I’m Still Here

Source: Bibliofiend.com

It’s been awhile since I’ve written.

Most of what I’ve written lately has been sporadic pennings on a journal page, or in my poetry notebook. I’ve zipped myself shut for the silliest of reasons, but one I could not avoid. A monster in my closet with a double-fisted threat that steals all my breath and energy.

Fear. And its twin Shame.

I read Divergent this weekend. It’s odd how fiction can echo things you see in life. Stories are important, I’ve decided.

The past while I’ve spent drowning in fear. It treads my every footstep, a constant shadow, and its twin Shame covers the places Fear has missed. The both of them work together, laughing and taunting as they tie the ropes that keep me solidly inside of myself. Old, old patterns churn around and around and I stare at them, shaking.

I am crazy. I am acting crazy. No one would act as crazy as me, so I should keep it to myself. Shame sticks to me like a cold, icy blanket.

Furthermore, wanting and needing things will only get me in trouble. Conform. Stick to what I know. Get comfortable fitting in the shape of someone else’s skin. I blink wide chameleon eyes in a quest for acceptance. To deviate means destruction.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin?”

Maria Mena’s voice creaks under the record needle of the slim strand of truth still accessible to my mind.

They all want me to stay quiet. I am Beatrice in Abnegation. Always helpful, subservient, looking for approval. Giving away myself to someone else, not because they want it… because I am afraid. Being myself means losing the other person. This is my pattern, in the kaleidoscope of relationships in my life. I twist myself to conform to what they want.

My fears shake me and I react. Pounding heart, sweaty palms, I dissociate so far away from myself that I become unrecognizable, a tiny point of my former self. “Stay quiet, no one wants you to speak up, when you speak up, you lose. They will hate you for what you want. You will be alone.”

The crows come. I can’t lose control.

But recently I’m learning a different way. I read a simple quote last week. “Creative action, rather than destructive reaction.” This is my mantra. Creative Action. Do. Not. React.

I am Tris, Dauntless, in a simulation with all my fears hurtling themselves toward me. My pulse is pounding. But if you’ve read Divergent, you know how to transform simulations.

You don’t react. Not to the fear. You create something different, a new pathway. Strength. You shake in your boots, and then you change the picture. Or you calm down. Receptive to fear. Either way, you don’t react.

I’m learning. Feel fear. And do. not. react. Get creative. Change the picture. Transform fear.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. To feel fear playing my heartstrings, clouding my mind with trembling terror, tricking me into believing the Universe does not care. That I will always be alone and it is useless to ask for what I want because even if I do get it, it will be taken away. “Just stay quiet,” the fear says. “If you smother yourself, maybe you won’t want something that will hurt everyone else.”

But I want to breathe. I want to live. And the only way through fear is the very thing that is the most scary. It’s something I wrote in a transformative poem that spoke through me after a meditation 2 years ago.

“You are not incarcerated by fear.
The key is in the space
between you
and the door.
Breathe.
Open.
There is no distance between you and freedom.”

Breathe. Do not react. Open. Feel the space. Breathe. Feel the fear, feel the vast, immense space, and breathe open. Create – strength. Tremble with the fear – receive and stay open to it.

I am not just strength. I am not just receptivity. I am Tris, Dauntless. And I am Tris, Abnegation. Brave. AND selfless. Strength AND receptive. I have a voice. And I can use it with skill.

And in the space, the space between fear and reaction – is freedom.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin…”

I am still here.

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Love Without Fear

This post has been inspired by a month or more of thought and reading. It was then that I read a little book that changed my entire view of love.

To me, love has always been marked by strict walls. This belongs, this doesn’t. Love is a game and it has very specific rules, and Love will only work if you play by the exact rules. If not, eh. Well. You’re a goner. Love was externally defined, by lines and boundaries outside of myself.

But there was always something in me whispering that maybe Love was a little more free and spontaneous than that. That maybe each story is different, and the ways that people’s lives entwine depend on the science of the lives entwining. Depends on the genes, formed in the womb and changed by environment. And maybe each person fits together like a different kind of puzzle – sometimes very specific lines cross, and sometimes, the picture is unclear and haphazard and yet very clearly, a fit.

In relation to people, I have always struggled. Some of that has to do with growing up in a household where I was severely isolated. Homeschooled, living 2 hours away from a home church, and not allowed to attend a public school even for sports because “we would get the money and have to move.” My friends were on the internet. First huge crush? Internet. First bestie? Internet.

So when I have started trying to have in person friendships, my attempts have been fumbling. And that’s just friendships with women.

I feel totally inadequate when it comes to men. In my household, there was a lot of shame around the subject. I discussed that a lot in my last guest post. I really was given no personal power to decide about my relationship to men; it rested entirely in my parents hands. I doubt they meant it to turn out that way, but it’s left me feeling as if I am stupid and inadequate when it comes to relationships with males. My lack of experience with in person friendships left me inept in forming them with women. Not only that, the church piled on the constant motive-checking and fear-mongering concerning sex. So not only did I trust myself to say no, I also assumed guys always had ulterior motives. Eventually, men AND women were suspected for ulterior motives. No one could possibly want to know me, as a person.

Lately, I wonder if my some of my obsession about men was just the anxiety I felt about trying to interact with someone when I couldn’t possibly trust myself to. The entire culture I lived in said that men were dangerous, and so was I.

Source – Pinterest

For my whole life, I’ve defined love and all its accoutrements (great word, eh?) using guidelines outside of my inner heart. Growing up, it was my family and church. Recently, it’s been my love addiction program. While some elements of that have been necessary for me, other parts have restricted me from thinking for myself and deciding my own center. And lately I have felt the pull to leave that behind.

I’m not “going out”, as they say. I’m going in. If my sacred duty is to take care of myself, how can I best do that? Others in my sphere have mentioned how sometimes 12-step recovery can foster perfectionism… in the case of my “love addiction”, it feels like it’s time to try something a little different. The perfectionism is keeping me from caring for myself well.

What do I value?
What do I need?
What do I trust myself to do?

Wait. I can trust myself?

That’s a heck of a lot more spontaneous and freeing than how I have lived. I’ve been utterly convinced that men are all hiding something, a dagger that they’ll plunge in my back just when I start to trust them. I’ve been utterly convinced that I am not strong enough, without certain rules made by others, to maintain distance from men who actually are not healthy.

To be honest, I’ve done the same with women. The instant someone gets close, I’m suspicious of their motives. I’m always watching them. I’m always watching me. I get a microscope out and parse their every move, trying to define them and myself, so I don’t get hurt. If I JUST ANALYZE IT ENOUGH, I won’t die.

But I read this little book that mentioned spontaneity. That spontaneity is okay. Living by rules outside of yourself doesn’t work and defining your own guidelines is necessary. Sometimes walking towards something that is scary is just what you need to grow. Bad and good are irrelevant – be curious, instead, about cause and effect. About what is happening within me when it comes to fear and love. Don’t run – my tendency. Lean in. Stop seeking security and live on the edge so you can grow. Learn spontaneity, all the delicious hairpin curves of it. Translate fear into excitement. Educate myself on the lines and shading of my own soul, and know what trespasses and what should be kept at bay. Be my own guardian – guard my heart, but not with obsession and perfectionism. Guard it because I deeply honor who I am.

I wrote something down in my journal the other day:
“There is no fear in love. How does it, and should it, change how I approach love?”

If I were not always approaching love with an attitude of fear, how would it change my approach? How would I behave in the world? Who would I be?

I am finding, as I move forward in a new way, that it changes everything. Without the fear, I’m more able to make clear decisions about who I am and what I need to do to care for that precious person. With that clarity, I make fewer harmful decisions, and I’m less afraid of making mistakes.

Without the fear… I’m free.

What it means to be free.

You know you’re a writer when you have written 2 school papers in the last 3 days… And you still find the time to churn out 2-3 pages of your memoir.

This week has been a little crazy. I finished finals last week and ended my semester with a 4.0. This week, I started a 2 week class. And promptly got sick, which was no surprise after pushing myself so hard this semester. But in the middle of my Nyquil and Sudafed induced haze, I’ve had a strangely pervasive sense of calm. This is despite being sleep deprived (really, how does that happen after taking Nyquil? Makes no sense).

A week ago, after my last exam, I also had an EMDR session with my therapist. Different ideas have been filtering in ever since, assimilating themselves into my experience of life. My class this week (Art, Politics, and War) has talked about how you look at images through different layers, different conceptions and ideologies you are surrounded with. I’ve been looking at my life through certain ideologies that are shifting.

Growing up, my life was so fantasy-driven that sometimes I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was beginning to interpret events the fall before my sisters died. Talking to Rachel, my beautiful younger sister, helped me to understand the framework my life was held up by. She gave me a frame of reference for my crazy family; she validated my experiences. Because of her I was starting to see and believe that the world I’d grown up in was dysfunctional. 

Rachel:

Rachel - in Mexico

Then I freakishly lost her, and my twin Stephanie, on the same day. I simultaneously lost some of the frame of reference that I had for my family. Combined with that I had been indoctrinated with the idea that I shouldn’t ever tell anyone about what my family believed, because they would think we were crazy. I should be silent. Part of me believed that if I spoke up about what was really going on, I would be excommunicated, rejected, disowned.

But my perspective is shifting. The more I’ve talked about it, the more I’ve told people the ridiculousness of it all, the more I’ve started to see it from the outside. I’ve had a time of vomiting all the bad out of every cranny of my intestines. Figuratively, by my speech; but I feel it in my stomach, where I’ve always felt every emotion.

Last night, I finished up the paper I had due for my class today. And then I started to write. A writer friend suggested that I should be less vague in telling my story. So, I began writing some of the clear details of the year I was 15. And some of the clear details of other parts of my life. Despite how hazy and sick I was feeling, I could be clearly in those moments as if I was a spectator with a full understanding of the characters. And suddenly, while writing, I was outside of my life.

I was looking back on the little girl, wrapped up in a pretend world where my dad told us that we would someday be billionaires (unfortunately, I’m not kidding). I was looking back on a little girl who had to pretend to know manners when we went to 5 star restaurants, despite living in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment in a low income neighborhood. A girl who learned to use a knife and fork in the Continental method because it was more sophisticated. I was looking back on nightly conversations of how God was going to miraculously bring this Money into our lives. I was looking back on the girl who was trapped in a dark depression the summer her grandpa died, with no one to even notice how bad it really was. I was looking back on the pain I used to realize by cutting my shins with my razor. I was looking back on my obsession with a boy who was a writer like me. I looked back on the writing and how I used to pretend that as a writer I was so outside of society and no one could possibly understand me because I was an artist. How that idea helped me in some ways to cope with the true reality of my invisibility to my family. I looked back on the girl who asked a distant God every day to somehow save her from this life, to maybe give her dad this Money after all so she could escape the isolation. Since God apparently was going to give him this Money anyway. Even though it seemed like God cared a lot more about that than giving her a dad who could see her, God was the only reason she had to survive. And this was all before she watched her sisters die and got a divorce – 2 things that she never expected would happen.

And instead of feeling so immersed in all of those experiences that I couldn’t separate then and now, I had a new experience. I saw it as if I was an outsider.

Wow. What crazy ideas my dad had. What a strange little world we lived in. WOW! That life was mine!

The thought was extraordinarily validating. I blinked at it and chuckled to myself. Wow.

My EMDR therapist last week referenced Silver Linings Playbook. I was delighted because that movie had just given me a gift of understanding my dad’s world; the strange, OCD, magical thinking of the dad in that movie seemed so familiar. Watching it, I felt a sense of understanding for my dad that I had never had before. I said as much to my therapist. His response?

“You grew up with a mentally ill father.”

Looking back from the outside, I know it. I’m no longer connected to that pain, because it’s over. In that detached attachment, I embody compassion for my past life and feel a quiet acceptance of who I am now.

And here, now, in the very present, I am free. After living for most of my life trapped by visible and invisible walls and borders, that is so liberating to know.