My darling girl when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage. – Aunt Jett
The tale as old as time has countless titles; The Hero’s Journey, Star Wars, The Bible, The Torah, The Qur’an, The Noble Eightfold Path, The Bhagavad Gita, Midnight’s Children, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, The Kool Aid Acid Test, The Song of Solomon, Nuthin’ but a G Thang, The Bullying Epidemic, The Opioid Crisis, The Color Purple, The War on Poverty, Homelessness, Drugs, Child Abuse, ADD and coming soon to a theatre near you: Sexual Harassment. Americans do love their wars. All those ribbons, t-shirts, bumper stickers, sensational headlines and memes; cha-ching! Modern Art, P.E.T.A, Civil Rights, Feminism, Pride, Minimalism, Ethical Fashion and my newest favorite The Quiet Revolution because introverts would also like a parade. None of us will show up at the last minute. I’m sure I’ve unintentionally left out and possibly offended someone but we’ve done a fantastic job of making our world very complex and as intricately divided.
High schools are perfect microcosms of the big wide world which is why everything you ever need to know about life can be learned in The Breakfast Club. My husband and I watched it recently and while we saw shades of ourselves in various characters there wasn’t one person we fully identified with. Despite that, we got the message: don’t forget about me. That’s a joke. If you attended a high school you noticed the pressure to fit in and then made a choice about how you wanted to manage your perception of belonging. That choice becomes our identity in the world: bully, victim, hero. There are other choices, like self-actualized grown-up or spiritually ascended guru but those aren’t available till we have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex which isn’t finished growing till our mid-twenties. This is why God gave all teenagers high metabolisms and pimples; the perfect balance of freedom and a little humility (or humiliation; I had a nice mix of cystic acne and braille.) It might be unfair to say we choose certain roles since I can trace my role as a human doormat back to my earliest memories. As part of surviving I’d gotten really good at laying down and letting people walk all over me. Safety by de-fall.
Freshman year I tried being a cheerleader. I’d hoped to find the big sister I always wanted at the pre-squad summer camp but instead got made into a leader, again. Every Friday I begrudgingly walked the halls in giant purple underwear pretending not to hate myself. The week before homecoming our coach gave us some pep talk about wearing more make-up so our eyes would smile. I could give no more whoopsies, quit after the game and joined track in the spring. Maybe I fit in with runners since my eating disorder made people think I was fit. Nope. My name wasn’t Jessica or Jennifer. My hair wasn’t straight and shiny. My running shoes were donated, I smoked and it turned out I wasn’t a fan of anything with the word ‘team’ in it. Team fight songs. Team jerseys. Team photos. Team practice; which to me felt like learning to become someone I wasn’t in exchange for a piece of paper that said I participated. Kind of like a paycheck.
EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED
People who don’t play sports are called artists, which in high school, means stoner. I joined the hiking club and was in theater all four years. This crudely translated to gay stoner. I’d known since kindergarten that my sexuality lives quietly and comfortably in the very center of the spectrum but it wasn’t till sophomore year when a boy launched a water bottle at my head while yelling dyke down the hall that I actually came out…to the people who could hear him. The further away I removed myself from Social Norm and his friend Simon Says the more aggressive they became. Bullying is now called an epidemic with links to suicide, media images, the crash of the housing market and the president. It’s root cause is not a mystery. Get high up, get high or point fingers and cry about it; different drugs, same motivation: Love and Fear. We don’t have to run scared forever. I stopped getting high after discovering meditation and the Buddhist theory of maya. Behind the veil of ignorance and want are truth and freedom. From my attic bedroom I could go anywhere; other solar systems, a beach, the Himalayas or take a two hour mindful-nap in a moss covered cottage by a trickling stream. When I came back I was all there and usually better for it. Coming to after a night of partying tasted like cat food and regret. I was a smart, bi, actress hitchhiking my way across the galaxy; so, not prom queen. The trade off for authenticity is exclusion from illusion. Some call it awakening, depression or the dark night of the soul. I just thought it was part of growing up. Adulthood doesn’t make a fun t-shirt.
When I quit getting stoned there were new condemnations to face. Clarity takes place in layers and requires at least a moment of stability. We can’t fully heal until we’ve learned to stop looking for love in all the wrong places. Accountability is a two way street. The final assault, despite my best efforts to grasp self-possession, was getting raped in the back seat of a car which happened to have been parked behind my church. Following a familiar face to a place that felt safe, I remember thinking it might be nice to have a little of his attention for a minute. While staring at the cross on the steeple under which I’d confirmed my faith a couple years prior I’d once again used the powers of corporal deportation to endure hell on earth. Deliberation is a broken record playing one song: the cosmic punchline. We move the needle with our own hands. If I had to pinpoint a date that might’ve been the night my hypochondria grew claws. I was older and more aware so this time I could feel the world spinning out of orbit but could no longer retreat to ballet class, the cow pasture or closets. A list of jobs, school and a growing mountain of responsibilities made it harder to breathe with this new shame which sat like a cherry on top of the already shit sundae. Don’t look at me became a silent plea to every person I met. The following summer, plagued by nightmares and fears of disease I paid a kindly older woman $80 a week to validate and bandage what had happened. Despite her skillful compassion and the work I’d done it may have been the final straw for my rational capacities. You name it, I thought I had it. No amount of reassurance, juice cleanses or yoga has since sufficed to wrangle intruders. In waking hours I function, like people do. Housework, phantom pain, showering, heart palpitations, changing the soap because my husband washed the dog with it, butterflies, budgeting calories and money, panic and guilt, even a respectable vocation which occupies time between unwelcomed floods of cortisol and adrenaline. I say occupation but honestly my career has always been equal parts blessing and curse; a perpetual opportunity to re-tell the story of the human experience alongside strangers who become gifts, while fueling a relentless determination to offer hope, the same which had been first taken from, then given to me. Behind closed doors I’ve done my best to help Social Norm, Simon Says, Holy Hero and Very Important Persecuted find and love their whole selves. We are not the parts we play to protect our wounds. The absolute truth of each of us, under our addictions and afflictions, is love.
Call My Name
In the beginning it’s always dark.-The Neverending Story
Complex trauma has few faces and little mainstream understanding for the same reasons we don’t teach emotional health alongside phys ed: stigma, shame, ignorance, politics, parents and red wine. It’s ok to talk about your blood pressure with a neighbor but you’d both like to avoid the why and pretend a pill will fix it. What did the doctor say? We have skills and shared knowledge about how to medically mask it but many of us don’t have parallel skills for reaching our hands into the mystery bag to grab hold of a squishy question mark. Do you remember that game? It glowed in the dark and maybe came out in the late 60’s. There were six or eight deep, velvet pockets scattered across some haunted forest. If you landed on one of those black holes you had to stick your hand into the dark to locate clue pieces to solve a riddle you’d long since forgotten because the anticipation of those unknowns utterly consumed you. I might get the key! I might get the magic lamp! I might get slimed! Anticipating the unknown when you’re 5 and in the safe company of your Nana is enthralling. Anticipating the unknown when you’re 32, your wife is pregnant and you heard rumors the company might be downsizing, way less magical.
It’s scary and overwhelming so we avoid it. Unless it’s something we can all relate to and keep a safe distance from, like war that happens ‘over there’, hurts faceless unknowns and is therefore not our fault. We can blame the nothing on no ones and feel very triumphant. War propaganda exploits vulnerability and perpetuates violence. Our blind eyes also refuse to see the cycle repeating itself in families. Kids don’t come with instructions but either way we pay. Pass the buck or claim it, give it a big hug and make a new wish instead of more memes. We stuff trauma in sealed boxes to maintain our distance from rocks, rope and pitchforks. We rush each other through grief and pain because we literally can’t afford to slow down and be with those uncomfortable feelings and experiences. Imagine if we made therapy as accessible as prescriptions? Psychopharm was meant to quiet the circuits so we can pave new ones. Not everyone can afford to hire an architect and build their dream house. Meds have their place but in America like everything else, we tend abuse it.
Big pharma would prefer us to assume we’ve got some amorphous condition with no root cause that can be ‘fixed’ with their product, like Binge Eating Disorder; the latest disaster of a diagnosis to be added to the DSM. Why? Because very early in the research process for the DSM-5 Coca-Cola, MERCK, Kraft, Nabisco and the FDA said the DSM couldn’t classify processed white sugar as an addictive substance so now we blame the victim with this useless label which can be cured with some other drug. All this did was protect insurance companies from having to pay for eating disorder treatment the way they might pay for drug or alcohol treatment. Why is someone prone to compulsive overeating? The same reasons we become addicted to anything. There were events which separated us from love, also known a trauma, we’re surrounded by temptations, one of which is white sugar which Overeater’s Anonymous has been quietly aware of for more than 20 years. The first thing you’re invited to do in OA is cut white foods from your diet. Modern society sets us up for chronic failure unless we decide to challenge it. Pass the O-R-E-O’s.
Tell Me a Story
Don’t you say never to me.- Ruth
For the past couple of months I’ve been asking my therapist when I’ll be able to face it; as in, look at my whole face, whole life, whole story in the mirror and not have to ask to for reassurance or apologize for being human. Is my face a disaster? Am I ok? Great. How are you? The rational professional in me knows I’m fine, really good even and the report is due on Friday. The faithful believer in me knows beyond all the shadows of dark forces that love wins and the most important part of our meeting is to be present with you and whatever beautiful moment of life we get to share. And the run of the mill human in me is doing her best, just like you. I think there’s real power in telling and normalizing the truth.
The story has always been us. We’re the beginning, middle, end and new beginning. We’re going to hurt, amaze and love each other as only we can. I’m a little scared but mostly hopeful. I saved you a seat.
Jesus beat the devil with two sticks -Pinterest