In Others' Words…

Lovely little deaths

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

Rumi

Autumn has always been my favorite season. I live in New England, and autumn in New England is spectacular.  The crisp blue days, the smell of woodsmoke at night, and the brilliantly colored foliage that draws people from all over the country to drive 25 mph in a 55 mph zone.  #JesusFixIt

I love the fall.  I am energized by it.  I tend to start new projects, set new goals.  It’s a very productive time for me, creatively- and yet, there’s a fairly deep vein of melancholy for me at this time of year.  Wistfulness has always been a part of my make-up, even though I’m generally a positive person.  I always wondered why that was.  Why, during a season that delights me so much, do I experience waves of something akin to grief?

I recently read something in a book about different seasons serving different purposes in our lives.  It posited that the fall is a good time to take stock of where you are at, what you need to work on, what you have, and what you no longer need.  An inventory, if you will. Now that may seem like a task more suited to spring, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I also read an article about the Eastern perspective on seasons which said that in Chinese philosophy the emotions associated with autumn are courage and sadness.

That feels right to me.

All seasons are transitions when you think about it.  If winter is a season of dormancy and gestation, and springtime is a season of newness and birth, then really, autumn, at its heart, is a season about dying.

All those beautiful leaves that the out of town peepers come to ogle?  Thousands upon thousands of lovely, necessary little deaths.

Photo credit: Jacqueline Porter

When I was at Wild Goose this summer, I had the privilege of hearing Reverend Otis Moss III preach.  He was talking about the constant hand-wringing over the belief that the American church is dying.  His take on it?

“Then LET. IT. DIE.  Some things need to die.”

He went on to talk about how things need to die in order for something else to be birthed- something new, something better.  Something closer to who we are intended to be.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of trauma and what we do with it.  I think in order to truly heal we must be willing to let some things die.

Human beings are story-making creatures.  As long as humans have existed, so has story. Since the beginning of time, we’ve sought to make sense of the world by taking the sometimes mystifying facts at hand and building story around them.  The volcano erupted?  The gods are angry.  A bountiful harvest?  Our sacrifices pleased the gods.  An independent woman?  Must be a witch.

When we endure trauma as children, we have neither the life experience nor the wisdom to put it into any kind of healthy context.  We don’t know enough about the world or human nature or the way people and institutions are supposed to behave to frame our abuse appropriately.  And frequently, our abusers are people we trust, people who we believe to be infallible or all-powerful.  That emotional and spiritual dissonance lends itself perfectly to story-building.

Children take a complicated situation and make a simple story out of it.  We take the facts of our abuse, use them as scaffolding and then we build walls of story around them.  We build a house out of that story and we live in it.  We live as though it is true, and so, in many cases, it becomes so.

If you speak the truth about your abuse and are called a liar by the adults at the center of your universe, then you believe them.  You are a liar.  And what do liars do?  They lie.  So you lie.  And then?  Well, then you’re a liar.

And even though the stories we build are overwhelmingly harmful, we can be reluctant to let them go.

I think we sometimes cling to long-held beliefs about our trauma and what it means because to challenge the validity of those beliefs is to set our houses on fire.  It’s a death. And even if the story you’ve been living out of is dark and toxic and harmful?  It’s still home.

In his brilliant book, Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays reminds us that redemption is, by definition, an exchange. In order to write a new ending for your story, you may need the willingness to offer up long-held assumptions, beliefs, and identities at the altar of healing. Maybe what you exchange in return for freedom from your trauma is the house of story you’ve lived in since you were abused.

What are you waiting for?  Do you think tomorrow is guaranteed?  How much time have you sacrificed in order to guard the house of pain you live in?  Has it maybe been long enough?  Look around at your story-house.  Has it become a prison? If it has, and the walls are the story you told yourself about what your abuse meant about you, your family, the world, God… here’s the good news:  Those walls may be tall and seemingly impenetrable, but the door is WIDE OPEN.  You need only decide to walk out.

If your old story needs to die for you to heal, then let it die.

Maybe this is the season for that.  Drag it out into the sunlight and let it die, like the scarlet and gold drifts against the fence outside my window.  Let the story in which you’ve been serving time die a lovely little death. It’s necessary.

Toss a match and let it burn, like so many brilliantly colored leaves. Stand in the waning autumn light and breathe in the smoke.  Hold courage in one hand and sadness in the other.  Only then can you write a new ending.  You really can, you know.  You can strip away all that story, go back to the bones, the facts, and build yourself a new home.

Maybe it’s time to write a new story.

*****************************************************************************

Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published, it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.

SO.

Please consider doing the following:

Come hang out with me on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter!

Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!

If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t.   And I’m sorry.  I don’t even know how I ended up there…

 

 

Someone’s daughter

“But now, as the father of four daughters,

this is the kind of sexual predation

that keeps me up at night.

This is the great fear for all of us.”

Matt Damon

A few days ago, I saw this headline on Twitter, “It’s been a bad week for men.”

Really?  Has it, men?  Has it been a bad week?

I like to consider myself a compassionate person, but I’ll be honest- it’s a little hard for me to muster empathy.  So, the focus is that it’s a hard week for men when a light is shined on pathetic, insupportable, and, not for nothing, criminal behavior by a powerful man in the public eye- even though by all accounts dozens of women have been suffering all manner of abuse at his hands for decades.  Really?

Is it a hard week because women are angry?  Because conversations are happening which require you to examine your own behavior, past and present?  Because the conduct in question is so despicable and indefensible you actually feel forced to comment on it?

And hey, fellas, let’s take a minute to discuss those statements of support…

We’re a little over it, men. You know, the whole outrage at the notion of sexual harassment happening to YOUR daughter. This isn’t a Liam Neeson movie- no one is going to give you a standing ovation if your outrage doesn’t extend beyond your gene pool.

We are going to need you to view this issue at more of a macro level.  Go a couple thousand feet up.  Because this only changes if you care about this issue beyond the way it affects the people under your own roof.  And if you cannot wrap your head around the fact that women deserve to go to school, work, ride the bus, and y’know, live their damned lives unharmed by this kind of pervasive misogyny, if you need to frame it in terms of daughters, then fine.

I’ve got news for you, gentlemen- it’s always someone’s daughter.

Every time a woman is backed into a corner, forced to listen to a filthy joke in a boardroom, has her body/clothing/looks commented on by her boss or co-workers, she is someone’s daughter.

Every time a woman is followed down an alleyway, has a date who refuses to hear her “No,” or has a guy press up against her on the subway, she is someone’s daughter.

The woman you are leering at on the beach, in the SuperBowl ads, and in porn? Someone’s daughter.

Every woman who is catcalled on the street and trolled on Twitter, is always, always, always SOMEONE’S daughter.

Nancy, O’Dell, the reporter the current president was talking about in the Access Hollywood tapes, is someone’s daughter.  Ashley Judd is someone’s daughter.  Anita Hill is someone’s daughter.  Monica Lewinsky is someone’s daughter.  So is Megyn Kelly.  The girl on the receiving end of Anthony Weiner’s texts is someone’s daughter. Gretchen Carlson is someone’s daughter. Senator Bob Packwood’s victims- a daughter, each and every one.  Bill Cosby’s victims?  All daughters.

The first time I was sexually harassed I was fourteen years old.  And someone’s daughter.

Does the call for decency only apply to your own offspring?  Are you willing to own that? Because I have to say, from where I sit it kind of looks that way.

If the thought of this level of degradation and harm coming to one of your daughters is horrifying to you, congratulations.

You’re normal.

You’re not heroic.  You’re not “woke.”  You’re not even particularly evolved.  You’re just normal.

And you don’t get a ticker-tape parade for being normal.

It is just normal to want to protect your own child.  There have been many men throughout history who have committed crimes against humanity who still would have been upset if someone hurt their kid.  Even most monsters have that instinct.

I would think that the notion of this level of predation, these acts of harm and coercion happening to anyone, anywhere would be enough to cause outrage.  I would think that would be the bar for, you know, basic human decency.

We’ll see, men.  We’ll see if your outrage extends beyond this news cycle.  We’ll see if you manage to internalize this part of the female experience in such a way that it changes how you move through the world.  If you start seeing all women not just as someone’s daughter- but as fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with respect simply because we are HERE.

If you good men don’t start stepping up, standing beside us, and using your voices, power, and whatever platform you have to tackle misogyny and violence against women in a meaningful way, then you won’t have to worry about whether or not something like this will happen to your daughter.

It definitely will.

If your only hope is a safe, respectful world for your daughter, she won’t get it.  You have to want it for all of us.  You have to work for it, you must insist on it, for all of us.  If it’s not safe for everyone’s daughter, it’s not safe for anyone’s daughter.

You don’t know what you don’t know.  Men experience the world differently than women do- that much is clear.

So, educate yourselves.  Maybe start by asking every woman you have a relationship with what her experience with sexual harassment and sexual assault is. Ask her where she feels safe and where she does not. Ask how she is treated on social media. I bet the answers will surprise you. I bet a lot of you men who are proclaiming how devastated you would be if something like this happened to the women in your life are going to be surprised to find out that it already has.

If you want to protect your daughters, you need to work to protect everyone’s daughters. You need to treat these cases of abuse and harassment not as though they might happen to your daughter, but as though they HAVE.

There is no such thing as ‘other people’s children.’

Glennon Doyle

The notion that having a daughter yourself is proof enough that you get it, that you’re aware and outraged, that you find Harvey Weinstein’s behavior abhorrent, is nonsense– because you know who has daughters?

Harvey Weinstein.

Ride

 

“You cannot stop the waves,

but you can learn to surf.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

There’s a condition called congenital analgesia.  It’s really rare, and it basically means you are born without the ability to feel physical pain.  At first blush, that might sound great.  It’s not.  It’s actually incredibly dangerous because while pain is awful, it is GREAT INFORMATION.  Pain is important, life-saving data.  It tells you something is wrong.  You need help.  You need to explore something.  You’re being harmed.  You’re unwell.

It’s the same thing with emotional pain.  It’s a hint that perhaps someone or something has harmed you, that you’ve brushed up against some open wound, there’s some trauma you’ve not yet healed, there’s something long ignored that is pleading to be examined.

I’ve been dealing with a bit of both.  Physical pain, emotional pain.  I’m trying to suss out where the real pain ends and the voluntary pain begins.

To that end, I had my third reflexology appointment today.

I like my practitioner a lot, even though there’s a fair to middlin’ chance she’s Satan’s handmaiden.  She was happy to hear what a difference our last appointment made and began the session.  It was different this time because I knew what was coming.  The pain took me by surprise the first time.  Now, I like surprises when they involve white twinkle lights, giraffes, someone bringing me Starbucks… but excruciating pain?  Notsomuch.  I wondered if it would be less intense now that I’d already had it done twice.

It was decidedly not.  I was prepared for it, though.  I willed myself not to tense up.  I began my measured breathing before she started and focused on that. I tried to keep my hands and feet relaxed.

I’ve always been able to handle physical pain.  A gift born of trauma, I suppose.  I could always escape into my head.

During my second pregnancy, I remember the midwife at my birthing class saying, “You can’t fight the pain.  Well, you CAN, if you want to sign up for MORE pain.”

It’s so counter-intuitive.  Our human instinct is to resist pain- we’re inclined to tense up, run, or numb.

I was only twenty-one when I had my first child.  I’m sure my midwife THAT time said something similar, but I was younger, single, freaked out, and perhaps a smidge less teachable?  My contractions were never much farther apart than five minutes and I was in labor for twenty-five and a half hours.  As soon as one contraction ended I tensed up in preparation for the next one, thereby ensuring it would be more painful.  I was determined to get through without pain meds, though, and I did.  My refusal to participate in voluntary suffering is a somewhat recent development.

Child number two was born seven years later.   That time around, I remembered what my midwife taught me.   During contractions, while I breathed I would let myself feel the pain, settle into it, and really THINK about it.  When you focus on the breathing that way, it almost makes the pain abstract.  It becomes a thing outside of you.  I wrapped my mind around the tightening, piercing contractions.  I envisioned holding the pain, turning it around in my hands, examining it.  I asked myself, “Can I live through THIS pain, RIGHT now, for ONE minute.”

Let me tell you, you can get through a minute of just about anything if you’re willing to accept it.  Relax into the pain and coast.  The wave of pain comes and instead of paddling against it, you ride.

Minutes add up over time.  That labor was just under eight hours and kiddo #2 weighed in at 10 lbs 10 oz.  Still no meds, but much less traumatic.  I didn’t believe the nurse when she came in to tell me the birth weight.  How was that birth easier than my 7 lb first baby?

Accept.  Don’t fight.  Ride the wave.  Surrender.

Damn it all if surrender and acceptance aren’t almost always the answer to all of the things.  I find it to be a hugely annoying truth… that I accept. (seewhatididthere?)

I’ve could never manage that with emotional pain, though.  There was no escaping into my head because my mind was the battle’s front line- so  I turned running and numbing and hustling into an art form. I was always rushing toward the voluntary pain to avoid the one I was afraid to feel.  I drank, I starved, I shopped, I cleaned, I volunteered, I snarked… Run, run, run.  Numb, numb, numb.  It probably seems weird to count pain as anesthesia. I mean, to normal people.  Whoever they are.

I would stay in untenable situations because it was familiar pain.  Comfortable pain, if you will.

Nowadays, when I find myself in emotionally painful situations I find myself getting curious about the pain.  I follow it.  I consciously still myself.  Quiet my mind.  I pick up the pain and I turn it around in my hands.  I examine it.  Is this unavoidable pain? Voluntary? Self-inflicted?

I had a massage appointment last week.  I hadn’t been in a while, but school started back up and between Favorite and I we have three kids in three different schools in three different cities.  He’s been traveling a lot, and so on our days with his boys I have been spending a LOT of time behind the wheel which isn’t great for anyone with back trouble.

Anyway, at one point during my session, I winced, and she asked, “How is that pressure?”  “I can handle it.”  I said.

She got very still and then said,

“You know, just because you can withstand a certain level of pain doesn’t mean you HAVE to endure it.”

What.

Okay, YODA.

That’s such a thing with trauma survivors- just accepting pain as your normal.  The mindset that because you CAN live with it means that you should or must.  I think it’s what keeps so many of us from doing the work.  If your baseline since childhood has been pain that can feel a lot like home to you.  I have had so many survivors say to me, “It’s fine.  I’m fine.  I’ve lived with it this long.  I’ve accepted it.  The only one it affects is me.”

I firmly believe accepting the facts of your abuse is part of the healing process.  Fighting the facts of our history is never time well spent because facts are not negotiable. Accepting a lifetime of continued pain around your abuse is another matter entirely. And no one’s trauma exists in a vacuum.  There is always collateral damage to those who love us, in one form or another.

It’s so tricky sometimes, isn’t it?  I know I need to sit still for pain or follow pain and see where it leads me- but I ALSO know I don’t need to sit down in it and live there.  I don’t need to hang curtains and put down throw rugs.  I don’t need to make my pain cozy. If pain is there to teach me something, and I believe it is, then my interaction with it needs to be intentional.  I need to lean in with the intention to learn, let the pain take me where it needs to, and then I need to move on.  Any pain I refuse to learn from will keep coming back, again and again.

People put off doing work around their trauma because they are afraid of the pain, but if that trauma goes untreated you will be in pain anyway- and it will be a pointless pain. Pain for pain’s sake.

If you stand still and let the pain wash over you, let it take you where it’s going, you will eventually get to shore.  This I know.

 

Just us.

“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected-those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most-and listens to their testimony.”

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket

I’ve always been a sucker for a movie in which the main character is on a quest for justice. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

Give me a Liam Neeson going after the guy who took his daughter or a Count of Monte Christo dramatically settling scores.  When the line of police cars is tearing up the road to Shawshank Prison and you know the warden is going down?  Forget about it.

There was so much pain, so much harm in my life and in the world around me, and I wanted wrong things made right.  I wanted there to be consequences.  I wanted bad guys to pay.  The problem with that is what I was really seeking was vengeance.

We talk a lot about our justice system in this country.  It is huge- almost 114K employees, with a budget of over $31 billion dollars.  It also has exactly nothing to do with justice.

What we have is a Retribution Department.  A Punishment Department.

Please hear me when I say this, I am not saying that crimes don’t deserve punishment.  It may be the best bad option when someone is grievously harmed.  Make no mistake, though, no matter how swiftly the verdict is reached, no matter how severe a sentence is imposed, justice is never served.  The scales will never feel balanced because justice is not the answer to injustice, it is the absence of it.

The scales will never feel balanced

because justice is not the answer to injustice,

it is the absence of it.

When my cousin Mary and I wrote our story for Boston Magazine, the first title that got assigned to the article was, How to get revenge on a dead man.

I recoiled and shrieked a little when I read it.  I had a visceral reaction to the word revenge because that is not what we were seeking.  It is not revenge to go to the police when harm has been done to you.  We asked that the title be NOT THAT and they changed it.  Eventually, it was entitled, How to get justice from a dead man.  That is infinitely better and still not quite right.

We got no justice.  Traditional justice, as is meted out by the penal system, was never going to be an option anyway because our perpetrator was long deceased.  If he was still alive should he have gone to prison?  Yes.  Yes, he should have.  I sorely wish he’d been reported and prosecuted back when he was abusing us because other victims would have been spared their trauma.  That didn’t happen.  Other girls were harmed and suffered injustice because he escaped punishment.  That is sometimes harder to live with than my own trauma.

When we walked into that police station that cold January morning we were not seeking vengeance.  I’m not sure we were even seeking justice.  Our untold story was screaming inside us.  It had made itself known in a myriad of toxic and harmful ways and we were desperately tired of dragging it around.  We were looking for a place to lay that dark and heavy thing down.  We needed to tell our story.  We needed a witness.  We needed an opportunity to say, “LOOK.  This terrible thing happened.”

My version of finding some measure of peace is using the knowledge I have as a survivor to try and prevent other kids from being sexually abused. I can raise awareness, talk to parents about prevention and what to do if their kids do disclose abuse.  I find freedom in telling my story and helping other survivors tell theirs.  My healing is largely born of using my experience to help others to heal. I am grateful for that peace and healing.  I am thankful for that freedom.

Justice would have been not having that experience and knowledge in the first place.  I would have preferred not to have that story to tell.

Justice is what should have happened,

not the solution to what did.

When I was at Wild Goose this summer I heard Reverend Otis Moss III speak.  He talked about how our purpose on this earth is to make way for the next person.  To make a path, open a door, create space for the person coming up behind us.

Some crimes demand punishment.  They do.  It is the best way (so far) that our society has come up with to underscore the fact that behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. Sometimes individuals are so dangerous that society requires protection from them. Period.

I think we get so invested in punishment as justice.  And if and when we do get it, we wonder why it doesn’t lessen our pain, why we’re still bitter, why is feels empty.

How many times have we heard families of victims say they thought they’d feel better when the perpetrator went to jail, but it was hollow?  That it wasn’t enough, somehow?

Of course it’s not enough.  Because we’re left with just us and our pain.  No justice.  The harm is still there.  The trauma is still untreated.  Healing from trauma- whether it be our own or that of someone we love- is work.  HARD work.  Long term work.  Healing cannot be handed down in the form of a sentence.  It just does not work that way.

Retribution is not our work.  Vengeance is not our work.

So, if those of us who have been abused, harmed, violated- by a person, an institution, or society at large- do seek justice it will not be for ourselves.  The injustice we suffered is a fact and facts are not negotiable.  It already happened.  There is simply no unringing those terrible bells.

We can raise awareness, we can educate, we can advocate, we can fight, and we can resist- because if we do that sacred work we can ensure the next child, next woman, next person of color, next LGBTQ kid, next prisoner, next whoever, does not experience that same thing.

If we want justice we go to those who have suffered injustice and ask what happened and what should have happened, then we work to make that happen for the next person.  We do our individual work, and then we do our familial work, our institutional work, our societal work and things change.

Just us, then justice.

Yes. This is us.

“Justice will not be served

until those who are unaffected

are as outraged as those who are.”

Benjamin Franklin

Last weekend, social media was awash in the hashtag #ThisIsNotUs.  I heard politician after politician say, “America is better than this,” and, “This is not who we are.”

That needs to stop.  Seriously.

Listen, I get it.  I get the urge, when confronted with such ugliness, such hatred, ignorance, and violence, to disavow the behavior as something aberrant, alien.  OTHER. Who wants to be associated with what is the very worst of human nature?  I have a visceral reaction to what I saw take place in Charlottesville.  It sickens me.

The thing is though, what we saw happen in Charlottesville is us.  It is.  It is exactly us, at this moment in time.  Those photos of faces twisted in fury, lit by torches?  Those are family photos.  They are the same faces that were once covered by hoods, and before that worn by overseers and slave traders.  They were present at the bus riots in Boston, the lunch counters in Alabama, and this president’s rallies during the election.  Those faces have always been a part of the American family.  They have never not been us.

The United States of America was the first country born of an idea.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That idea, that IDEAL, has never been realized in this country.  It was lofty and bold and beautiful and penned by a man who owned other human beings.  Even the guy who WROTE it didn’t believe in it enough to fully live it.  That is a wildly uncomfortable FACT.

In Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech he said:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.”

That remains an unfulfilled dream.

I have heard in years past that race as an issue is a generational thing- that kids today are ‘post-racial.’

I think we saw a black man elected to the highest office in the land and it allowed us to think we’d done work we have not done.

Take a look at those photos of the people surrounding that statue in the square in Charlottesville, the torches they carry illuminate their YOUNG faces contorted in rage as they shout, “Blood and Soil,” a phrase derived from the German, “Blut und Boden,” popularized during the Nazi’s ascension to power.

The comparison to Nazis is not just apt, it’s direct.  It’s a same/same comparison. These are not remnants from a generation past, these are young people, primarily male, who have LEARNED from generations past.  These young men didn’t descend on the square and commit their first act of hatred.  There is exactly zero percent chance that’s the case. They came from their families and communities and schools and jobs where they learned, spread, and lived out of this hate.

I’ve heard people say President Obama brought this out in people, which is patently ridiculous.  I have news for you, if your reaction to policies you don’t agree with is to hate black people, you already hated black people.

And it’s nonsense to blame this entirely on the current President.  If those seeds, if that underlying racism wasn’t already there, there is nothing that man could have said to foment such ugliness so quickly.  Did he embolden them?  ABSOLUTELY.  His rhetoric and blatant inciting of violence at his rallies and his hiring of Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon resulted in turning hooded racists into bare-faced racists.  He pulled the covers off it, he wrote them a permission slip- but these people were already here, in line at the bank, next to us in class and in church pews and across the Thanksgiving table.

They didn’t march on Charlottesville because the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee was an attempt to “bury history,”  either.  Hear me when I say this:

Exactly no one is suggesting we bury history. What is being asked is that we no longer display signs and symbols and statues glorifying the horror of slavery. Would a statue of Hitler be okay in Munich? Ok to fly Nazi flags in the towns where Jewish Germans were packed onto train cars and sent to their deaths? We should have comprehensive museums that accurately reflect the monstrous national sin that was slavery- not statues of its architects and defenders that were placed in town squares to terrorize and intimidate.

And I am guessing these young men knew that.

These young men were intent on preserving a statue which was a state sanctioned act of terror because they are terrorists.  Full stop.

There was a book I read many years back called Hitler’s Willing Executioners.  It wasn’t about Nazis, it was about regular Germans.

Ordinary people, who said nothing and did nothing to halt the tide of insane nationalism combined with systemic anti-Semitism that resulted in the Holocaust.  People who held latent bias, perhaps, and just didn’t want to get involved in all that ugliness.  Who didn’t want to rock the boat or make trouble.  Maybe they didn’t want the Jews exterminated but they didn’t want to stick their necks out for them either.  So they stayed quiet.  They went along.  They behaved.

And so, some frustrated, angry, self-important, power hungry little man came along who gave them someone to blame for every unrealized dream, every personal failure, every national problem.  Any of this ringing a bell?

These terrorists in Charlottesville are not other.  They’re not.  When we say, “This is not US,” we are saying what we want to be true rather than what is. The fact that that’s unsettling and unpleasant does not make it untrue. Those angry men might not be ME, and they might not be YOU- but they ARE us.  US is a collective noun.  It means me, and it means you, AND IT MEANS THEM.  They didn’t come from nowhere.  They didn’t come up with those ideas on their own.

If the terrorist that drove the car that killed that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens more had more melanin in his skin, if his family worshipped at a mosque and not a church, we’d be hearing a hell of a lot more, “Where was he radicalized?”  You can bet your bottom dollar this White House would have used the word terrorist inside of an hour.

White America needs to get real.  We need a long, hard, unflinching look in the national mirror.

One of the most life changing things I have learned in recovery is to examine my part in things, whether it be conflict, relationships, resentments- anything that’s making me uneasy, unhappy, or unhealthy.

This is not a delightful process.

Before I got sober I was much more inclined to feel like life and hardship and harm were just happening to me, that I was a victim of circumstance.  The trouble with that is this: If you are not part of the problem, if you have no ownership of any of it, it’s nigh impossible to be part of the solution because you have no agency in how you got there.

If these radicalized white nationalists are just happening to us, we’re screwed.  If they’re just spontaneously erupting like a whack-a-mole from hell, well then, there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it.

Spoiler alert- they’re not.  Every racist joke unchallenged at the dinner table, every stereotype reinforced by the media and news outlets not called out, and every polite biting of the tongue when someone crosses a line of decency is a seed sown.  When your kid saw you not raise hell when an elected official called the First Lady of the United States an “ape in heels,” when a Mayor sends out a meme with the White House front lawn depicted as a watermelon patch, when President Obama was lynched in effigy on a regular basis, and you said NOTHING?  You became complicit.

And when you deny your own privilege, when you, “yeah, but…” when you reflexively get defensive rather than simply listening and acknowledging someone else’s pain and the harm that has been done to them by our country, you are actively part of the problem.

These white nationalists are not apart from us, they are a PART OF US.  Denying that is just doubling down on our guilt.

There’s a part of Dr. King’s speech that doesn’t get quoted as often.

“In a sense, we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

I think we avoid that passage because it makes us uncomfortable, and it makes us uncomfortable because we know it is STILL TRUE.  That check remains uncashed, our promises remain unhonored.

We remain a racist nation.  We do.  And it is not enough to wring our hands and lament when violence erupts.  It’s not productive to go on defense when people are honest about it.  It is not enough to engage in pointing fingers at others to blame when we’ve not searched our own souls and done our own work.

We need to listen.  We need to learn (which does not mean making it someone else’s job to educate us.) We need to repent.

Until we do those things, this is the U.S., and this is us.

Of Mess and Moxie – A Book Review

“Also, if your husband or family or kid or marriage or history or best friend or parent or personality or passion or orientation or career places you, ‘outside the camp,’

I want to whisper something awesome to you:

there is no camp. 

There is only Jesus and His band of scalawags and ragamuffins.

Find your people.  They exist.

Raise your voice, tell your story, take your place.”

Jen Hatmaker

Soo…full disclosure.  I love Jen Hatmaker.  For realz.  She was one of the bloggers who re-posted He Wrote it Down and caused it to go viral, which set into motion several really important life things for me, including sobriety and Say It, Survivor.  So basically, my baseline with Jen is adoration.

Last October, Jen gave an interview in which she discussed her feelings on gay marriage and the way the LGBTQ community has been treated by the church.  It was open and tender and affirming and I wept when I read it.

I am the mama of two incredible human beings, both of whom are funny, kind, weird, smart people, and both of whom are members of the LGBTQ community.  I have spent the past few years hearing voice after voice from faith leaders talk of Jesus out of one corner of their mouths while spewing hatred toward my kids out of the other.  And if anyone is entertaining the thought of telling me it’s not personal, I’d suggest you don’t- because THE HELL IT’S NOT.

Needless to say, my gratitude to anyone in the Christian community who use their voices and their platforms to support, include, and love my kids- and all the other kids- is endless.  For Jen to have done it knowing that she had a book coming out this summer, knowing that her critics would have a field day, and she would likely lose followers is brave and kind and rooted in serious integrity.

Jen’s my girl.

When I like a book I tend to annoy everyone in a half mile radius reading and/or texting quotes to them, telling them about the book.  When I LOVE a book, I don’t.  I want it to unfold for them the way it did for me.  I did both of these things with Jen Hatmaker’s brilliant and funny new book, Of Mess and Moxie, Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life.

Some parts are just too funny not to share- it would have been selfish to keep the passage on sex talks with your kids to myself and I am nothing if not a giver.  In my defense, generally, when you are cackling like a maniac in a room by yourself people ask what’s up. If I had Jen’s cell number I’d have texted her quotes from her own book.  It’s a thing I tend to do with my writer-y friends.  There’s an outside chance they find it annoying, but I’ve no way of knowing. I’m just going to assume it’s precious.

This book covers a lot- from faith to mothering to relationships to cooking to parent fails to sex to the creative process. That might sound like too wide a swathe of topics for one book, but it’s not and here’s why: Jen writes the way your best, smartest, most honest, hilarious girlfriend talks.  The whole book reads like a girls’ night in- the kind where the conversation meanders from the sublime to the ridiculous, veering from the sacred to the wildly inappropriate.  The best kind of night, we can all agree.  Reading it, I found myself thinking of Truvy’s line from Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

The chapter Sanctuary is one that I know I will return to again and again.

“The thing is, we all want to belong, we all crave sanctuary, we are all invited guests.  Women, I commission us to fix this…. It is sacred work to open our eyes wide and look around:  Who is unseen?  Who is left out?  Who is marginalized?  Whose voice is silenced?  Whose story is outside the lines?  Who would feel isolated by the primary language here??”

There are also three “How to” chapters with handy step by step instructions for navigating life.  For instance, the, “How to ruin your teenager’s life” section begins,

  1. Breathe.

It actually could end there and be complete, but there’s more.

This entire book is a love letter to girlfriends.  There are chapters that specifically speak to the power of friendship between women, and the chapters that don’t are exactly the sort of conversations women have with each other.  We talk about heartbreak and how weird our kids are and aging parents and how hard marriage can be and bras and how having kids in school is more work than ACTUAL SCHOOL.  We sit alongside each other in grief, we help pick up the pieces after marriages shatter, we remind each other when our kids fall down that they are more than their worst decision.

For the love.

When it comes to women friends, I have an embarrassment of riches.  My tribe is wide and deep and solid.  It’s, like, my favorite part of being an alcoholic.  I’m am not even kidding.  The upside of being a drunk in recovery is that you end up cultivating a tribe of shameless, honest, brave, badass women who run the gamut between women in their 80’s to 18-year-old fresh faced girls.  I see them every single day.  We show up for each other relentlessly.  The love in this group is muscular.  It’s gorgeous.

My BEST friend, however,  is Angela. She is NOT an alcoholic, but she’s so awesome that doesn’t even matter to me.  I could cry even trying to write about her. I’m so sorry for every single one of you that doesn’t have her as a best friend. Truly. I wish a version of her for you, but you cannot have her. She is very busy with me, thanksforasking.

She is smart and tough and gentle and funny and wise. She is a practical Canadian who is the single most spiritual person I have ever met. When I was stuck in mere belief she showed me what actual faith looked like. When I attend church with her I crack wide open in a way that is a struggle for me when she’s not around. She has the faith of a child, in the very best conceivable way. She’d also help me bury a body if I needed her to. I know this for a fact. She’s offered.

When I was going through my divorce I was completely undone. Shattered, really. That was a hard time for both of us. She was so worried about me. I was drinking too much and starving myself. She was literally watching her best friend disappear. She didn’t know what to do, how to help. I’m so sorry to have done that to her.  At one point, she kidnapped me and dragged my skinny ass back to church where she sat next to me and looked on helplessly while I sobbed.

Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is ride shotgun alongside you in grief. That was a painful season in our friendship, but we came out of it knowing how to love one another better.

We have a whole big wide country between us now and that is hard. With jobs and kids and time zone differences, it can make connection challenging. She’s still my person, though. My love for her is deep and wide and constant and fierce, as is hers for me.

Every time I am with her I am inspired to be a better mother/friend/partner/human. The fact that her beautiful kid and my beautiful kid had the same kindergarten bus stop is proof enough to me that God loves me and wants the best for me.

There’s a chapter in the book called Fangirl.  In it, Jen posits that the people we should be agog over are not celebrities, they are our friends.  That we should lift up and celebrate them the way this culture does famous people (except for the delighting in their failures thing- because that’s gross.)

I couldn’t agree more.  I try not to have an unarticulated loving thought about my friends. My friends are amazing and I try really hard to constantly remind them of that.

SO.

I was fortunate enough to have our pal Jen (she’s what my kid snarkily refers to as one of my interweb friends. Can you hear the air quotes?  They’re deafening.  Seriously, guys.  “Teach them to TALK,” they said.  “It’ll be FUN,” they said.  They are lying liars who lie.) send me two copies of the book, just because she is awesome and generous.  I’d already pre-ordered my own copy, so I seem to be in possession of some extras.  That is a fabulous situation for me, as I am a compulsive book-giver.

Here’s what I’m thinking:  Go to the blog’s Facebook page.  If you haven’t already done so, like the page and then comment on the book review (this post) which will be the pinned post at the top.  In your comment, fangirl your best friend and tag her in the comment.  Tell us why she’s your ride or die friend.  Shine a bright light on how totally amazeballs she is and tell us why life would, quite simply, not be the same without her.  Next Friday, August 18th, I will randomly select one of the names of the commenters and then whoever is chosen -AND HER FRIEND- will receive a copy Of Mess and Moxie.

If, perchance, you DON’T win, or are just looking for the best beach read or a gift for a friend or something to pin down a very bad, small dog, go ahead and order your own copy.  You won’t be sorry.

Deal?  Deal.

Love you so.

*****************************************************************************

Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published, it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.

SO.

Please consider doing the following:

Come hang out with me on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter!

Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!

If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t.   And I’m sorry.  I don’t even know how I ended up there…

 

On Harry Potter, Oprah, and flying

“In order to succeed

we must first believe that we can.”

Nikos Kazantzakis

I have an app on my phone that tracks my sobriety time.  Every morning it gives me my month count and a little inspirational quote.  I got the one above a little while back.

I was speaking the other night and I mentioned that while I was still drinking I never, ever really thought about getting sober. Not once.  Not really.  Not even when everything was hitting the fan and everyone was furious with me.  Not when the weight of people’s disappointment was crushing, not when I knew every relationship was in jeopardy.  Not even when I dragged my hungover ass to my first meeting.

I also did not spend much time contemplating learning to fly- which seemed about as likely.  I KNEW I could not stop drinking.  Knew it down to my bones.  I was sure of it. How could I possibly survive life without drinking?  Alcohol was my SOLUTION to pain. It worked right up until it didn’t.  But I honestly didn’t see how I could move through the world without it.  I had no reference for doing that.

I get lots of emails from readers asking about healing from abuse- I get tons of great questions.

The other day I was asked by someone why it is that I choose to go back to the pain of my abuse over and over again, to delve back into that story.  It’s great that I’m in a good place with it, but having done that work why would I choose to still talk about it now?  Why not put it behind me and enjoy my life rather than revisit that pain over and over again?  Isn’t it giving my abuser power over my life, still?  And isn’t it bad for me?

See?  They’re great questions.  And I suppose questions that could also be asked about my writing about divorce and addiction.

First of all, if doing this work was bad for me I wouldn’t do it.  Full stop.

That’s a miracle and I want everyone to take a minute to witness that.  BEHOLD- A HEALTHY BOUNDARY.  I’m thinking of having it bronzed.

This is the first time in my life when I could truthfully say that.  No matter how much it might help other people, no matter how much people might want me to, no matter how much it might seem like the right thing to do, or the empowered thing to do, if revisiting my trauma on a regular basis was bad for me, I am at a place in my life where I simply would not do that.

I heard Glennon Doyle speak a while back and she said that what sobriety has come to mean to her is a decision never to betray herself again.  That resonated so deeply within me.

I choose me.

I choose me and in doing so, it becomes possible for me to be of service.  It’s that whole putting on your own oxygen mask thing.  Turns out there’s something to that.

As far as giving my abuser continued control over my life- well, I just couldn’t disagree more.

When I wasn’t telling my story, my abuser had complete control over my life.  I may not have been telling my story, but because our stories are nothing if not insistent, it was being told anyway- in addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, fearful parenting, toxic relationships, perfectionism, low self-esteem, insomnia… those things were ALL my story being told, because as William Shakespeare warned us, “The truth will out.”

I don’t know why I can revisit my trauma over and over again and not be harmed or triggered by it- and I’m not sure I care much.  I can.  Maybe I’ve simply told my story so many times at this point that it’s old hat.  I have integrated it as A fact of my life, so it is no longer THE fact of my life.

In recovery, we talk about building up a new history as a sober person.  It sort of means something like this: I know I can get through this next Christmas sober because I have already done it.  I’ve gotten through two Christmases sober. I now have that history, so, therefore, getting through Christmas without drinking is possible.  That’s what most people in recovery call a sober reference.

I am a massive dork, though- so, instead, I always refer to the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Obviously.

Remember the scene when Harry, having used the Time Turner, knows he can summon the Patronus because he has seen himself do it?  (Oh, should I have said, SPOILER ALERT?  Sorry.  Actually- NO, I’M NOT.  Read the books.  See the movies.  We can’t all keep secrets forever so nothing is ruined for you, precious.  I’m trying to live my life here, dammit.)

Anyway, back to the Boy who Lived.  Fear couldn’t lie to him and tell him it was impossible because he had proof to the contrary.

He knew he could, so he did.

Anyhoo.  I also believe in using other people as sober/Harry Potter references.  I know I can stay sober during terrible times because I have seen other people do so, etc.  In my sober tribe I have seen people lose marriages, jobs, their health, even children, and remain sober through it- so I know it can be done.

When I was at Wild Goose I had the great good fortune to hear Reverend Otis Moss III speak.  That was almost a month ago now, and I’m pretty sure the trees in the mountains of North Carolina are still shaking.  He spoke of our responsibility to the next person, next generation- that our sole purpose here is to open a door, create a path- make possible some opportunity for whoever is coming up behind us.  Sometimes that means blazing a trail, and sometimes it just means being an example.  A reference of what’s possible.

After he spoke (and after I cleaned the mascara off my face) I went to his book signing.  I told him what his speech had called to mind for me, in my life.

When I was a freshman in college, I was in the dorm room next to mine watching Oprah with my girlfriends because it was 1989 and that was the law. Oprah was talking about her abuse and she was seemingly doing it without shame.  It made an enormous, life-changing impression on me.

Now, it’s not like I had some magical moment and my shame just fell away- I had to do the WORK.  And it’s not like I had the thought, “Ohmigosh- Oprah and I are so exactly alike- therefore, I can be shameless, too!”  I mean, she’s OPRAH.  But up until that moment, perched on the corner of that dorm bed, it had quite simply not occurred to me that was even an option to live without shame.

Oprah’s shamelessness became a reference for me- it allowed for the possibility of that freedom.

Those sober, Harry Potter/Oprah references are at least as important as the cautionary tales everyone always wants you to heed- the ones that tell you why it won’t work, why you can’t, what could happen.  I even hear survivors utter these words of warning or fear about the process of healing- as though leaning into that pain is too daunting.  That they can’t revisit their trauma- it’s too much.  Too painful.  Too treacherous.

I want to say,

“HONEY.

You survived the THING.

You sure as HELL can survive

TALKING about the thing.”

That’s a big part of why I do what I do- because we need models of life after trauma.  We need to know that shamelessness, health, healing, and joy are possible.  We need to SEE it- because it seems impossible.  When you are stuck in it, you might as well obsess about learning to fly.

This I can promise you, sweet friends- the work will not be worse than the wound.

If you are here reading this and think you cannot survive doing the work around whatever is keeping to tethered to the past or to an unhealthy present, I’d gently remind you that if you weren’t a surviving badass you WOULD NOT BE HERE. I post it as a reminder on Say It, Survivor all the time-


It can all get so much better.  It can.  It’s hard work, but not harder than where you’ve been.  If today is a super hard day, think back to what you believed about your last super hard day.  It didn’t feel like you could get through it, right?  But here you are.  Having gotten through it.  That’s some serious badassery.

Allow for the possibility that if you do the work, if you sit still for the pain, that you will come out the other side with a new story.  And, quite possibly, the ability to fly.

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

Erin Hanson

**********************************************************************************

Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published, it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.

SO.

Please consider doing the following:

Come hang out with me on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter!

Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!

If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t.   And I’m sorry.  I don’t even know how I ended up there…

What it’s not.

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded;

not with the fanfare of epiphany,

but with pain gathering its things,

packing up,

and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini

Recently, I’ve found myself part of many conversations around the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness is something I think many people fundamentally misunderstand- I know I did for a very, very long time.

I spoke at Wild Goose last week and got a question from a survivor wondering if she owed her abuser forgiveness.  I had another question about the timeline for forgiveness. Another about whether it’s truly ever possible.  Another from a woman who copped to not wanting to forgive.  Just flat out not wanting to.

Oh, do I so totally get that.

Let’s start here.  Let’s parse out the three things people are talking about, generally, when they discuss forgiveness.

There’s, y’know, forgiveness.

Then there’s reconciliation.

Then there’s absolution.

I think all of those things get wrapped up under the umbrella of forgiveness and that makes for some confusion and angst.

Let’s simplify.  We can take one off the table right away.  Absolution is way the hell above our pay grade and not even close to our job, so we can let that one go.

I think a lot of the time when someone asks for forgiveness they MEAN absolution.  The thing about forgiveness, though, is that it does not always impact the person being forgiven.  There are people I’ve forgiven who are blithely unaware of that fact.  That’s because forgiveness is not necessarily about the person who caused the harm.

Forgiveness does NOT mean saying that what happened is okay and that the other person doesn’t need to have remorse or make amends or restitution or pay consequences. I remember feeling like I almost didn’t want to be okay because if I was, then it meant what happened wasn’t that big a deal.  Like it was a get out of jail card for the person who harmed me.  That I should be over it.

Forgiveness does not mitigate or minimize or negate your pain or trauma.

Forgiveness does not necessarily entail reconciliation.  You can forgive someone and decide you cannot have them in your life for one reason or another.  No one is entitled to that access and frankly, I do not believe there can be real reconciliation in the absence of justice.  Now, justice can look like more than one thing.  We get stuck in a punitive, penal system idea of justice, but the truth is that rarely happens and often doesn’t bring the peace and serenity we think it will.

Yes, forgiveness can be offered to someone who has harmed you.  That is an act of mercy, a gift- and gifts are ALWAYS OPTIONAL.  If it’s mandatory, it’s not a gift.  That’s not how gifts work.

I have forgiven some people for their roles in my abuse and the aftermath, but they are not welcome in my life.

Forgiveness is a choice.  And usually not a one-off.  Sometimes forgiveness is a daily decision.  I do so love things to be efficient, but I have found that most things in my life worth anything are a practice.  The fact that this is almost always true does not keep it from being unspeakably annoying.

And forgiveness is not something that can be forced or even ASKED of someone, really.

The other day I got a text from a friend.  She’s received a package in the mail from a relative who is distressed at the rift in their family and wants her to FIX IT.  This relative really wants things to be nice again.

Please God, deliver us from the nice people.

That niceness, though, would involve my friend pretending that she’d not suffered long term, violent sexual abuse in her family- and we can all agree that’s slightly problematic.

The package contained the following… gifts:

Have mercy.

I suggested she continue this super fun book-exchange with the following gift in kind:

Anything can be unforgivable and anything can be forgivable because forgiveness is always a CHOICE.  It is a decision.  It is not some emotion what washes over us as we smile beatifically.  It cannot be earned or demanded.

When we forgive it is a conscious decision to lay down anger and resentment, and sometimes our anger and resentment is comfortable or it serves us in some way.  I’ve had stretches in my life when my anger kept me going because my only other option at the time was despair.  My anger was fuel, but the kind that burns really hot and really fast. It’s not sustainable- at least not for me.  But in that space, forgiveness does not seem possible- and maybe it’s not.  I find myself more able to forgive when the acute pain has lessened its grip on me.  It eases a bit, and then I am able to lay the rest down.

The truth is, my friend could forgive her abuser and his enablers and things still wouldn’t be nice because all forgiveness means is that someone has decided not to give valuable real estate in their mind or heart to anger and resentment.  That’s it.  And maybe sometimes in order to achieve that state some serious distance is necessary.  The rift might actually be a necessary component of her forgiveness.  She is the ONLY one who gets to decide that.

The only person who deserves the act of forgiveness is the person who has been harmed. YOU. You deserve to forgive because carrying the weight of all that pain and hurt and anger is too much.  It’s just too much, and it keeps you a prisoner of whatever harm was done to you forever- and you don’t deserve that.

But it’s okay if you’re not there.  You don’t have to be there. Yet.

*****************************************************************************************

Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published, it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.

SO.

Please consider doing the following:

Come hang out with me on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter!

Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!

If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t.   And I’m sorry.  I don’t even know how I ended up there…

 

All Belong Here – An album review

When you’re not sure

who you really are

When all you feel is

the shape of your scars

And you have more wounds

than you can count

Open your eyes, look all around

You aren’t alone, this is your home

The Many

All Belong Here- Communion Song by Lenora Rand / Hannah Rand

You may remember that around this time last year (and by that, I mean a year ago TODAY EXACTLY) I published a post entitled Hinges.  It’s actually one of my favorite essays.  It was about an experience I had at Wild Goose Festival last year and it involved a band called The Many.

I’ve been listening to their latest album, All Belong Here, and trying to write a review of it.  I mean, sort of.  I don’t actually know how to DO that, but then I don’t know how to write book reviews either and that seldom stops me.

So, let me come at this another way.  I’ll tell you a story.  I know how to do that.

For most of my life, I was one of those un-churched people you hear about.  I believed in God, but I’d broken up with him when I was nine.  I never really stopped believing in him, but I lost my faith.  I was angry and disappointed.  I didn’t trust him, and I certainly didn’t trust church.  Between the way the church handled my parents’ divorce, to coming of age as a survivor in a Boston suburb during the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, I saw the church as mean, hypocritical and, quite frankly, sinister.

I flirted with church in college.  I sang in the choir (such as it was) and attended services for a bit.  Then the pastor who led it let me down.  It didn’t take much.  I ran away again.

When I was going through the worst of my divorce, when I was starving and drinking myself to death, my best friend kidnapped me and dragged me back to church.  That’s not even an exaggeration.  She threw my skinny butt in her mini-van and hauled me to the office of the pastor at a church we’d been attending sporadically.  That church became my church for a time.  It healed me in many ways.  They had an incredible worship leader- he had a beautiful voice and he sang primarily contemporary Christian music.

There was one song he sang on Father’s Day, a day when my heart wasn’t just tender, it was a gaping, wide open wound, that sent me fleeing to the bathroom in tears.  I grew to love that song.  I listened to it all the time.

I heard it on the radio the other day and I cringed, which took me aback.  I began to reflect on the fact that I don’t listen to much of that music anymore and why that might be.  I think it’s the certainty.  I think it’s the gloss.  I think it’s the hustle.

The funny thing is, in that season of my life I think it was the certainty that appealed to me.  My whole life had blown up, the very ground under my feet seemed to be shifting (granted, that could have been the wine…) and I needed a clear cut faith.  I needed it to have hospital corners and dead bolts.  I was afraid of EVERYTHING, and so the music and faith life I gravitated toward needed to have all of the answers.

I know.

Today I am healthy and sober.  God and I got back together.  Turns out it was a huge misunderstanding.  We’re crazy about each other.  And because the ground under my feet is solid, there is room in my faith for more questions than answers. There’s room for mystery and brokenness.  A longer table.  No doors.

When my Favorite and I stumbled upon The Many last year- and I do mean stumbled, we were half asleep and in pj bottoms- it wasn’t because we were being sold some perfectly packaged thing, it was because as we lay there in our tent in the woods almost asleep, we felt invited.  The Many’s songs all sound like an invitation in the same way a dear friend being vulnerable with you creates a safe and sacred space and invites you to do the same. The music drifted through the dark woods and called us to the table.

More and more, especially as I grow older, I come to believe that church is where you find it.  I’ve struggled to find a church that feels like home to me.  I seem to find more certainty, more gloss, more hustle.  I don’t need a latte bar in the lobby.  I need my heart to be broken.  I want my heart to be broken for the things that break God’s heart.  I need my church to be a place where it is safe to tell the truth.  More often than not, I feel my connection to God more fully in church basements in a circle of creaky folding chairs than I do in the rows of polished pews upstairs.  Perhaps I need a jacked up church, a church with more than a few dents in it, for me to settle in.

The Many’s music feels like church to me.

My friend Glennon is fond of reminding us that the two most frequent phrases in the Bible are “Fear not,” and “Remember.”  She also points out that the word remember means RE- member.  The opposite of dismember.  As in, put back together.  My favorite church experiences are the ones that have called me to remember who I am, who we are, who we are called to be, together.  That it’s okay to admit you’re broken because we are ALL broken in some way at some time- and broken is not irreparable.  Maybe we are all broken pieces that fit together, somehow.  Together, we are whole.  When we are remembered.

Come and remember who you are here

Do this to remember who I am

Come and remember you belong here

All belong here

It’s an album that speaks to a faith I recognize.  A faith that is challenged by the pain and suffering I witness.  It’s music that allows for frustration with God, that doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t pretend to.  One of my favorite analogies for the kind art that speaks to me is to compare it to kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with precious metals.  They RE-member the broken pieces with something lovely.  The philosophy behind it is that we honor the history, the REALITY of the object not by hiding its broken places, but by acknowledging them and making them beautiful.

I think that is The Many’s special gift.

Here we are.  We are broken.  We need You.  We need each other.

At this table come as you are

Broken and bleeding’s ok

At this table eat and be filled

Come and drink in this grace.

Kyrie Eleison.

The Rand family can WRITE.  My goodness.  I would be happy just to read their lyrics, but I don’t have to- because OH MY WORD are Hannah Rand, Darren Calhoun, Leslie Michelle and Kerry Anne Pritchard a group of gorgeous singers.  They’re incredible individually but to get to partake of what the four of them create together?  Well, it’s a bit of a feast- which makes me all the more grateful to have been invited to their beautiful, busted up table.

I am headed to Goose again.  Like, right now.  I’m so excited to listen and learn, to tell my story, to dance, to laugh and to hear The Many, come back to the table and have my heart broken in the church under the canopy of trees and stars.

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Follow The Many on Facebook!

Please, please, PLEASE buy their album, All Belong Here.  Like, BUY IT.  Artists need to eat, y’all.

If you live in the area and are considering attending Wild Goose– DO. IT.  You won’t be sorry.

On a clear morning

Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you’re secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction, but to gauge, miserably, the odds of rain?
Anne Lamott

I lived in Seattle for more than a decade.  When you live in the Pacific Northwest you develop a nuanced relationship with the weather. Most people seem to have the impression that it pours there all the time.  Not so, PNW rookies.  Not so.  It rains a little bit almost every single day for nine months out of the year.  Lots of gloom. Meteorologists in the Northwest are prone to saying things like, “It’ll be a brighter grey today.”

I always loved that.

As usual, this morning I woke up long before the alarm at what Favorite is prone to calling, “stupid o’clock.”  I stretched.  I waited for my eyes to focus and adjust to the light. The room didn’t spin, my head didn’t hurt, my stomach felt just fine.  I wasn’t filled with dread or fear or remorse or shame.  My hands weren’t shaking.  I wasn’t afraid to check my phone.  I remembered the details of last night.  I breathed in the sea air coming in our bedroom window.  I looked at the early morning sky with clear eyes.

Then I had the same first thought I have had most mornings for the past twenty-four months:

ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou

Today is two years.  Two years ago today, I stopped drinking. I didn’t make the decision that day.  It wasn’t that cut and dry- and honestly, it didn’t feel possible.  I absolutely did not believe I could stop.  I didn’t yet have the clarity or the bravery to commit to sobriety that day, but I didn’t drink and I dragged my shaky, exhausted ass to my first meeting.

So today is day 730.

There’s an old story in my family about one of my sisters getting glasses- you know how families have those dog-eared tales?  Well, this is one of ours.  I guess she was about four? She’d gone and had her eyes checked, she’d gotten her fabulous seventies spectacles and was in the car riding home with my mom.  It began pouring out and she exclaimed aloud to my mother,

“Oh, Mommy!  I can see the rain!”

And just like that, it was a whole new world- a brighter, clearer grey.

There was nothing bright or clear about this time two years ago.  I mean, it looked fine on the outside.  I’ve always been great at outside stuff.  I can smile and jazz-hands my way through the unspeakable like. a. boss.  But regardless of my shiny veneer, the road to rock bottom was one of despair.  I recently heard Rob Bell define despair as the belief that tomorrow will be exactly like today.  Brilliant.  That is precisely what it felt like for me near the end of my drinking.  This will never change.  I held that thought simultaneously with this one: I cannot do this anymore.

What rock bottom can look like.

When I first got sober, I started to come out of that fog of despair- I stepped into the brighter grey. Things began to level out and I began to feel hope again.  That was a scary time for me. New-found hope is the only thing scarier than hopelessness.  All of a sudden there was just so much to lose.  I began to get some measure of clarity, both literally and figuratively- as in, things and people STOPPED BEING SO BLURRY ALL THE DAMNED TIME.  Also, I had more awareness, perspective, insight.

That might sound positive, but that initial period?  It seriously sucked.

I started to look around at all the wreckage I’d caused, all of the collateral damage.  The people I hurt, the situations I made worse by avoiding them.  It was awful. I imagine it’s why so many people relapse early in sobriety.  I became keenly aware of all this pain, my own and, even worse, that of the people I love.  This happened at the same time I’d voluntarily given up my anesthesia and my blinders.  I made the conscious decision to feel and examine all of the things.

I would say I don’t recommend it, except I do- but only, like, every freaking day.

After that initial stage, which is wretched but finite, things started to get better and everything seemed fantastic- better than ever.  That stage had an expiration date, too- because even sober, life will kick your ass.

Still, I am grateful every day.  Not just the good days, when gratitude is a feeling that washes over me, unbidden- but the hard days, the awful days, the tragic days when gratitude- much like sobriety, and literally every other important thing in my life- is a practice.  A decision.  I set the intention of gratitude and then I live it.

My first sober year was very much about NOT DRINKING.  That was overwhelming and excruciating at times, and so I gave myself a pass on other life stuff.  That year was about finding a new normal. It entailed developing a new pattern to my days and nights. Like with all practices, sobriety has a fair amount of rhythm and ritual. It took some time to find what works for me.

My second year of sobriety has been so much harder in some ways. The focus shifted.  The not drinking has mostly gotten easier.  I don’t white knuckle my way through a day wrestling with the urge to drink.  Here’s the thing, though: Sobriety is challenging.  It is as simple and hard as active addiction is easy and complicated.

The past few months have been among the most difficult since I got sober for a variety of reasons.  At one point I found myself out for breakfast with another friend in recovery and I told him about something incredibly painful I’m going through, and that I’d recently had my worst day yet in sobriety.  His answer?  “Fuck no. You had your BEST day yet in sobriety.  You didn’t drink over it.”

Thank GOD for my tribe.  When I am lost, when things are unclear and I need some perspective, they hand me my glasses and I can see the rain again.

I am learning how to do life, and I am surrounded by amazing, brave, generous teachers every day.

I had another glorious friend say recently that she thought sobriety would get her to the mountaintop, but instead, it just got her out of the hole. Just to sea-level. So freaking true.  We think it’ll get us to Mount Olympus, but it only gets us out of Mordor.

Bless our hearts.

I stopped drinking only to realize that sobriety isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting gate.

Now the work- the REAL work, begins.

Year two was about the digging in, the come to Jesus-ing. The reckoning, with myself and with others, and about learning to sit still for and lean into pain and uncertainty.

And now I have 730 sober references.  730 days I survived without numbing myself with alcohol.  Some days shitty, some days spectacular.  All of them, sober- so now I know that’s possible.  Sure, I sometimes substituted other things (Hello, carbs, cleaning products, and terrible television. Love you. Mean it.) but I am, as ever, a work in progress.

I’ve been reflecting on that story about my sister a lot, lately. About how none of the adults knew how bad her vision had been because she didn’t know.  She likely didn’t know clearer vision was an option. Before my sister could see the rain it was just something that came out of nowhere and happened to her.  That’s what life used to feel like to me, something that just happened to me.  In sobriety, I know that’s not true. It’s just happening. Before I got sober, I didn’t know I could weather pain and loss and love and failure and uncertainty and success and life without resorting to escape.  How could I have known?  I hadn’t tried and this world of our is so damned quick to teach us how to escape.

I couldn’t have known that any more than my sister could have known rain drops were something you could see – know why?

Because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Sometimes you can’t know how bad something is until you know how good it can be.  It’s like when I lived in the Northwest.  You have those long months of darkness, but then the summer is so spectacularly beautiful it defies description.  And you don’t get that without the gloom and the rain.  So it’s not that you forget the nine months ever happened, you just know they served a purpose and you turn your face toward the sun and say, Thank you.  Thank you for every dark day.  ThankyouThankyouThankyou.

There is not a single part of my life that isn’t better today- and that includes the parts that are hard and parts that are painful.  It’s all better because I am.  I am better, today.  I am better sober.  Far from perfect, but so much better.  And when life is hard or scary or painful, I can look at it through the clear lens of sobriety and use the tools I now have to navigate it without drinking.

It occurred to me recently that if there were some cure that enabled me to drink like a normal person but the cost of it was to give up this way of life, this truth-telling community I’ve found?

This beautiful, clear, bright grey morning, I would not take that deal.

I have a tribe of people who SEE me, who show up for me, and for whom I show up.  They’ve taught me to move through the world more gently and with some small measure of grace, and for that my gratitude is endless.

Today I live differently, and as long as I don’t pick up a drink the world opens up to me.  Is there a magic formula?  Hell if I know.  For me, it seems to be God’s grace + my willingness.  The former has always been there, the latter is two years old today.

As a brilliant young woman I know always says, I can choose love or fear.  Rain or shine, that’s my choice every day:  love or fear.  I can only live in one, though- and today, on day 730, I choose love.

Show up.

Tell the truth.

Ask for help.

Help when asked.

Lather, rinse, repeat – forever and ever, amen.

Love you so,

Laura

Rain is good for me.

I feel like I achieve clarity, actually, when it rains.

The longer I have to sit and wait,

the clearer my game becomes to me.

Venus Williams