Please, Don’t Congratulate Me on My New House

newhouseIf you do one thing over the next couple of months, please, please don’t congratulate me on my new, shiny, sought-after house.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s gorgeous.  It has about 7 bedrooms.  It’s on a pond and has a gigantic porch with the perfect bench on it.  But something feels wrong about being congratulated for the fun stuff.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of things you are more than welcome to congratulate me for, however:

1.  That time I sat outside of my job at a residential eating disorder center, crying, because I knew I was just as sick as the women inside.  I had so much shame about being a sick helper, and I called Walden anyway.  I quit my job, and chose health.  I went to treatment.

2.  I fully accept Hallmark cards for the time I kicked the ball right into Steve Panish’s face in 10th grade gym class.  This came after months of taunting about my shitty athletic ability, and strange fake flirting that was meant to imply I was gross.  I’d had it.

3.  That time I woke up in my beautiful Somerville apartment with the worst hangover I’d ever had.  I picked myself up off the couch and walked straight to Watertown to find my car that I’d left at a friend’s in a drunken blackout.  As I walked down Mount Auburn street, I came to grips with the sickening realization that I could never drink – ever – again.  If I wanted to have some sort of life.

4.  How about the time I drove over the Tobin Bridge aimlessly at five months sober and felt feelings for the first time in years?  That it literally felt like my choices were be miserable, or die? That I wanted to leap but didn’t?  That I held on and made one of the best friends of my life through it?

5.  Or the time that infant Fiona screamed for hours on end and everyone told me “that’s what babies do”?  That after the 12th hour of screaming, and the 40th day of sleep deprivation, I put her down in her carseat, walked out of the room, and suppressed a scream?  That I didn’t do something worse, something we could never admit to thinking of because we all have to be perfect mothers and not talk about it?

6.  There’s also the countless times I’ve chosen to be respectful towards a man who pushed himself into me, drunk, because I can see the shame in his eyes when he looks at me sober?

7.  Or how about the time I chose to stay with a man who loved me, instead of choosing addiction?  That I came to terms with the fact that I am an addict, one in particular who seeks emotional attachments outside of her relationship, because she is so afraid that he won’t love her ugly parts?  That I was willing to sit in couples therapy for hours on end to fix the trauma I created and still choose to not hurt myself and to feel ugly feelings and to be the bad guy and to yell at each other and do the hard work?  How about congratulating those beautiful people who were hurt by my actions?

8.  How about the time I reached into my mother’s freezer, wordlessly cracking ice cubes out of the ice tray, shoving them into a ziploc bag, knowing they would be placed around my father’s head in a few hours when he died?  That I made ice cube tray after ice cube tray because I knew donating his brain to science was so important to him? That I placed the ice around his head after he passed and apologized to his dead body about moving him?  How about that?

9.  Or the time I lost my baby, and had to tell Fiona that the baby got sick and couldn’t come?  That I watched as a tear rolled down her smooth cheek, and heard her say, “I think my heart is broken?”

You see, I’ve been on the other side of that shiny new house, a million times.  I’ve been that girl who truly believed she was just not entitled to a happy life with a husband and a beautiful home.  That I was just meant to be unhappy.  I still believe that, sometimes, and that’s when I make stupid choices that hurt people, because why not be one big self-fulfilling prophecy?  I have more respect for the girl who sat through numerous urges to do something, anything self-destructive, than the girl who made a lot of money so she could buy a house.  I have more respect for the girl who spoke out at a self-help meeting, for probably the third time in six years since she’d joined that program, than the girl who lost weight and bought a beautiful designer dress and made a beautiful bride.  That shit, was cake.

We get it all wrong – we are there for each other when things are good.  But when things hurt?  We don’t know what to say.  We shrink away.  We don’t know what to do because we are uncomfortable ourselves.  But if you know someone who is hurting right now, commend them.  Raise them up.  Because they are doing important, hard, gritty work right now.  Work that will be the basis of their character later on.

So please feel free to send me a Hallmark card for the next time I actually call you instead of isolating per usual or when I embarrassingly cry in front of others or when I choose to just breathe. one. more. time.

But please, please, don’t congratulate me on my new house.

 

(Disclaimer:  The author knows friends should both rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and support each other when facing adversity.  The author is also grateful for all the support in her community for things both good and bad.  The author is really just trying to make a point.)

Am I Too Much For You?

At what point did I become too much for you?

Was it when I stayed awake all night, crying like babies do?  When I sensed your presence the minute you walked in the room, and sprang to?  When I was afraid of him and hid under the table, crying, was I too much for him?  Was I the problem?

Was it when I repeated back those bad words about our bodies, that embarrassed you?  Was it when I couldn’t bear to be alone without you, and stood at the window crying?  Was it then, that I needed too much?

Or was it when you thought I was being dramatic because I was hungry and dizzy?

Or when I had a phobia of the shower at 7?  And you screamed at me?  Was it then?

Or was it when I ran out of the house screaming because he looked like he was going to hit you?

Or when I voiced my opinion, and you called me a man-hating bitch just like your mother?

I can’t quite pinpoint when I lost myself, my beautiful, truth-telling, brave self.

Was it when you all figured out I was fat?  That I took up too much physical space? When you became disgusted by the amount of fat on my body, the number of pimples you counted on my face?

Was it when you became so angered and astounded by my intelligence and fierceness that you refused to acknowledge my presence for weeks?

Or was it when you were jealous of my sixty pound weight drop and that was wrong, too?

Was it when I told you I wasn’t just someone to sleep with?

Or was it when I decided I didn’t want to be engaged to that guy anymore?

Did I not fit in your little box?

Was it when I dyed my hair and pierced my nose?

Was I not “pretty”, anymore?

Was it too much when I embraced my sexuality, and posted a picture of me in lingerie?  Was it “gross”?

Or when I breastfed my child in front of you.  Did I disturb you?

Was it when I deceived you, and I wasn’t your golden angel anymore?

Or was it when I expected more out of you than a fairweather friend?

Did that gravity push you away?

Or was it the fact that I could see the beauty in many people at the same time?

Do I write too much online?

Am I too expressive?

Am I too sensitive because I wouldn’t tolerate your rape jokes at the hibachi table?

Am I too politically correct for you?

Does it scare you when I speak to you passionately? Does it make me a demon?

Was I too much when I finally laid down my shackles, and was loud with my opinions?

Or that I cry openly?  And it’s not a shameful thing?

Was that too much woman?

 

Was it too much for you to feel better about your feelings as a result of my badass vulnerability?

 

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 

(dedicated to FNR, who will never be silenced)

My Four Year Old’s Graduate School Essay

I’ll be honest.  It still boggles my mind why any self-respecting political science program would have their graduating students write an essay about their mother, and what she instilled in us, but since it is a requirement, here goes nothing.

My mother.  Both strong and weak, both saint and sinner.  She is the woman who gently sang songs to put me back to sleep at two in the morning, and she is the woman who laid in bed mid-day on Sundays, struck down by depression, while my father ran around and got the groceries.  She is the woman who brought me up with Beyonce and Revere Beach gal day-trips, proudly donning a two piece on her mid-thirties body, and she is the woman I caught once, just once, scowling at her naked, gravity-ridden torso in the mirror.  She is the woman who taught me what every word, expression, and nuance of the English language meant, and she is the woman who barely speaks in groups (it was embarassing how quiet she was.  I used to mistake this for weakness and apathy.  Why be quiet when there is so much to say?!)  But she wrote!  Oh, did she write.

The craziest thing about my mother is that you’d never know.  You’d never know the storm that was happening inside.  She was and is beautiful, with the cutest round face and cupid’s bow lips (which, she admitted to me later on, was something she’d use to her advantage at times).  And she looked so serene, especially when she was about to leave for work to listen to others’ problems.  I don’t know how she did it, without a drink for all these years.

Did I mention she’s a recovered alcoholic?  She’s a recovered alcoholic. She got sober before I came along though, so I never saw her drink.

But anyways, you’d never know she was hurting.  Usually.  From what she’s told me, depression wreaked havoc on a semi-daily basis, and when it was bad, it wanted her dead.  But she would get up, go on a run, drop me off at my Nana’s, and go to work, all while feeding me Munchkins in the backseat and risking our lives by watching me make a silly face in the driver’s rearview mirror, after I demanded she watch.  (Some say I was a strong-willed child.  I say persistent is a more positive word.  But I digress…)

Did she ever explode on me?  Sure.  But hell, I was a kid worth exploding on!  Apparently, once I attempted to strangle her when I was four after she told me it was time to go home after a trip to the park in Boston. (Again, before you judge, I want to remind you that my persistence is what got me into this graduate program.)  She was not perfect, for sure, and she manipulated others with her intelligence to make her feel better at times.  That used to bother me a great deal; it made her seem like a snob next to my father.

So I guess there were some things about her that weren’t that great.  But aren’t there negative things about everyone?  That’s the one thing I never got about her – how hard she was on herself.  As if she was someone special who had to be held to a higher standard than others.  This seemed both arrogant and masochistic.  She held such a shame about her flaws, about her mistakes, how’d she hurt people – she kept it all to herself.  She had a trusted few she’d call, like Auntie Jenni or Auntie April, but other than that, she bottled it up.  It’s as if she didn’t know how to reach out for help, even to my father, at times.  It’s as if she thought she had to go it alone.  My Nana always said she got it from my Grampy (who died when I was very young and only memory is of him meowing like a cat to make me laugh).  Who knows.  All I know, is that I don’t want to live my life like that.

Which is what I guess I’ve learned inadvertently from her.  To lean on others, not to recoil into herself the way she did.  To see every new individual I meet as a growth opportunity, a chance to expand my world a little bit (and to expand theirs!  I am pretty awesome).  And through her self-criticism, I’ve learned to laugh at my mistakes.  They are a necessary part of life we all must embrace.

You see, my mother always taught me that you could not have the light without the dark, and that the imperfections were the good stuff.  So I’m not going to write some fluffy, dumbass essay about my perfect mother who sang beautifully and was so raw and so real. (People would say that about her writing all the time and it made me barf, quite frankly.)  I’ve written about what mistakes she’s made and what I’ve learned from that.  Because every generation should do a little better than the previous one, shouldn’t they?

And perhaps one day, my offspring will be writing a similar essay, about how they learned when to keep quiet from their boisterous and overbearing mother.

-Fiona Ryan

 

Miscarraige: Not For the Faint-Hearted.

apathyShhhhhh.

I do not want to hear the cars rushing by, or the hum of the dishwasher, or life taking place, in it’s very fallible, flawed way.

I  am already too aware of the failings of humanity.  It existed within my body for three weeks.  It lay dead, within me, for three weeks.  Two of which, I walked around unknowingly.  (Didn’t I know my body by now?  Wouldn’t I have been able to tell?  Am I that bad of a mother?)

Shhhhhhh.

I want to stand next to the ocean with the waves crashing in.  I want to hold my pretend baby in my arms for at least once.  Yellow baby roses are in my arms instead, but they’ll do.  They’re the closest thing I’ll have to holding my baby.

(Scene: a doctor’s office.  A thirty-something woman sits on the table with tears running down her face.  An older thirty-something sits with her.)

Thirty-something: I don’t want to wait five days to have the procedure.  I don’t want to pass the baby at home, with my history.

Older thirty-something: Are you aware that it wouldn’t be a baby?)

Shhhhhhhhhh.

I am aware.

I’ve always been aware.

I have always been able to go there.  To that dark place.  With you.  With all of you.  I have listened to you gripe, and showed up for you time and time again.  And now I am hyper aware you cannot do the same for me.  I am hyper aware of your ginger emails, your bad jokes, your avoidance of pain because it’s too much for you.  I am hyper aware that even saying this drives you further from me.  I am hyper aware of your shortcomings, your defects that make you human.  I am disgusted.  Better to be disgusted by you than the blood and pain that won’t stop.

I know.  That was disgusting.

Now do you know how it feels?

Shhhhhhhh.

It won’t be this way forever.

I will start thinking like a grounded, science-minded educated woman again.  I will be your strong girl.  I will not feel like living is akin to peeling the first layer of your skin off constantly.  The chest pain will cease, and the moments that make life unbearable will lose their strength.  I will stop contemplating starving myself or throwing myself into exercise to drown you out.

(Why not betray the body when the body has betrayed you?  Why not use whatever the fuck I want to feel better?  I’ve seen way too much loss, too many last breaths, the smell of death.  Someone dying while they’re still alive.  So fuck you, and your “you can recover fully!” bullshit.  This shit comes around, like an old shady friend, following you up that spiral staircase and re-emerging when you’re most vulnerable.)

Shhhhhhhh.

Go to sleep, baby –

maybe you’ll get to be free now

 

 

Growing Up, Littleton Style

I remember it as this:  it was always the poor, disadvantaged kids who were nicer.

I mean, not always.  There was that field trip to Salem where my best friend’s shoes were made fun of by one of the “badasses” of our class, and there was that one bully who so thoughtfully nicknamed me Turtle due to my unathletic, overweight nature.  I remember leaving the junior high dance one night, crying, because my flowered leggings apparently warranted the label of “slut” – this, to a girl who wouldn’t be kissed until she was 15.  My mother cried that night too.

But I have seen more acts of kindness from the kids from the “other side of the tracks” now that we’re grown, and kinder, and our edges have been sanded down.  And it was the same kids who gave me compliments when I lost weight (albeit, unhealthily, but how could they have known?)

It was the higher-scoring, soccer-playing, Z-Cavaricci wearing kids who didn’t give a fuck – now or then.  It was as if they were exempt from not clapping for me when I got an award “because I was Amanda Bruce”, or from making fun of their friend who had to kiss me in the school play (FYI, there’d be a bunch of dudes from the Greater Boston area who’d disagree with you today, suckers.)  It was interesting.  Achievement and money put a veil over their eyes, blinding them from the spiritual blunders they made.  I see it in the different financial populations I’ve counseled today as well.

I could see how some people might think I’m stuck in the past, that I might be…pitiful, not moving on.  (My husband and I have a joke, that I’m like Steve Buschemi’s character from Billy Madison, the one that crosses Billy off his “People to Kill” list after Billy apologizes to him for bullying.  Google it, it’s hilarious.)  But I know who I am.  And I think it’s really important to talk about our own personal truths and have them be honored.  It’s only by doing so that other people can honor theirs.  Vulnerability reaps compassion.

In the end, I know that hurt people hurt people.  And that’s why all the kids who did what they did to that one observer girl who sat silently in class.  They were just as hurt as I was, regardless of class or ability to get an A in level 5 English.

Recently, (with both positive and negative qualities) I’ve felt warrior-like.  Willing to swoop in and take whatever I’ve earned.  On a run recently, I watched a red-tailed hawk dive in from nowhere, pounce on a smaller bird, and ascend back into the sky, with no guilt or misgivings.  The hawk knew what it wanted, and it went for it.  I identify with that.

But with that hawk’s ruthlessness comes a tricky balance of justice.  When you start to take what you want, without thought; when you start to embrace your power after being at a disadvantaged place – the scales can tip too far the other way, sometimes.  I often have to watch that in myself.  I cannot mistake passion for ruthlessness.  I cannot be rash because I suddenly am successful.

I want more compassion.  I want more justice.  I want communities where people are willing to apologize for hurt feelings, even if they didn’t intend to hurt.  I want painful truths, spoken over and over and over again, until those who deny their very existence can no longer do so.  Until they are acknowledged.  I want this, for my 4 year old child who will enter kindergarten in the Fall of 2017.  Recently, I watched some of the same ignorance and bullying happen to my extended family in that very town I grew up in; it was hard to think that nothing had changed.  The town could be better than that.

I find it so interesting some members of our world have come to view compassion as an Achilles’ Heel, when it is actually the biggest superpower of all.

 

 

 

Loud

cropped-mybody-e13679720998001.jpg“You gotta be loud, if you want their attention.”

Last night, at my weekly self-help meeting, I gazed back at the well-intentioned man who stood before me, trying to help me start some announcements.  He was right; my quiet-when-in-a-group voice wouldn’t be enough to call over the crowd.  But his statement brought up a thousand hurts.

“Be a strong woman!” I was told by the aggressive female professor at the University of Hartford after I met with her, uncharacteristically struggling in an English class.

“Don’t worry; Alan will get rid of your shyness,” said the girl I huddled offstage with as we worked crew for The Battleship Potemkin freshman year at Hartt.

“Oh, I admire someone like you, who is shy and still tries,” said the asinine former supervisor at an outpatient counseling clinic, as he signed off on my clinical hours.

The message I received over, and over, and over again:

You are not enough.

You are not enough.

You are not enough.

Until I received the message that I was too much.

******

First of all, the hilarious thing is, I’m not typically quiet.  My mother, my husband, my former voice teacher, anyone in my inner circle could tell you – I’m opinionated, emotional and snarky.  I’m quiet in two scenarios: when I’m in a group, and when I don’t trust you.  And here’s how it all began, and how the eating disorder commenced: I was taunted daily by classmates for my weight, for simply being.  I learned early on that the more quiet you were, the less space you took up, the less people noticed and the less likely they were to sexually harass tease you for wearing pants that weren’t so in style.  So it became a protective thing.

So to me, it was never a shy thing.  It was more like, I’ve got my eyes on you.  I see right through you.  I can tell you’re not trustworthy so I’m shutting down.  

So I’d say nothing, I’d tuck my hands under my legs as I sat, and I lost weight.

Until I got tired of restricting myself and started to binge.  My body ached for food, for things I craved, to be satisfied for once.  And I would go overboard.  This bled into alcohol in my twenties.  When alcohol was put in the mix, there were no holds barred.  I could be as carefree, loud and crazy as I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about you judging me as too something.  And oh, was I loud.  Was I obnoxious.  Especially the night I tried to punch the bartender for giving me a glass of water.  Or the night I stole my best friend’s date.  Because fuck you.

I’d wake up, dehydrated and unsure of what happened the night before.  I’d receive angry, incredulous phone calls from friends.  And I was confused, partially because I couldn’t remember the night, and also –

Isn’t this what you wanted?  For me to be loud? To not give a fuck and be your version of strong?

******

And on that note.  I find it incredibly alarming the average person thinks that a loud person is strong.  Trump is a great example of the idiocy that comes from this theory.  God forbid we have people who think before they speak.  God forbid we have listeners who observe.

And – the punchline to the joke?  Now, there are people who judge me for putting this stuff out there.  I suppose I’m too loud, too much, too emotional for them.

To all of those who thought or think me meek, I would say this:

Sure, I guess I’m not strong in that I’m not physically loud.  If that’s your definition, I guess it makes sense.  I mean, I only went on to get my Master’s Degree and become a licensed mental health counselor after working on my own alcoholism, eating disorder, and depression, in addition to surviving some pretty intense sexual and emotional bullying in Littleton, and growing up in an alcoholic household where the police frequented and I ran screaming from the house because I was afraid of who was going to be hit.  I only went on to tackle my own trauma history and successfully emotionally parent a child of my own despite going against habit.  I only screamed in the face of a 6’4″ man in a Somerville gas station, because goddamnit, he stole my spot.

But you know, I’ll be louder next time.  For you.

Ode to the Addict

I entered the room.

There she was, vamping and posing for the camera.  I resented her.  She was a swirling, invented version of herself when she was like this.  Sort of like a bobblehead, but not in the skinny way.  She was off-balance, teetering this way and the next and you never knew when she was going to crash and fall down.

It was so predictable.  I watched her come and go; she usually came when things got heavy.  And the crazy thing was?  People loved her.  They were way more drawn in by her instability than my calm.  She would prance her way into a room, wearing the shortest skirt; people would bow.  She would write you a list of her most embarassing woes; others would adulate her carefree, translucent ways.

I mean, it made sense.  It made things better.  She had only been using these ways since she was 15 or so.  It was a pattern she had trouble shaking.

Over time, I watched her return.  Interestingly enough, her entrances became less grand and her eyes looked more deadened with each return.  I wondered if she was beginning to see what I saw; that no matter how lovely her smile was, or how uniquely her soul shined compared to the others, she never changed.  She attracted the same crowd, she felt the same feelings, she reaped the same result.  She watched me, and others, move on and feel and struggle and do new things.  She knew that, no matter how protective her pretty cloak, she would never feel any joy.  That joy that makes space in your head for new things.  That contentment that settles into your soul when you sit in the sun on the edge of an ocean.

I didn’t resent her once I figured out I had been looking into a mirror.

Let’s Talk About Death, Baby.

suicide1Well, it’s 8:09 Eastern Standard Time, and I’m barely awake.  I figure there was never a better time to talk about suicide.

*****

For a few reasons, suicide has been weighing heavily on my mind as of late.

In another life (a.k.a., my twenties), it was always there.  Sitting there like a toxic friend you can’t get rid of, an option you’d eventually turn to.  It took half-assed attempts, cutting superficial marks up and down my arm like embarrassing evidence that I just couldn’t do it.  I covered those marks up with long sleeves, half-wishing someone would see them, and half-wishing they wouldn’t, so I could eventually get away with it.  It led me to drive to the edge of the Tobin, past the Good Samaritan sign that encourages people to call a hotline before jumping.

But as I look at the faces of old acquaintances who are part of the aftermath of suicide, I wonder, how can a force that wants you dead be a friend?

Here’s the answer: it’s more of a friend than the people who invalidate your feelings about it.  It’s more of a friend than the people who only want to see you happy and giving to them.  It’s more of a friend than the people who encourage you to stay in your life with the wife-and-kids, because it lets you know there’s a way out of the lie you’re living.

It’s not healthy, but it’s a way out.  And I get it because I’ve been there.  And by some twist of luck, I’m still here.

You might ask, how do people get that low?  In my experience, it was strong feelings invalidated by stigma and shame from other people who were uncomfortable or uneducated about their own feelings.  I figured, well, there must be something wrong with me if I feel this way and society doesn’t.  I don’t belong here.  Then, coupled by alcoholic and eating disordered numbing behaviors that served as a self-fulfilled prophecy, I was affirmed in my own feelings: other people felt the same way.  They couldn’t stand my awful behavior and this made me an awful person, in my mind.

Harder still, a large part of my identity was attached to how I looked.  I was encouraged to model as a teen, and once I figured out good looks could have power over the same classmates who sexually harassed me in fourth grade music class, I was filled with control.  Temporarily.  Until I realized beauty was fleeting and that no joy was found in it.  Until I grew older and gained weight and lost that youthful power.  And that was frightening.  If I wasn’t pretty and nice, then who the hell was I?

I know who I am today, and that is a gift given to me from others.  I only wish some of those who are gone were shown the same grace that I was.

*****

What I am sick of is people not listening.  To this blog, to science, to experiences of people who have been through depression and a vast amount of other mental illnesses.

I AM SICK OF PEOPLE BEING AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT DARKNESS.

It is a vital, important part of each and every one of us, and if we all could talk about it more, less people would be dead.  Long story short.  More people would reach out and get help and not feel shame.

If you are one of those people who actually shames people for being on medication in 2016, check yourself before you wreck yourself.  Just like I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be Black, you can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be in my position.  And what is that position?  Trying everything – trying exercise, less sugar, daily journaling, and having none of it work.  Having a doctor tell you, you need to be on medication and the benefits of you being on it vastly outweigh the possible side effects or the risks of you not being on medication at all.

If you, in the year 2016, are unwilling to acknowledge your own biases about feelings, then you are part of the problem.  I’m not trying to attack, I’m just calling it like it is.

You ask, How do I do this?  This seems like a tall order, being vulnerable and open and at risk for humiliation!”

And I say, It is.  It’s hard.  Being human is a tall order and let’s have compassion for every aching part of us instead of hiding it.  It might just save someone’s life.

 

 

(dedicated to the girl in Brownies who was probably hurting as much as I was)

What Compassion Is

compassionWhere along the way do some of us lose our compassion?

Is it a survival skill, a method of hardening by which things can be fit into simpler boxes?

I cannot.  I feel everything.

******

Yesterday, I went home, and walked to my childhood bedroom.  Across a narrow hall, lies my half-brother’s room.  My brother is 48 years old.  He has bipolar disorder with psychotic features.  For anyone who knows anything about mental health, this can be a debilitating diagnosis.

This is how debilitating.

I caught a glimpse of him as I walked by.  One split-second screenshot that summed up the chance he’d been given in this life.  He laid on a mattress on the floor, covered by a blanket, and his eyes gazed at me vulnerably before he realized it was me.  Or maybe he knew it was me coming.  Who knows.

He has made many a mess, as all of us have, and many poor choices.  Of course he has accountability, as do you and I.  But here’s the thing.  Simple logic tells me your chances of being functional are going to be greatly reduced when, as a baby, your mother leaves to visit a friend, and returns to find out you sustained a closed brain injury under the care of your father.

He does not work, and has little to no friends.  He, at times, has become violent and threatened the neighbors due to his persecutory hallucinations, and I still think he’s doing the best he can.  So was his father.

I am told to leave this on a daily basis.  I am told this is not my problem.  I am told to take care of myself.  I am told to box this away.

How the fuck do you box an image of a lonely, cold, mentally ill man on a bare mattress away?

The answer is this: unless you’re drinking, or starving yourself, or using some other inane behavior, you can’t.  If you have any compassion in your bones.  So you show up to work, you continue to pay your tens-of-thousands of debt you spent not to end up like this, you continue to love others even when they hurt you, you love their every broken piece because they are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.  You listen to clients yell at you at your job, because they’re simply working out an old emotion on you, and you patiently explain to your daughter that she doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you when she gets upset with you.  Patiently, 98% of the time.  And you do what you can to keep feeling and to hold that sad image in your mind and not fall apart yourself.

What would happen if we all tried to hold each other’s losses instead of responding with a “Well, that’s his fault”?  We wouldn’t have to do anything about them, we would just have to bear witness.  And grieve with them.

I have a hundred other stories like this from my life, and some of you probably do too.  A hundred other major heartbreaks that have the capacity to destroy, if we let them.

******

I make mistakes.  I do so on a regular basis.  Recently, I hurt two people I care about.  And it sucks sitting with that.  And I tend to beat myself up for anything less than perfect.

And then I remember the eight year old girl who was driven towards a tree, at last minute to be turned around, threatened with death.

And I try to forgive myself, because I’m doing pretty damn well for the girl who ran screaming from my childhood home.

That’s compassion.

Good Girls

sexymandaSomeone once told me I should “have what I want”.

This particular person wasn’t healthy for me in many ways, but this one statement was one of those teaching moments – those moments when you realize people were put into your life to alleviate years of restriction and suffering with a few words.  Especially since I was someone who restricted what I ate and what I desired for years.

I think perhaps the biggest tragedy of living is that we restrict ourselves to any singular role.  We are mothers, so we cannot be sexual.  We are children, so we don’t have the right to voice our opinion to elders.  We are male, so we cannot verbally express that we are hurt.  We are female, so we must appear good on paper and desirable behind closed doors.  We must keep that part of ourselves a secret.  Hush hush now, our parents would disapprove.

The fact of the matter is, these are all made-up societal mores that may not happen to work for everyone.  Do I think everyone should shirk all moral rules, run around naked and disrespect their elders?  Not really.  But I do believe, it is when we internalize others’ (societal or familial) messages as our own truth that we run into trouble.  When I was 15 and read InStyle religiously, I started to believe that being 113 lbs and 5’11” was something I needed to be.  Because that’s what one of their models was.  This turned into other, maladaptive beliefs that would thwart my attempts to be my own person.  For example,

Good girls don’t take up literal or figurative space.

Good girls don’t upset other people.

Good girls don’t complain.  Good girls know everything’s fine.

Good girls don’t want.  They sacrifice for others.  They martyr.

Good girls don’t have edges or make waves.  Good girls do what the family does.

Good girls don’t talk about sex – that’s a man’s territory.  Even that’s a bit taboo.

Can you imagine having the emotions that I have and keeping all of those appetites in for years?  Knowing that an extra piece of my mother’s lemonade cake would make me too big, so I denied myself it, or I ate it and beat myself up for weeks.  Knowing that expressing a want, a desire for another human being would be laughed at, so I stifled it, and starved myself accordingly.  You can’t have what you want, Amanda, you can’t be who you are.  Put it away.  Box it up.  Shelve it.

Fuck being good.  I don’t want to be good anymore.  I want to be me.

*****

This is an old story.  This has happened a million times with a million people who were restricted somehow by society’s beliefs.  My story is not unique.

I just want to know when we will stop looking at bodies through filters.  Through taboo filters and image-obsessed filters and just see flesh for flesh and muscles for muscles and sex as part of our biology and necessary.  That sex and food can be one thing to one person and something else to the next.  That there’s nothing “bad” or “good” about it – unless you want it to be with your partner.

So what do I want?

Haha.

I want to have security.  I want to have consistency and routine because I know, at the end of the day, it serves me well.  But I also want to know it’s ok to be proud of my body, the one I’ve fought so hard to love.  I want to know it’s ok to be desirable.  And that it doesn’t mean I’m bad or I’ll do something “bad”.  That it doesn’t mean I’m a bad wife or a bad mother.  And I want lots and lots of dessert to follow the rainbow of raw vegetables and fruit I eat each day.  Icebox cake, to be exact.  I want to exercise until I can’t breathe and I want to sleep soundly.  I want to be a nurturing mother and a no-bullshit businesswoman.  I need both.  I need both in all aspects.  Don’t we all?  I find it unbelievable that we all play one singular role within the complexities of our personal traits and emotions.  When we do that, we inhibit the beautiful complexity of our souls, capable of so much, so many colors.

When I voiced guilt to my therapist about purchasing my pricey wedding dress, echoing years of restraint to her, she smiled and said, “Amanda.  It’s ok to have what you want.”

A beautiful luxury in a developed society like ours.

*****

So this is me.  I don’t like being domestic, I like burlesque shows, I like using my body and feeling alive everyday, I like painting princesses with my daughter, and I like expressing myself.

It may not fit a role, but it’s good for me.

 

(Thanks to JPR)