Healing from complex trauma while moving up the food chain is like running a marathon across a mountain range. No time for souvenir shopping or group sing-alongs. The third and fourth shift are waiting. Hurry up! There’s a reason we’re tired.
Well intended self-help gurus ultimately hurt because they fail to address the blanket of poverty suffocating over 40 million Americans. The number is much bigger but the working, upper poor are among the invisible. It’s not a fun tent city. It smells like feet, want and need. They also fail to acknowledge their own pain which is conveniently hidden behind externals markers of success; good skin, nice hair, the right clothes, connections and disposable capital, themselves included.
The same is true for good therapy and healthcare. Stellar ideas guys. Too bad we’re shopping on different lots. If treatment models were cars, most of us can only afford the 1984 Yodarolla version versus the expert recommended Rolls; the have nots are stuck in ditches on the side of the road while the haves take a back seat and pay someone else to drive. Everyone’s losing.
The distinguishing traumatic insult of poverty is knowing the right tools, resources, networks and pathways are out there, they’re just not available to us. Meanwhile the wealthy squander their wealth. Maddening isn’t it?
Enter Oprah and one of her many sages:
According to mister, the first mountain we climb is in service to our self; doing whatever work we need to do to get it together. Suggestions include going to school to have a (noble?) profession. Addressing childhood trauma-not addressed. What does service to myself look like when I can’t afford the same tools, don’t have access to the same resources, have panic attacks all day and live in the wrong zip code? Hold that thought.
The second mountain we climb is in service to each other; the gift we give from whatever lessons we learned trekking life’s Himalayas. Hey mister, how do we get into the special gift-giving club? Also, where can I get one of those puffy coats? What does a self-actualized, gift-giving, purpose driven life look like in the context of the first question? Hold that thought too.
I can’t help but wonder about the weaver woman in the clip; everyday hero in the purple volunteer shirt. Here’s a special someone happily doing thankless, invisible, daily charitable work to fill in the gaps perpetuated by broken, heartless souls who refuse to adequately fund public services or living wages in favor of securing menial significance. Let’s all feel good about her tireless giving by wearing this pin so she’ll keep the cretans away from our giant bank accounts. Does she have everything she needs to give what she’s giving or is this another case of rewarding social saviors; programs and people who ultimately enable a toxic culture while offering a temporary, albeit exhausting sense of self worth? And what about her charity-event attendees. Aren’t they just as tired and potentially empty for having spent more time choosing an outfit for the donation dinner than doing any thankless work? I don’t have the answers. I just know that sometimes making selfless, enlightened choices while idiots appear to flourish makes me feel stupid, worthless and used.
The blurry line between altruism and survival is the perception of our choices and the condition of our hearts. Convincing myself of certain beliefs I’d inherited, poverty is noble, the meek shall inherit the earth, you don’t need money to be happy, we’re rich in love, we can do it ourselves, there’s always enough to go around at times required turning a blind eye to addiction, condemnable living conditions, obtuse boundary violations, being in significant danger, having no food, no clothes and no realistic access to safety or relief. Reclaiming the good and redeemable aspects of those sentiments couldn’t be done until I’d forged myself a very stable foundation from which I could wholeheartedly choose to believe that money wasn’t the end all of happiness, love wins and self-reliance is an unquestionable gift. Now when I give, I mean it and it feels infinitely better than offering myself up as a protective defense.
Getting and keeping our hearts in the right place requires daily practice. I continue to learn new, healthier ways to love and care for myself and extend that love and care in equally healthy ways, to my neighbor.
Putting Questions and Egos to Rest
Are you still holding those two thoughts?
What does service to ourselves and others look like in the absence of mainstream wealth and privilege?
It either looks like humility or humiliation. Imagine your ego and heart are on a see-saw while some snot nosed, little jerk is pelting both of them with firecrackers and insults. Now try to maintain balance.
Depending on how much sleep I’ve had the answer can bring me to tears of euphoric gratitude or plunge me into the anhedonic toilet of passive suicidal ideation. When I’ve had enough sleep I pretend the see-saw is a surf board and realize the answer is riding the waves. I fall on my face occasionally but mostly see the span of human existence across a spectrum of fear, trust and love. There really is nothing new under the sun so wear slather on the SPF, stop worrying and smile.
Service to ourselves is radical acceptance of reality while making a series of conscious choices that maximize healing and minimize harm. Yes, it’s as complicated and easy as it sounds. Self discipline is hard at first but makes everything easier once you get the hang of it.
Here are three examples:
- Self discipline means delaying gratification by not buying the $7 shirt at T.J Maxx to save for a down payment on a used car. Which also means wearing the same four heinous outfits for a year, not going to therapy, not going to the doctors, not going out with friends, not buying gifts for anyone, not using a credit card, not having cable and eating a lot of Cool Whip. The silver lining is walking to work. Congratulations. You lost ten pounds.
- Or, having mercy on yourself and buying the $20 sweater at the same store because winter is brutal, you don’t have enough clothes to stay warm and the thrift store is 5 extra blocks away.
- In the absence of a personal friendship with the Dalai Lama, it means going to group in the church basement, sitting on one of those cold metal folding chairs and faithfully working the steps in a lined spiral notebook you bought at the DG for a dollar.
These Florescent Lights are Killing Me
The part I still haven’t worked out is, our spirits die in the absence of self-actualization and that path seems narrow. Is it? We can only go so many years chopping wood and carrying water with no connection, opportunities for growth, expression, rest, play, joy, peace, freedom or the big reciprocal love that comes from receiving and giving out some tangible essence of the universe. What do we do about that impending zombie apocalypse?
Maybe the universe has your back or maybe you’re hiding behind the false reassurance of five star reviews. Baseless positivity rhetoric sells. The truth is collecting dust in an Amazon fulfillment center somewhere outside Tucson. Why? Because good vibes are easy pills to swallow and usually come in shiny packages. Truth is the grinding complexity that gives our lives depth, meaning, satisfaction, purpose and tends to show up dressed as failure, sickness and unresolved issues. It’s brutal for a bit but is also the ultimate path to absolute peace. Temporary relief is a quicker route to nowhere. Decisions. Decisions.
Feed Me (vegan) Cake and Tell Me I’m Pretty
Codependent rescuing: You should totally take a year off, abandon all your responsibilities, ignore the glaringly obvious problems in your life and just focus on getting everyone else to take care of you, and perfectionistic persecution: If you don’t eat vegan porridge and do Pilates nine times a week while breastfeeding your Somali orphan baby and starting a third non-profit, your life is a total waste; they’re both fear in desperate action hoping for an impossible reward.
Raise your hand if you want to be rescued from life at least half the time? Me too. When no one shows up to fix it we resort to controlling people and circumstances by shaming, guilt-tripping, performing, over-doing, avoiding, manipulating, bullying or exploiting real or concocted illnesses as ways to manage everything we don’t know how to manage. It fails to satisfy our needs because it’s rooted in fear. Look what you made me do! After all I’ve done for you! You should be ashamed of yourself. Hagar, this is all your fault! Damn, I ripped all my tendons-again! See how hardcore I am. I see your pain, bro. #toxicmasculinity
The solutions of truth are rooted in love.
Altruism is not martyrdom. Giving doesn’t have to be a pimp and ho transaction if we can meet our basic needs autonomously and then choose 100% through free will to give whatever we have because now we trust our offering is enough and is no longer a reflex of survival. That’s the catch.
Sounds like a Great Deal. What’s the Catch?
Western Capitalism is infantilizing. It keeps everyone helpless. No grown, self-respecting adult voluntarily drinks Rip Tide Rush, drives a monster truck and wears cartoon characters on their clothes while blowing lines off a box of Cocoa Puffs. They also don’t cheat at Monopoly because grown, self-respecting adults have had at least one life changing awakening and no longer feel the need to extort their world family for a trust-fund. Get it? Trust. Fund. That’ll never get old for me.
Why can’t we grow up? Because prisons get more funding than schools, minimum wage hasn’t budged in half a century and caricatures of reactive suffering are turned into Princes and Princesses in every conceivable platform of endorsed media: the Very Important Persecuted delude us into believing our chariot awaits around the corner of the next crime scene.
How Do You Spell Relief?
Just say no to hot dogs and other things that come out of intestines.
ps: This piece has been more than a minute in the making. After talking with a friend tonight I realized I might be incapable of cranking out the 1,2,3 sound bites of digital snacks I personally prefer when I’m looking for answers and yet writing is how I find the answers I can never seem to find. Go figure, huh?
“I don’t think the way you think.