Forgivemas

I am thinking about truth.

About thought and action.

About the significance of words.

About the meaningless of words in contrast with behavior.

About secrets and lies. About dishonesty.

About the frequency with which the words “can’t” and “I don’t have a choice” get spoken, and how seldom they are true.

About the meaning and meaninglessness of feelings that are claimed, proclaimed, but not acted upon.

About trauma and fear and cruelty and coping and dissuasion and narrative.

About cruelty. And abuse.

About prolonged immaturity/infancy self-styled as superiority.

(Wikipedia is a little dainty about the role also known as “The Royal Finger” – it means the guy who wiped the king’s butt for him, like a baby’s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groom_of_the_Stool)

I am thinking about how we use pleasures as substitutes for meaning. For love, joy, purpose, belonging.

About delusions of control and illusions of powerlessness.

About what people imagine power to be. About what power actually is.

About superstition. About a mostly futile wish that “what” can be changed or limited or made wholly impossible by “who,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “want.”

About context and perspective.

About how giving – not trading, not transacting, not exchanging, but giving as in “gift” – can so easily awaken us to how much change we can affect.

About “Loss is one thing, but regret, quite another.”

 

 

About the difference between regret and remorse.

About “What we do now echoes in eternity” (Marcus Aurelius, or, in slightly paraphrased form, both St. Mark and Banksy). And “In the line of eternity, what does this matter?” (https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/the-subversive-joy-of-stephen-colbert-106698/)

 

 

About the inescapable interconnectedness of all life, and the unbelievable stupidity and destructiveness of pretending it isn’t so. About the reality of ubiquitous interdependence, and the destructive myth of the “rugged individual.” And the equally destructive myths of flawlessness, of flawless humanity, of unforgivability and unlovability.

(https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/03/i-pencil-leonard-read/)

About isolation and addiction.

About the rise of selfishness and self-pity and self-justification, and the fall of generosity and empathy and compassion.

About relentless rationalization, in defiance of all reasonable evidence of its failure to convince anyone its fabrications are true, not even the self it emanates from.

About the difference in meaning, and realistic disconnect, between “earn,” “deserve,” and “have.”

About hypocrisy.

About how one hurt cannot undo another.

About “… grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned…”     (The Peace Prayer of St. Francis)

About how suffering is not inherently a source of cruelty or failure or wisdom or success – how luck and choice play a part in what each of us do with the pains we experience.

About sorrow and happiness. About “To everything there is a season…” (Ecclesiastes, or Pete Seeger/The Byrds, according to your preference.)

 

 

About “…happiness exists in action; it exists in telling the truth and saying what your truth is; and it exists in giving away what you want the most.”

 

 

About forgiveness.

 

About “Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”    (The Color Purple)

 

About “And my turning point came with this next question: ‘Sammy, have you ever hurt anyone the way your mother has hurt you?'” (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/)

 

 

About “…forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.”

 

 

About what it means to defend. To protect. To sacrifice. To love.

It is Christmas, after all, a day with a pretty wide range of connotation, depending largely on individual context.

And I am trying very hard, for a combination of selfish and selfless reasons, not to respond with anger, where anger feels a wholly appropriate emotional response to some spectacularly shitty behavior.

If we will exercise the minimal restraint required not to gratify our anger in an instant, and spend some actual time and energy on trying to figure out what is right, and why people behave badly the way they do, including ourselves, it is actually pretty easy to make the leap from fuck-these-selfish-spoiled-cruel-narcissistic-assholes to some less profanity-riddled, more inquisitive, and potentially more useful thoughts.

I have no idea where I first heard the idea that anger is not a primary, but rather a secondary emotion, one that we tend to use to mask feelings we are more uncomfortable with, the ones we experience as unpleasant and powerless, fear and sadness, particularly. I don’t know what the basis of the speaker’s assertion was, but I do know it stuck with me because it rings so true.

Anger is an emotion, from my perspective, that has a lot of power-hype, but is really a show of vulnerability or weakness. Fight is a fear response. Fear is a survival-threat response. Whatever our cultural narratives about anger and its companion action, violence (which is more varied, I believe, than the limited array of actions we are conditioned to label that way), it seems pretty clear that those things have little to nothing to do with strength. Strength is what is required to do what is difficult, not a descriptor of what is easily, speedily self-gratifying.

What does this all have to do with Christmas? Well, for a start, it means working today to manage my own fear and sadness in a way that doesn’t involve me texting “Go fuck yourself” to anyone. Trying to understand the hype and the subtext of the varied meanings assigned to the day. Trying to understand why so many people seem to fail to try to understand.

It means minding my own hypocrisy.

It means putting in the effort not to leave myself trapped in the myopic perspective of an endless present of pain that comes with a fear response. Survival-mode means now; prolonged survival-mode makes now feel timeless. Like an inescapable eternity. Like hell.

It means considering the relative value of survival strategies and coping behavior that have short-term and long-term value, and how to make the best of the former til the latter, which tend to be more time-consuming to achieve efficacy, can be fully realized. About not falling into the trap of treating short-term strategies as long-term sustainable.

It means being grateful I held back my angrily reactive thumbtyping to insensitivity that was hurtful, whether it was consciously or thoughtlessly cruel, and spent the day considering, and ultimately affirming, why that was the right choice to make.

I am glad I held my thumbs. Because this might bring me no greater kindness, but I am fairly certain it has done me a world more good than “Go fuck yourself” would have done.

I hope today brought you some joy. If not, I hope you made the choice to seek some perspective instead of adding your own contribution to the sum total of human misery. And if you didn’t, that you will accept that as long as you are alive, it is not too late, and decide differently, now, or in the future.

 

 

I’ve Only Just Begun

I have experienced cruelty, but I will not be cruel.

I have been treated hatefully, but I will not hate.

I have wounded, but I have not been broken.

I am, I will, and fuck any weak piece of shit with delusions of grandeur who imagines for one fraction of a second that who I am and what I choose are dictated by anything but my own will.

I will grieve, I will falter, I will fall and fail, and I will grow, and I will leave more wastes of time and energy behind me, and, live or die, it will be on my terms. I choose what is mine to choose, and everything else is someone else’s fucking problem.

None of you, I mean none of you, ever made me anything. I chose. I fought. I never fucking ceded my right to be, to resist. To decide. To privacy. To choice. To fucking lie down and rest and recover. What you did is your failing, your crime, your shame.

Every second, I endure. I learn. I move on.

Do not imagine for a second because I have been kind or tolerant or forgiving or hurt that I am weak. I maintained the former in spite of the latter because I am not. I refrained from the latter in all but the most defensive (usually of others) circumstances because I am not. And none of you have any concept of what I am capable of. I do. And in the end, even that does not matter, because what I do is down to what I will, not what I can.

However, wherever, whenever I go, I will be more at peace with myself than most people will ever be. Because I choose, goddammit, and that will always be.

What doesn’t kill me I will alchemize into greater strength. I will never, never, never give up. To paraphrase the song my nana’s most metaphorical music box played, I’ve only just begun. The dancing caged bird that I broke by dropping, then fixed by dropping again. It was years later, but that little bird woke the fuck up, and danced. One wound stopped it, another brought it back to life.

I can bear this, as I have borne it all. I can. I am. I do. I will.

And I don’t give a fuck what you think or do or make of this. Never grow. Never apologize. Never acknowledge change is inevitable. Never take responsibility. It doesn’t fucking matter. That is up to you. And it will never undo me.

I will almost certainly descend back into the dark. I am not done there, not yet. But for this moment, I remember, who I am, what I will, what I have survived, and I am better than alright.

I am free.

I have only just begun.

If you will, broken or healed, dance with me.

 

 

Tiny Breakthrough (Temporarily Defeating the Metaphorical Flamethrower Bear With Profanity)

For want of anything else to do with everything that is causing my crushing anxiety, I just opened a document with the thought of writing something, and having nothing to say, pretty much just typed nonsense (okay, profanity), and, oddly, while I was doing that, I felt a lot more relaxed.

I am going to guess because it took enough of my conscious, chatter-box brain’s attention to type words to distract it from focusing on any source of stress. Maybe the swear-iness also helped, since those are words habitually associated with venting negative feelings.

Just putting this out there, on the chance it is useful to anyone else.

Give it a shot.

Maybe typing “What in the fucking fucking fucking fuck of fucking fucking fucked up fuck ups fuck ups fuck ups fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck…” will also be of use to you.

Or you could pick a less swear-y repetition. “All the puppy puppying puppies time the puppies puppy puppily puppytime…” might work better for you.

Hell, if you are scientific-method-ly-minded, try both, and see if one or the other feels more helpful. Maybe throw in a third neutral word (since puppies might have some positive or negative emotional resonance for you), like typing “and” over and over, for point of comparison.

This was a random discovery on my part, so no idea if it will actually be useful to anyone else, or even for me again, but as anyone who feels like they are drowning in a relentlessly rising tide of shit well knows, like twenty seconds of peace can be heaven, since “anxiety” is, as far as I am concerned, just a euphemism for “survival response,” which is, in turn, a euphemism for “death-threat response,” which really should be what we call it, since that is, you know, what it is, and how it feels.

Saying you feel “anxious” diminishes the reality that you are trying to accomplish what, in better mental and emotional climes, would be mundane tasks, while your entire body (your brain is a part of your body, and that we tend to pretend that is not so based on the Western world’s raging, multi-century boner for Cartesian dichotomy and mind-body divide strikes me as stupidly self-destructive) is screaming:

“HOLY SHIT, IT IS A BEAR WITH A FLAMETHROWER, RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, GET A STICK AND HIT THE BEAR WITH IT, DO SOMETHING, DO ANYTHING, DO IT NOW, LIE DOWN AND PLAY DEAD, OFFER TO BUY THE BEAR A DRINK, STAND STILL LIKE A STATUE, SOMETHING, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW OR WE ARE GOING TO DIE!!!!!

(For those who use the misleading term “fight-or-flight” for what I term the death-threat response –  or, if you prefer, murder-response – I included a variety of bear-related mentions of all of the elements of said response, which are, to my non-professional knowledge, freeze, flop, friend, flee, and fight.

Also, so far as I am aware, freeze is the most common survival response, just fyi. If some bad shit happened to you, and you think you are weak or cowardly or somehow complicit in whatever bad thing happened because you couldn’t move, you can let that shit go – your survival brain was at the wheel, and that is its favored move. Happens, apparently, to most people who face down death – and with anything that physically endangers you, I don’t imagine survival brain drawing distinctions between death and other injury. Prior to antibiotics, a scratch could be the death of you, and evolution moves at a snail’s pace – there is no rationally believing the oldest parts of the brain do a recent-advances-in-medicine-check before going to defcon-flamethrowerbear when our physical safety is threatened. Seriously, from a second-hand-therapist mention, the part of your brain that is responsible for your anxiety/survival/fight-or-flight/death-threat/murder-response does not understand language.)

I hope the nonsensical repetitive writing trick might be helpful to you, and also hope you know to apply it only when you are dealing with a phantom flamethrower bear; if something in your immediate vicinity is actually threatening you with bodily harm, typing “fuck” over and over seems pretty unlikely to be helpful. Then again, I am no more a self-defense expert than I am a mental-health professional, so really, in either case, you should bear (flamethrower-bear-pun accidental, but acknowledged) my limitations in mind as you assess your actual- vs. phantom-bears, and respective strategies for dealing with said (hopefully) metaphorical bears.

Dear Kath, (10)

Dear Kath,

Today is one of those days when I just feel sad, which I tell myself at first is for seemingly no reason, even though if I allow myself to think about it, there are many reasons. I just don’t want to think about them. I don’t want to feel sad. Which I know, intellectually, is counterproductive, I know if I just let it out, it would probably pass, and in trying to avoid what I already feel, I am just prolonging it. And I probably never would have articulated this outside of writing to you.

I really, really, really wish you were here. I wish I could spend Christmas with you. I wish you could help me. I wish someone who is still alive who I miss would surprise the hell out of me by putting aside their selfish fears and giving a damn about healing the pain they cause. I wish a lot of things, and feel sadder thinking about them, because imagining the people I miss actually acting to help me and not hurt me feels unlikelier than you returning from the dead.

I don’t know whether that I miss them is a reflection of self-loathing or, you know, “the voices of my better angels.” I tend to err on the side of the latter, because I think one of the worst things we allow to arise from people behaving unkindly is choosing to kill off our own kindness.

I do know I would give anything to be pleasantly surprised by them. By one of them, even. I would love to live to see someone I love, who has done me harm, put down their armor and just say “I’m sorry. I was scared. I fucked up. I am working to do better. And I am holding myself to my word.” I hope I get to live that experience one day. I want them to believe that is worth doing. I want them to believe they themselves are worth the path that feels more difficult in the short-term. I want them to believe they can be forgiven. I want them to believe honesty can actually bring a good outcome. I want to believe the same for myself.

I want to go home, Kath, and everything that meant is gone. Including you. God, I want to go home. If I could have you back, that is what I would choose above all. Hell, if bringing you back meant taking your place without getting to see you again, I would still choose your return. I would give anything for you to get to live the long life you wanted and deserved.

I don’t know, Kath. I don’t know if this is helping today, except that missing you is one of the reasons for my sadness, and allowing myself to think about you might help in that regard. I am pretty sure it is a dream that the ones I love and miss will ever read this, much less give a fuck about it, at least beyond where it might make them feel good to know they are loved and missed, to where it would make a difference for me. I wish they would, but knowing they almost certainly won’t, I need to say it, anyway. Because it is how I feel. It is the pain I am suspended in, and probably will be until the hope slowly dissolves the more time passes, leaving something else in its place.

I miss you with everything I am, Kathleen. Thank you for allowing me the space to grieve.

Love,

Lisa

Dear Kath, (9)

Dear Kath,

Back again, with my stomach churned from anxiety, trying to pep talk myself and finding it not at all helpful. Considered the whole “think of all the things you have survived” strategy, but thinking of those things is pretty much just scary, not empowering. Which makes sense, as courage is not fearlessness, courage is acting in spite of feeling fear. And fear is what I feel right now. Whether or not I have survived equally bad or worse does not make this any easier. It makes it terrifying. I know how bad things can be. Have been. Are. I don’t want any more. I want to be through this already. I am choking, sister, and there is fuck all I can do in this moment, but I also don’t have the capacity to forget about it and relax. If you are watching out for me, please, send the dog with a backpack full of cash, or similar. I need a fucking break. I am past my capacity to function in dire circumstances. I need a fucking break. Please. I want to know what it is like to live a life that is tranquil. That is lucky. That is something that doesn’t give me nightmares and rob me of the escape of sleep. I want to know what it is like to have some peace. I want to know what it is like to live a life that doesn’t feel like an escalating series of punishments. I want to know what it is like to feel real relief, to know everything is okay, now, and will be okay. This is pretty much straight word-vomit, but I needed to blurt somewhere. I needed to get the panic out of my head and anywhere else. I need you. Where did you go? That is the question that haunts us after death, isn’t it? You were right here, you were here, and now you aren’t. Why aren’t you here? Where did you go? Dammit, I need you to be here. I need to pick up the phone and be able to hear your voice. I need to hear the voice that…gave me some solid ground. I feel like I have lost every single bit of stability, every inch of foundation, one piece after another. Relentlessly. For years. And years. And years. I can’t take any more, Kath. I lived past losing you, and it just keeps getting worse. Please, please, help me right now. Help me, please.

I love you. I miss you. I feel lost without you.

And I considered just leaving this in the drafts or deleting it, but ultimately, truthfully, it made me feel better. One of the worst habits born of fucked up experiences, I think, is learning to try to suppress what we feel, to deny it, to bury, not to express it. And sometimes what we really need to do is just let ourselves have a good, mindless, freaked-out blurt. Word-vomit, indeed. One of those instances of better out than in. Suppression is one of those things that I think is the root of, and amplifiers of, anxiety.

I have not solved my problems. I am still waiting for the backpack dog. But I feel at least like now I can put some shit aside for a while and let my mind be distracted and hope that allows me to sleep peacefully after. Not everything helpful is pretty. Not everything that is helpful is a cure-all. But it is still worth doing.

I put my very brief panicked word-barf out there for anyone who is keeping it all inside. Maybe try word-vomiting that shit out, onto a page, into a hotline staffers’ ear, to a trusted loved one who has the capacity in the moment to hold some space for your pain, whatever you have, wherever it feels safe, let it rip. You might not make a lot of sense, you might not say what you logically mean, you might say things that are exagerrated or nonsensical – and you might find that venting your feelings (in a non-abusive way, if you are venting to another person, I am not advocating for yelling or throwing shit or any of that biz) provides you with relief from the very feelings you want to be relieved of.

Letting your freak-out flag fly might help. It helped me. I am going to watch some Netflix and hopefully hit sleepytown.

Seriously, Kath, this whole exercise is turning into a weird fucking journey into basic emotional coping and self-care skills. Beats the hell out of sitting around feeling terrified without end. What the fuck would I have ever done without you? Thank you for being someone who loved me so truly that you left me with a little piece of the space you held for me. It is like I still have your permission to say how I am, and that is enough to allow me to do it. I don’t think you will ever stop saving my ass. Goddamn, I miss you, bitch.

I love you so much. You are still the heart of my heart. Always will be.

Lisa

Dear Kath, (8)

Dear Kath,

It has been a weird day. I guess most of my days are weird, by some standards, but today was weird by mine. I am back here for the second time today, because, of course, it is you I want to talk to. And at this point, I just want to allow myself to do this whenever I want to talk to you.

Because it helps me.

Because it helps me keep feeling connected to you, and that is something I really don’t know how to live without. Until two years ago, I had never lived a day of my life without you as some part of it. And man, that still feels so fucking unreal. I would probably be better able to accept finding out that you pulled a massively cruel prank than that you really aren’t here any more. Two years. And they have SUCKED. And for so many reasons. Like losing the closest human being in my life was not a world of suck enough. It is one of those wishfully human things, that we want there to be some order, some rules, some restraint, that only one massively shitty thing could happen at a time. No such fucking thing, of course, but when there is a pileup of awful experiences, I think it does add to our sense of disconnect, of this-cannot-be-happening.

Because I need to start allowing myself to do things more often just because I want to, to allow that to be enough reason, even though there are so many things that feel so pressing to do. If I don’t, I am going to burn out completely, long before I get anywhere near the life I want to have. The life I want to have, for a start, is one built around having and doing the things I want. Maybe thinking about you and your seasonal bucket lists put me in this mindframe. That it is important to try to stuff some little bits of pleasantness into all unpleasant days, so that we don’t fall into despair, or get paralyzed by anxiety, or cease to see the point in living because we cease to feel anything good.

Because I know that part of what I want to do is this, or some version of this: write, hopefully in a way that reaches people on a level that is helpful to them in their own lives. Ideally in a way that is entertaining. I have known a lot of times of difficulty, and many of them with some degree of loneliness and isolation, and the work other strangers shared was a part of how I got through those times. Get through those times. There can be value in the indirect human connection we experience by engaging with what someone else has made, has communicated.

And because I think the only way I get to where I am doing that successfully requires that I just keep writing and publishing as often as I can, and finding my way to the work I want to be doing by doing the work that I feel able to do right now. It is so easy, I think, for all of us to get stuck, to keep waiting, instead of trying. This is not ground-breaking material, and it lacks my voice, the voice I still feel I am recovering in the aftermath of multiple new traumatic experiences. I have no particular reason to think it will be read by many people. And that isn’t really the point. I have no control over that. I have control over whether I take the time to string words together into sentences, and whether I put those words where they can be seen by people who might be inclined to read some random bit of writing by a stranger. Entertaining or not, you never know whether what you need to say might be words someone else needs to read. I have found wisdom in many unexpected places over the years. Maybe for some other person, the letters I write to you will have some unexpected value. I hope so. I would prefer not to suffer, but if I am going to suffer, I would like it to serve some purpose, to create some meaning out of it.

Because in some part of my mind, I know this will be one more of those things that lead me to somewhere closer to where I want to be, that I will be able to look back on this, and even if at that point I think it is trite garbage, I will know it took me somewhere I wouldn’t have gotten if I sat and waited for the Muse to strike or circumstances to improve or for the perfect idea, perfectly executed.

On the bright side, right now, I do feel more like I am really addressing you. Which is some indirect connection I am grateful to have.

Although I admit I am past the point in babbling to you where I would want to be interrupted. I want to be asking you how you are, and what your plans are, and how you are feeling. I want you to tell me what you think about where I am, about what has happened, about what I am doing, about what you think I should do. I am doing the best I can by asking myself what I think you would say, but it isn’t the same. I miss your voice. If I am being honest about it, maybe my lost voice didn’t go missing with the recent round of nesting-doll-style traumas. I lost you in pieces, and I think when I was where I didn’t know how to talk to you, where we were not communicating well at all, that I had also lost my voice in pieces. A little at a time, so I didn’t really notice that it was gone.

I guess that is one more reason to do this – we really do need to express what is in our heads outside of ourselves, maybe ideally to someone else, because we are social animals, and we rely on seeing ourselves reflected back in each other. I got too isolated with someone who was funhouse mirroring me. I needed more perspective than I had, and I got lost. I think maybe you got lost, too. I wish we had gotten more time, because I know we would have helped each other get found. But you are gone now. And I don’t want to stay lost. So I am keeping you alive in my mind as much as I can. Your perspective is the one I need most right now, I think. One that helped me come this point, that we need to be careful of who we choose to see ourselves reflected back by.

I probably haven’t blown anyone’s mind with this, Kath, certainly not my own. But I feel a little better than I did earlier today. And somewhere in the half-assed rambles there are a couple of things I imagine will be useful to be reminded of, sooner or later. And I got to spend a little time with you, so to speak. Worth it.

I love you.

Lisa

p.s. All the “voice” talk belatedly brought me to what should have been most obvious – that I am choosing to write to you, because if there was anyone I could be myself with, andyone I felt seen by, understood by, it was you. What better way to rediscover my voice than by talking to the one person I knew really heard it?