Tag: Authenticity

5Oct

Duck, Duck, Release

More Portugal soon, I promise. Right now, though, there is only this moment and the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, remembering to breathe despite rapidly shrinking headspace.

Impossibly, the sky hasn’t stopped breaking apart over our heads. Every umbrella we own is mangled from the fallout, and I no longer know how to process what seems to be a viral strain of bad timing and worse luck. This autumn couldn’t get any crazier, could it? (Here is where my husband groans and begs me to stop asking please before we actually find out.) No need to spell out the details; I’ve worried over them enough in my own heart.

I keep trying to tie a peppy ending on this, but the words come out flat and false. Yes, we have much to be grateful for,  but we also have much to feel wronged over. My optimism is stranded in the cavern where religious platitudes used to roost (“God’s in control” is decked in so many layers of complication that I don’t even know where to start), and I would have to silence my authentic voice to pretend that everything is positive when I’m too disoriented to tell whether we’ve already capsized or not. I’ve been cussing a lot, whisper-flung prayers.

At the same time, my biggest adversary right now is nothing any more tangible than worry… and considering the way my skull keeps compressing valuable real estate, something has to go. It might as well be this. I wasn’t wired with all of the necessary release valves, but I try anyway, and it often looks like putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, and remembering how to breathe. Also making frequent appointments for what the girls and I call Jovanotti therapy:

“I have two keys for the same door
To open to courage and to fear…
Everything is illuminated
And I no longer feel the need to suffer.”

14Sep

Coma vs. Decapitation

I’m tired of writing about transition. I’m tired of writing about the work-life shuffle. I’m tired of writing about lack of inspiration, and I’m beyond tired of writing about me… which leads to mornings like today’s when I stare at my computer screen and censor my intuition comatose.

I’ve blogged on and off since 2002 (and before that, many of my journal entries found their way into friends’ inboxes) because of a need, every bit as basic as hunger, to experience my world and community through words. Writing for me is half instinct and half response, and there is a custom flavor of satisfaction reserved for distilling my thoughts into language. You’ve savored some form of it too, yes?

However, I have no love for the spotlight, and I wish that authenticity would let me focus on someone else. I would happily post on topics of others’ choosing if I could face the splintery aftermath of forcing wooden words through heart channels. If it were in any way possible, I would cheerfully disassociate from my own cerebrum and find someone more interesting [diverse/confident/fashionable/fill in the ______] to be.

But you already know this, of course… and remembering that you’ve already read a thousand variations on this theme leads to afternoons like this when I give up on censoring and simply close my computer screen altogether.

25May

Untethered

I don’t know where to start writing about this, even just for myself. It’s too big for me, too heavy, and my soul just wants to stretch out on a beach chair in some blissfully deserted part of the world and fall asleep to the sound of waves. How do I write through where I am now without coming across as fickle or, as more than one person has suggested, deluded?

It’s true—my perspective was warped by years of religious brainwashing and abuse in God’s name—but if nothing else, growing up with people who swallowed someone else’s ideology taught me not to do the same. I refuse to adopt a belief system just because others tell me to, and that applies to Christianity as well. Have I ever believed in God because my own story and experiences led me there? Have I ever even had that option?

I once thought that every good thing that happened to me was an act of divine benevolence. Scholarships, job offers, relationships, fast recoveries, relationships—each a personalized stamp of God’s approval and generosity.  What does that mean for my friends who had to work their way through college though? What of my friends living off of unemployment? What of those who didn’t meet Mr. Right or never recovered or had their homes destroyed by a natural disaster or went bankrupt or lost a child? Where I used to see God’s puppet strings, I now see coincidence because I can’t deal with the implications of an all-powerful benefactor playing favorites.

It doesn’t mean God isn’t good. Rachel Held Evans wrote about the same internal debate, and I’m relieved to know that the struggle isn’t confined to my own head and that others have found other ways of measuring God’s goodness. In nature, for instance, I can’t help seeing the beauty of its blueprint… but I don’t see perfection, and I don’t see personal intention. Whether the sky cooperates for someone’s outdoor wedding or a hurricane devastates thousands of families, I simply see a flawed universe set to random.

And I understand now more than ever why some Christians I know cling to their beliefs at the expense of everything else in their lives, even peace of mind. Coming untethered from a doctrinal picket line is a frightening experience, and there is only a hairline difference between feeling liberated and feeling lost (I tend to vacillate between the two). I can’t turn off my questions any more than I can turn off my instinct to breathe, but I wish I could. Some days, I am absolutely certain I would choose unthinking acceptance over this mind that tracks down holes more easily than it does happiness.

I have problems with a lot of people who claim to take their marching orders directly from God, and this casts doubt on the whole notion of a converted life (at least a life converted from assholery). I have even bigger problems with the Bible, questions that I fear have no answers aside from churchy platitudes, and as much as I might want to, I cannot sincerely subscribe to the whole traditional Christianity package. I cannot accept that a loving God created people for heaven and then set their defaults to hell. I cannot believe that a Jesus who taught turning the other cheek represents the same deity who went around wiping out heathen nations in the Old Testament. I cannot see my way past the violence or the inconsistencies or the staggering injustice of what some call the “Good News.” I just can’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this leaves me. I’m not rejecting faith, but I can’t flash a denominational membership card either, and even the space just beyond the old tether’s radius is unfamiliar territory. My biggest hope is that God isn’t tied to the picket line either and that my uncertain journey forward will bring us face to face, maybe in an open-air café without closing hours where he can answer every question I’ve ever penned in my journal or posed to uncomprehending pastors or sensed without being able to articulate. More than anything, I want God to be real and different than I was always told, and I think this longing counts as faith for me right now. And if I am simply deluded, I  pray I’ll eventually stumble across that beach chair.

 

14Mar

Picture of [Im]perfection

As you may have guessed, the last couple of days have been rough. I never know what might be a trigger until I’m rubbing my eyes on the other side of a long tunnel, emotions bloodshot, wondering what the hell happened. Thank goodness for work. I’ve heard distraction recommended as a coping strategy for PTSD sufferers, and it was actually a relief to have to get out the door early this morning and focus on teaching a class. It snapped my mental energies back to the here and now, and it always does my soul good to be around people and places who don’t remind me of anything. Later, an irrational translation client had me laughing (I apparently “ruined” the central Italian landscape with my un-poetic word choice and grammatical consistency; I guess it’s true that the pen is mightier than the real world?), so I think it’s safe to say I’m back to myself.

I often wonder how these episodes are going to end up affecting my girls. I worry that seeing me sad and struggling to cope will traumatize them, but at the same time, our conversations during the hard times are incredibly precious. The girls know that my sadness is only occasional and has nothing to do with them. They know their mom is human and fragile and willing to be honest with them about both. They also know love. They’re experts in it already, and their hugs and notes and daughterly concern add up to the most healing treatment plan I can imagine.

Thank you for your encouragement too. I always ricochet between feelings of stupidity and feelings of guilt whenever I let on that I might not be the picture of psychological perfection (might not, mind you). Authenticity will probably always be a struggle for me considering my background. However, Jennifer pointed out that naming something is powerful in lessening its hold, and I’d like to think that writing about it goes a step further—aims typeset floodlights into the shadow, illuminates the sniveling nightmare, and says I’m not afraid to expose you (even if I am). I’d also like to think that my honesty with the girls will help them flip the tables on their own fears one day, though hopefully with less neurotic two-stepping. More than anything, I’d like to think that my ability to write this today means that love is the one winning this struggle.

20Sep

Sockanalysis

These last two weeks… well, I’m not easily finding the words to describe them. Finding out so suddenly that I’m neither alone nor a [complete] nut-job has flipped my perception of life on its head, and I’m still trying to sort up from down. Coming out of a culture specifically designed to make its victims its staunchest defendants, I feel a bit star-struck around other escapees; I had no idea until two weeks ago that there were others. The conversations I’ve been having and articles I’ve been reading have been a form of intense psychoanalysis for me. Oh, so that’s why I can’t decide so much as what socks to wear some days. You mean my discomfort around all things emotional is to be expected? So it’s not some glitch in my system that makes me revert back to a bitter misotheist every few months? My so-very-unwelcome perfectionism, paranoia, skepticism, criticism, defensiveness, insecurity, and proclivity for burnout are natural side effects of that lifestyle; who knew?

I can’t really express (see above re: emotional ineptitude) just what it does to me to realize I’m not alone in this. Up until now, I have literally felt like the only woman in the world suffering under a unique brand of memories. The unshakeable weight of shame was all the more stifling because I was the only one who knew how it felt. But now… to hear that I’m not alone? To discover that my many neuroses are not proof I’m defective but are rather the stamp of mistreatment? To peek ahead into other people’s journeys and see increasing happiness and healing? It’s making my soul feel practically weightless.

My fervent thanks to those of you who braved that hopeful darkness and brought your own painful stories to light, to those of you who wrote me and shared your hearts, to those of you who offered encouragement and love, and to those of you who simply read what I had to say. Almost right could never have inspired this kind of community, and I would love the chance to meet up with each of you face-to-face (let me know next time you’re coming through Italy!). I’ll be the star-struck one wearing seven pairs of socks.

9Sep

The Stuff of Brains

I’ve never considered brainwashing to be a particularly accurate term. Brainwashing implies a cleansing, the junk drawer of thoughts replaced with a sparkling fresh emptiness. In reality, though, it involves cramming someone’s mind so full of a certain perspective that no room is left for any others. It is a form of control. It is a form of abuse. And it is a significant part of my history.

I struggle frequently with how much of my past, if any, I should share on here [ed: in addition to what I already have], and there is no easy answer. The simplest solution is to keep steering clear of the topic. This doesn’t offend anyone, it doesn’t stir up the memories I least want to revisit, and it lets dark secrets continue to sleep in peace. Hiding the ugly truth was ingrained in me a long time ago as a virtue; keeping quiet feels like the right choice. Almost.

It would feel right if I didn’t know how profoundly healing honesty can be… or how damaging silence can be. A long time ago, a loved one nearly died from causes I may have been able to prevent had I just been brave enough to tell someone. Now, an alarming number of my college classmates are starting eagerly into the same lifestyle that I barely managed to limp away from, and I wonder who else is going to speak up for their children. Am I still letting myself be victimized into silence when the truth, however incriminating, could help set others free?

As I see it, my experiences are my property to do with as I please. The things other people have done to me are not their secrets; they are mine. The dubious reward to surviving a childhood like mine is that I now have full claim to it. I have both the right to reveal it and the power to destroy reputations with it.

But that is not my goal. If I decide to bring my past into the spotlight, it would be for the dual purpose of making peace with it (a daily effort for as long as I can remember) and showing others where the trap doors are hidden. I am not interested in causing more pain… but more pain would be inevitable, and it would affect more than just myself. There is nothing fair about a childhood of abuse, and the injustice seems double in adulthood as I’m faced with the minefield of what to do about it now. I never asked for the responsibility of forgiveness, much less the one of honesty, and each requires more of me than I think I have to offer.

Perhaps the only reason I’m even daring to mention this is because of writers like Elizabeth Esther and Hillary McFarland who have been brave enough to tell their stories and whose candor spreads healing and understanding. Their courage inspires a spark of recognition in me, and I begin to think I could actually do it, I could finally give myself a voice and speak up for those who don’t feel they have one. But then the years of brainwashing—or rather, braincramming—do their work and re-convince me that the simplest solution is the right one.

Almost.

6Sep

Pollyanna With a Mortgage

Everyone else is in this recession too, I think. Everyone understands the feeling of Not Enough, the rubber band stretched between temples, winding and winding and then releasing with a snap of nausea that knocks out the stomach.

By this, I am trying to tell myself that you will understand if I write about trying to find renters to offset our mortgage in the States and about the nosedive my imagination takes when each prospect falls through. Chances are, you know that pinch.

But the pictures, I think.

This morning, I uploaded an album of snapshots for friends and family who couldn’t spend the summer with us. In photographic form, our summer has been rich and eventful, punctuated with adventures and saturated with color. In reality too. With some creative budgeting (and a willingness to sleep on the ground), we’ve been able to get our traveling fill. Our last few months have been fantastically fun. How could I possibly complain about Not Enough when our treasure trove of happy memories is overflowing?

I don’t want to try so hard for positivity that I replace my honest voice with Pollyanna though, I think. Our basic needs are met, and we are enjoying life, but that shouldn’t discount what I’m feeling right now.

Which is anxiety, pure and simple. A job I had hoped, hoped, hoped to catch sailed neatly into someone else’s hands, and I’m having difficulty keeping those first slender tentacles of panic at bay. And the house. What does one do with an empty house  halfway across the world? Well, worry over it until your jaw forgets how to unclench itself, if you’re me.

There’s got to be a neat ending somewhere in here, I think. Maybe some enlightened realization that our happiness depends so little on the number in our bank account that I wouldn’t even care if we ended up destitute. Or maybe an affirmation of trust in those sudden miracles that light up our world from time to time. Perhaps a well-aimed punch in the ear for being so self-centered when current needs around the globe far outstrip our own.

But the drab truth is that I’m not as enlightened or trusting or selfless as I wish I were, so in lieu of a neat ending, here’s a hope that you do understand the feeling of Not Enough, that we can be complicated and human together, and that you’ll punch me in the ear when I finally acknowledge Pollyanna to be right.

Supper on the balcony - Mommy caught something

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