family because knowledge was power and maybe this could help. The professor had drawn four squares of equal proportion. I was pretty sure the ‘unknown’ quadrant was gigantic and contained the most answers. Twenty years later I’m connecting dots. Everything we try and hide from is what leaves unsafe, exposed and restless. There’s nothing we can do about it till we have the time and resources to go in. Or a storm comes and insists we sink or swim. Diving lessons are expensive; so is therapy, healing work, honesty, conscious capitalism and the pursuit of equality. Skimming the surface, failure to plan, perpetual division; those all come with a price too. Again, you could say we have a choice. Do we want to pay now in this way or later in that way. That’s a question for society as much as it is the individual. Maybe we point the finger at homelessness, addiction, crime, greed, wealth. We prefer neatly packaged, linear solutions but that’s not how healing works. The answer is a waltz with three steps; learning to love ourselves, learning to love others and perpetually questioning and discovering what that means. Putting it into action is the dance. When we first begin to move we’re guaranteed to step on toes, lose our spot, slip, fall and want to quit. I’m not done yet.
*a work in progress, but there’s something about hitting publish that helps me see where to go next and I love that parallel for this piece especially.