There are some things I’ve learned over the last three years or so that are just now feeling “integrated”, like they’re trickling down from my brainmeats down into the place where deep knowing resides.
One of them is that a lot of how I’ve been managing my life (and business) is reactive and not responsive. I have no plan. I do everything by the seat of my pants (and the skin of my teeth). I am in a constant state of “putting out fires”. I keep myself too busy to think. I have always been instantly available to anyone who needed me any time of day. If someone I care about is in any kind of trouble, I’m there – with money, time, space – whatever is needed.
And for the most part, I ask for nothing.
There was a time when I wouldn’t even let my friends pay their share for lunch.
This, my loves, was a trauma response.
I used to pride myself on being a “low maintenance friend”. I would wait until something was an absolute emergency before I’d even *think* about reaching out. I’ve done the same with regards to my health. I’ve done the same with regards to any of my bodily needs. I’ve always waited until I’m sick with hunger before I eat. I don’t recognize that I’m thirsty until I’m *gasping* for water. I used to stay up until I was practically passing out. I never scheduled vacations or any kind of time off. If an email came in at 11 p.m., I’d answer it. I’d be in bed, y’all. I’d be watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I’d be getting ready for sleep. But I’d answer that email.
And lately, I’ve been downshifting. Like so:
In my case “downshifting” looks like asking myself if I can actually be of service without self-harm. Can I really afford to help this person with this financial crisis? Can I actually spare the energy or time to show up as my best for this person? Should I schedule all of this work? Should I say yes to this collaborative? Should I answer this email at 11 p.m. at night (or when I’m in the middle of filming or dealing with something interpersonal)? Should I respond to this message right now, this instant when I am already emotionally exhausted?
It also looks like *not* pushing myself beyond my own limits when I am burned out or overwhelmed. It looks like *risking disappointing someone* in order to take care of myself.
And it is risky. Because disappointing people causes me an enormous amount of pain – more pain than is warranted, to be honest. It triggers my rejection sensitivity dysphoria and abandonment trauma. It makes me miserable.
I am human and I’ve been operating at an inhumane pace for over ten years now. Through loss and death and grief and sorrow and depression and anxiety and *actual abuse* and *actual abandonment* and actual personal disasters that *anyone* would find incredibly challenging to move through. And then there was a pandemic. And then there was Jan 6th. And then there was the Russian invasion. And now there are wildfires and floods here in my country threatening the people I love.
It’s been a lot. A lot a lot.
And I just kept on pushing through it all. Churning out (really good) content. Showing up. Saying yes.
When I got my membership at the pottery and I started going in *alone* with my phone turned off for those blissful three hours of doing nothing but exactly what I wanted to be doing, something shifted.
I started to hear myself think.
I would think things like “Effy, you forgot to eat today and now you’re hangry. Go get some foods.”
“Effy, you haven’t had any water in days. Coffee is not hydration. Go chug some water.”
“Effy, stop working in the nest. It’s bad for your mental health. Work in the studio *only*.”
“Effy, no more devices in the nest. Leave the phone in the studio at night. The bed should be for sleeping.”
“Effy, you’re being really hard on yourself about this thing you’re having trouble doing. Please be gentler with yourself.”
“Effy, you *can’t* keep pushing through right now. Please take a day off.”
“Effy, you haven’t seen the sun in days. Go sit out front with a book. Leave your phone in the studio.”
“Effy, love yourself as well as you love everybody else, please, before you have a nervous breakdown.”
And I’m listening.
And some people aren’t going to be okay with that, because my lack of boundaries and self-care served *them* well.
But MOST of my people are going to be delighted. They’re going to cheer me on. They’re going to send me messages reminding me that I *never* take time off and maybe I should schedule that in instead of waiting until there’s an emergency. They’re going to email me to tell me that they appreciate the way I’m modelling self-care right now. They’re going to *celebrate* my healing.
Because I matter to them.
And I love this for me. And that’s where I’m going to focus. That’s where my attention is going to go. Who applauds my downshifting because they *know* it’s good for me? Who respects my time and energy? Who encourages me to put myself high on my list of priorities?
Downshifting might mean that I am less available in terms of the QUANTITY of the content/time/attention you get from me, but I guarantee you that I will be more PRESENT, and there will be an exponential increase in the QUALITY of the content/time/attention you get from me.
I have been delivering from a place of emptiness, isolation and fear for a long, long time now. Since 2011, if I’m being honest.
I learned to serve because I believed I needed to do so in order to earn my right to exist and be treated humanely.
That is a trauma response, and its one I’m ready to downshift my way out of.
I want to serve because I love serving, not because I’m afraid of losing you/being harmed by you.
So that’s where we’re at on this fine Monday, July 24th, 2023. I am not going live today. I’m puttering around and letting my nervous system regulate after a weekend of worrying about a dear friend who ended up in the hospital. I’m going to get some sun on my skin if the weather cooperates. I’m going to shove a Reuben Wrap I make myself into my face hole. I’m going to listen to songs that make me happy and paint something just for me. I’m going to chug some water. I’m going to love myself as though I matter.
And that’s progress, so I’ll take it.
And you? Are you noticing yourself downshifting? Are you noticing that you have less to give because you’re tapped out? Are you giving yourself time and space to heal from the things that drained you and left you feeling empty and isolated?
Link pinkies with me. Let’s do this.
I’ve long been aware that the socials are designed to be addictive, and I’ve become pretty careful about how much time I spend scrolling these days. I quit TikTok pretty much altogether and only head over there when one of my kids sends me something they want me to watch, but I only do that when I feel strong and capable of watching ONLY what they’ve sent without getting sucked in, and that’s not often.
What I wasn’t aware of, though, until *today* is that the socials have cleverly leveraged our humanity and turned it into something akin to cocaine, and you know what happens when a cocaine addict doesn’t get their bump?
I have a lot of friends on the socials because, let’s face it, the Internet is my home town. I have people in my life that I’ve known on line since 1997 – people I have *never met* “in meatspace”, but I do consider these “real friends”. Because what goes on in these boxes of light, when we use them in healthy ways to foster connection and creativity, is *real*.
I’ve come to realize, though, that for some of the people I’m connected to via the socials or other screens of light, I am a source of dopamine. Not a human being with a whole life that happens in the flesh, in the world away from the screen. No. A hit. A bump. Cocaine.
And when I am not available or when I don’t provide the bump, you know what happens?
I know I’m not the only one who has had the experience of being treated very poorly or rudely for not answering an email or a message in what the sender considers a “timely fashion”. My peers in the realm of mixed media art e-courses and other content creation have posted now and then about how, when they fall short in the eyes of those who consume their content, it’s as though the consumer has forgotten their humanity.
I’ve wondered about this for a long time now. Like, why do people do this? What makes people believe they are entitled to that kind of instant access to the human beings behind the content they consume? What makes people rage quit over stuff like this? Why, when I am not exactly what someone needs me to be in any given moment, is that so often met with rage?
Because I am not human to those people. I am a service. I am a product. I am a resource.
I am dopamine.
Me being who I am, I now feel compelled to ask myself “who do I use as my dopamine?” so that I ensure that I am consuming their content consciously, intentionally and with a heart for *their humanity*. Enjoy the dopamine, yes, but remember that the dopamine is not *all they are* and that I am *not entitled to the dopamine they provide*.
Because I know what it’s like to think someone is your friend or ally only to discover that they were *consuming you*, and I *never* want to make anyone feel that way. Ever.
I know what it’s like to have someone mistake the content you create for the sum total of who you are as a being. I know what it’s like to have people treat you like your front facing self on the socials or in your programs or via text is your life. I know what it’s like to feel like I’m expected to be responsive no matter what day it is, what time it is, what moment I’m living in and what’s happening to me or around me. I know what it’s like to have someone rage quit me because I didn’t respond to an email in a timely enough fashion to suit them.
And I never want anyone else to feel that way, ever.
The same goes for my friendships. Do I expect this friend to entertain me? To be there for me no matter what is going on in their lives? Do I check in with them? Do I care as much about what’s happening with them as I expect them to care about what’s happening to me? Do I give them the benefit of the doubt if they’re not showing up the way I’d like? Do I *care* about them?
Because friendship is not a service. It’s not a transaction. It’s not guaranteed. It’s not convenient. It’s not something anyone owes me and it’s not something I owe to anyone either.
Codependency has always been a thing. Being addicted to people and how they make you feel has always been a thing. But I think the socials have made it exponentially worse. I think the socials have made it easier and easier for that to become the thing. I think the socials are making us junkies for attention, for instant access, for the parasocial, for the all night drive through of whatever I need right now or else, and whoa.
I’m over it.
I see your humanity. You are not my dopamine. I am not your dopamine.
We’re nobody’s dopamine.
(My dogs, though. They’re my dopamine.)
I am an all or nothing person. I think this might be a trauma response but until I know, and until I’ve managed to be less of a trauma-respondy person, it’s become important to me to make this work in my favour. If I don’t keep moving, I will stop cold, and getting moving again is *very difficult*.
Here’s what that looks like.
If I don’t write every day, I stop writing. If I don’t do the dishes every day, the dishes don’t get done until I’ve run out of dishes and then I’ll order in for a week before I can finally work up the whatever it is I need in order to do the damned dishes. If I don’t paint every day, I stop painting until there’s a deadline and then I paint in panic mode. If I don’t schedule myself to go in to the studio a week in advance AND put it in my calendar, I don’t go to pottery.
I don’t love this about myself. It frustrates me because when I do the things, I feel better. When I don’t, I feel like shit.
Some of the things I have difficulty doing have been the subject of many of my therapy sessions. “Why can’t I eat breakfast? Why don’t I call the doctor when I should? Why do I have so much trouble filling out forms/doing paperwork/signing my legal name/taking my business seriously? Why do I neglect myself? Why am I letting myself go blind? Why am I letting my teeth fall out of my g_d head? Why am I like this?”
Why am I like this?
The shame that all of the above once cloaked me in has disappeared of late, so I know the work we’re doing in therapy is *working* but what it isn’t doing so far is making any of the above *easier to do*. I suspect that’s next. I suspect this is a growing edge I’m on where I can say “Look, I don’t know why I suck at these things, but I know there *must* be a reason, and I know that reason isn’t because “I’m lazy, stupid, bad, possessed, evil, provocative, crazy, borderline, narcissistic, not enough, too much” or any of the other labels applied to me in my early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
I’m starting to think there’s nothing actually wrong with me, and that everything I do or don’t do is some kind of survival mechanism gone too far. I’m starting to examine the things I don’t love about myself with a gentler eye. I’m starting to talk to the self that is so very frustrated by these things with a firmer voice – a voice that goes something like “Listen, you. I love you. You’re part of me, but pushing us to behave as though we DON’T have C-PTSD is not going to cure the C-PTSD. Simmer down. Give us some space to heal.”
No shame allowed.
Today is better than yesterday. The cat has not peed on anything. The gums are still sore, but they’re less sore. I haven’t made the phone calls I’ve been meaning to make for six months now, but I did other things. Important things. I ate a salad the size of my head. I ordered toilet paper and paper towels – the “no plastic packaging” kind that I discovered a month ago. I finished up the dishes. I cleaned my desk.
I sent my kids a message that was designed to encourage them to be gentler with themselves and each other, and it worked. I checked in with loved ones who are in transitions of one kind or another to ensure they know I love them. I filmed. I edited video. I emptied my inbox.
Opening this box of light every day is a thing I want to do. I won’t promise. I know there are going to be days when that’s just not feasible. I have a pottery intensive coming up this weekend and I will be gone from ten in the morning ’till four in the afternoon. I know I’m going to want to come home, sluice off and collapse after. Month end is coming up and I know what that’s like. I’m filming a twelve week immersion WHILE I continue to run all the things I usually run – Moonshine, A Year Of Oracles, Prayers To The Moon…
…but this is a thing I can work on. It’s not going to the doctor. It’s not going to the dentist. It’s not getting my health card.
Those things feel too big for me right now.
No shame. No shame.
But opening this box of light as a matter of course and letting my heart flow out of my fingers and into your eyes – that’s a thing I can do. It’s a stretch, but it’s a stretch that doesn’t feel like it’s going to send me back into the kind of trauma responses that have had me on the edge of the abyss over the last three years.
I called a person in charge of one of my issues recently and I said “I know you want me to do all these things at the same time, but my mental health *requires* that I take this at my own pace. I need to do this one step at a time. I am *not capable of multiple steps right now*. I have no wish to be hospitalized, which is what is likely going to happen if I push myself beyond capacity right now. It’s not a simple matter of “I don’t want to do this”. It’s that when I try, my heart rate increases alarmingly. I get dizzy. I can’t focus my eyes. My mouth goes completely dry OR I start to salivate enough that I choke on it. I vomit. I shit through the eye of a needle. I burst into tears and I cannot control it. I shake so badly that I can’t sign my name let alone fill out a fucking form, so cut me some slack here. Let me go at a pace that doesn’t threaten to undo all the work I’ve been doing.”
Or something to that effect.
I cried after I made that phone call, but I did not feel ashamed.
Because, listen. The way I am is *not a choice I made* and it is *not my fault*.
The way I am *was done to me*.
Healing from it is my responsibility if I want to have any kind of life free of this constant feeling like there’s a velociraptor just around the corner that’s going to rip me to shreds, but I did NOT choose this for myself. I didn’t do this to myself. I didn’t make my own self sick.
Watching my father put a cigarette out in the palm of my hand while he was drunk did that. Watching him beat my mother did that. The man who raped and sodomized me when I was five, six, and seven did that. My mother, and her valium addiction and her utter neglect of her children did that. My uncle and his roaming hands and fingers did that. My step-father and his rages and bending my twelve year old ass over his knee so he could hit me with a hair brush did that. His name-calling and the way he triangulated my sister and brothers and I did that. My mother letting him do that did that. My first boyfriend who knocked me up at 18 after plucking me out of foster care at 16 did that. The man who choked me unconscious while I was pregnant did that…
My ex husbands – the one that died and the one that still lives – did that.
And some of you who come here to “check up on me” to see if I’m telling yet did that.
You did it.
I am about the business of undoing it.
If you know me at all you know that I’m just now coming out of a very long period of what can only be described as OMGDOOOOOOM. For three years or so now – pretty much since the pandemic started and my kid went off his meds (so, June of 2020), I’ve been in a very dark place, and by “dark”, I do not mean the rich, moist soil where I’m putting down roots kind. I mean that I was looking into the abyss and the abyss was looking back.
Over the course of this three year period, I’ve experienced a lot of loss. Friends who turned out not to be a good fit for me (by which I mean they were more interested in what I could do for them vs. actually being in relationship with me). A lover who tucked tail and ran when the going got tough. A bestie who succumbed to cancer. Half my income (which is what happens when you are too depressed to work at the pace you’ve always worked/market your courses/stay on top of your socials, etc.). A metric fuck tonne of weight, and even at one point, hair.
I joke, but not really. It really felt like I lost the plot there for a while and I woke up every morning wishing there was some kind of reset button that *wouldn’t* devastate my friends and family. Alas, there is no such thing. Or, maybe I should say “thank goodness” because if there were a reset button that met my requirements, I would have hit it, and I’d have missed this part right here where I am coming back to life.
I’m not sure what changed.
And I think that’s really important to note because everyone and their grandmother is out there selling this idea that if you just do THIS ONE THING or THAT ONE THING, things will improve. They have programs to sell you with step-by-step instructions in how to walk yourself back away from the abyss and if you just give them your credit card and your trust that your life could look like their life, you’ll be okay.
That’s bullshit, though. We all know that, right? Because there is no one-sized fits all way *into* the dark places we find ourselves in and there is no one-sized fits all way OUT of them, either.
For me, the way out was a combo-deal.
An absolutely unshakeable devotion to my therapist. Not necessarily to therapy because you can bet there were times when I showed up but dialled it in. My therapist, though? Devoted. I let her know the way when I couldn’t.
A continued devotion to my students. Even when I felt like I’d rather eat glass, I showed up. Even when I showed up MESSY, I showed up. Even when showing up meant I might get my stuff all over them. I showed up.
A continued devotion to my children – even the one I’m no contact with for reasons I won’t go into here. I have a contract with them. Until there is no more breath left in my body, I will be here at the other end of the line. I brought them into this world – a thing they did not actually agree to (unless you believe in that pre-incarnation agreement stuff, which I don’t think I do), so it would be the ultimate betrayal, I think, if I *left them here on purpose*. So I won’t.
Pottery. This is not something I am devoted to so much as I feel it is devoted to me. I show up and it serves me. I sit at the wheel and stuff happens that sustains me. I pinch a pot and I feel alive. I show up and I am nourished, grounded, the empty well refilled in a way that *nothing else* has ever refilled me.
Music. The curation of playlists that reflect where I’m at. The opportunity to break into song on the regular.
My return to my fest fam.
And something I can’t quite name that feels like a supernatural power that lives somewhere in the middle of my body like an opalescent orb of spinning light that has an unquenchable thirst, a ravenous hunger *to know what comes next*.
I think the normies call this “the will to live”.
I’m not a normie. I’m a poet, so we’re going to stick with “thirsty opalescent orb of the need to know whatthefuckcomesnext”.
I like the way that rolls off my tongue.
This morning did not start as a pure moment of crystalline beauty. It started with an awareness that I have an abscess brewing in my gums, no health insurance (thanks, ex-husband, you fucking dick), no health care card (thanks, executive dysfunction, you fucking dick), a bill for 200 grand (also thanks to executive dysfunction), a super messy house, (executive dysfunction is also the villain here), no idea how I’m going to pay my rent next month, an elderly dog with congestive heart failure, a cat who is taking revenge on me for leaving the house for a few days and leaving her in the care of a stranger by peeing on anything I leave on the floor, laundry to do as a result, and no idea what to do, really, about any of it…
…except make coffee and do what’s next on the list. Swish with salt water. Give the dog a million treats and pets and all the loves. Assure the cat that she can live without me for a week now and then and do the laundry. File the paperwork. Take my vitamins (especially B12 and milk thistle – if you know you know). Sit out in the sun with a true crime podcast in my ears and my iPad in my lap while I doodle. Go to pottery. Spill into the art journal. Keep my appointments with my clients and students. Go to therapy. Hang out with friends when they come in from out of town or have a day off. Wander around in Victoria Park with an iced coffee. Let cobra chicken nibble my toes while I feed them frozen peas.
A part of that, I think, is staying honest – with myself, with you. The thing I do where I get really quiet and isolate through the very hard times is no longer a thing I *want* to do because that is a shame-based decision. I don’t talk about the times I drink myself sick out of boredom because I am ashamed. I don’t talk about struggling through weeks of suicidal ideation because I am ashamed. I don’t talk about the betrayals I’ve experienced or the ways my INFJ door slams have harmed me or others because I am ashamed. I don’t talk about the fact that I was a sixteen year old when my baby daddy plucked me like a ripe fruit right out of foster care because I am ashamed.
Or, maybe I should say that I *was* ashamed.
I’m not ashamed anymore.
What I am is someone who has suffered a lot, who has been in the process of unravelling all of that, who has to claw her way back from the abyss on the regular, who fails and fails and fails and yet, keeps trying…
…What I am is alive.
What I am is here, now, in the liminal where I am a dumpster fire butandalso a masterpiece. Where I’m broke butandalso I bought myself a ticket to see The Tea Party. Where I am terrified butandalso I am hopeful. Where I am broken butandalso I am strong in the broken places.
I just wanted to tell you.
The thought that keeps arising lately is this one:
I am living in the liminal.
I’m surrounded (and encroached upon) by the binary. The good or bad. The rich or poor. Love or hate. The right way or the wrong way. Perfect or imperfect. Light or dark. Him or her. Easy or hard. Healed or wounded. Ordinary or enchanted. Sacred or profane.
This is, I think, by design. I think we are being funnelled by the powers that be (billionaires, mostly) into a false narrative – a “pick your own ending” storybook, but they already picked the ending.
You can choose this way or that, but really, there is no other way but the way we think you should take.
And to that I flip the bird, because there is always a third road.
Between black and white, there is grey. Between rich and poor, there is enough. Between love and hate there is “what the fuck ever” or “I like it but I don’t love it” or “I don’t hate it but I don’t choose it, either.” Between perfect and imperfect, there is done as well as I can do it or I didn’t do it at all because it didn’t matter enough to try. Between him or her there is an entire wild garden of variety. Between healed and wounded there is *this is being alive and human*. Between ordinary and enchanted there is “it’s all fucking enchanting when it comes right down to it”. Between sacred and profane…
…there is no such thing, really.
There is no such thing.
I live in the liminal.
The messy middle is my home.
The angel? The devil?