This is a struggle for me because I don't yet know how to be soft AND have healthy boundaries. I seem to swing between extreme poles of so soft I'm leaking life force all over the place, and allowing (and even welcoming) boundary violations, or so hard nothing can get in and nothing can get out. I'm either melting, Dali-esque, all over my own life, or I'm a brick wall of fuck you.
Anger is hard for me. It feels so unseemly. I don't think I'm alone in this, either, and when I asked my peeps on Facebook how they felt about anger, I got some confirmation that some people - especially women - really struggle with expressing anger at all. Many of them shared their fears about expressing (or even feeling) anger. To summarize, it is the experience of many women than some men seem to feel entitled to a world in which they don't ever have to experience a woman's anger. They call it a 'turn off'. It is obviously 'unattractive', and we all know that women exist to be ornamental paragons of all things bright and beautiful. They call us crazy. Turn on the gaslight. They demonize it. They think it is an indicator of mental illness. They beat us for it. The belittle us for it. They abandon us for it. It's no fucking wonder women have trouble expressing anger.
TRIGGER ALERT FOR CHILD ABUSE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
I am pretty sure that most of what I am healing from lately is rooted in having been raised to be quiet, good, nice, docile, ornamental, undemanding, sexually yielding, and eternally full of nothing but praise, and gratitude for my keepers. Obviously, I failed to live up to these expectations. I have been estranged from my mother since my teens. My step-father (a self-professed rageaholic when I knew him) could not tolerate anger in others *at all ever*. I was berated for anger. I was beaten for anger. (Hairbrush, wooden spoon, and once, I had my head slammed into the door jamb so hard that parents took me to emergency, but made me lie about why I was there. I 'fell' into the door jamb, don't you know.). One of my mother's lovers orally raped me for using the word "BITCH" in anger against someone who stole something from me. I was six. In terms of my adulthood, I've had men lunge at me in a threatening manner, which never fails to shut me up. I had my finger broken once. I've had my things destroyed in front of me. One guy urinated all over my journals when I expressed anger over his lack of consideration for my privacy. When expressing anger over having been cheated on (he slept with my sister), I was beaten and choked to the point of having subconjunctival hemorrhages in both eyes. While I was five months pregnant. That guy did time.
This utter suppression of anger has had far reaching consequences, but the one I want most to share with you is this: If I feel angry, I always feel subsumed by a combination of shame and terror that I think of as 'shameterror'.
So, the pendulum swings. Anger leads to shameterror, and that leads to a desire to melt into softness *where I should not be soft*. The desire to be soft that I wrote about when last I typed is almost never, as I believed, about wanting to feel better. It is about wanting to be safe from the consequences of feeling, and expressing anger. It is about trying to escape the anger/shame/terror spiral.
Grief comes with anger. This is the point I'm trying to make here. This is a huge part of my current struggle, my 'not wellness', my unease.
I have had intense protracted grief for much of my life. Yes. That long. The grief is the result of a complex pile on of losses that I will not recount here, but trust me. It's a big, 40 some odd year old festering pile. It grew, over the years, into a kind of tower of precariously balanced things - think Jenga. I was functional. I was numbed out, and my tower was leaning, and swaying like a drunk, but I was functional. If grief induced anger threatened, like a storm on the horizon, I did everything I could to control it. I self-injured. I self-medicated. I *smiled*. I went soft, like a possum - played dead to the anger, and hoped the coyote would move on. When my ability to suppress was exhausted, I had tantrums, hurt myself, wrecked my *own* things, but as quickly as I humanly could, I shoved a lid back on it, swallowed it down, and apologized like my life depended on it.
"Anger-turned-inward", I realized a few years ago, leads to depression, and one day I woke up knowing that it was time to come to grips with my history, so I went looking for, and found the world's best transpersonal psychotherapist. At least, that's my opinion after three years of meeting with her once a week.
As a very important aside: I could never afford it before, but my business made it possible. You, my loves, you made it possible, so I just want to acknowledge that right here before I continue.
Feel that? It's me hugging you in gratitude. Thank you.
Therapy is a little like a game of Jenga. At least, that's the metaphor that's felt most relevant to me lately. I have been pulling piece after piece after piece of the puzzle out of this dizzy, crazy tower of 'barely functional' out of place. I have been lining the pieces up before me like trophies. I rate the fucking things. This was a hard piece. That was an obvious piece, This piece came out of the blue.
So, you know what happens when you pull pieces out of a Jenga tower?
The tower is coming down. There are pieces of me everywhere. I am dancing with anger. I am confronting the shame. I am saying what's true, often without apologizing - not always, but often.
I have whiplash, though. Because I crave softness. I want to go limp. I want to flop over on my back and give a little shudder of surrender. Being angry & being safe has never been possible in my life. Never. It has always come with consequences, so I have a built in switch to 'soft' when anger means abandonment, being disliked, being beaten, being intimidated, being gaslighted, being labeled.
And I still want softness. I still aspire to it as a virtue I would like to embrace, but I've changed my thinking on the kind of softness I want. I still want to be soft, but I want to be self-respecting in my softness. I want to be soft, but I want to be self-protective. I want to be soft, but I want to be soft for the right reasons, with the right people, under the right circumstances. I want to be soft like this:
The trick is to hold the space for two things at once- a deep belief in everyone’s possibilities, and a deep regard for your own well-being. It’s okay to pray for everyone’s liberation without joining them in prison. Pray from outside the prison walls, while taking exquisite care of yourself. It's okay- you can't do the work for them anyway. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries… don’t leave home without them." ~ Jeff Brown
But before I can do that, I *must* let myself be angry. I must find people who can be witness to and hold space for my anger. Otherwise, this is just another fucking bypass, and the whiplash between overwhelming anger/shame/terror & playing dead will continue.
Thanks for listening.
"Pieces of Me that I lost that you stole" Mixed media on paper.
I have been feeling a little bit like I'm in whirlwind lately. The move, the way the move put me way behind in all things work related, two very intense trainings (and I just added a third to my schedule), family stuff...
The movers lugged my stuff over to this apartment on February 20th, but I haven't had a moment since to just sit and do nothing. Unpacking, organizing, cleaning, discarding, filming, editing, writing, having family meetings, therapy, all of this has kept me busy. I had one really fun day with Sarah Trumpp when she came up to spend the day with me, and one lunch with Tracey, who came to help me do the 'waiting for Ikea delivery' vigil. I saw a movie one evening with the Manfingy.
What's missing in this equation? A night alone, just me and the dog, doing *nothing*.
No work, no editing, no answering emails, no writing, no creating, no NOTHING.
I did that last night. It felt like it had been forever, but in reality, it had only been since mid February. Still, three weeks of non-stop everything and everyone had taken it's toll and I was so ready for a night of nothing and no one.
What did it look like?
First, I set the scene by tidying up, lighting a bunch of candles, burning a stick of Nag Champa incense, and taking some photographs of the scene I'd set so that I could share it with my peeps on Facebook. I'll share them here for you, too. :)
A lovely collection of things to my left as I sit on my couch.
A collection of sacred and profane things on my coffee table. Remote controls, candles, bar coasters (I love them!), incense...
The 'chaise' corner of my couch where I sit and journal every morning.
Another collection of things that lives behind the couch.
There is more of the space to share, but I am taking things slow as I share. There are certain corners that I'm not ready to photograph - spaces that are 'unfinished' or full of broken down cardboard boxes. I *could* have worked on all that last night, but I didn't.
Want to know what I did instead?
First, I discovered that my favourite sushi place, Sakura Island, delivers to my apartment, so I placed an order.
Sashimi, Sushi, Edamame, tempura shrimp & vegetables. I shared the salmon with Sookie, because it isn't my favourite.
When my food arrived, I arranged it all on a tray, and then I put on "An Evening With Kevin Smith" and I didn't move to do anything but eat or laugh for the entire 3 hour 44 minute movie.
That square glass window there is in the far right corner of my studio. And the t.v.? The t.v. is the first t.v. I've ever purchased for myself. Ever. I don't have cable, but I have Apple TV, and last night I discovered I have AirPlay, which allows me to mirror my MacBook Air display on my television! Dudes! I can watch art videos while I lounge on my couch!
It was bliss.
This morning, I rose at 7:30, made coffee, did my morning pages, did admin, did my dishes, and put together a pot of butter chicken to simmer on the stove. I washed all my paint brushes, and reconditioned the ones that needed it by dipping them into boiling water and shaping the bristles.
I'm sitting here now with Elizabeth: The Golden Age playing in the background to keep me company.
And it's just a little after noon. Hah!
Settling in is not a thing I've ever been really good at.
Solitude has often felt too quiet, too lonely. Spaces this large have often felt too large, too much for me to rattle around in, too much like an echo chamber. Making space for myself to just *be* has been a struggle for me my whole life.
But last night, and even this morning, with my ordinary puttering around creating space for my eyes only, cooking meals for my mouth only, lighting candles and incense for my own pleasure, I felt like I mastered it.
Here's to settling in and whatever comes next in this life of mine.
I've had a bit of a time, and I'm not even sure how to write about it. There was a death - my biological father - and the details are horrifying - he wasn't found for some time - and I am still processing it.
I've been posting about it on Facebook as news comes in, as I grapple with it all, and that's been extremely helpful even if I do feel rather exposed. When an abusive biological parent dies, even if there's been no contact for years, even if, legally, you have no obligation to engage the situation, there is still pressure to 'rise above' and 'take the high road' and 'be better than them'. With that kind of pressure comes a fear of judgment.
But, I'm not succumbing to any of that.
I'm am rising above in the very best way I know how. By refusing to take it on. By holding my boundaries. By saying "No". You see, legally, I am under no obligation to involve myself at all. He signed away his paternal rights when I was nine and gave me up for adoption to my then step-father. We do not share a name. I am not *legally* his next of kin. His *actual* next of kin called me and tried to make me responsible for what comes next, and I *almost* fell down that rabbit hole of guilt and shame and obligation, but I found my equilibrium, and I am standing very strongly in a very determined Fuck No. This is not mine.
Difficult, to say the least.
It is my pattern to seek the approval and love of those who reject me. It is a core belief of mine that if I am just a good enough girl, they will love me and want me back. When these people arrived on my virtual doorstep with 'big kisses' and 'you should come visits', I felt the seductive siren song of 'family'. But, here's the thing. They did not call to *ask* if I wanted to be involved despite the adoption and estrangement. They didn't call to say "What are your wishes?". They called to say "This is your responsibility." even though they had absolutely no legal leg to stand on. They do not want *me*. They want me to take care of this horrifying thing for them so they can wash their hands of it.
That's not a family I want any part of. <----That feels like a huge shift for me.
The way this was handled interrupted any possibility that I might be able to engage my own feelings about it properly. I wasn't given the opportunity to feel what I might feel about my father's death. I had to go straight into shields up from toxicity. My very first interaction around this whole thing included the words 'you are responsible' - for the clean up, for the arrangements, for the bills. It knocked me off center. Bile rose in my throat when I realized that if there were anything to gain from all this, they probably wouldn't have called me. They would have taken care of it themselves and cashed the check. This is who we're dealing with here.
Grief is too vulnerable a thing to give space to when you are faced with this kind of thing, so I have hit pause on it. I may grieve later. I may *never actually grieve*. I may, in fact, have nothing *to* grieve, but I will always resent that I wasn't given the benefit of softness, of consideration, of choice. I was told the most horrifying thing a child can be told about their parent - that he died alone, that he wasn't found for many days, that the apartment he died in had to be extensively cleaned - and in the same breath, I was told that I would have to deal with it despite the fact that I am not legally related to him, that I live in an other province, that I have been completely estranged from him for years...
What in the actual fuck were they thinking?
And I really don't want to talk about it anymore. I felt like, given the bigness of the thing, that I should at least acknowledge it here on my blog, especially since I wrote so openly about it on Facebook, but now that I've done that, I want to move on from it. I want to embrace my wholeness, my no, this ending. He's gone. I no longer have to duck and cover. I no longer have to wonder. I no longer have to feel guilty that I refuse to take his (drunken, abusive) calls. He's gone. I was anchored to him through memory and history, but with his death, that anchor is gone.
I will ascend. I will fall into light. I will rise.
I. am. free.
I just had a phone call from a detective in Montreal. They are taking it for me from here. She said in no uncertain terms "This isn't your responsibility. If the family doesn't want to deal with it, we will. If they call you or try to reach you, call us and we will take legal action."
I'm going to go have a good long cry and a shower.
Sometimes, social media makes me feel pretty stabbity. The last few days have been intense, with stupidity ranging from Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman to we shouldn't let refugees into our countries because TERRORISM.
I just. cannot. even.
I unfollow people who post shit like that, but that thought that we might still be connected in any way makes me itchy. I know that everyone has a right to their opinion but there are some things that I just can't abide. I won't bother hijacking someone's post to tell them how ignorant they are, because the Internet is not a place where one attempts, through shaming, to change minds and hearts. What I can do, though, is focus my attention where it will be most useful. Loving. Listening. Uplifting where I am able.
My glorious tribe is full of compassion, kindness, empathy, and love. My glorious tribe, a tribe that I've been building since 2000 when I started penning my on line diary, is glorious. My glorious tribe doesn't post shit that makes me stabbity. They inspire, uplift, offer succor, care passionately. They are a tribe of leaders-by-example. They don't crap on people for disagreeing with them. They don't practice boundary violation in their attempts to make sense of a senseless world. They hold their own.
They make me proud to be one of them.
Today, I don't want to focus on the stabbity stuff. I want to focus on how lovely my tribe is, and equally on how important it is *for me* to remember that these moments that feel somehow gross and unpure, these times in which we come face to face with our shadowy recesses, when we are triggered, when our self-righteousness rises up within us and threatens to choke off all kindness, are necessary.
They grow us. They refine us. They allow us to tend to unknown parts of self - parts that lay in wait to be discovered, and loved into the light.
Sometimes I think I am too much like the Princess & The Pea. You know the story. No matter how buffered she is against that pea, she can feel it. Pile on the mattresses, and it won't matter. That pea will still leave her bruised, and sore, and sleepless, and miserable. I have to remind myself over, and over again that I have the privilege of filtering out the things that make me stabbity - I'm so fucking lucky in that I can walk away from ignorance, hatred, rudeness. I have to remember that there are many people for whom the hatred, and ignorance, are a part of their every day existence, and that sometimes that hatred, and ignorance leads to their very death.
They can't just turn it off and walk away. They are in it, eyeball deep, and there is no escape.
So, averting my eyes *entirely* is not an option. It isn't just. I must contend with the things that hurt and bruise and wound and rend. I *must*.
But not all at once, and not all the time. Today, I'm taking a break from world to do some self-care - art, journaling, therapy at 5, a talk on the Camino with a new friend (Hi, Rosemary!). Today, I will rest my eyes on what is good. I will believe in a softer world, and lend my energy to its emergence from the mud of what is happening out there all around me right now.
Last week was all about everyone else. There was a birthday party to prepare for (my step-daughter's 19th) and family in from out of town. There was stuff with one of my kids - big stuff that is still unresolved! There's big stuff with another one of my kids - not as bat shit inducing, but still big. There were all the feels about beginning the process of reclaiming my former home out from under a year of neglect. There were all the feels about what it will mean when we move back into together (slowly, slowly, slowly). There was my own work and needing to show up for that despite feeling like I needed to find a cave somewhere to hide out in for a few years.
So, on Monday, I begged off my evening plans with the Manfingy and I opted to relish my solitude.
Not just relish it. Mark it as territory, as sacred.
I will fail to express how epic this was, but dudes. It was epic.
I built myself a fire.
I know. It sounds so simple. It's so not a big deal, right? Except that in all the years I've lived, I've never built a fire *just for me*. I have always needed to justify the indulgence of a crackling fire by including other people. Otherwise, a fire was a 'waste of wood' because, apparently, I am not worthy of the time or effort. Building a fire was up there with busting out the fine china and linens. It was reserved, in my own unspoken rule book, for special occasions involving other people *only*.
I'm exhausted. The week completely depleted me. I don't want to talk to another living being for a hundred years. I am spent. The night is coming on strong. There is a chill in the air that carries autumnal promise. I have options that include Aimlessly Surfing The Internet and Six Hours Of Netflix. I could art. I could do the dishes and the laundry.
A little voice inside my head said "I wanna fire". Fire as a thing, and also fire as a verb as art is a verb in my lexicon. I don't just 'have' a fire. I *fire*. Prepare it, light it, tend it. I love to fire.
But an insidious voice responded, as it always has, "What a waste of wood."
And you know? I have always listened to that voice. I have always shrugged and said "Yeah, I guess so..." and abandoned my desire to fire and wandered off to do other, far less satisfying things.
Monday night, though? I stamped my foot. I said "EXCUSE ME? I am NOT a waste of wood!" and I spent a good half hour and at least a dozen matches trying to get a fire going with damp wood and too little kindling. I almost gave up, but dudes.
It took, and I took it, and we burned long into the wee hours together, that fire and I, through wind and rain and the voices in my head that said I should not use all the wood, I should save some, I should wait until I had company, I should go to bed.
That fire was the best fire I've ever had.
You think of these things,
you might like to tend
As some kind of tragedy,
As though your hand,
striking the match,
your own senses,
are not enough.
And then a night comes on
as strong as nights do
when the earth turns toward autumn
and you stamp your foot against the damp earth
and say to the dew soaked gloaming
'The mist is as much mine
and so is mine
the power to banish it
and light, and heat.
You strike the match
and maybe it takes a while,
and maybe it takes
a hundred matches,
but you take
in your hands,
and for once,
you make it
In Other News
These classes are open for registration. It would be grand to see you in either of them. <3
16 guest teachers, 32 lessons, art journaling immersion - starts October 1st. $99
Six weeks of FACES. Members only (all you have to do is join my NING). Pay What You Can. Starts September 4th.
Trigger alert for mentions of sexual violence against children/child abuse.
Self-care is a thing I have to really work to engage in.
When I first started hearing that term bandied about on the Internets, I was agog, because, dudes. The self-care gurus were talking about spa days and mani/pedi dates and glamour photo shoots and buying that handbag you've always wanted.
Me? I just wanted to like myself enough to feed myself breakfast.
Radical self-care, for me, looked like showering consistently. It looked like feeding myself *before* my blood sugar tanked. It looked like giving myself a few hours off a week instead of driving myself into the ground. It looked like *not* letting myself run out of the medication I need to breathe.
I genuinely did not know how to care for myself properly, and it took about a year in therapy before I started doing the very basic first goal I'd set for myself: eating something before noon.
I find the self-care climate uncomfortable for that reason. I find it difficult to talk about self-care because I secretly think most people are just fine around the issue of showering, feeding themselves, making and keeping medical appointments. I feel like a bit of a freak because when I *do* make and keep medical appointments in a timely fashion (before I run out of meds/when I actually have a medical concern), I feel deserving of a medal AND a gold star AND a tiara.
It's been a struggle.
My 'self-care deficit' is a direct consequence of childhood abuse. It's a hot button issue within my body. Exploring it means dredging up a swamp full of old pain. There is shit under there that I don't want to deal with, but without the willingness (and courage) to deal with it, I will never break the old patterns of self-neglect and abuse. For example, showering triggered a lot of terror in me because a lot of the sexual abuse I suffered happened at bath time. The bathroom was a chamber of horrors. Tiny bathrooms were especially terrifying. Larger ones were better, but even after knowing why I had difficulty with the showering/bathing part of self care, bathrooms still leave me feeling like I'm in danger. I have licked this issue - I shower regularly. It's no longer a problem. But I still don't feel perfectly at ease in a bathroom, even when I appear to be enjoying a long, scented soak in a hot tub.
I'm mostly pleased with my progress.
Showing up for myself on the page on a regular basis (journaling, art journaling, blogging) means that I am more present. Showing up on my therapist's couch once a week means I have a partner in accountability and self-empathy. I can't get away with sticking my head in the sand when it comes to caring for myself anymore. On the other hand, I also can't depend on anyone else to nudge me to eat/shower/make an appointment with the doctor when I'm sick/almost out of meds. I can ask for support with things like getting me TO the appointment, but I am on my own when it comes to most of the things that I find challenging.
Eating breakfast at all.
Eating lunch before dinner.
Signing out of 'work mode' and into 'life mode'.
Making space for art that's just for me.
Dressing myself in a way that makes me feel good instead of hiding behind over-sized layers.
Dressing in colour instead of choosing to camouflage my bright, shiny in black.
Leaving the house for pleasure and not just to keep necessary appointments.
Staying present rather than escaping into hours of mindless Netflix watching/Internet surfing.
Today, I'm off to see my doctor.
I'm having a follow up after a mammogram & bone density test, and I'll be getting my asthma meds refilled. I left it right down to the wire this time. I ran out last night. I'm sucking on the last, glorious dregs of Ventolin this morning. But! I did make the appointment and I also enlisted a friend to help me get there.
It's an ongoing struggle.
I don't know that self-care will ever come naturally to me. It feels sometimes like I have to disentangle myself from a trap made up of old tape every single day. I have to do a lot of self-talk to get myself to do the things I know are good for me consistently. I fear that I will always be this sucky at self-care.
But I'm trying...
And you can help. I think what I need to know today is that I'm not alone. I know it's hard to talk about it, and I know that asking for this kind of vulnerability from you is a LOT to ask, but if you struggle with self-care - the basics, not the mani/pedi spa day stuff, then could you let me know? Let's bust the shame associated with the struggles we face with self-care. I see you. You see me. It's easier to talk about it once we know we're not alone.
I love you long time. :)
I just want to take a moment to thank you all so, so much for your amazing comments on my last post. You rock my life, and I appreciate you.