The Joseph story, like you’ve never heard it before.

Once upon a time, the story of Joseph nearly ruled my life. You know, the biblical story of the dude who had 11 brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

I was Joseph. Sold into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph got to Egypt and was bought buy a guy named Potiphar (sweet ancient Egyptian name right there). This Joseph guy was super wily and rose in the ranks of slaves in Potiphar’s house until he was put in charge of all of them. That is, until Potiphar’s wife tried to sleep with him. She even grabbed his robe and stripped it off trying to make him stay (he must have been pretty fine, I’m just saying). But Joseph was also a goody-goody and so he ran away naked. Of course Potiphar believed his wife when she told him that Joseph had tried to seduce her (It was the best soap opera of the day, ya’ll). So Joseph was thrown in the can.

I was Joseph, thrown in the can for something I didn’t do. Trapped away in prison.

Except Joseph was one crafty sonuvabitch. He kept being his goody-goody self and got put in charge of the prison. If he didn’t get freed, he might as well be top dog, right? One day, two dudes from Pharaoh’s staff show up – the guy who tastes Pharaoh’s wine to test for poisons, and the guy who bakes his bread. Both of them had been thrown in prison for offending the Pharaoh. Obvi. Well, they both have dreams that trouble them, and Joseph being the awesome cunning man that he was, interprets their dreams. He says that the baker was gonna die and the cupbearer was going to be given back his position. With that in mind, Joseph goes “Hey cupbearer dude. Don’t forget the awesome dream interpreter who saved your life in prison, K? Tell the Pharaoh about me.”

Of course, the cupbearer forgets Joseph while reeling in his good fortune. Until the Pharaoh wakes up from a dream all pissed off. Probably afraid for his position (again), the cupbearer is like “WAIT!!! I know a guy!” Thus… Joseph magically interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, and like all his positions before… becomes second in the land only to Pharaoh. BOOM, son.

I was gonna be Joseph someday… elevated to second in the land, with lots of barns and “storehouses” that I was in charge of…

AKA LOTS OF MONEY.

This was according to my dad, one of the best storytellers and imaginative minds of our time. Yes, you detect a bit of sarcasm… but to be honest that is probably pretty true. He is the most imaginative person I know.

Joseph was a metaphor for our “imminent” riches. (Imminent was a code word in our house, one of many which also included “it’s time to see IT“, the “magi“, “man from the east“… I could go on) Joseph had been wasting away, utterly invisible from the world, just like us in our 900ft², 3 bedroom apartment crammed with 6 people. Just like us wearing our thrift store clothing. Until one day… dun dun dun. He was REMEMBERED by the cupbearer.

Except we would be remembered by the magi man (magic man???) from the East…aka from Persia. He would suddenly remember that he had stuck my dad’s business card in a back drawer.  (The way he got my dad’s business card was through an Iranian coworker of my father’s, who took it with him to Iran around Christmas of 2003 -2004, after my dad had asked him to give it to “whomever he felt he should.”) The magi man would pull it out, look my dad up, and call with an offer to bequeath us with $1.7 billion dollars.

Suddenly like Joseph, we would be elevated to a higher echelon of society.

One of my dad’s “mentors” and favorite preachers frequently used Joseph as an example in his sermons. He referred to Joseph as something like “the dream bearer” and used Joseph to describe how God would fulfill your dreams if you only waited. In looking this preacher up again for this post, I also came across a sermon titled “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (This is so hilariously ironic to me that it made me laugh) My dad listened to this man’s sermons consistently, at least once a week, for years. We were often required to listen along. I remember being a teenager, 16 years old or so, laying on my parent’s bed listening to the sermons being streamed over the internet. In our 3 bedroom apartment, the computer was located in my parents’ bedroom, because that was the only place we had room for it. So, on some Sunday mornings and many Wednesday nights, we listened to these sermons on the internet. I was required to do this and if I didn’t or tried to avoid it (by sleeping in or staying in my room) my dad would get angry and controlling.

At one point, my parents each bought an amethyst ring for themselves, because this preacher said that amethysts were “the Joseph stone” and instructed people to go out and buy one to demonstrate their commitment to their dreams. My dad bought a huge rock of an amethyst ring that he still wears fairly often.

My twin sister, myself, and my sister Rachel all had birthdays within 2 days of each other. My 16th birthday (Rachel’s 14th) was spent in Florida at a fancy anniversary dinner for this man’s 20th (25th? I’m not sure) year in ministry. We got to wear fancy prom dresses for the occasion, which made it seem like a birthday to us. At the time it was all very exciting.

This man’s sermons were also a huge subject of our nightly “family chitty-chats”. These were really made of my dad pontificating for a couple of hours before we went to bed. Rachel fell asleep most of the time. I was too terrified of my dad’s wrath, and too invested in gaining his approval, to try and do such a thing.

This was a lot of my life for 10 years or more, incidents such as these. My sponsor likes to say that my family sounded like a cult. I remember quite a bit of it if I think about it, but ever since my first 5th step almost a year ago, I’ve been remembering things spontaneously. I’ll be washing dishes, or walking through the grocery store, or on the phone at work, and all of a sudden I’m assaulted with another crazy memory of my old life. Honestly, I’m still wading through anger and resentment. My therapist said this past week that it’s probably a part of the healing process, to be angry. And when I think back to a couple of years ago when I first started trying to deal with anger at my dad – I didn’t feel ANY. Not a speck. So this is improvement. It’s like when your foot wakes up and you have pins and needles. At some point, the pins and needles will go away and I’ll be at acceptance.

It helps though to let people witness my memories.  Because I’ll never stop hearing my dad’s voice in my head, spinning delusional worlds. But at least this way I won’t be alone with the voices. They’re easier to bear when I’m not lost in them, like someone wandering through fog at night.

I plan to tell more stories from my childhood in this coming year, both here, and in the memoir I’m attempting to write. So stay tuned. 🙂


An update on where I’m at with things with my family – It’s Complicated

it’s not about having it together, you know.

Last Sunday, I went to church.

Yes, really. It was monumental for me, because church isn’t a place I’ve had a strong desire for in the past couple of years. But Saturday night, a strong desire came over me to go to church. So I texted a friend and asked if I could attend their church with them in the morning. I chose carefully; the church they attend is part of the United Church of Christ and as such, openly accepts homosexual couples. I couldn’t go to a church willingly that was less tolerant. But this wasn’t the only reason I chose to go.

It turns out that my Higher Power/God seems to have a brilliant mind. Flashes of Sunday’s sermon have been replaying in my head all week. It was Sunday’s sermon, too, that began my session with my therapist yesterday. It had thrown me for such a loop that I had to tell my therapist about it. Furthermore, it directly related with just what I’ve been processing. Disaster. Ha.

Most of my session yesterday revolved around a few themes. My inherent worth. My anger at God whom I don’t know how to define and seems so terrifyingly unsafe and somewhat capricious. That obvious connection to my anger at my dad. And interlaced with all that, the idea that I can’t fall apart, everything falls on me, and sometimes even my recovery just feels like another reason I have to be spiritual and not rage at “some people” like I want to. This is kind of a big deal because one huge reason I have addiction problems in the first place is because I am so damn resentful that “the rules” prevent me from falling apart. My addiction was a big way to say “fuck you ALL” and just fall apart anyway. To prove to everyone that I am not as strong as they, and I, would like to believe.

I slowly started unraveling sitting in the office. Slowly. This is still a new therapist to me and it takes a long time for me to be that emotionally open with anyone. But I unraveled, and unraveled, and unraveled… until I got back to Colorado Springs and sat down on the porch of the same friend whom I went to church with on Sunday. They weren’t home, but their porch was so safe that I just stopped holding it together. Finally.

I sat in the silence, the sheer silence that the pastor talked about on Sunday, with what I can only assume was God. And I was angry at It. And life. And so deeply sad about the life that I have led. This sadness, that often rests on me, that I’ve been pushing away for such a long while.

The pastor said too that maybe the Bible is more about dialogue with God. In those moments I took that to heart, because it helped me understand somehow. And I told God, whoever That is, that I was angry at It because I wanted so badly for It to be safe, but it never was. And I hated that about It. That’s all I’ve ever wanted and I still don’t want it.

And my friends got home and I just let them know – I’m falling apart. I need to fall apart. Because if I keep holding it together like I have all my life, I’m gonna get stuck in this same rut. I’m going to go back to my addictions because I will be so angry.

So. I went to church on Sunday and heard that after the earthquake, the wind, and the fire, there was a sheer silence. And I thought that maybe God was silent along with the rest of creation because no words can cover that amount of pain.

Right now in my life, there’s a sheer silence. Maybe because no words can possibly cover that amount of pain. And as much as I hate God/The Divine for being so unsafe… It is sitting in sheer silence too. That silence, somehow, is letting me fall apart.

It’s not about having it together, anyway.

50 Shades of… Green.

It’s 11:29 pm. I have been sitting and staring at my computer screen for 3 hours or so. Not losing myself in Facebook (ok…well…a little). Not checking email, or WordPress, or writing. Nope. Instead, I’ve been obsessively trying to figure out how to spend my money well.

A dear friend and I went on a shopping trip today. It was great to get out and do something like that, just get my mind off of things for awhile. But now, I feel a little ill – or some might say – green. I did buy some things I needed, sure. But while I laughed about our overly full cart sitting in front of the fitting room, inwardly, I felt like a junkie, and it made me anxious.

The day eked by and by the end, the high was wearing off. My purchases weren’t even extensive, to be honest. At the last minute I knew I couldn’t conscience buying the two pretty dresses I was looking at. I am a college student living off loans and waiting for a new job to start next week. So I settled on a few needed items, with my impulse buys being a candle, an over-the-shower-head caddy, and 2 pairs of $20 nude heels (SAHHHH cute!!!).

I came home later and looked at my bank account, and then started working on a budget. Yes – started; and yes, should have started earlier. To complicate matters, I had an unexpected purchase last week traveling home from B.C. when I missed my flight. Thankfully it only set me back about $250 total instead of the hundreds that it could have. But it was still $250 that went onto my credit card. Now, in my defense I am somewhat smart. I have an emergency savings account. So I do have money to cover this expense. I’m nervous, nervous, nervous though because I had to dip into the account earlier this month to pay my rent. Which is actually a NON -issue because I just paid that money BACK when I got loans! But somehow in my head, it’s still an issue. Really, because MONEY is not just the elephant in the room… It’s like the entirety of Noah’s Ark.

Money is causing seasickness. My face is green from riding that Noah’s Ark through my crazy mind. To top it all off, I recently had another EMDR session.

EMDR is fantastic. It’s by far the best therapy I’ve ever done. But this week my therapist left me with these words:

“From now until you see me again, I want you to focus on taking care of yourself.”

I can’t even explain to you the amount of panic I have over that. I feel completely inept. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Do I buy myself the new clothes I need now? Should I get the yoga membership I’ve had my eye on? How much food should I buy until I get my next paycheck? What about the new running shoes I want?

Obviously, taking care of myself in my mind is completely tied to money. That’s exactly where I go with that thought. Not to meditation, or taking 5 minutes to sit with my coffee in the morning, or practicing deep breathing, or feeling my feelings. Nope. Money. Somehow taking care of myself means buying myself pretty things, taking myself out to lunch, and 2 pairs of nude heels that I’m debating whether to return or not. Although, my purchases CAN be tied to spirituality – like that yoga membership I mentioned – or self care – like the running shoes I mentioned. But literally, I’ve sat here for the past 3 hours trying to figure out which of my purchases to keep and which to return, until I feel like I’m drowning.

My life is not unmanageable at all. (Imagine the eye roll I’m giving here)

At the bottom of it all, I just want to take care of myself. But damn it I just don’t know how. The little neglected girl inside wants the new clothes she didn’t get as a child, or the pretty new things. I chase her cravings until I get here; sitting in a living room on a Saturday night driving myself crazy. Just wanting to do what’s best for myself but having no f—ing idea what that is. Of course I want someone else to take care of me! Trying to decide all this stuff is SO over my head. Why me?

And why did my therapist have to give me THAT ultimatum?

I feel sick.

Looking at this I see that I feel like I need to take responsibility for everything all on my own and I won’t have any help. Obviously, once again, I’m forgetting that I have a Higher Power. This is a Step 2 problem (as we like to say in my recovery program). I know that’s the key.

I could just backspace and erase this entire post right now, with that realization. But I’m not going to – because it’s been honest, and real, and gut wrenching, and ultimately, AFRAID. So I get the feeling that somehow, maybe you get this feeling too… the utter end of yourself. The 50 Shades of Green you turn when you realize you have to take care of yourself, and for that moment you forget about your HP. The moment you forget that you can come to believe a Higher Power can restore you to sanity, and that you’re not alone in making these decisions.

I’m gonna post this because I have to believe I’m not the only one who’s forgotten that truth.

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.