In Others' Words…

Luna

“I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn’t find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how:

by planting it there myself.

Tana French

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A while back someone recommended Bessel van der Kolk’s brilliant book, The Body Keeps the Score to me. I’ve now read it twice.  Slowly.  I am usually a very fast reader, but this is both dense in content (though very readable) and profoundly impactful.  It explained me to me.  When I finished it the first time I felt I had the answers to so many of my long-held questions.  When I finished it the second time, I realized I’d formed new questions.

I love that.

Dr. van der Kolk began his career treating men coming back from Vietnam with what was then called shell shock, and went on to become one of the world’s premier experts on trauma, and one of the first people in his field to research and understand PTSD as it relates to survivors of child sexual abuse.

Trauma physically changes your brain.  It changes neuropathways, it changes your hardwiring.  It can even change your DNA, meaning that trauma and abuse might be intergenerational for reasons that have their root both in nature and nurture.

Doesn’t that blow your mind and also make the most perfect sense?  All wars scar the ground on which they’re fought, usually for generations to come.  Isn’t it the most logical, natural thing that when your body is the front line, the battle field, that future generations are affected as well?

This is why all doctors should be administering ACE tests to their patients as part of the intake process. It’s crucial information.  Adverse experiences in childhood affect all aspects of our health throughout our lives.  A high ACE score is an indicator a person is at increased risk for chronic disease, mental illness, substance abuse, and violence.

One of the more persistent aftereffects of PTSD is an over-stimulated amygdala- which means your brain looks for and perceives threats everywhere.

We survivors look for threats everywhere, and as I’ve come to understand more and more- we generally find what we are looking for.  Our brains are constantly assessing for threats, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we avoid them.  Don’t we all gravitate toward the familiar?

How many times did I avoid the guy that was “too nice” and pursue the guy who was clearly…not?  The truth is, the nice guy wasn’t TOO nice, he was just less inclined to harm me, and I honestly had no idea what to do with that.  That kind of security made me deeply uneasy.  If I did somehow find myself in a relationship with someone like that, I’d sabotage it.  I’d hurt him.  I’d poison the water.

I was drawn to the guy who’d hurt me or leave me. That was somehow safer.  I understood that.  That made sense to me.  That guy?  I couldn’t get enough of that guy. That guy felt like home to me.

If you are mired in shame, if you believe your only value is rooted in your sexuality, if pain and abuse are your baseline, you will find people to validate those beliefs, and they will find you.

“Our study showed that, on a deep level, the bodies of incest victims have trouble distinguishing between danger and safety. This means that the imprint of past trauma does not consist only of distorted perceptions of information coming from the outside; the organism itself also has a problem knowing how to feel safe. The past is impressed not only on their minds, and in misinterpretations of innocuous events… but also on the very core of their beings: in the safety of their bodies.”

Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

I was speaking with a survivor recently and she professed her frustration at the way she finds herself continuously seeking out things she knows will harm her or cause her trouble- alcohol, drugs, anonymous sex, abusive partners… She wondered aloud why when she had already been harmed, she seems intent on finding people, places, and things that will cause further trauma.

She seemed surprised by my lack of surprise.  I just kept nodding.  “Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

We all think we’re the only ones.  We all build story around those behaviors- we tell ourselves what those behaviors mean about us, and it is seldom flattering.  Or true.  We use those adverse behaviors to make a solid case against our inherent goodness or worthiness.

Survivors are such good prosecutors.

One of my favorite readers has the user-name moth2flame.  She told me that like a moth drawn to a lit candle, she comes back time and time again to this blog even though reading my posts causes her pain by stirring up memories of her trauma.  I countered that perhaps it’s really that she is drawn to the light for survival- like a sunflower.

I wonder if we aren’t both right.

It’s interesting.  Mary and I use the analogy of sunflowers because so dogged is their insistence on survival that they track the sun throughout the day, physically moving, actively seeking the light. Other flowers remain passive, assuming the sun will come back around the next morning.  Survivors don’t count on much- they seldom assume help is coming.

We don’t use the image of sunflowers because they are pretty or happy (although they are) we picked them because they are floral badasses.  Warriors.

In many ways, survivors of sexual abuse seem to seek the dark, over and over again. They’re drawn to that which is harmful and dangerous.  Now, to most people that doesn’t really seem like someone trying to survive, but I get it.  I think when we are afraid to sit still for THE pain, the original wound, we seek the smaller, voluntary, seemingly more manageable pains.  The ones we’re sure we can control, right up until we cannot. We over-eat, we starve, we shop, we rage, we weaponize sex and work and exercise.

We cut.

I’ve had several people reach out to me lately about self harm.  People seeking help, information- trying to understand why someone would do such a thing.

In the book, Dr van der Kolk relates having been summoned to stitch up a young woman on three consecutive nights after she’d cut herself.  He said,

“She told me, somewhat triumphantly, that cutting herself made her feel much better.  Ever since then I’d asked myself why.  Why do some people deal with being upset by playing three sets of tennis or drinking a stiff martini, while others carve their arms with razor blades?”

I have to say, it makes perfect sense to me.  It’s desperate and dangerous, but I get it.  And isn’t it ALL self-harm, in the end?  Even the prettied up stuff?  Even the perfectionism and the hustle?  I battled anorexia during times in my life when everything felt terrifying. I might not have been able to control any of the things that were happening to me, but I could live on two pieces of turkey a day.  Well, two pieces of turkey and a lot of wine.  If that’s not self harm, I don’t know what is.

The good news is that the brain is quite plastic- meaning that you can re-train your brain. There is no one pathway to healing, but there are many approaches that work for people. Therapy (cognitive behavioral, EMDR), yoga, meditation, neurofeedback, hypnosis, reflexology, medication, prayer… for most of us, it’s not one thing.

It’s important to remember that even as we are drawn to potentially harmful things, we are called survivors for a reason- because we have somehow, someway, found a way to endure.  We have insisted on our place in this world.  We are strong and resilient and seeking.  Always seeking.

Did you know there are also moonflowers?  They only bloom in the dark.  They’re these beautiful white flowers that seem to glow in the night and have the sweetest smell.  And wouldn’t you know it- what do they attract?  Do you know what seeks them out in the darkness?

Why, moths do. Of course.  Moths do.  Those mysterious, fluttery, seemingly delicate creatures that come out at night hone in on these nocturnal flowers.  The moths ensure their continued survival by seeking out the beauty that is only found in the dark.

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Ho Ho NO.

 

“I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous anymore, and that full life is not the same as a full calendar.

Full life is lived when the whole system works together,

when rest and home and peace live hand in hand with taste and sparkle and go. I’ve believed in the craziness for too many years,

and while I still have a lot of questions,

the answer I need to be giving most often these days is NO.”

Shauna Niequist

So… it’s starting. Can you feel it? The ramping up that inevitably begins before the Thanksgiving dishes are even put away?  I walked into Target yesterday and got punched in the face by Christmas.   It did what it was supposed to do.  My brain went on auto-pilot: what do I need to do, what do I need to buy?  I could feel that familiar Yuletide anxiety start to creep in.  Only a few weeks left!!!!!!

Now, I love Christmas. All of it- religious and secular alike.  The twinkle lights, the decorations, the carols, the movies, Santa, snow- I’m a sucker for all of it.  I’m pretty much Buddy the Elf.

buddy

“I KNOW HIM!!!!!!!”

What I don’t love, what I reject more every year, is the stress. The hurry, hurry, hurry, consume, consume, consume. The shoulds.  The musts.  The striving.  The noise.  And I don’t mean the noise of children playing or Christmas music- I mean the noise in our heads. All the rush here, race there, do the things, bake the cookies, eat, drink, spend, wrap. PROVE. EARN.

We careen through a season built for stillness and reverence.

We have a tendency to judge those people who manage eschew the madness.  I mean, most good holiday movies have a character like that, right?  We tend to chalk it up to being a grouch, or miserly, or having lost the meaning of Christmas.

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I don’t know… I’ve always had a soft spot for His Grinchiness.  I do love a curmudgeon.  I think in many ways, the Green One was onto something.  Listen closely to what he says- he’s not ranting about Christmas at all. He expresses dismay over “packages, boxes, and bags” and extravagant feasts.  He rails against the “noise, noise, noise, noise.”  None of that is Christmas.  All of that is hustle.

‘Tis the season, all right.  The season of HUSTLE.

These few months are when I hear more, “I have to” and “I need to” about things that are completely voluntary than any other time of year.  This time of year, when we could be focused on faith and family, miracles and peace, we engage in the Hardship Olympics like it’s our job.  Like it’s our calling.  Like it’s the point.

I really began thinking about this a few weeks ago, in the lead up to Thanksgiving.  This season is a particularly challenging time for survivors of childhood trauma.  So much of our abuse happens within the family, and holidays often mean going home to the scene of the crime.  Literally.

I did a podcast recently for Spiritual Charlotte and we talked about these very things.

We generally see an uptick in members of our community needing resources, feeling a lot of anxiety.  To that end, I’ve been having many conversations about choice and agency and what is mandatory versus what is optional about the holidays.

Be ready, because I am about to blow your minds:

It is ALL optional.  EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT.

Every single event?  Optional.  Every gift?  Voluntary.  Every tradition?  Discretionary. The percentage of ways you celebrate over which you have total agency?  100%

All of that overeating, drinking too much, spending money you don’t have?  Those are all classic hustle symptoms- and hustle is all about not believing you are enough.  Hustle is the antithesis of stillness.  It’s what we do when we don’t want to feel- and if we don’t allow ourselves to feel during this of all seasons, what are we even doing?

The holidays are not happening to you.  You are not a victim of Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is not a plot to undermine your sanity. Your holidays can be calm and bright, or they can be the fifth circle of hell.  It truly is almost entirely up to you.  The manic hamster wheel of consumption, busyness, and perfectionism is not mandatory.

Yes, if you start saying “no” people might not dig it.  Actually, they are almost certain not to dig it.  When you start setting boundaries and insisting on what you need for your own well being, people will be annoyed, frustrated, disappointed and perhaps even angry. Here’s the thing, though-

Annoyance, frustration, disappointment and

anger are not terminal- that’s the big secret.

They are all survivable conditions.

Now, obviously no one wants to upset or disappoint people they care about, but if nothing changes, nothing changes.

What I’m guessing, though, is that you’ll find the person putting the most pressure on you this holiday season is YOU- and that is GREAT NEWS, because you are, in fact, the only person whose behavior you control.

I just watched the new Gilmore Girls episodes on Netflix.  There was a scene in which the divine Emily Gilmore is purging her house of belongings.  She cites a book she’s been reading; Marie Konde’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. in which readers are encouraged to go through their belongings, hold each one in their hands and ask themselves,

“Does this bring me joy?”

If not, out it goes.

What if we did that with the holidays?  What if we examined each tradition, each event, each “should,” and truly considered whether it brought us joy?  What if we really questioned whether it deepened our faith, strengthened our connections, filled us up?

“I have to bake 7 dozen cookies for Mikey’s class party.”  Do you, though?  Bet you don’t.  Newsflash, Mikey would rather have a mom who bought cookies and is in full possession of her faculties and not a lunatic at his class party.  Trust.

Now, if baking 42 billion cookies makes you happy, do it.  If it doesn’t, don’t.  If attending a bunch of parties fills you up in some way, fantastic.  If you’d rather stay home in a Snuggie and watch Love Actually, do that.  If the bustle energizes you, wonderful.  If you need stillness and quiet to truly appreciate the season of light, then BE QUIET.

And I know some of you will say, “It’s not that simple.”  It actually is.  It is actually exactly that simple.

Your joy doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s.

And if while you are doing this holiday inventory, you find that some of the things you have always done are depleting you, making you angry and frustrated- if you’re more Joan of Arc than Buddy the Elf about them? You can bid those ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ farewell, send them on their way, and say, “Don’t let the wreath-clad door hit you in the ass on the way out!”

You’re going to have the holiday you choose, one way or another. You can keep hustling.  That’s an option.  Or you can slow down.  You can say no to hustle in order to say yes to joy.  You can move through this season with intention and wonder.  You can come out of the season filled up rather than running on empty.

You really can.

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Giving thanks

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

The current state of things on this blog:

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GUYS.  So much not writing is occurring right now.  I think it’s primarily due to all the noise in my head- especially since the election.  I need to be still in order to write.  I need quiet and clarity.  This, however, is what the inside of my head looks like much of the time these days:

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That’ll make it hard to form a thought, let alone craft a sentence.

I have a half finished essay about Thanksgiving that I keep opening and staring at blankly.  Maybe next year.  I do want to focus on gratitude, though- because that is the antidote to so much that ails me.  So, here goes- my gratitude list in this moment, wearing this bathrobe, on this day:

  1.   I have two amazing, brilliant, talented, weird, funny kids.  The world is a better place because they are in it.  Favorite has two kiddos who fill me with joy and who I love madly.  It’s an embarrassment of riches, really.

    from approx 42 billion years ago.

    from approx 42 billion years ago.

  2.   Speaking of my Favorite…my Favorite.  He really loves me- like, the ACTUAL me.  I really love him.  He’s my soft place to fall.  He’s got my back in a way I’ve never experienced before, with anyone.  I’ve got his.  It’s not sunshine and rainbows, “in-love” love.  That kind is ephemeral and hard to hold on to.  It’s the kind of love that’s a decision. Every day.

    me 'n him

    me ‘n him

  3.   Comedians.  You guys.  We are about to embark on a Renaissance of comedy writing.  Can you feel it?  Rome might be burning, but SNL’s gonna be AH-MAY-ZING.
  4.   All of the damns I do not give any more.  I have very few damns, and the ones I do have are IMPORTANT.  Brene Brown talks about carrying a small piece of paper in her wallet with the names of everyone whose opinion REALLY matters to her. I do, too. It’s 1 inch by 1 inch.  There’s space left over, and that space is growing.  I’m not kidding- I am in the erasing stage of my life.  I care deeply about an enormous number of people- I just do not care what they think of me or my choices.  I’m done convincing, I’m done explaining.  Truly.  I’ve finally stopped hustling.  No more auditioning- if I don’t have the part, I don’t want it.  And now when I start to hustle, I recognize it and stop.  I’m done trying to prove anything to anyone, I’m done trying to earn my place in this world.  I’m done striving.  I’m enough- and I don’t need you to believe that to know it’s true.
  5.  Church basements.  Nearly every day I go into church basements and back rooms and I see faith with its work boots on.
  6.   My dog.  What are people who don’t have dogs even DOING right now?  He’s perfect.  He is completely and utterly perfect.  He’s eleven, and he too has stopped auditioning.  Also, behaving.  happy
  7.  My work.  When Say It, Survivor launched, the incomparable Jen Hatmaker said, “You yanked your story out of misery and turned it into ministry.”  That’s what it feels like to me- it feels missional.  I was born to do this- I know that to be true.  I was sitting with an elderly women recently and she read me her story.  I had to fight tears- I try not to cry when someone tells me their story.  I am there to take IN their story, not to take it ON.  It’s not about me.  My tears weren’t because her story was painful, although it was.  My tears were tears of gratitude.  I was awash in it.  It is one of the great blessings of my life to be a witness for people, and to be able to tell them, when they’ve finally put something dark and heavy down- “You are not alone.  You were never meant to carry this by yourself.  I will take a corner.  I will carry it with you.”     workshop
  8.   Giraffes.  Still.  Always.
    giraffe
  9.   The ocean.  I live just minutes from the beach.  Every morning as I’m driving my kid to the bus stop I drive along the shore as the sun rises.  This morning I sat waiting for the bus to come and watched a gull, seemingly suspended in mid air as it flew against the wind.  The smell of the ocean instantly calms me.  I like it better in non-summer months.  Recently, I found myself saying to someone that I’m a rocky, New England beach kind of a girl.  It’s true.  Warm white sand is lovely, but it doesn’t soothe my soul the way the blustery, craggy beaches of my childhood do.   It’s church for me.    screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-46-17-pm
  10.   My sobriety.  Last year, as the holidays approached I was terrified.  How do you DO Thanksgiving and Christmas without wine?  How do people manage without being able to take the edge off?  And it’s EVERYWHERE this time of year.  Well, now I know.  They just do.   They stay sober the way they do every other day of the year. Show up.  Tell the truth.  Ask for help.  Help when asked.  Lather, rinse, repeat- forever and ever, amen.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were glorious last year, even when they were hard.

That’s a partial list, of course.  I am filled with gratitude most days, lately.  And I’m grateful for this space to write what I think and feel.  I’m grateful that you read, I’m grateful when you respond.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving, sweet friends.  Be good to yourselves.  Love the people in front of you.

xo

Laura

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Good Trouble

“You must find a way to get in the way and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. … You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, when you leave here, to go out and seek justice for all. You can do it. You must do it.”

Representative John Lewis

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There are a few words that make my skin scrawl.  Moist.  Scamper.  Panties.  Chunk.

Then there are words that just piss me off.  Two in particular come to mind.  Pretty is one. The other is nice.

I dislike them for the same reason, I think.  They both ooze the same synthetic sweetness as sugar substitute- I know it’s SUPPOSED to taste like the real thing, but all I can taste are the chemicals.

Pretty and nice are both paper thin, and they are frequently used to keep women quiet and in their place.  Nice, in particular, seems sinister.  It’s not synonymous with being kind- not really.  It’s a vapid cousin to kindness.  It’s manners and pleasantries.  It’s good behavior versus actual goodness.  I know plenty of deeply unkind people who are perfectly nice.

Girls in particular get indoctrinated in niceness.  Nice girls are mostly defined by what they DON’T do, right?  They don’t make a fuss.  They sacrifice their passions and ambitions at the altar of everyone else’s comfort.  They’re mostly quiet. Compliant.  They follow the rules, most of which they had no agency in creating.  No boat rocking.  No disturbing the status quo.  Little origami girls, folded small and pretty.  Ornaments of the establishment, not instruments of change.

Nice girls do not cause trouble.

How many women have endured unwanted advances because it was so ingrained in them to be nice?  How many times do we, as women, put up with someone harassing us or crossing boundaries because we don’t want to hurt their feelings or make a scene?  We’re so conditioned to be well-behaved and not let our pesky needs interfere with anyone else’s wants.  How many of us have responded to a, “SMILE, PRETTY LADY!” hollered at us by a stranger in the street, because we’ve learned the hard way that to not comply is to risk the inevitable, “BITCH!” that comes our way when we don’t serve up the NICE that they feel they’ve purchased with the PRETTY?

I’ve been trying to write ever since the election.  I start.  I stop.  I feel stuck.  I don’t know how to articulate what I want the way I want.

I am angry.  Deeply angry.  And scared.  I suspect many of the people who voted for the president-elect felt that way heading into the polls.  I can empathize with that.  I am not scared of the same things, but I know what fear feels like.  I am trying very hard to keep that in mind.

I’m angry, and if I put that anger on paper, those who agree with me will still agree with me, and we’re exactly where we were.  Those who don’t agree with me will likely write me off as a ‘sore loser’ or ‘another angry woman.’

And I am.  I am another angry woman.

So the needle’s unmoved.

Every time I turn on the tv or scroll through social media I see reports of public displays of how people feel about the election’s outcome.  People gathered in protest, marching, memes, donations to progressive causes are through the roof. (fun fact- I donated to the Trevor Project in Mike Pence’s name, and to The Compassion Collective in honor of the president-elect.)  Sometimes blocking highways, sometimes being destructive.

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I’ve also heard racist rhetoric, seen swastikas, invective hurled at women wearing hijabs, gay men beaten up coming out of clubs, the Klan has been emboldened now that the candidate it endorsed has won. Those are not acts of protest, though, let’s be clear about that.  We need to name them- call them what they are.  Those are hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism.

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Protest is always upsetting.  It’s supposed to be.  That is, in fact, the whole point.  It’s disruptive, too.  Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat was really upsetting to people. People of color insisting on sitting at the lunch counters in the 60’s was deeply upsetting to the status quo.  Susan B Anthony’s insistence on voting, and then refusing to pay the judgment against her for doing so upset the hell out of people.  The March on Washington upset people.  The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 was incredibly disruptive.  Emma Sulkowicz dragged the mattress on which she was raped around the Columbia University campus to call attention to the school’s mishandling of her assault.  I’m betting that was a little disruptive.  The people at Standing Rock are upsetting authorities- which is likely why you know what is going on at Standing Rock.

Part of why those protests were so effective is the marked difference between the conduct of the oppressed and the oppressors.  We remember Tiananmen Square because in the face of unspeakable force- a tank- a civilian stood quietly, with valor.  We remember the marches of the Civil Rights era because the people were peaceful even as the police unleashed dogs and fire hoses on them.  We all get to choose who we are and how we move through the world.  We get to choose how we give voice to our frustration, our fear, our despair.

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Protest is upsetting and disruptive.  By design.  Disruptive and destructive are not the same thing.  We can’t afford to only fight hard, we need to fight smart.  We can’t afford to allow our message to be undercut by mayhem.  That kind of scorched earth protest might feel good in the moment, but it undermines whatever cause is being espoused.

In the past week I have written and deleted so many tweets and posts, and I’ve put up a few that I immediately took down.  I’ve enacted a 4 step process any content I decide to put out into the world must go through.

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

What is my intention?

How does it help?

I find that I have no patience for protest that renders itself ineffective because it’s mean, or violent, or makes itself easy to dismiss.  These are serious times that call for serious people and serious protest.  No one’s mind or heart was ever changed by being called names- but we must name evil when we see it.  The stakes are as high as they have ever been.  People of color, women, LGBTQ+, Muslim and Jewish people, immigrants-these communities are terrified, and they should be.  We should be.

Martin Luther King Jr famously said “Riot is the language of the unheard.”  I believe that’s true.  I understand the urge to break, destroy, and burn- I really do.  But it’s the language of the unheard for two reasons.  It is born of going unheard, and it renders your message unheard.  It makes you easy to dismiss- and there’s no time for that.  There’s no time for protest that can be written off that way.

A while back someone I love asked me to read a letter she’d written.  It was incredibly powerful.  Page upon page full of anger and pain.  It was profanity laced and accusatory- but it was drenched in truth.  It was a reckoning, and it knocked me back on my heels.

I read it a few times, because she asked me for feedback.  I asked her this:

“Do you want to scream, or do you want to be heard?  Because those are two different letters.  This is an incredibly powerful piece of writing that the intended recipients absolutely will not hear.”

The final letter she sent was a few paragraphs long.  Maybe even more powerful, and much harder to ignore.

Self indulgent expressions of outrage are a luxury we don’t have- not if we want to stem the tide of bigotry and violence, the impending legislation that would be harmful to so many, and the wresting of our national narrative by voices of hate.

We get called nasty when we use our voices and don’t back down.  When we don’t follow the script that women are supposed to in the face of misogyny.  We don’t have to break windows or block highways or be hateful to get that label, we need only not yield, not acquiesce, not appease.  The only requirement, it seems, for being nasty is to simply not be nice.

By all means, find a place to scream.  Find an outlet for that panic and rage- but not in your protest.  It’s too important.

This is a time for bravery.  This is a time for wisdom, and sacrifice, and choosing to do hard things.  This is a time to not only fight hard, but to fight smart.  I suspect it will get a lot more difficult and much more frightening before it gets better.

The day after inauguration there will be a women’s march on Washington DC.  I will be there.  If it creates a safe space for even one person, I will wear a safety pin.  If Muslims are ordered to register, I will register alongside them.  I will continue to call elected officials and hold them accountable.  I will keep using my voice and my platform.  I will use the gifts I have in whatever way I can.  I will not make myself easy to dismiss.

I am only one woman, with one voice- but I intend to use it.

I’m inclined to make some trouble.  It definitely won’t be nice, but my hope is that it will be good.

“Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

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The gift of America’s rock bottom.

“I was set free

because my greatest fear had been realized…

And so rock bottom became a solid foundation

on which I rebuilt my life.”

JK Rowling

rockbottom

I keep seeing things about the state of this election being America’s rock bottom, and I have to say that makes a certain amount of sense to me.

When I was deep into my disease, when alcohol had taken over my life, I was miserable. There was no enjoyment in it.  I hated drinking.  I was filled with despair and hopelessness.  I knew I was betraying the woman I was meant to be.  I was betraying the idea of who I knew I could be- but I couldn’t stop.  And as my sickness became more and more apparent, the people around me grew frustrated and angry- they just wanted the old me back.  My life had become completely out of control and so, so ugly.

My drinking spiraled when my marriage imploded, but my marriage ending did not cause my alcoholism, it merely kicked it into high gear. It took what was a relatively dormant, slow growing malignancy and accelerated it. It was like I had a chronic condition from the time I was eleven.  I had long stretches of remission punctuated by flare-ups.  But I was never well.  My disease just manifested itself in more socially acceptable ways before my drinking took over.  My disease looked like fear and perfectionism and control issues, anxiety and unhealthy relationships.  Not great, still causing a ton of damage to me and to others, but more comfortable.  “Nicer.”

Alcohol just took those underlying symptoms and brought them front and center.  Fed them, so they grew stronger.  Exposed all the unhealthy patterns.

Donald Trump did not invent racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia or class warfare- he merely tapped into those existing cancerous veins and the fear is bleeding out. We can see it, hear it, feel it.  Donald Trump read the board, that’s all. What are people afraid of? How can I turn that fear into anger and that anger into hatred? He identified our monsters, dragged them into the light.

It’s what every demagogue in history has done- give the people a common enemy they already fear.  Then they tend the fear.  Feed it. Stoke it until it becomes hatred. That’s all hatred is, you know- weaponized fear.

It all feels completely out of control, doesn’t it?  It’s all so, so ugly, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s all the childish rhetoric of this election cycle, but the phrase that keeps occurring to me is, “It takes one to know one.”  Maybe that’s why I see the fundamental cancer growing here- because I was so sick, for so long.  All of those years, even when I wasn’t really drinking, I was so sick.  I just wasn’t sick enough to need to get well.  So even though my steep spiral to the bottom was awful, it was also the greatest blessing of my life- because it allowed me to get sick enough to recognize that I needed to do the work.  To heal.  Not just stop drinking, but get WELL.

We all desperately want this election to be over, but part of me is afraid for the awfulness to go back underground.  Part of me is scared for it to get comfortable again.  Because the way it was before this election wasn’t good, it was just more comfortable.

America is sick. We are so, so sick. Can’t you feel it?  Are you getting that same gnawing, queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you actually look at what’s been exposed in this election?

We keep saying, “This is not who we are.”  But it is, friends.  This is exactly who we are. Right now, this is exactly who we are.

We are a country with deep fault lines of fear running through it.  Donald Trump did not create those fissures.  It would be pretty to think so, but he didn’t.  Those cracks are THERE, which means the foundation of our country, the first country built on an IDEA, is unsound.  That’s the astounding thing about the United States, it’s the thing that moves me to tears every July 4th.  This beautiful, ugly country of ours is predicated on the notion that all people are created equal.  It is a radical premise of a promise that we betrayed right off the bat, and have yet to fulfill.

Better now than then?   Yes- in some ways. But for too many people, the idea of America is just that.  A really beautiful idea of a country.  Great in theory, but not the country people of color are living in.  Not the country transgendered people live in.  Not the country women live in.

When I was spiraling toward rock bottom I was filled with despair.  The problem just seemed too big to tackle.  My addicition was insurmountable.  I couldn’t get better, I knew it, so I didn’t even want to LOOK at the wreckage I’d created.  It was too painful, too scary.  To overwhelming.  I thought if I could just STOP, if this cycle could just END, I could go back to the way things were.  I prayed to God to put things back the way they were.

Thank you, God, for answering that prayer with a resounding, “No.”

I crashed.  Hard.  I crashed and I sat there at rock bottom.  I stopped drinking.  I looked around.  The wreckage was still there.  You know why?  Because the drinking was a SYMPTOM, just like this election is a SYMPTOM.  The stopping drinking was the first step toward getting well.  Then came the work.  The examination of my issues, the admission of my wrongs, the commitment to do and be better.  The work continues, every day.

In recovery there’s a truism that once you know you’re addicted and are aware of what recovery can be, it ruins your drinking.

America is addicted to its fears and its privilege.  We’re addicted, but we’re not enjoying them anymore.  So even when the election ends we will be aware of how sick we are, and we can’t un-know it.

This rock bottom is a gift.  An opportunity.  One we will decide to seize, or not.

There are people that don’t.  They stop drinking but don’t go further.  They’re referred to as “dry drunks.”   The wreckage continues.  Worsens.

They stay sick.

When this election is over, we will do one of two things:  We will prioritize comfort or wellness.

We will either stay sick or do the work.

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Come hang out with me on Facebook!

Follow me on Twitter, because I TOTALLY TWEET!

I have a super cute dog, so following me on Instagram is a great life choice!

Do not follow me on Pinterest.  I don’t know how I even got there.  It’s all a little confusing.

Two worlds

“I didn’t hear the accusations,

I only heard the denial.”

Jerry Falwell Jr.  

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Last Friday, we were all made privvy to what sort of things the Republican Party’s choice for president says about women when he thinks he’s among friends.  Allies, even.  We got a little insight into the sorts of things the Republican Party’s choice for president believes he is entitled to do to women, given his celebrity status.

Trump: “Yeah that’s her with the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.

And when you’re a star they let you do it.

You can do anything.”

Bush: “Whatever you want.”

Trump: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Everybody was outraged.  We-ell, that’s not exactly true, now is it?  Not everybody.  We learned that most men seem to hear things differently than women do.

The initial reaction was a flurry of articles and blog posts and open letters from women asking men how they could support the Republican Party’s choice for president after his blatant misogyny and sexually aggressive talk about women.  How they could continue to entertain the notion of voting for him after we heard him blithely brag about sexual assault.  The articles asked men how they could, as fathers, brothers, husbands, and grandfathers, not denounce this man as the morally unfit predator that he is?

I have been guilty of making this argument. I’ve put it in that context because it does not seem that most men care about this until it is framed that particular way.  I don’t know. Is it a “not in my backyard” sort of a thing?  It’s okay if he hates other women, but when someone intimates that it might have an affect on “your” women it becomes relevant? I mean, we say, “THIS IS NOT OKAY!” until we’re blue in the face, but until we ask, “IS THIS OKAY FOR YOUR DAUGHTER?” most men cannot seem to hear us.  Until it is brought into their personal world, they don’t see the harm.

Anyway, that seemed to resonate on some level, because then followed articles by men expressing outrage on behalf of the women in their lives- because apparently we are to be championed and revered.

Initially, it was pretty refreshing to see men weighing in on this at all.  I mostly saw this on Twitter, where I tend to follow writers, thinkers, and artists whose work I admire.  On my Facebook feed, it was pretty quiet.  Y’know, from the men in my actual life.  A few weighed in.  The usual suspects, who I have come to appreciate more and more in recent days.

Then there began to be articles and posts by women pointing out that men shouldn’t be thinking of women only in terms of their relationship to men.  That they didn’t need to be a father or a husband or a brother to recognize this behavior as deplorable – they just needed to be decent human beings.  You know, like we women are human beings, and worthy of respect apart from any connection or relation we have to men.

“I’m offended as a guy.”

Tom Hanks

It made me reflect on why I felt the need to make that argument, and the answer can be found in the same Facebook  newsfeed.  When Brock Turner got off with a slap on the wrist, I saw virtually nothing posted by men.  Not on their own pages, anyway.  MAYBE they’d like a post or comment on what a shame it was, but there was a decided lack of outrage.  Bill Cosby?  Crickets.  The Republican Party’s choice for president’s comments on women throughout the campaign calling them fat, ugly, commenting on menstrual cycles as though they were a character flaw and declaring breastfeeding and the need to use the restroom to be “disgusting.”

You could hear a pin drop.

You’ve probably seen that meme that says, “Privilege is when you thnk something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.”

You know what privilege looks like?  It looks like being surprised by the number of times the GOP’s choice for president interrupted Hillary Clinton during the first debate.  I did not see or hear a single woman express surprise over that.

You know what privilege sounds like?  It sounds like men immediately making the recordings about them. We heard men say, “Can you imagine if someone taped what you said in private and played it for everyone to hear? We’d be screwed.”  Really??  Then you should probably examine the things you are saying in private. Misogyny articulated in private is still misogyny. Who you are when you think no one is listening is WHO YOU ACTUALLY ARE.

You know what privilege does?  It assumes.  “When you’re famous they let you do anything.”  I think people are fundamentally misunderstanding the GOP’s nominee here.  I think THEY really means society, and LET simply means he got away with it.  Ask  any woman how many times she’s fended off unwanted advances, been kissed, groped, grabbed, pinched, backed into a corner- how many times she’s smiled and moved someone’s hand, laughed and tried to extricate herself from an unwanted embrace. Then ask how many times the man faced consequences.  I bet those guys would say, “She let me do it.”

Privilege is being shocked by the staggering number of women who immediately began responding to Kelly Oxford’s tweet asking us to weigh in on what age we were when we endured our first sexual assault.

You can only be shocked by that when the prospect of assault isn’t even on your radar.  I take sexual assault into account every single day.  I take my dog out late at night before I go to bed, and I take precautions every single night.  Which means every single night I am aware of potential harm.

It occurs to me that on police shows when they are trying to scare male suspects with prison, the threat is always of rape. Because it’s just the worst thing they can imagine, and the notion of being in an environment where that could happen at any time is so horrifying and terror inducing they know it will be effective.

Well guess what, men? That’s the world women live in. ALL the time. Not just when they’re locked up and have had their power taken away for doing something wrong. ALL the time.  Every day.

That means your ‘worst case scenario?’ Your ‘DefCon 10?’ That’s our Tuesday.

Men take safety for granted the same way women accept danger as a given.

We cohabit the same earth, men and women, but we don’t live in the same world.

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I have a super cute dog, so following me on Instagram is a great life choice!

Do not follow me on Pinterest.  I don’t know how I even got there.  It’s all a little confusing.

Sing

It just kind of showed me that it’s okay, you know what I mean? And that there are people out there living healthy, happy lives and are absolutely fine, and who happen to be gay, as well.

Troye Sivan

comeout

Today is National Coming Out Day.

It is a day dedicated to celebrating acts of bravery.  Imagine what it must be like for a kid, summoning the courage to show who they really are to a family and a world that might turn its back on them, revile them, abandon them, even harm them.  It is a stunning act of valor. To show up at school and stubbornly insist on being who they are, who they were made to be, and face bullying, exclusion, discrimination?  These kids are warriors, make no mistake.  There are battlefields, and there are battlefields.

LGBTQ+ kids are at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, addictionand suicide.

The other day, an article commemorating the 18th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s attack- a brutal beating which lead to his death five days later-  came up in my newsfeed. I remember how I felt watching that unfold on the news. At the time,  I had a six year old son, a beautiful little blonde boy with an angelic face- just like Matthew.  I thought about the level of hatred and fear that would be necessary to tie another human being to a fence rail and beat the life out of him. Hours later, he was found by a passerby who initially mistook him for a scarecrow.

It made me afraid for my child.  It made me afraid for the world.

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Matthew was a rarity in 1998, a young man living in a rural area who was openly gay.  We take being ‘out’ for granted a bit, nowadays.  Because that’s an area where progress has been made.  We have openly gay politicians, clergy, entertainers, writers, athletes. LGBTQ+ youth can look to these people and know that it’s possible to live openly.  To stand in your truth.  But maybe not in your family.  But maybe not in your church.  But maybe not in your little town.  Still, it’s progress.  It allows for that possibility.  Those role models stand out as beacons of hope.

On good days, I look around and feel encouraged by that progress.  I see afterschool programs for LGBTQ+ youth in public schools, I see inclusive language being used more, I see whole families at Pride events.  I spoke at Wild Goose Festival last summer and heard so many great conversations going on- people asking questions and listening to answers, truly seeking to learn, to understand.  There was a tent specifically for LGBTQ+ youth and every time I passed I saw kids laughing and singing and connecting.

At Goose, I attended a forum on justice.  After it ended, I got up and took note of a table set up in the back of the tent dedicated to stamping money with messages of support for the LGBTQ+ community and criticizing HB2.  The festival is held in North Carolina, a state which decided to codify hatred and ignorance into law last year.  Because that’s the other side of the good days.  That we have politicians willing to not only speak intolerance from their positions of power, but seek to actively feed into people’s deepest fears- using the prospect of child sexual abuse at the hands of the transgender community, which is both an asinine and a hugely cynical move.  It is, in a word, deplorable.  These bullies have big pulpits, though, and the power to legislate hate.

I think about being a young kid weighing the pros and cons of coming out.  I think about how scary that must be, even for kids who are pretty sure their parents will be supportive- because their parents are not the only adults who wield power over them.

The rate of LGBTQ+ youth substance abuse is 190% higher than the rate among straight/cis kids.  190%  That makes perfect sense to me.  Of course it is.  When you are in pain, you look to numb.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ+ kids nationally.  That is not surprising. When you are in despair, you look to leave.

And let me tell you, this is not a kid problem- this is an ADULT problem.  WE are in charge of the world in which they live.  WE have created a society that feels and frequently IS unsafe.

For every kid out there who is struggling with questions of identity- you are loved, regardless of what conclusion you come to.  For every kid who is trying to figure out how to tell their parents who they really are, there is support.  For every kid who is being told at their dinner table, from the altar, and from their government that who they are is wrong, or bad, or broken- please remember that just because the words are coming out of the mouth of an authority figure does not mean they have the authority to tell your story. And anyone telling your story in such a way to contradicts the three basic plot points of ALL of our stories, that we are whole, good, and loved, is LYING.

People lie for all sorts of reasons- ignorance, fear, shame…  That doesn’t make them a bad person, necessarily- but it does disqualify them from being a narrator in your life.

What can you do, as an individual to make this world a safer place for LGBTQ+ kids?  You can be a safe place for a kid to speak their truth.  You can be a Kayla.

For those kids out there who have taken the step to speak their truth already, I sit here in complete awe.  You knock me out, and you are my role models.  It is an absolute act of courage to insist on inhabiting your space on this earth honestly.  To say, “This is WHO I AM, and I DESERVE TO BE HERE.”  Do you know how many adults haven’t managed to do that?  My guess is a very high percentage of the very people telling you to sit down and be quiet fall into that category.  Remember that.  All hate has its roots in fear.

For those of you who have not yet found a way to tell your story, keep trying.   If you’ve determined your parents are not a safe place to do that for now, find another way.  Find a safe place.  You can email me.  I will read your story.  Because, my darlings, the story you’re not telling is in charge of your whole life.  And you are not alone, although I am sure it feels that way, sometimes.  There is help to be had, even if it isn’t coming from those whose job it is to do so.

You are loved.  Don’t you dare let anyone tell you any different.  So, sing your song. Speak your truth.  The world needs exactly you, right where you are.

Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.

The Carpenters

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THERE IS HELP.  HERE IT IS

Home

http://www.thetrevorproject.org

http://www.itgetsbetter.org

https://www.pflag.org

http://www.hrc.org/resources/national-coming-out-day

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Follow me on Twitter, because I TOTALLY TWEET!

I have a super cute dog, so following me on Instagram is a great life choice!

Do not follow me on Pinterest.  I don’t know how I even got there.  It’s all a little confusing.

Grey matters

She said, ‘There is no reason
and the truth is plain to see.’
But I wandered through my playing cards
and would not let her be
one of sixteen vestal virgins
who were leaving for the coast
and although my eyes were open
they might have just as well’ve been closed

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Keith Reid & Gary Brooker

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We love to live in absolutes.  We want our heroes pure and our villains purely evil.  The truth is often murkier than that.  Black and white is as simple as it is unyielding.  It’s cozy, though.  That kind of thinking requires very little of us.

One night last year, Mary and I were going through some old family photos.  Why do we do that?  I think there are lots of reasons.  I know I look for clues.  Someone should have seen something, the signs were there.  Maybe I’m looking for black hats.  Proof of evil.

One time, I found myself holding a photo. In it, hanging over the mantle, was a painting. A seascape, I think.  Mary said, “That’s one of Grampa’s.”

There are turning point moments in life.  That was one of them.

Up until that moment, I had no other contexts for my grandfather.  I have no memories of him as a grandfather.  No playful or affectionate memories.  Just pain and shame.  Just terror and panic.  Just darkness and predation.  He was solely an abuser.  Solely an agent of harm.  He was just that one thing.

The thing is, that has never been true of anyone in the whole history of ever.  We are none of us all one thing.

The idea of my grandfather as an artist pierced the black and white armor I’d built up around my heart.  I paint.  I taught art.  Mary paints.  All of a sudden there was this thread, something that I really love about myself, that binds us.

Until that point, it had quite simply never occurred to me that I had something other than the events of my trauma in common with him.  In that moment I felt the shocking grief of realization- he was my family, and I was his.  Is.  Am.  That’s just so hard to untangle.  He was a fisherman and I am drawn to the sea.  He hooked rugs.  So did I.  He was a cook.  I love to cook.

“She said, ‘I’m home on shore leave,’
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, ‘You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.’
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died.”

My tendency has been to line item veto his influence on me.  He only gets credit for the harm he did, except I don’t think it works that way.  It’s why incest is so complicated.  In the rare event a child is abused by a stranger the perpetrator gets to be JUST THAT.  Not so when your abuse plays out like a classic horror movie and the creepy call comes from inside the house.  Try as you might to keep it black and white, you necessarily end up having other contexts for your abuser.

When I was growing up if someone asked me what my heritage was I would say Irish.  That is a half truth.  That is my mother’s side.  The family I claimed.  The family who claimed me.  It was so much more comfortable for me to paint a picture in which that side of my family was my WHOLE family.  I have a whole other half.  They wrote me off when I was a little girl, and so I returned the favor.  They were the bad side.  To them, I was the bad girl.  How tidy.

This past year, reconnecting with Mary, I have had to challenge some of my assumptions.  I had people who I’d reduced to cartoon characters fleshed out for me- not necessarily in ways that flattered them, but it DID humanize them.  It made them actual people.  It made them real, and real people are harder to hate and much harder to dismiss- so much less black and white.

That’s uncomfortable.  I like my pain and resentment to have hospital corners.  I want to be able to bounce a quarter off that shit.

The thing about black and white is, it doesn’t allow for grace.  Not God’s grace- that we all get, and it’s got nothing to do with merit.  That’s what makes it grace.  I mean the kind of grace we extend to each other.  Categorizing someone as all one thing doesn’t really allow for that.  There’s no room for grace in the black and white.  Not for you, and not for me.  I am able to extend grace to another human being when I not only see the grey in someone else, but when I acknowledge it in myself.

I’ve learned that as soon as I start talking about someone in absolutes I am actively trying not to forgive.  I want to stay in my head, in that comfortable, destructive dance of anger and blame.  Once I’ve acknowledged the grey, once someone is human to me, my anger becomes slippery.  It makes it impossible to hold on to, to clutch to my heart and justify my lack of mercy.  In the end, those white and black cowboy hats are just a conceit employed in the movies.

I called Mary this morning and we talked about this.  We talked about how Grampa never really LOOKED at us.  She said she found one of his wedding pictures and that in it, his eyes struck her as endless and empty.  I told her that when I think about his eyes, I think of shark eyes.  Black.  Flat.  Dead.  Maybe he didn’t look at us because he couldn’t, because then we would be human.

I told Mary I’ve gotten curious about him.  She says she has, too.  I’m not sure what that will lead to, but I’m willing to look, finally.  I’m ready to dive into the grey.

“If music be the food of love
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed.”

 

Love Warrior: Book Review

We know what the world wants from us.

We know we must decide whether to stay small, quiet and uncomplicated or

allow ourselves to grow as big,

loud and complex as we were made to be.

Every girl must decide

whether to be true to herself

or be true to the world.

Every girl must decide

whether to settle for adoration

or fight for love.

Glennon Doyle Melton   –  Love Warrior: A Memoir

A few weeks ago I received my ARC copy of Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book, Love Warrior.  I was a little excited.

lovewarrior

I was also nervous. I knew it was going to challenge me in some ways, and I wasn’t altogether looking forward to AFGO.

You guys.  THIS BOOK.  This may be the bravest book I’ve ever read.  It required bravery from a whole family.  I don’t know many people who would have the integrity to write something as unflinchingly honest and contemplative as this one is. The wisdom in this book is hard-won.  It made me want to be a better writer, a better truth-teller.  A better woman.

This book is about many things, or maybe just one.  It’s about body image issues, spirit/mind/body connection – which was, somewhat laughably, my college credo- addiction, sex, intimacy, connection, marriage- but ultimately, LOVE.  This is a love story, but perhaps not the kind you think.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since reading this book (twice) is how helpful I believe it will be for survivors of sexual trauma.  I will be adding it to the list of resources we give to all participants at Say It, Survivor workshops.  Child sexual abuse is not part of Glennon’s story, but her relationship with her body and therefore with sex is what we hear from survivors time and time again.  That disconnect.  That seeing our bodies at best as “other” and at worst as the enemy.

Early in the book, the author refers to “the first time sex happened to me.”  I had to put the book down for a little minute when I read that.

For most of my life, I had that disconnect.  I floated away somewhere else during sex.  My body was not a safe neighborhood as far as I was concerned.  A crime scene, actually- so I wasn’t about to hang around.  I’d detach, not really be in it.  The thing about that is, it turns physical intimacy into something being done TO you instead of WITH you and for a survivor of sexual trauma that is seriously dangerous territory.  You feel like a means to an end.  I mean, what is sexual abuse if not masturbation with a victim?  In crimes of sexual assault sex is the WEAPON.

And for someone who is terrified not to be in control, the notion of physical abandon was terrifying.  That requires real vulnerability.  Also, I knew men were inherently dangerous.  Even the ones I loved.  Maybe especially them.  But I knew what to do and what to say.  I’d been taught early and well- I knew what my role was.  And I resented the hell out of it.

You don’t get to the other side of that without some seriously hard work.

This is a love story.  Oh, sweet friends, YES- it most certainly is.  This is a story of a woman deciding to love herself enough to do the hard and sacred work of healing psychic and spiritual wounds that were encouraging her to live small.  This is a love story of a woman learning to tune out those voices that come at us from every side and try to harangue us into submission.

You can listen to those messages.  You can take them in.  You can be small and quiet and pretty and nice.  Pretty and nice are my two least favorite words.  You’ll be rewarded, sure- but you might die, too.  Maybe not all at once.  Just a little bit, every day.

It’s about the mixed up messages boys get, too.  The world we live in encourages girls to keep their bodies at a distance and boys to partition off their minds.  Sex is either painted as purely a matter of the heart or the body- not both- so there are disconnects all around.  Girls go away in their heads, and boys try to pretend it’s purely a physical act.  Both are damaging misperceptions.

This book may have been born out of a marital crisis but it isn’t a ‘how to fix your marriage’ book, though I am sure some will try and frame it that way.  This isn’t a tell-all, shame the wrong-doer memoir.  Not even close.

This is a story of a whole family showing up for each other and trying to do the next right thing.  This is people engaging in love, the verb.  And it’s a family telling the truth about it.  There’re all kinds of bravery in play in the telling of this story.

I remember an essay Glennon wrote for her first book, Carry On, Warrior – it was entitled Easter.  I was a little undone by it.  It was written in the early days of reconciliation and work after the author learned her marriage was not quite what she thought.  It was hopeful and achingly beautiful.  I never got an Easter in my marriage, there was no re-growth.  No spring, with all its promise and newness.  I grieved that for a long time, but I see it differently now.  My marriage didn’t have a spring, but I did. The marriage didn’t grow back after that long winter, but I did.  And that’s hard, but it’s not bad.

Here’s the thing, though- when things grow back, sometimes they grow back differently.  There are environmental variables, there are warmer days, cooler nights, drought, downpours…

As some of you may know, Glennon shared that she and her husband Craig have decided to separate.  I want you to hear me when I say this- that does not do one single thing to undermine the message of this book.  It does not make it any less of a love story- in fact, it underscores it.  Love stories don’t look like just one thing.  A marriage ending in mutual respect and caring, with both people having shown up and done the hard and sacred work of healing is a much greater testament to love than two people staying together when it no longer works, setting aside what their hearts and souls need in the name of what the world and Disney deems a happily ever after.  We none of us owe anyone else a tidy ending.  Real love isn’t tidy.  It isn’t sentimental, and it isn’t ephemeral. It’s messy.  Muscular.

At the end of the day, we none of us can love anyone else well until we truly love ourselves.  Love Warrior was hard for me to read, and then I instantly re-read it.  I dog-eared pages, I underlined.  I texted friends quotes.

I cried.

I’m doing a lot of hard work on myself right now.  Examining character defects, shining a light on things I would rather ignore.  I’m realizing that so many of the times I’ve done damage to others it’s been borne of my inability to authentically love myself.  I’ve spent so much of my life buying into the messages I was sold- letting other people tell my story.  That saying, “Hurt people hurt people?”  It’s true.

I still have so much work to do, but this book helped.  I think it’ll help you, too.  I’m betting you have a “ME too” moment or seven.  Do yourself a favor- if you haven’t already ordered it, do it now, and read it.  You’ll feel less alone when you’re done.

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Narrators

storytellers

“We are all stories, in the end.”

Steven Moffat

I was talking to a friend last week and our conversation went deep. She was telling me some things about her past, and when she got to a certain part of her story her voice changed. It tightened. She stopped making eye contact. Her shoulders hunched. She got physically smaller.

I looked at her, this funny, smart, strong woman who I’ve grown to love and respect, folding in on herself.  Another origami girl.  I got pissed

I held my hand up and said, “Wait. Stop.”  I leaned in and asked quietly, “Who is telling your story right now?”

She looked at me, confused.

I believe babies are born loved, necessary and enough. So that’s our story when we come into the world- Loved.  Necessary.  Enough.  That’s our baseline.  The most basic of plot points.

Then our stories get entrusted to the adults in our lives. They tell our stories until we are old enough to do it ourselves.  That is an enormous amount of power to have over someone else’s life, and adults have a sacred duty to wield that power with integrity and discretion.

When your story is entrusted to someone worthy of that responsibility, it’s told like a great biography. These are the facts. Your praises are sung. You are reminded of your Belovedness, your necessary-ness, your enough-ness. It’s your truth.  And even when there’s a HARD truth, even if it’s something you’ve struggled with, failed at, need to work on, it’s told with compassion and without judgment.

Those people, those trustworthy people, tell your story until you can tell it for yourself and then they hand it back to you. If you are going through a hard time, if you have forgotten who you are -that you are loved and necessary and enough they might gently tell you your story to remind you, but they know it is not theirs to keep in the end.

The trouble is, not everyone who gets that privilege is worthy of it. Sometimes, our stories end up in the wrong hands.  There’s even a term for it in fiction- an unreliable narrator.  That’s appropriate, actually, because in the hands of an unreliable narrator our stories become works of fiction. And just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely persuasive. Heck, I sat in the theater at the beginning of Jurassic Park and thought, “Maybe they CAN make dinosaurs out of mosquitos trapped in amber…”

Anyway, this friend and I talked some more.  She asked, “How can you tell when someone else is telling your story?”

It’s a great question.

In our workshops we spend time with the participants helping them to untangle the narratives of their lives, so I’ve been in a position the hear many women tell me their stories- and this is what I’ve come to believe:  Anytime you feel shame- you know that hot, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach?  Anytime you feel that flush of shame, someone else is telling your story. Even if the words are coming out of your own mouth. Your story has been hijacked.

Because here’s the thing, you can admit wrongdoing and not feel shame.  You can have made terrible mistakes and not feel shame.  Shame and guilt are very different animals. Guilt is your conscience- a giant arrow pointing to something you’ve done that says, “Hey!  You know that was wrong.  Make it right.”  Guilt serves a purpose within reason. Shame does not.  It is singularly destructive.

You know how from time to time you’ll hear a story about some crazy fish that is normally only found in the Amazon but somehow it shows up in a river in Michigan? When that happens, the fish in question is referred to as an ‘invasive species.” It decimates the local marine life.  It is destructive, because the fish who are supposed to live there have no natural defense against it.

Shame is foreign.  It’s an affront to your inherent belovedness, it implies you are not necessary.  That you can NEVER be enough.  Shame speaks in absolutes and offers no grace.  It is always introduced by someone outside of you.  It is never indigenous.

That’s actually great news, because if shame doesn’t happen organically, if it is not inherently part of who we are, it can be removed.  Eradicated.

The first step is identifying those chapters awash in shame.  The second is identifying the narrator- who is telling that part of your story? Round up the usual suspects.  Then, question their stories.  Stack those stories up against these three things, the bones of the story you were born with: Loved.  Necessary.  Enough.  If the stories contradict those facts?  Rewrite them.  YOU are the author of your life.  YOU are.

Until you do those things, you can’t reclaim your story.  And if you don’t own your story, it will own you.  Guaranteed.

“Keaton always said,

“I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.”

Well I believe in God,

and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.”

Verbal – The Usual Suspects