Resurrection

It’s a hard day for my old church community in Portland. Eight years ago today, we lost Ellie and Quinn, infant twins of members that had been at Bridgeport since the beginning. Their parents’ loss was incredible, but there was a sense that we all lost them, and we did. It was a moment that shook everyone, and we all reacted differently to the same type of stress.

When I opened Spotify today, Bach’s Mass in H Mol was on my recommendations page. I turned it on, and as the Kyrie started, I saw a picture of the girls in my Facebook news feed. I didn’t mean to celebrate their lives in this way, but it made the picture all the more poignant.

My mind instantly went to my abuser, because it’s on days like this that her absence is viscerally noticeable. After the girls’ funeral, I got a letter from her saying that she didn’t want to miss the possibility of us- not in a romantic way, just in an “I think of you as my family” sort of way. It hit me like a ton of bricks, because so much relief and gratitude flowed from me.

It was one of the great letters of my life, because it described in detail what it was like to attend such a service, including small details like the smell of the grass, and what people wore- it was near Easter, after all. She set the scene for me, and her writing was so painful and real that it made me realize how our connection had stayed so strong, despite not always being in the same city; her writing speaks to me in a way that breaks my soul into little pieces, but not in a bad way. It’s just that when she cracks my outer shell, it lets the light shine through. In some ways, she’s a better writer than I am, but I will never admit it. 😉

The brass are magnificent as the Mass plays on, from the Et Resurrexit to the Sanctus. It brings me peace, as if the brass are the heralds of great joy. That’s because in the story of Quinn and Ellie’s loss, there is so much resurrection. Beginning again was a superhuman feat in which we all passed from grief into once again experiencing joy. We had to give ourselves permission.

Just like I had to give myself permission to write down this memory, because the letter and the twins are inexplicably interrelated in my mind. I can’t think of one without the other… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Walking away from creating bad memories and focusing on the good ones is what resurrected me.

Too Much of Me

It’s 5:30 AM, and the house is quiet- except for Dana’s occasional toss, turn, or snore. I am trying to decide what I want to do next, because I have to keep myself busy until the appropriate time for me to go to bed. Lately, I’ve found that it keeps my schedule sane if I sleep right up until I have to get to work, because that’s what you do in the morning. I wind down between noon and 1:00 PM, and wake up somewhere between 8:00-10:00. It’s not the best schedule I’ve ever had, but I am more used to it than when I started. Apparently, flipping my schedule around so that I’m up all night is more me than I thought previously. However, it does feed my dark side, and I’ve had to become conscious of it.

For instance, I feel like I’m a lot more snappish, because the rest I’m getting is not as deep. I am a lot more isolated, because the only people I see regularly are my coworkers and Dana. I am not available when the rest of my friends are, and when I make allowances to be available to them, I am either exhausted at work or fall asleep in front of God and everybody. So far, I have fallen asleep at a night club and at an Indian restaurant. It’s okay, though. People just assume I’m drunk and that someone will eventually take me home.

It is good that I have an online life in which I create content for the web rather than consume it. There hasn’t been a better outlet than writing during this graveyard shift because it’s something I do where I do not need or want interaction with other people. I do not have to carve out alone time to create this web site. I have built-in swaths of time where I don’t have to ask anyone to leave me alone so I can spend time in my head (with my head?).

My writing is becoming more important to me after having to put it away for a while. Writing about my childhood took a lot out of me, and it gave me some fear about blogging… but not for the reasons you might think. Blogging has a singular subject, which is you, the author. Many people write professional blogs, but that’s not how the medium started. The medium started with the idea that all our stories matter, and we should have a place to put them.

The struggle for me is not dealing with others emotions when they read what I’ve written. It’s gathering the strength to get my words out of me in the first place. I have a separation regarding what I write and what you read, because I know so well what I’ve written and what it cost me that anything you say in reaction is not going to have a tenth of the emotion that I had myself before I hit “post.”

I don’t shut down posting when I’ve had too much of you. I shut down posting when I’ve had too much of me.

Does that ever happen to you? I get lost in my own version of myself when I’m processing, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am exhausting. If I had me as a friend, my role would be the one to tell me to shut up and enjoy the moment.

Not blogging is shutting up and enjoying the moment. I have to take a break between digging really deep into the past and preparing for my future. I tend to write about things that happened a long time ago for two reasons.

The first is that I am of the age where knowing how you got hurt way back when gives you better strategy for dealing with emotions right here and now. The second is that I have to have some distance from a memory before I can describe it in detail. The present goes by so fast that I cannot live it and reflect on it simultaneously… although I did like Dmetri Martin’s joke about liking digital cameras because it makes it possible to reminisce immediately.

My blog is always going to be months and years behind what is currently happening, which is the best reason I know to get together in person…

Until I fall asleep.

Better Fool. Better.

I’m starting to lean in to the excitement of being.

Years ago, Oprah did a talk show on education, and a mother stood up to ask a question. She said, “how can I get my young black son to stay in school?” Oprah didn’t flinch. She said to tell him that the price had been paid for him to get an education and he should take that crown and Put. It. On. I was literally struck dumb with emotion. She was right. So many people died for him to have that opportunity. What was the point in wasting it?

I remembered the story because I’ve been sitting in the back yard alone, thinking about the kind of human I want to be. I have had such a hard time and so many people around me have sacrificed to help me get better… particularly Dana, without whom my stars would never align. What am I going to do with my life now that they’ve done it? How do I prove to myself that their efforts were not wasted, and neither is my time on this planet?

Jason Moran and the Bandwagon is playing in my headphones while Dana and the cats are snuggled up in bed. I’m trying to keep my schedule flipped around so that I don’t have such a hard time staying up on Saturday. Because of this, I’m in a contemplative mood, and jazz is the perfect fit.

I spent the first part of my night reading standard operating procedures for work, because I was in this total mood to beautify everything. Earlier, I realized that the house looked a little too lived in and scrubbed down the kitchen until it shone. That lead to wanting to continue being a rock star at work… beautifying my soul, because my confidence about what I read put me in a fantastic mood.

Now that I feel good, I want more of it.

Action begets action, and I want to do everything I can to move myself forward. The trick is not taking on too much at once, because I don’t want all the plates I have spinning to break. I’m measuring my expansion to avoid hostile takeover as Jason flips to a minor key.

It’s a chord that gives me pause. My mind flips to my insecurities, and I realize that I don’t want to go there. I want to figure out how to re-frame pain into warmth and openness. Everything that I’ve thought of as contrived about life is morphing into the way things actually are. Life really is that beautiful, but you have to look for it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. See? It sounds like a Hallmark card. It sounds like something somebody else would say while I sit behind them and laugh.

I laugh because sometimes I feel that platitudes are sound bites for emotions never meant to be boxed in the first place. Lately, I’ve realized that the limitation is not in the emotions themselves, but the difficulty of describing them to someone else. The English language feels inadequate in moments where the experience is just too big to digest verbally.

To go back to my entry from yesterday, the biggest way I’ve changed is that letting go of my abuser erased the tape in my head so that I stopped looking for approval from it. She can’t parent me inside my own head. Wow, that sounds creepy to say out loud, but that doesn’t make it untrue. My abuser wanted me to come to this realization and didn’t realize the role she was playing in order to keep it from happening. I could not process the enormity of loss and care what she thought at the same time.

I also know that I have come to this realization several times before, have broken this pattern, and she thinks that we can be friends again, but she doesn’t change her behavior at all, and the cycle repeats itself. Until she can allow herself to be vulnerable with me, I will react to her the same way, because the expectation of me is that we can just push all this unpleasantness under the rug and go on behaving the way we always have. It ruins me from the inside out, and I just don’t have the energy anymore. I can’t think of it in terms of all the years I didn’t make the connection that I was exhausted. I have to think of it as “how do I fill my life with relationships that don’t exhaust me?”

The two relationships that always give back are Dana and work, so I have thrown myself into both. Paying more attention to both. Learning more, faster than I ever have. Racing toward my destiny…

…whatever that is.

Tumble and Roll

Sometimes Dana comes and hangs out with me in our bedroom until I fall asleep, because it’s so difficult for me to drift off without her next to me. It was one of those days on Monday when I told her I couldn’t think of anything to write. Writing has become how I think deeply about an issue, especially if that issue is a conflict, because I have to weigh both sides endlessly until I come to a resolution. Right now, there is no conflict… which is wonderful, but at the same time, I doubt any of you want to hear about what I had for lunch.

There is also no need to create a story where there is none because I don’t want to write about what I had for lunch (I’m having roast chicken, by the way). I just have to wait until inspiration strikes me, which it did… twice.

Dana sparked me the first time by saying, “why don’t you write about all the ways you’ve changed since ‘all this stuff’ has happened?” By “all this stuff,” I am sure she means the story of how my perspective was systematically changed by an abuser so I couldn’t tell what was fantasy and what was reality. She would simultaneously call me a family member and dispute it at the same time, so I never really understood which way was True North.

The biggest way that I’ve changed is that my story doesn’t. I know what’s real for me, what is tangible and present at all times without the feeling that the floor is about to fall out from under me. I feel more grounded than I ever have, capable of being a lightning rod instead of a scorched branch. In short, I’ve learned not to care.

For someone as dialed in to their emotions as I am, learning not to care so much was a gargantuan feat of will. I had to undo years and years of processing data the same way, which was that if I could only be more impressive, then the family I’d been told I had would actually answer the phone. I thought that I was garbage because I’d loved so hard and still failed. I failed her, and I failed myself, because my ego was so tied up in her success.

It sounds like a crazy mess when you think of both people as fully-functioning adults. The fallacy in that logic is I wasn’t a fully-functioning adult when we met, so that when I became so, she was my Achilles heel… the computer hacker with back-door access.

In healthy relationships, both sides have that ability to undo each other, and I mean that in the best possible way. We have to have those people that remind us who we are, who we have been, so that the future is different than the past. Relationships tumble and roll in tides of emotion as one person gives and one person takes. When you don’t let yourself take, you wind up with a relationship that breeds contempt and resentment. The “giver” feels used, and the “taker” feels guilty.

The disconnect in abusive relationships is that they don’t roll over continually. The “giver” rages that you want/need too much because the protective walls that they’ve built up around themselves prevent them from allowing themselves to take… until one day, they’ve had enough and you’ve really stepped in it because they obviously bear no culpability for their role in your dance.

Being able to see past that pattern literally saved my life, because I could finally walk away from encouraging myself to feel worthless. In retrospect, I wonder why I couldn’t have brought myself to do it earlier; it’s not that I have regrets, because I don’t. I’m just curious about the person I would have been had I made this connection in my twenties instead of my thirties. One of the things that really held me back was my own internalized homophobia, and that little kid feeling of “no one likes me except .”

When I was a kid, it’s not just that I needed a safe place. I did, but there was a larger issue at hand. The world reacted to me differently than it does now. In the present day, I am different than most people, but I am no longer bad, wrong, shameful… the list goes on. I don’t just have to have that one special place I go for encouragement and comfort. I have many of them.

The next time I was sparked to write was hearing my friend Frances sing at the Mucky Duck on St. Patrick’s Day. Her voice was so pure, and touched the smallest, most vulnerable piece of my soul. Frances is one of those singers that will tell you she can’t sing, and then she’ll go up on stage and rip your heart out with beauty. Her fingers fly up and down the walking bass. The sound is warm and inviting. Frances’ voice and accompaniment starts to feel like a room you wish you could sit inside, or at least take a peek.

And then all of the sudden you realize that the reason you want to go there is because it is stripped bare, all the way down to the elements, so that it is beautifully, perfectly, amazingly clean.

The way you’d be if you weren’t just so damned human.

It’s Not Unusual to See Me Smile

So much weight has lifted off my shoulders that for the first time I can clearly remember, I feel happy all the time, and deliciously, ridiculously, wickedly funny. I have to believe I’m funny, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to put content on the web. I wouldn’t be able to invite you into my corner of the world if I didn’t believe I was good at it. The positive side has to outweigh the negative in order to care about sharing it. I rest on the faith that there are people who get me, and they vastly outnumber the people that don’t.

There’s been a lot of times in my life where I’ve mistaken the part for the whole and given up because I thought it had to be perfect or nothing at all. There wasn’t a lot of grey area. It’s been the source of my depression, and I didn’t know what it was until now. I didn’t have any grey area because my ability to trust myself had been shattered into a million pieces. Learning that process has been exhilarating, and continually shifts my mind from student to teacher. It unlocks part of my brain that I didn’t know was there, and it affects everything. I’m making much more solid decisions in every area of my life because I trust that I can handle others’ reactions- good or bad – without taking my love from them or being unable to receive it.

It’s the journey of man, isn’t it? Learning not to react like a cave man when your den is threatened? Feeling closer to animal instincts because when you don’t live that way, you are missing a voice? You’re missing the party that’s going on above you, and worst of all, you don’t even know it. Years later, you’ll never confess to being the person that you were back then, because you can hardly believe it yourself. You can hardly believe that someone like you has to remember something like that. It happens to all of us, “that” being the x variable you go to when asked about something embarrassing. You have to learn the point at which participating in other people’s lives is less important than not having to face triggers to begin with.

Once you release your hot-button issues into the ether and see that the criticism you give yourself is so much more cold than the reception coming from your peers, you stop believing that you are holding down chaos… and start believing you have something to contribute that is more beautiful than the pain you have to force yourself to share. You stop obsessing over how to hide that you’ve been hurt, and you notice when people remind you of your losses because loss triggers unwanted grief.

It’s exhausting. It takes a long time to find headphones for your mind. Something to speed up the reaction time to life because you’re not constantly looking at the play-by-play of coming up with a lie on the spot and judging whether it’s plausible or not by the reactions you get.

You have to be willing to feel caught and angry and guilty, and who honestly has the time? You do everything to avoid taking it for yourself, because you’ll remember it a lot longer than anyone wants to spend on the subject, including you. You have to decide when to archive, and be disciplined about it, because just like physically cleaning the garage, it needs more time the longer you go without a mental trip to Goodwill. If something is important enough to pop back up, you know where it is. Eventually, you get too tired to schlep through the garage and you’d rather carry a laundry bag than a U-haul.

You have to recognize the people in your life who know where your pain is, because if they get any satisfaction out of seeing your negative reactions, they’re not going to tell you about it. They’ll play the game until the king is dead. People bully us all the time, and the violence is returned when we react with claws extended to emotionally predict when we’re going to be hurt. Especially when shrinking back in fear is a learned behavior over many years, it takes more time to realize that the people you love are also the people that hurt you and when you’ve had enough. You have to see what it looks like when the people you’ve hurt realize they’ve hurt you, because time has a way of softening your relationship with your flaws when you can just rest in the fact that eventually, you’ll come to accept that you have the ability to stop trying to protect those people. Life is limiting the damage you cause to a manageable ratio, while at the same time ignoring others’ ability to hurt you without striking you dumb in fear. Life is learning to trust that the people who carry your heart carry it willingly, because when they don’t, your life is measured in your response time.

You have to see the beauty that comes from telling a story in your own perspective, something that says “I am not a mistake because I did y.” If there’s a meaning to life, it’s finding a balance to good and bad that has more greyscale than 8-bit. Learn to recognize when your behavior triggers others into negative behavior. Spend as much time thinking about how you cause reactions, because you’re taught to believe that the people you loved when you were small are still the people who get your attention now. The more you shut them out, the less they’ll care when you slip out of your network. Once you’re out, it takes a gargantuan effort to get back in.

Life is a struggle until you learn to handle the spotlight as the crowd grows. I’ll consider it handled now that I can average people’s opinions of me. How much something bothers me depends on how many people I’m willing to tell.

We are all in varying stages of acceptance of ourselves- depending on the lengths people will go to in order to hide from communication.

The people that mean the most to me are the people that would never criticize me without being open to criticism themselves, because it gets harder and harder to accept that there is such a thing as conditional love and you don’t get to decide who has it.