Trees don’t need anyone to come around and tell them what to do. They don’t lean against each other persuading validation, barking at bark, flinging fear-fueled accusations or infantilizing policies. A Maple doesn’t pry its branches into an Aspen grove to sprinkle unsolicited advice; You’d be greener if you recycled you know. Forests don’t argue for or against gentrification, affordable housing, health insurance or lawn ornaments. There are no teams, assigned genders, school districts or political parties. Family are more or less determined by proximity and roots, how long and how closely we’ve stood by one another through various seasons. The natural world thrives solely on instinct; a rightly timed, cyclical balance of life, death and rebirth. John Muir was known to leave his family for months at a time to endure whole storms gripping tree tops, attempting to commune with the wisdom of his other Mother. He left volumes of insights yet our divisions persist I think because we’re experiential learners. John needed microdermabrasion from a sandstorm. So, 8 billion of us are simultaneously seeking enlightenment in the midst of our own personal hurricanes, clinging to various articles for safety or identity. Call it Fall or surrender, we let go when we get it.
Growing up I watched people, including my own parents, struggle to raise kids. Apparently it costs over two hundred thousand dollars to raise one healthy child from birth to eighteen in the United States. This doesn’t include college, daycare, a car or braces. I’ll be paying off student loans till I’m 90 and don’t make enough to qualify for a home loan. Maybe I’m psychic. In second grade I made the conscious decision to never become a mother. From every angle the entire notion had always appeared completely insane. Sex, pregnancy, labor, the second shift, tweens. No. I preferred a desk over baby-dolls and was pretty sure if I worked hard enough, one day I might live in the Barbie townhouse and a enjoy a pleasantly, detached relationship with G.I. Joe. We both had issues but could be very happy not addressing them while living parallel lives and occasionally… well, G.I Joe’s mom was possessive and sometimes my Barbie preferred the company of other Barbies. Instead I became a therapist, divorced codependence and collided into love. There is no substitute for the real thing but plenty of impostors. I never saw it coming. He tried running me over with his cruiser bike in the park to get my attention. My first thought was What an ass. My second thought was Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I married him. Then I laughed out loud and was playfully possessed with the wonder of when I’d see him again. Two blocks later our paths crossed and have been happily hitched ever since. I’d finally arrived at a place in my life where I was happy, secure, content, then bam! Before being hit by love on wheels I’d learned to settle for things, believing this was as good as it’d get, everyone else was doing it or I probably didn’t deserve any better. My closet was so depressing. Healing teaches us we’re more than the sum of all the bad things that happen to us. We dare to hope from a place of love that begins inside and makes its way out.
The first six years of my career I listened to the way my clients viewed children as a form of social, emotional or actual currency; a kind of medicine for their unmet needs. Love-ish with a few questions marks. In therapy school I learned to look at behavior through a lens of empathic understanding based on survival. At psychiatry school I think they’re taught to look at behavior through a lens of diagnosis and prescription based on insurance. Xanax was helpful for a minute but the opioid crisis is a bummer. Either way, there are still days when the right treatment is easier said than done. I’ve been practicing for almost two decades so by now it should be easy but usually in the middle of the week my compassion-well starts drying up. It’s hard to fill out incident reports, staff case after case of child abuse and not feel something about our world. Women often shared with me their disappointment or regret in having children alongside their motivations; I thought it would make him stay. I wanted to someone to love me. I wanted to prove my parents wrong. I liked being pregnant because it was the first time people really paid attention to me. I wanted to create the kind of family I didn’t have. I wanted to make her jealous. I had a girl but now I wanted a boy. We needed more money. Cleaning houses and nannying for wealthy families offered a window into similar sentiments with a twist; they were breeding bloodlines for the sole purpose of sustaining last names, maintaining authority in business or politics, as well as attempting to keep up with cultural trends associated with parenthood and Social Norm. No one can keep up with that guy; what’s with all the heart attacks? The CDC is calling it deaths of despair; agreed.
This past year we stayed at a fancy resort in Nuevo Vallarta (the money from my grown-up job does not suck). I saw a woman bedazzled from head to toe in diamond chunks by the pool. She was carrying her infant son in some sort of Prada baby-bag, like an accessory. He was drooling, expressionless; like us on our phones. I felt heated and nauseous but was sober, slathered in SPF and sitting under an umbrella. Is judgement intoxicating? Can status blind us? Both no doubt, blur vision.
When I thought my anorexia might kill me I wrestled with cruel ideas about why I’d been born and why I still might want to die. Blaming parents, poverty and perpetrators was convenient so I tried that for a minute. I also blamed politics, prestige worldwide, my own patheticness and processed sugar. Then I learned to meditate. The cosmic punchline hit me. Dear universe, not funny. All the curses. Blame wasn’t the answer but we’ve dated on and off for years. I still flirt with him occasionally. Sounds like an appliance. Living seemed impossible. My hair was falling out, everything hurt and nothing inside was working. It felt like nothing in me had ever been allowed to work. Even if I got better there was still too much reality to manage and I didn’t have the energy or ability to deal with it. I didn’t know how to do life. This is why we say one day at a time. Life and death each held out a hand over a pear on a plate and said pick one. I opted for a backhand from the living. Kicking, screaming and weight gain followed. I won’t lie. It’s brutal but in a better way. Recovery is the process of growing up by re-parenting ourselves under the helpful direction of a higher power we choose. Learning to make decisions for our self might be paramount for reclaiming safety and restoring power. As such, I’m very pro-choice. The world is full of enough deadly persuasion. Either way, thinking is helpful. Thinking on a full stomach, after a good night’s sleep, in a warm safe bed surrounded by at least one other person who truly loves you, bonus.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”- Noam Chomsky
There are two kinds of cars that scare me; fancy and expensive or rusted and held together by duct tape and wishes. Opposite extremes illicit the most fighting and danger, I’m guessing because they’re two sides of the same wound but we’re only inclined to qualify one side. The side we’re on. We prefer nurturing or condemning convenient victims and acceptable villains. If our pain falls outside socially accepted scripts you might hear a cricket but ignore him or risk being ignored. Are you my conscience? Who me? I knew this when I was little and am still trying to figure out how to say it. In order to heal we have to replace finger pointing with volunteering, which requires going places that might make us feel very sick, angry or terrified. We could even face danger. Forest, you go first. Tis the season for haunted corn fields followed by Thanksgiving. Fantastic irony. Fear, resentment and violence are energetic space-takers where love could be. Make room for love. Purpose and possibility are found in the dirty work.