Coming and Going

[Photo by Kirstyn Paynter on Unsplash]

I’ve been absent from this place for some weeks now. It is an absence that has felt both necessary and also one that has been felt deeply on my part.

The absence itself.

The missing.

This space is one I’ve longed to get back to even as my life has been consumed over these last weeks with moving myself and my children to a new place in a new town – an undertaking that even months ago I suspect would have been impossible for me to coordinate nevermind actually pull-off, and one I handled entirely on my own. Add to that the season of traumatic anniversary dates that includes the anniversary of the death of my father and the loaded holidays that the months of May and June contain and I’d say it’s understandable to have needed some space in which to simply allow for what came with all of what was happening and to be with myself and in process without feeling the pressure to articulate and describe the experience as it is happening and put it on display and without outside interference.

The move itself was much needed and longed for for quite some time and though we didn’t move as far as I would have liked nor to the place I would prefer to be, we are far enough that there is some sense of being safe in my own care and keeping – something I have never really experienced before – even as I continue to struggle, even as there is no other guarantee of safety in this world.

And there is room to breathe and to land more deeply within.

To more fully inhabit the inner spaces I have created through my work.

And there is comfort in the anonymity of a new and bigger city that is not tied to my past in significant ways.

Where triggers no longer lurk around corners like landmines left in the abandoned fields of warzones.

There is now a sense of somehow being held by a simple change in population density and possibility.

And the energy of the all too familiar challenge of figuring out and navigating new territory that often reveals to and reminds me just how resourceful and capable I am.

Four of the longest and hardest years of my adult life preceded this move. And despite what I was up against, it was important to me to do the move as much on my own as possible This is still something I don’t necessarily completely understand, though as I look back I see that I have often had to re-enact or “act out” traumatic events over and over and over again in order to process them more thoroughly. And with our last move having been so deeply traumatic and having almost frozen me in a state of terror in many ways, as well as having mindlessly and less consciously moved from place to place since I left home as a teen. All of those moves often with a lot of outside interference disguised as help or rescue, often with those who meant well and who believed they had the answer or the solution to my troubles or my sense of lostness and lack of belonging, carelessly using words like “family” that always, in the end, seemed to result in various forms of rejection or abandonment, for being human, for having needs, for taking up space and for being unable to perfectly carry out the role of the devoted, never complaining, ever grateful, rescuee.

So, in its own way, it makes sense to me that in my more grounded and conscious state, I would need to make this move a very painstakingly deliberate and intention filled one lacking in outside interference as much as possible. But, in all honesty much of this was about trusting myself and my intuition and the parts of myself that told me that though practical physical help would have been nice, it often comes at a price (and I don’t mean a financial one, though that is true as well)  and I needed this experience more. And so I did it. And it is done. And it also came with its own toll. One from which it will take time to recover.

All of that being said, I have truly missed being here.

I have missed giving myself to this space –

to my own writing processes,

to the thinking

and the planning

and most especially to the dreaming

about what this space is and could be.

Dreaming is not something that has ever come easily to me. In fact things like dreaming and visioning have always been an immensely threatening endeavor. It’s not something that comes naturally and, in the past, if you asked me about my dreams, you would have likely gotten a blank stare and a kind of stammering and sputtering and squirming in response. Because the only thing more threatening to me that actual dreaming is the speaking of those dreams out loud.

And I believe this is because in order to dream, in order for there to be any sort of tolerance for that kind of activity, at least for me, I must first have and be allowed access to two things I have not had access to for most of my life:

  1. Want and/or desire
  2. Belief in some sort of future for myself – some way to be here to receive what has been desired

Both of these are things I have never been afforded until most recently – and still there are times I find one or both of them to be illusive.

I grew up in a very unique circumstance in a lot of ways. One of my mother’s most impactful forms of emotional abuse towards me  and also one that is one of the most difficult to articulate was to allow me no access to what she and her partners had, even within our own home, even when it was things paid for with the money I was being exploited to earn or that came to her because of my existence (child support, money she was given by a grandparent specifically to buy me things, etc.). And so I spent my entire childhood on the outside looking in at things I could not have, did not have access to, and being told I did not deserve the things I saw around me. Stealing, selling myself and working for what little I did have. I literally lived an impoverished existence, deprived of things as basic as food, toiletries, school supplies and proper clothing, inside a home with a very different socio-economic reality – not wealthy by any means, but with far more than I was ever allowed access to.

And that somehow became a pattern for me – one I can look back on and now clearly see the evidence of across all of my life. A clear pattern of finding myself impoverished and lacking in even the most basic forms of consideration and dignity in the midst of those who have so much, often also filling the role of caretaker selling and giving myself away in some form in order to earn what little space I was afforded.

In our culture, we also tell a lot of lies about proximity and access. We tell a lot of lies about abundance and what is available to all if we just want it enough, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and work hard enough, manifest it, create it and so forth. And yet I have somehow never been able to do that.

And at first I thought it was me. That it was my fault that I was unable to just manifest a life that looks like those of everyone around me. And so want and desire have always felt like a trap to me. A total set-up. What I didn’t realize was that this was gaslighting at its worst. I have been, at times, actively made fun of for my attractions, for thinking myself worthy of wanting what others have, what we are all taught and trained to want and desire.  I have been laughed at, pitied, outright dismissed, even betrayed by those i believed myself closest to, in this society that goes out of its way to drive home the message that my sole reason for existing is to take care of others, when it acknowledges that I even exist at all.

And I have spoken/written many times about my lack of belief, vision, being able to even locate any kind of future for myself among the ruins of a childhood and adolescence filled with abuse and neglect and so many forms of violence. And from which I am never sure I was expected to survive, to emerge in human form, my own person with choice and agency and in possession of a life. A life over which nothing about a future was ever spoken. At least not other than in terms of how I could effectively redeem my tragic past by continuing on with my supremely stellar ability to anticipate the needs and take care of others and pass along the harmful legacy of saviorism imposed on me time and time again, most often with the imperative of undying gratitude and to “pay it forward” someday. My own person-hood and well-being were never even considered, much less what I might actually want. And I swallowed it all, quite literally and figuratively, and mindlessly followed the programming until four years ago.

But about this space and this space most of all, I find myself able to cautiously and with much trepidation, dream a little. I find myself able to imagine it to be a space within which those of us who have known the reality of long-term developmental and relational complex trauma and who also continue to live a life at the margins can find some sense of safety, some sense of sanctuary, some sort of mirroring and representation in a world that by and large refuses to see us or admit we exist – a world that, when it does dain to admit we exist, insists on bypassing it’s own pain and culpability with feel-good stories of redemption and rescue and/or speaks for and about us only in clinical and academic terms rather than allowing us the space to speak for ourselves.

So I want to be clear about something before I say what I am going to say next.

This space is important to me.

It is, perhaps the only thing I have ever created that feels like even a sliver of a reflection of who I am and what I value.

I created it and it is here.

And also, I have come here to write a post about why I will continue to be away from here for at least a while longer.  

The move itself and the weeks around it were less of conscious break and more of one taken passively and out of necessity. Always with the near constant desire to return which slowly turned into a sort of self-flagellation for never quite finding the capacity to write blog-worthy pieces nor even to write a cursory explanation of what was going on.

So now – right now – it feels important to come here and to say that I am taking a fully conscious break for what will, in the very least, be the remainder of my children’s summer break from school. It is my hope and my desire to return then with some new writings and to maybe even be ready to move forward with some of the vision I have for this space as a collective and community.

But again, it feels monumentally important for many reasons to be honest about why I am taking this break and why I am even talking about it rather than continuing on with the passive one I was taking before now. Even if it matters to no one but me. Because it is relevant. It is so relevant to the conversation around complex trauma and living with CPTSD and living a life from the margins with little access and few resources.

Part of my resistance to writing a post like this – hell – part of my resistance to starting a blog at all was a fear of appearing to be flaky and unreliable if i wasn’t able to post and produce writing on a regular and at least somewhat predictable schedule. This blog has existed for about 6 months now and my posts have been sporadic and already I am announcing that I am taking a break. Nothing could be a more accurate picture of what living with CPTSD is like.

Welcome to my world.

Seriously.

If there is anything that I have learned in the last 4 years since I began the descent into what I sometimes describe as a CPTSD breakdown, it is that the only thing I can be sure of is that I can’t be sure of my capacity from one day to the next. There are sometimes things I can do to mitigate the effects, but by and large it is an unpredictable and chronic mental illness that also affects my physical body and capacity and I honestly lack the resources and access to much of what would actually enable me to manage my symptoms more effectively and therefore have space to write and create in ways that look and feel more solid and consistent and in keeping with what it takes to even begin to have a consistent and effective presence and platform in this culture.

And in saying this I’d like to breakdown just some of my reality.

Not because anyone asked.

Not because anyone actively or openly blames me for the ways in which I struggle.

In fact, I am pretty sure there are few who care at all.

But because neither does anyone try to actively intervene in the messages this culture constantly bombards those of us who are unable to keep up with the capitalist nightmare of production at all costs that drives this country even a little bit to ensure that we are seen and not buried under it all.

So while yes, moving to a new place is giving me something, it is opening up more space in some ways, and making room for possibility and a place from which more feels like a realistic expectation for the first time in a long time, there is also my reality.

Which includes being a single mom to 4 young children- all with varying levels of complex need.

Which includes living well below the poverty level for a family of 5 and due to the complex circumstances of the last 4 years, without much in the way of resources, financial or otherwise. Also because of our sole income at this time being an adoption subsidy, we do not qualify for many forms of public assistance, despite the misinformation that is often spread about what resources adoptive parents have available to them.

Which then translates to being the sole caretaker for these 4 children, without any form of relief outside of the public school system, which has been on summer break for the last 7ish weeks or so and will continue to be on break for another 5ish weeks. The exorbitant cost of childcare for four children in tandem with my children’s complex needs making access to any other sort of relief or support out of reach.

Which then translates to the only time available to me in which to even have a complete thought, much less write, create or have an adult conversation is at the end of the day when my brain is more or less exhausted and there is no space and nothing left of me to give to those things.

Which also translates to the many times fractured and pieced together management of my own chronic illness and mental health in and amongst the needs of my children, but that does not qualify me for the financial disability benefits that could give us some relief because I do somehow manage to care for my children in the midst of it and so the expectation is that I should also be able to work and the only way to receive such benefits would be to admit otherwise which could then result in the loss of custody of my children.

And because of everything that has happened over the past 4 years, but mostly because over time and alongside my breakdown, a sort of awakening began for me as well and I began to evolve and to change and to become and to open more fully to and allow into my awareness, not only my own reality, but that of those around me who also struggle and suffer because of trauma and oppression and systemic abuses.

Because I was no longer willing to play along or stay silent around systems, institutions and social hierarchies and norms that caused and continue to cause me harm, serve as my oppressors or operate as structures and conduits through which I willingly and actively participated in both my own oppression and that of so many others, I lost almost all of my already minimal social capital, support, community and connection.

Because financial capital is not the only form of capital there is.

Because it isn’t even always or ever the most important form there is.

Because it is actually, though, all connected.

All of it.

All of the forms of capital connect and a lack of capital means a lack of connection.

I often refer to the last four years as period of time in which I lost everything. And in so doing, I am referring to that loss of connection. Though I never had much capital nor connection to begin with and with hindsight can see so clearly how precarious it had all always been, that most of what I had was never really mine and was more about proximity to those in possession of capital which could be removed at any point in which I did not conform or perform as expected. And yet it was still a deeply profound series of losses in the midst of all that I can now see I have been able to locate and claim or reclaim as mine. It was still a loss and is still felt deeply and grieved for.

And in my desperation, in the midst of loss after loss after loss and the actual loneliness and almost complete isolation I lived in, I turned to the internet and social media for some semblance of connection. And for a time, I admittedly saw that environment as somehow exceptional, somehow unlike “the real world.” And I was drawn to more liberal/progressive and seemingly inclusive spaces from the get go, something I could not have located where I actually lived even if I’d had the capacity or felt safe enough to reach out and find connection. My beliefs became gradually more radical over time and I grew beyond many of those spaces towards a more radical leftist belief system and praxis. Essentially, as I learned, I became more and more invested in both my own liberation and the liberation of other marginalized folx.

Say all you want about echo chambers and whatnot, the truth is that we all require mirrors and reflecting and my access to those things had already, for much of my life, been extremely compromised and minimal and so I have spent much of my life often starving for connection. The internet, at times, has afforded me some of this, though it has been rare. And my own internal work continues to radicalize me in ways I never expected as it reveals so much about how the world works and how much of what goes on is actually by design and happening as it is intended and how few less marginalized human beings, despite their words their intentions and their performances,  are actually invested and willing to make themselves uncomfortable, to sacrifice any of their comfort (and I do not just mean money) for making life better for those of us who exist on the margins, many of whom have it so much worse and have to struggle so much more than my kids and I do.

But what i did not realize is that, as echoes my past in many, many ways, I was surrounding myself with people for whom my liberation and the liberation of others who are oppressed is not actually the goal.

I woke up and somehow found myself surrounded by folx for whom talking about social justice is just another form of capital and their proximity to the right marginalized folx wins them points, increases their visibility and quite literally brings them business and financial capital, despite their insistence that just the opposite is true.

I woke up, a rude and traumatic awakening in and of itself, and found myself in the midst of pretty people saying lots and lots of pretty words signifying nothing. I woke up and realized that, much like I had been in church, I was being gaslit in the worst possible way, that I was being sold yet another version of salvation,

of soul saving,

of if I only believed enough,

tried hard enough,

sacrificed enough,

healed myself enough,

manifested enough

by the ones with all of the power and privilege while I, and many others, sat there and starved in their midst and eventually fell away, leaving them in their own sort of pretty, privileged, spiritual white woman circle jerk, back where they started, doing the very thing they called so many others like them out for, the very reason I had been taken in by them and their words in the first place.

When I came to, I felt as though I had awakened in the midst of a cross between an apocalyptic evangelical Christian convention, a white woman new age spiritual retreat and some sort of self-help guru personal growth seminar with a few token words about trauma and a few “ Black Lives Matter” yard signs and rainbow flags hanging around for good measure. None of it actually meant for me,  but they were happy to extract my stories and my experiences for their own use, take my money and make me believe they were invested in my liberation as much as their own.  

And I realized, quite suddenly, that there is no there there.

No substance.

Nothing real.

And all of it was just more of the same.

The same social dynamics that exist in non-internet spaces, exist in internet spaces.

Even in internet spaces that declare themselves to be “radical” or “inclusive”  or “intersectional” or aware of things like privilege or lack of access, etc.

Even in spaces that claim to be aware of the demand for performativity that is inherent in social media – the humans who give the best performances win.

The exact same people take up all of the space.

The same people get heard and seen.

The same people are awarded the platforms and are invited into the conversation, to lead the conversations even and are given room to speak for and about all of us.

The same people sit virtue signalling one another and using language, attention/engagement and tokenism to gaslight those of us who actually live these realities of which they speak with such authority.

The same people have and hoard all of the social capital, sacrificing none of it and sharing it only with people like them who have connection and social capital of their own to trade in.

The white, the monied, the conventionally attractive, the cis, the straight, the coupled and relationally resourced, the abled, the well spoken and socialized, connected and cool, the ones who conform to social norms, and the ones who pass and the ones for whom non-conformity to social norms doesn’t actually cost anything or costs very little and often actually adds value and points for edginess and being “brave”  to their stockpile of capital… and on and on an on….

It really is the same system of capitalism that operates throughout all of these worlds. And what I have found through being involved in mostly leftist leaning social justice spaces is that it is only the level of denial and self-deception that is different. It is only the lengths the folks on the left will go to to convince themselves that they are the “good ones” and that their Emperor really is wearing clothes that is different. It is only the increased level of gaslighting and of weaponized language and tokenizing and of using and extracting what can be commodified and then ultimately excluding that differs, all with really attractive optics and art to smooth over the rough places.

In other words, it is only the performance that is different.

And this has been a profoundly grief provoking realization to have awakened to. It has forced me to go within and to examine how I keep finding myself in different iterations of this same story. To bring into my own consciousness the ways in which my attractions have been programmed by this gaslighting culture and actively work to decolonize myself. To rid myself of the cultural values around whiteness that are so oppressive and not in alignment with what I say are my own. Most especially the ones that tell me to seek guidance and leadership (and salvation) outside of myself and from folks who have never and will never know my reality, who fit society’s definition of success and normativity and the example of what to strive for but who really have nothing to offer me in the way of solidarity. To take back from them this idea that they are the authority on what it means to be human. And to continue to remind myself over and over again what so many do not seem to understand – that we cannot save one another, that we can only save ourselves and that what is often seen as salvation and rescue is actually exploitation and savior centered and therefore harm.

And for now, I have made the decision to disengage from the internet and social media for the most part. Mostly because one of the effects of being taken in in such a way is that it is difficult and it takes time to sort out what is real and what is not, to deprogram and recalibrate. And one of the effects of being here, in this culture, is that I have, in so very many ways, across so many systems and institutions and realites, never been allowed my own reality and for now, at least, as difficult and lonely and sometimes really really shitty and fucked up as it is, I need at least that – my own reality.

So perhaps most significantly, I have built within myself a relationship of the kind of trust I have never before known and I am unwilling to actively participate in the compromising of that relationship any longer. I have become my own ally and I have agreements with all of my parts of self to trust them, to believe them, to bear witness to their stories, to allow them their own experiences and realities without interference and to act in ways that are self-loyal rather than self-exploiting, to no longer give away pieces of myself to those who cannot truly see me. To no longer internalize the cultural messaging of whiteness around what success and failure and resilience in the face of so much brutality and being here human look like.

Growing up the way that I did, my first relational lessons were about compromising myself first and though I was outright abused, neglected and exploited by those closest to me – people whom I can clearly and am allowed to name now as my abusers. But I was also exploited by so many who were meant to “save” or to “rescue” me. I was taught to offer myself up at every turn in order to ensure my survival, my salvation and access to what I needed. And I dutifully complied, often going well beyond anything that was ever asked of me in order to be acknowledged, to just be seen and not ignored. But that kind of performance is a trap. And for me it always ends in being discarded anyway. Because once someone no longer finds me useful, once I no longer make them feel good, have something to give or serve a purpose or, and this is a big one, once the redemption story forced upon me no longer holds and I can no longer hide my humanity, once the evidence of my being profoundly affected is exposed and the sight of me becomes too confronting, the result is always the same  – I am discarded anyway. My greatest fears are realized and I am thrown away.

And so there isn’t much I know for sure right now except that I can’t continue on in the ways that I have in the past. That this latest piece of things, this awakening requires me to re-evaluate. And it will effect how I write and create, but mostly what I choose to share.  

And I am not sure what that will look like.

It is a kind of bind, the longing to write and to put myself out there in hopes of being seen and understood, in hopes that others will also feel seen and understood and also finding ways of doing that that do not feel both futile and self-exploiting. And I am not even sure it can be done.

The only things I know for sure are these:

I have been doing more than my fair share of the work for a very, very long time. Those of us who live on the margins have been doing more than our fair share of the caretaking and emotional labor for the masses for as long as there have been humans. It is just that, because of capitalism, our work is not recognized, not seen nor valued for what it actually is. My part and I suspect the parts of many of us who live here has been to swallow, to hold, to hide some of the ugliest truths there are to hold about humanity, to digest them, no matter the cost… and then to spit them back up in easy to chew morsels like a mama bird often feeds her tiniest babies. Not too big, not too offensive or confronting, the pieces that go down easy, with a little sugar on top and to then contain the rest, the very worst parts, within ourselves. And we do that work with so much less in the way of resources than those around us. We pay for that sugar coating, and, most of all, the containment with our very lives.

And that is a role I can no longer willingly play. It has completely depleted me and rendered me barely able to care for myself and my children.

I live a life that is profoundly affected by my past trauma and my present marginalizations and no amount of personal growth work, therapy, creative expression or the latest trend in trauma treatment will ever change that and I refuse to pretend or to show up otherwise.

I no longer perpetuate lies told by the culture nor do I perform feel-good stories of redemption or exceptionalism for the masses.

I am here and I will continue to be here, 

saving my own life,

because I am the only one who can,

and belonging only to myself.

I am doing my very best to find ways of staying here, a choice I am making day by day and sometimes minute by minute, and that is sometimes a very ugly, messy and transgressive thing. And I won’t pretend it isn’t nor make it easier for others to swallow any longer.

What any of that means or looks like in the form of my writing or this space, I can’t guarantee. The only thing I can is that I will keep evolving, keep building my awareness, keep deconstructing whiteness and capitalism and patriarchy and their role at the center of all of this, keep searching out the places within that need freeing from internalized oppression, and continue to show up here, fully human, fucking it all up and fully divesting from the need to be seen as “good” and all of the other harmful binaries that keep us all so limited and trapped. But not for the benefit of others anymore. For myself and for those like me, the ones who know,  and the ones who hold even less privilege and that I have the most potential to do harm towards.

And again, it is my hope and desire to show up back here in a few weeks with more to say.

And though I can promise nothing:

I am here and this space is here

because in order to stay here, I needed it to exist

and so I dreamt it

and I created it into being.

And if nothing else, that is something, all on its own.

 

The Language of Whiteness

(What is meant by ‘Whiteness’ for the purposes of this piece: Whiteness is a socially constructed ideology that confers power and privilege on those identified as being of the white race. Such power and privilege manifests itself in whites being able to shape social norms, receive preferential treatment from social systems, and receive these benefits without having to be aware of their race”.   – ‘Whiteness and White Identity Development ‘, Megan Lietz)

So much of the work I have done on myself around my own personal trauma, oppression and the systemic harm I have experienced has been about language. About locating the words that most accurately describe what has happened to me, what it is like to be me and to exist as someone who has survived great harm while also existing within a society that continues to harm me. And much of it has been about deconstructing the narratives and meanings of things that have so often been imposed on me by others, especially those meant to help or provide support, and searching for my own language with which to tell my own story and to make my own meaning.

The last couple of years have perhaps been the most intensive part of this work for me. When I look back to the first time i was in serious, long-term therapy, I almost don’t recognize the person I was who found it so hard to speak, who communicated mostly though written words, who often felt small and like a child, despite being in their early thirties and who hid in corners, who felt so exposed by the space of an entire room that they insisted on conducting the therapy sessions from the small spaces between the furniture and the walls, who did not want their therapist to look at them as they struggled to find the words to describe what they’d endured, often only ever uttering a few words or sentences in an entire one hour session and who never really got far with any of it.

It would be years before I tried therapy or “getting help” again. In the meantime, I became very emotionally shut down and numb. With the help of high dose SSRI anti depressant medications, I was able to barrel through life as a social worker and later a foster and adoptive parent. I believe I somehow managed to channel and bypass a lot of my own pain and trauma through my career and through the acting out of what I was taught to believe was a kind of “saving” of vulnerable kids like I had once been and a story of personal redemption that had been programed into me since my days as a teen in church. (Before I was ever even out of my abusive and neglectful upbringing, I was being used and exploited by the church for my dramatic story and charged with comforting the masses with my so-called and non-existent salvation). That was until the system I was participating in revealed itself to be more harmful than helpful, perpetuating systemic abuses and oppression far more often than actually helping families and children escape the effects of those things on their lives.

All of my life, to this point – the point where we moved back to my hometown, I’d been programmed with a lot of language. Much of it unexamined rhetoric and propaganda -more specifically, the language of a white family holding generations of secrets and abuse, the language of Christianity and then the language of white saviorism through what i was led to believe was the “good work” of social work. (One thing all of those have in common is the lack of the introduction or encouragement of critical thought.) Much of it the language of whiteness. For whiteness does truly have a language all its own. And mostly, it is a language of omission. What is not being said, far more revealing than what is.

As I have gone through this process of deconstruction ( a word I prefer to use over words like “recovery” or “healing”)  for myself for four years now, I have discovered for myself just how dangerous the language of whiteness is . That it is full of gaslighting and double meanings and code words. That it is actually very confusing and violent and weaponized and that this is by design, it is strategic. That it is an undeniable tool of oppression and victim blaming. After all, if you can’t name your own reality, how can it be called into question? And then come the inevitable questions about why you didn’t tell in the first place. All of it making it’s deployment, the inability of it’s victims to name it for what it is is, a kind of entrapment and yet another level, another thing that harms.

So much of this process for me has been about language. About learning to language what happened to me and using it to tell my stories, if to no one but myself. And it has been a frustrating, sometimes seemingly futile endeavor, this language thing. It has required a set of decoder glasses with which to see through the tricks and tools  and weapons of whiteness.

And it occurs to me now that this is in part because we do not teach the language for these things to children in white culture, believing we are protecting them from the darkness and from harm, when in actuality what we are doing is making them more vulnerable. It is as though we believe we will conjure the very things of which we speak if we actually say the words out loud. It is as though we have forgotten that what we are trying to say has already happened, is already here and is part of the human experience for some.  It is as though the speaking of the words somehow holds more impact that the actuality of what they describe. That it is more important to protect the imaginations of the ones not affected than it is bodies of those who are.

And it also occurs to me now that we are like this, we white people, and our fragility and our  seemingly delicate constitutions and our inability to call a thing a thing and our setting of boundaries and labeling of boxes around what is speakable and unspeakable. It is reflected in so much of our culture, perhaps nothing more demonstrative of this as the rampant adaptation by so many school systems across the country of abstinence only sex education and the accompanying fear that talking about sex with kids makes sex happen.

But there is also, perhaps a more sinister reason for operating this way and that is because we fear that if we give children the language, they will, in turn, tell on us. They will reveal to us ourselves in the ways that only children can. They will hold us to account for the ways in which we fail and harm them, the emperor will be revealed in all of his naked glory.

I was not spoken to about what happened or what was happening to me or really anything about my world or my reality because that would have given me the ability to name my experiences and would have exposed them for what they were – abuse, neglect, rape, incest, trafficking, forced abortion. Instead I was most often gaslit – told that what happened had never happened or hadn’t happened the way I said it had, victim blamed or worse, completely ignored and not spoken to at all.

And so this exclusion, this omission was not made by mistake, it was by design.

This is exactly how much of whiteness operates. Sins and lies of omission always being counted as less harmful than blatant, outright obvious physical violence. Playing dumb, claiming ignorance and benefit of the doubt with regard to intent in the face of something harmful, a refuge so often granted to white people and not to BIPOCs. While black parents are forced to have so many talks with their children from the earliest of ages about how they may be perceived because of the color of their skin, we can’t even be counted on to admit racism exists and that we and our systems uphold and violently perpetuate it,  much less do something about it.

White language is so fucking loaded.

And yet what does whiteness do to people who are traumatized, who experience oppression and marginalization? Tells us we are fragile and weak and broken and contaminated, not to tell our stories or think about what happened and definitely not to band together under anything other than the most sanitized of narratives. Tells us we lack resilience and “grit” and the ways in which we cope and find meaning and ways in which to stay here, human after having been robbed of our humanity, maladaptive, when we are perhaps the most resilient, most adaptive humans of all. And psychology/mental health systems step in to tell us not to trust ourselves, that they know better, make us afraid of ourselves and our own trauma and further fragment things that have already been fragmented and above all, promote assimilation and conformity to white social norms as penultimate evidence of good mental health.

So I’ll continue to be here finding and creating the language I need to stay grounded in reality and rejecting the language of whiteness, calling things out when I see them, here in this space. As I hope to make a series of posts about the particularly gaslighting and problematic language of trauma/psychology/self-help and the ways in which it harms

I am under no illusion that I am the first to say these things, by far. And I am deeply indebted to the BIPOCs  whose writing and work I read and follow who have been saying these things for a very long time and it is their work, their ability to call a thing a thing that has often given me the ability to see through the deceptive and violent and profoundly impoverished language of whiteness.   And it has never been that I didn’t believe them, it is just that I am now able to make the connections and articulate the source of so much frustration and harm and to name it for myself, which I believe is an important and a different and distinctive thing. It is important for us all to understand how we are all harmed by whiteness and white supremacy, that it is not just something that harms those who are “other”  than us and to fight for liberation, together.

Below is a list of BIPOC whose writing and work has formed and informed my personal work and writing. Many of these folx prefer to be followed on Facebook rather than friended by white folx and will say so on their profiles. Please respect this boundary where requested. Also, though some of them do engage in anti-racism work and activism directly, not all of them do so be mindful of this. Many of them do have paid offerings as well as Patreon pages or ways to contribute financially to their work. I urge you to offer your financial support for their work when possible and not just to take and extract from their work for your own benefit. These are just a few and in no particular order.

Rhizome Syndrigast Colcanth Flourishing – https://www.facebook.com/RhizomeSyndrigastCoelacanthFlourishing

https://www.patreon.com/RhizomeSyndrigastCoelacanthFlourishing/posts

 

Staci Jordan Shelton –

https://www.facebook.com/stacijordanshelton/

https://www.patreon.com/stacijshelton

 

Alexis P. Morgan –

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=alexis%20p.%20morgan

https://www.facebook.com/thechurchofsaintfelicia/

 https://www.patreon.com/alxpmorgan/posts

 

Layla Saad –

 https://www.facebook.com/wildmysticwoman/

 https://www.patreon.com/laylasaad/posts

 

Desiree Adaway –

https://www.facebook.com/desireeadaway

http://desireeadaway.com/

 

Andrea Ranae Johnson –  

https://www.facebook.com/andrearanaej

https://www.patreon.com/andrearanaej

 

Didi Delgado –

https://www.facebook.com/THEDiDiDelgado/

https://www.patreon.com/thedididelgado

 

Kat Tanaka Okopnik – 

https://www.facebook.com/kat.tanaka.okopnik

https://www.patreon.com/ktokopnik

 

Yocheved Angelique Arroyo –

https://www.facebook.com/angelique.arroyo.3

https://www.patreon.com/angeliqueguides/posts

 

 

 

 

 

Fathers Who Fuck

 

(Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash)

I actually wrote this post several months ago. And the explorations I began around my experience of incest, from which this piece was born, became a sort of catalyst and a turning point in my personal work around my sexual trauma.

And it was actually the writing of this piece in all of its queerness and all of its life giving honesty and release that then birthed the idea for this blog itself and the creation of this space.

When I first wrote this piece, I was desperate for it to be out in the world, desperate to share it and to be seen. And I even sent it out to a few places for publishing. And of course it was rejected. Of course. Because this is the unspeakable. This is not allowed.

And so I became determined to create a space where pieces like this one are allowed. Where complexity is welcome and the multitudes and the layers of lived experience are not forced to be sanitized, palatable and contained only within the bodies that have already carried them for so long.

And I have chosen to post this here now for a couple of reasons. One being that it is sexual assault awareness month. And I often find this month to be a difficult one to get through, and not for the reasons you’d think. Not because I am surrounded by stories of sexual assault, but because I am surrounded by very narrow, boiled down mainstream narratives spoken by a very exclusive set of people who are allowed to speak them and that never, ever seem to reflect my own. I look around in desperation – I feel hope that at least we are talking about such things and I am always disappointed and never see my own reflection among the rest.  And I am reminded that I am not seen and mine is a story that is not allowed.

The other reason is that I am in a period of deeper exploration and deconstruction around around the role of sexual and relational violence in my current orientations around sex and relationships and my identity as a queer person.  I have been working on some writing around those things. And so it just feels like this is the place to start. Here where the words demanded to be spoken and this part of my work began to be released into the world.

All that being said, I encourage anyone who chooses to read further to take caution. This writing is radically different from mainstream narratives around sexual violence and incest and for some it will be too much. And so while I feel my words deserve a place to be written and shared and I am unapologetic in having written and in placing them here, in a space i created for just such a thing,  I very much respect the need to take care and caution in what we expose ourselves to.  Please do not hesitate to choose not to read further if that is what feels best.

*************

 

“Write the fucking,” she said.  Write it until the shame cannot survive the exposure to the light. And I think, where does one begin? Where do I begin when there is no beginning? When there is no place in time, no age, no milestone I can locate for myself and label it with certainty, “before he fucked me?”  When there are years of fucking, each one almost indistinguishable from the last?  And years of feelings so twisted and mixed up and balled together. And years of stigma and taboo and shoving it down and covering it over with food and numbness and shame and secrecy and more fucking.

What happens when I write the fucking?

Who will I be then?

When I say all of the things I cannot say?

It is very difficult to explain how something that is very much sexual violence becomes also something that is so expected and so mundane, so unexceptional except maybe depending on the day or his mood or the circumstances, the degree of pain inflicted or force used.  It is also incredibly hard to explain how something that is very much sexual violence also becomes something the body expects, anticipates, even craves, something the body needs. None of the books talk about how this works. About how getting wet becomes involuntary upon arrival, upon return, upon remembering.  About how sex with my father becomes the foundation from which I will judge every other sexual experience with a person with a penis.

We talk more and more in this country about rape and sexual abuse and assault and it is mostly framed as a single incident or maybe several over time, but we don’t talk about this kind of sexual violence.  We don’t talk about fathers who fuck. Who turn their daughters into partners and who not only forcibly insert themselves in the their daughter’s bodies, but do it over and over and over again and in so doing into their sexuality and sexual lives, forever.

And the rare occasion when we do allow for those stories to be told, there is only one way, only one version, only one part of the story we allow into the collective awareness. That of the horribly traumatized victim, disgusted by what is happening and destroyed by it, unable to move or to act or to have any sort of power because of it.  

The very narrow narrative of the one time incident violent rape by a stranger somehow permeates, in some way, every story of rape that gets told.  The words for what happened to me simply can’t be found within that narrative. And rape within the context of a day to day relationship with a parent simply doesn’t look that way. At least not for me.

In her book, The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch talks about the late author, Kathy Acker’s books and how they portray rape and implied ongoing sexual relationship between fathers and daughters saying:

“So if you’ve never read Kathy Acker’s books then you don’t know how often fathers rape their daughters. Without artifice or affect. Without any literary strategy to lyricise or symbolize or otherwise disguise. A father will show up on a page and rape his daughter, and the daughter will be the one narrating, and she will not be in any kind of victim position you’ve ever imagined. You’ll be reading going, mother of god, that’s some horrific shit, but the daughter won’t be. The daughter narrating the rape will be extremely articulate even if coarse, and the narration will be the jumping off point for radical adventures of a girl child or a robot woman or a she-pirate. Her rage will drive her. The transgression will write her very body.”

She speaks about how pivotal it was to her to see someone speak so plainly about what we have been conditioned to speak of with such deep disgust, such stigma and shame.  And both her words here and her speaking of it and introducing me to the work of Kathy Acker has been similarly life-giving for me.  

It isn’t ever that a rape I experienced at the hands of my father was a jumping off point for grand adventures, really.  Nothing that dramatic or triumphant.  But the stigma of incest in our society implies that I should have been ruined by the rapes of my father, that I should have been destroyed, that when he was done, when he finished and climbed off of my body each and every time, I should have been even more shattered than the last, marked and declared of little use to society. And, in some ways, perhaps that is true. I am not unharmed and unaffected by what happened. But there is also another part to the story, the one that no one tells.

The part about how rape, how sex can become a part of everyday life, even for a child.  How the mind, the body, the psyche create ways to accommodate those occurrences, to somehow normalize them and make them part of what happens on a day to day basis.  For me, the rapes were built into the landscape of my weekends, school holidays and sick days. I knew they would happen and where. I knew approximately when. I usually knew what would take place and eventually would try to affect that in some ways to sexual activities that were more tolerable to me.  

But these things being something that happened so regularly and so often, were not something that normally broke me down or made me stop all other activity.  This was my reality, my life and so I rose from my father’s bed every weekend morning, cleaned myself up and went about my life. I had sex with my dad the night before I went to Sunday morning church. I fucked my dad and I went to school, gave him blow jobs before appointments or the rare school event he attended or in exchange for permission to go places and do things with friends. I looked at porn with him while he decided what we would try next. And still, to this day, have feelings of loss and longing I don’t understand related to our sexual relationship.  

And while I suppose it’s helpful in some ways to label the relationship abuse and the acts themselves as rape, it has also harmed me in some ways to call it these things exclusively. Yes, it was abuse and rape and incest.  Yes, he harmed me and did horrible things no father should ever do to his child. It was the deepest, most sinister kind of betrayal, so deep I am certain I will never fully recover.

And it was also sex. And it was also fucking. And my first ongoing sexual relationship. It was where I learned the mechanics of almost everything about heterosexual sex.  I have spent a lot of my life feeling left out of conversations around sex because of it. Because my experiences were and are delegitimized, shamed and made separate. Because in a discussion about “first times” with girlfriends, nobody could ever really handle hearing about how I have no idea when the first time was and how the first time I can actually remember was with my dad, but the first time I had what’s considered consensual sex will never, ever, in any way, feel like my first time. Because any talk of having gotten pleasure from sex with my father is so intolerable to most people that I internalized my own depravity before I can even remember.

And so I just stayed quiet and eventually I stopped trying to belong.  Because I learned masturbation and blow jobs and hand jobs and oral and anal and lubrication and orgasm and fantasies and kink and fetishes and porn and putting on condoms and pulling out and and and…. from my dad, before I had any language for any of it and before anyone I knew had any idea about any of those things. Because when I talk about my dad, I am expected to use the language of victimology and abuse to make others more comfortable.  I am not supposed to use the language that surrounded me at the time, much of it the language of pornography, which became, for me, the language of what happened.

I am not under any illusions.  I don’t romanticise, minimize nor excuse what my father did to me. This isn’t about me excusing a perpetrator, this is about me, a writer and a lover of words, attempting to save myself through a language so constricted by fear and puritanism,  I cannot often locate myself within it. I know the names for what he did. And I call them those things. But these were also my most formative sexual experiences. Knowledge obtained in what feels like all the wrong ways, like ill gotten gains and the spoils of war, it has always felt somehow wrong to speak and to use it. As though there exists some implied ethics involved in how sexuality and sexual knowledge is obtained and then used. But the truth is that they can never be separated, sex and rape. I cannot parse them out, one from another, though I have tried. Oh how I have tried.

I simply want to have all of what is mine in all of it’s unquestionable messiness and complexity. I want to have the kind of wholeness the mental health system promised me but couldn’t deliver on when it tried to force me into boxes too small to contain me. A system that would rather I chop off the very pieces of myself I am trying to locate in the aftermath of my dismantling to somehow fit the mold, than expand itself so that I know it’s safe now, to take back, to claim and to have all of me.  The very same system that accuses many of us with similar lived experiences of having dysfunctional “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking as a symptom of our trauma, of lacking the ability to sit with complexity and dissonance, forced it’s own versions of those very things on me and became a place that could not handle my complexity and my dissonance. It became a place that, rather than offering healing and hope, caused me further trauma and harm.

I can only tell my story in the words that ring true and make the most sense to me.  There should be language for all of the ways in which we are harmed that isn’t limited by the inability of the masses and even “helping” professionals to sit with the discomfort of words describing the life I, and many others have had to actually live. There is more than a single story to describe the meaning of rape and sexual assault and a deeper, more competent awareness of all of the forms that sexual violence comes in. If we mean it when we say that the shame is not the victim’s to bear, then no word is off limits when it comes to the telling of truths and none of us are forced to further deconstruct ourselves in our quests for wholeness.

 

Weaponizing Words

This is the first of what I intend to be a series of posts that are an exploration, deconstruction and interrogating of the worlds and the language of mental health, trauma recovery, self-help and self improvement and the ways in which I experience the culture around these things to be gas lighting and the words to be loaded; the ways in which they are wielded as weapons as so many things meant to “help” in this culture are and are actually sources of oppression and great harm.

As I sat down and began to write the words below, the feeling of having been absent from myself, of having lost the larger sense of self trust I had gained before my recent relational loss and rejection, of being unable to write and express myself in a way that has always been home to me began to fade and I felt myself coming back. Landing with great force in what is familiar, what I know to be true and present  once again within my own reality in ways I haven’t been able to over the past few months.

And it is my experience of trauma that leaving is part of it. That the expectation that I will always be able to stay is not a realistic one.  That things will happen that make it necessary to go for a while. That that is part of living with severe complex trauma  for me and sometimes it is the most necessary and merciful thing I can do for myself and I refuse to pathologize it. But for now, it is good to be home, to be back at this part of my work – for however long it lasts.

****************

I woke up today thinking about healing.

And how we have turned that word into a weapon.

How it has been and still is weaponized and used against me.

How I have followed suit and use it against myself.

How often I tell myself I don’t belong because I am not “healed” enough.

How the language of recovery and healing is so demeaning and gaslighting.

How the dictionary definition of healing is literally to restore to health from an unbalanced, diseased or damaged state.

 

And I think, by whose definition am I unbalanced?

By whose definition am I diseased?

By whose definition am I damaged?

And by whose definition am I trying to heal?

I just thought I was trying to survive in a world, in a culture in desperate need of healing.

Responding to what it has doled out to me and those I love.

Doing my best to stay here,

human,

for reasons that are still largely unknown to me,

amidst violence and brutality that has never ended.

The very same violence and brutality from which I am supposed to somehow heal.

 

So I ask again, by whose definition am I sick?

By the ones with all of the power and privilege?

By those who have been fully indoctrinated?

By those who have swallowed the all of the lies

and perpetuate

and enforce

and can regurgitate them on demand

but who cannot,

who will not

allow for humanity,

for reality,

who have no compassion,

no depth of understanding,

even for themselves?

[Photo by D x L on Unsplash]

Quiet Presence

I’ve been quiet here.

And that is very much a reflection of the current state of the rest of my life.

But that wasn’t the plan.

It wasn’t what I intended when I created this space.

For much of my life, I have written.

But never more than the last few years.

I have written and written and written and written.

Writing has very likely been the reason I am still here, human, and among the living.

It has literally saved my life.

Writing is often how I locate myself in emotional and intellectual space.

In a world that has cast me as invisible, as unworthy and expendable, writing is how I make my mark.

A touchstone I return to and know I was here.

A lens through which I can see myself, even if nothing and no one else in the world reflects me back to me.

And so feeling quiet, feeling the need to draw close to myself and to hold my thoughts and my process and my stories within and with great care is both comforting and somewhat distressing.

And because I have spent so much of my life learning to gaze upon myself with the same pathologizing eye with which the world sees me, I search for answers, for what is wrong with me that I would start this blog and then be unable to write.

After all, it’s flaky.

It’s irresponsible.

It’s further evidence of my defectiveness

It’s not finishing what I started.

Is it the devastating relationship loss that happened just before I created and launched this space and that I am still deeply grieving?

Is it that I shared so deeply of myself in that relationship, perhaps more deeply than I ever have, and was more vulnerable than I have ever allowed and there was harm done and mistakes were made and I was ultimately rejected, that I can’t trust my own words and my own perspective in the same way anymore?

Is it my disillusionment with the overlapping world of online social justice and identity politics, with all of its parallels to shallow religious structures and dogma, where I have once again found myself in the midst of a performance, a fool dancing for my own salvation – a salvation, like that of the church – that never existed in the first place and that will never come?

Is it that that same world has become a space where capitalism reigns supreme and the same social structures and hierarchies are reflected and marketing and selling are the primary language spoken and those of us lacking in every kind of capital are still on the margins, still fighting to be heard and included in the conversations about our very lives?

Is it that when I look around the only reflection I see of experiences even close to mine are from so-called ”experts” and academics and a society that grants value and validity to the orientation of speaking about and to sanitized and reductive versions of certain lived experiences rather than from them?

Is it my complete exhaustion from the constant demands that I explain myself, my life and my queerness that have followed me from as far back as I remember and that those explanations often only lead to separation and judgement and assumptions and the need to fix and save and further alienation and not the acceptance and understanding that was sought?

Or is it my complete exhaustion from the constant demands that I singularly “heal” my relational trauma and constantly work at individual self improvement when I exist in a world where the trauma and the violence towards my continued existence never stops and where I lack the tools, the resources (both financial and social capital), the connections and the access to the relationships and community that might actually help me, that might mitigate harm done and protect me from further harm?

Is it the continuous process of awakening to the reality I live in, all the lies swallowed, all the ways my existence has been colonized, capitalized and used from birth?

And the answer is yes.

Yes, it is all of these things.

And it is also more.

And it is also – I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I have had periods before where it has been hard to write.

Where all I could write were entire pages of  “I don’t know” over and over and over again.

And I came through them.

And my words returned.

And the desire to share them returned.

And so, though it is the hardest thing to do, I have to trust myself.

That this particular period of closing in and being with myself and quiet wrestling is what is called for and is allowed.

And that the words that want to be shared will return – or they won’t.

And either way, I am allowed to be here now, quiet but present, in this place, in this space of my own making.

 

[Photo by Jean Skeels @jmskeels]

The Myth of Personal Responsibility

Several months ago, I decided to take a break from social media, namely Facebook because that’s really the only form of social media I have ever interacted on. While there are valuable things about social media and it has connected me to people I love whom I would have never connected with otherwise, I could not deny that it was also greatly contributing to my anxiety for many reasons – mostly because of its performative qualities, the same lack of mirroring of my experiences and reality as is present in non-virtual society and similar social dynamics to what I have experienced all my life.

I recently came back to FB for the sole purpose of being able to put the word out to those who may be interested about this blog. I have no intention of promoting or marketing, but I did want to share my work with those who care about it and my growth and those who may find resonance here. But I’ll also admit to feeling disconnected from some of the good reading and writing that is often shared by some of the people I am connected to on FB and wanting to reconnect to that again. And in so doing, I wound up sharing a piece, found here, because it very much reflected how I feel about the sentencing of a man named Larry Nassar and the grandstanding of the judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced him.

It turns out that in the current climate especially, posting that essay,  without any commentary of my own, was unwise. I got some pretty emotional reactions I hadn’t anticipated right off the bat and wasn’t in a position to engage with in that moment and so I wound up taking it down. But I wanted to come back to this and to write more about it than can be explained or contained in a FB post, because this is a complex issue. Far more complex that what is being spoken of in the public discourse. Far more complex than the vindicating idea of a woman judge handing down a “death sentence” to a sexual predator.

The essay I shared itself was about the concept of Transformative Justice and was written in response to another piece in which the sentence Larry Nasssar was given was declared to be “transformative justice” with no regard for the fact that Transformative Justice is actually a thing that is tirelessly being worked on, mainly by activists of color. (If you’re curious, you can find out more about that here but this quote from the article I shared on FB and linked above, explains rather succinctly what Transformative Justice is:

Transformative justice is not a flowery phrase for a court proceeding that delivers an outcome we like. It is a community process developed by anti-violence activists of color, in particular, who wanted to create responses to violence that do what criminal punishment systems fail to do: build support and more safety for the person harmed, figure out how the broader context was set up for this harm to happen, and how that context can be changed so that this harm is less likely to happen again.”

One of the contributing factors to my finally deciding to leave FB was the sudden rise of the #metoo movement and the all of the sudden seemingly omnipresence of discourse around sexual harassment and sexual assualt. You might be surprised to hear that, given my history as a victim of serious sexual abuse and violence. You might be surprised to hear me say that the #metoo movement is not for me. It is not representative of my experience and while I understand it’s value to some, it lacks complexity and a full awareness around how sexual violence happens and the that culture breeds it, as do most mainstream, anti-violence movements.

Like so much of our culture, when it comes to abusers and rapists, we behave as though those incidents happen in a vacuum. That they are exceptional and that those who commit them are also somehow exceptional in their sickness and their depravity and their ability to do such harm. We turn them into monsters in our mind, subhuman  We pretend as though perpetrators of violence and harm are so other, so extremely different from the good people we convince ourselves we are and we pin the responsibility for what they’ve done solely on them and deny the fact that it is our culture and society that forms both them AND their victims AND the culture and conditions under which such harm takes place.

And I suppose this is interesting to me and worth noting because we do the same with success. We behave as though any one person’s accomplishments and prosperity in this life are due solely to their individual efforts, actions and perhaps exceptionalism and we leave out the parts about privilege and circumstance and access and all of the many intertwining people and parts that make one person’s perceived success in our society possible. It’s all about personal responsibility.

Except that it isn’t. It is our culture that gives white men privilege, power and access with impunity and without accountability to go along with it. It is our culture that grants doctors one of the highest levels of unearned respect and authority within our society and regards them as beyond question or reproach. It is our culture that constantly disregards the voices of the most vulnerable in our society, women and children among them, when they dare to speak up about incidents of sexual violence. Let’s don’t even talk about the culture around competitive sports in this country and the lengths the powers that be within them will go to to cover up scandals of all sorts within their ranks.

We, as a society, are as responsible for the crimes of Larry Nassar as he is. And we are as responsible to him as we are to his victims. The FIRST time a victim of his spoke up, we were as responsible to him to intervene and stop him harming as we were to that victim.

It is the easy way out to give this man a prison sentence he will not survive and essentially throw him away, declare that at least the very broken, dehumanizing and violent criminal justice system works some of the time, declare that judge a hero and continue on with the status quo. We don’t have to do any work that way. The hard, hard work of coming together, of re-imagining, of burning down and rebuilding. Of making amends for those we’ve harmed in support of a system that unfairly and disproportionately destroys the lives of people of color, the poor and the mentally ill. And we certainly don’t have to take ownership of our part in creating the society and the circumstances around which this man’s crimes were committed and his victims were harmed in the first place.

It is not easy for me to sit here and write these words right now. And it’s taken years of work to arrive at this place of clarity about my belief that the dehumanization of anyone, even those we believe are the WORST kind of humans is a slippery slope and one that if we choose to go down, hurts us all. It has taken an honest examination of my life, of my own history as a victim of profound violence and sexual trauma and even my own sometimes violent behavior to understand this truth – that we are, all of us, connected. That we are also an interdependent species and that much of our suffering is because we refuse to see this and because we have created a hierarchical, colonizing and insular existence. We willfully refuse to see the connections between things and desperately need to separate ourselves from that which is deemed horrific and abject in the world around us, including our own actions and contributions to such things. 

Part of my lived experience is that I was, for all intents and purposes, given by my family to my mentally ill, sex addict father as his replacement (for my mother) partner. His obsession, both with me and with sex,  and the suffocating relationship I was forced into with him is something I have struggled for several years to language after having had my narrative usurped by the prevailing narratives and beliefs around sexual abuse and incest. And I will share further writing on that in the future, but for now, in this moment and in this space, I feel it’s relevant and important to say that it is impossible for me to lay the blame for the perversion of that relationship and what happened with him solely on his shoulders or even on the shoulders of the rest of my family.

There are so very many intertwining factors at play that contributed to me spending my childhood and adolescence as the victim of long term incest and the object of his obsession. Not the least of which were cultural and societal factors and the failure of my family, of my community, of systems that are supposedly in place for the sole purpose of protection and of an entire society to not only see me and protect me but to see him and protect him from himself. 

And it is the very same community, society, systems, etc. who fails to see me and my children now, because doing so would mean facing it’s complicity and its failures. It is the same society who tells me I am personally responsible for fixing and curing myself of the effects of what was done to me at it’s hands, despite my lack of connections, resources and access. It is the very same community that tells me I am disposable, too, right along with my abusers because I can’t just get over it, pull myself up by my bootstraps, be silent and compliant and conform.

I don’t know if you can see it yet or not, but his is exactly how cycles happen. This is how they continue. This system, this way of doing things does not work and it harms us all. How long will we continue to celebrate these hollow victories and ignore what’s right in front of our faces? It is costly to face such difficult and complicated truths, but it is costing us much more to pretend they don’t exist.

 

On Straying and Being Saved

“The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging or refusing. Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter–since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection. Necessarily dichotomous, somewhat Manichaean, he divides, excludes, and without, properly speaking, wishing to know his abjections is not at all unaware of them. Often, moreover, he includes himself among them, thus casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separations.

Instead of sounding himself as to his “being,” he does so concerning his place: “Where am I?” instead of “Who am I?” For the space that engrosses the deject, the excluded, is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially devisible, foldable and catastrophic. A deviser of territories, languages, works, the deject never stops demarcating his universe, whose fluid confines–for they are constituted of a non-object, the abject–constantly question his solidity and impel him to start afresh. A tireless builder, the deject is in short a stray. He is on a journey, during the night, the end of which keeps receding. He has a sense of the danger, of the loss that the pseudo-object attracting him represents for him, but he cannot help taking the risk at the very moment he sets himself apart. And the more he strays, the more he is saved.”

-Julia Kristeva,  Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection

 

Several years ago, when I began parenting my young children, I was introduced to the world of sensory integration. Like trauma, it is something that we have only had language for for a relatively short time but that is becoming more and more mainstream (although the connection between the two is still something we skirt in public discourse).

I remember so clearly the initial evaluations my children received from developmental specialists, occupational therapists and speech/feeding therapists and the moment a lightbulb went on for me around my own challenges with something called “proprioception.”  In short, proprioception is a kind of “sixth sense” that has been identified as the ability to know where one’s body is in space relative to one’s surroundings and it is vitally important in body position and body movement.

As my children began working with various therapists around their sensory challenges, I learned that some humans with sensory related challenges are primarily sensory seeking while some are primarily sensory avoidant and that some are both. I learned about things like vestibular input and heavy work as helpful in calming the nervous systems of my children and others who struggle with challenges around knowing where their bodies are in space.

All of this knowledge opened up a whole new world for me.  It certainly helped me in understanding my children and my ability to be a more compassionate and effective parent to them, but it also opened a window into my own self-understanding, provided a key, a new lens, a different sort of interpretation that has shifted and evolved over several years as I continue making connections around this knowledge, my experiences and my experience of being human. Through being able to understand that my children experience themselves and their bodies and their relationship to the world differently than what is universally assumed to be true, and because my belief is that parenting them is not necessarily about fixing them or changing them or forcing them to conform, but rather meeting them and their needs differently  – I was able to begin to see myself,  my experience and my own needs differently. 

This passage, quoted above, that I came across in my recent reading has had a similar effect on me. It is a coming together of so many pieces and layers of things I have, perhaps individually, been able to name and known to be true for me. In reading it, I am almost compelled to shout, “THIS!” “This is it!” “THIS IS THE THING!”  These are the words. It is so rare for me to find pieces of myself  and my experience reflected in much of anything I read in mainstream culture, passages like this are a kind a lifeline fore me. If I could explain anything about my human experience thus far – there is so much of it here, contained in these words.

[I feel that, at this point, it’s important to mention that these paragraphs are taken from an essay that is translated from French and was written well before the mainstream language for trauma existed, as well as before more gender inclusive language was called for. Also that it was written from the point of view of a psychoanalyst with a great deal of privilege and so I also take some issue with the author’s implication and tone that such familiarity with abjection, and therefore being excluded, a deject or a stray is wholly a choice.]

In some ways this passage represents something I feel like I have been trying to express all of my life: the essence, the lived reality of what it is to be lacking a sense of proprioception, not only in the physical sense, but the intellectual, the emotional and the existential.  Of what it is to have never known anchoring, tethering or what is referred to in Attachment Theory as a “secure base” from which to orient myself, to venture out into the world confident in my own experiences and abilities, sure of my own existence and trusting my very right to inhabit any amount of space at all.

This reality has left me in a perpetual state of floating between spaces, spaces designed and created and languaged by others. It has left me never knowing what it is to belong, to be included,  to be at home both within my own being and in the world. I have spent much of my life precariously perched on the margins of any and all spaces, living a life in constant translation, forced to interpret what I think I am seeing into a performance I can never exactly get right but praying I can get right enough to pass, to warrant the right to stay, to not be deemed wholly invisible, disposable or worse – erased, as though I have never really been here at all. And often, in the end, forced to leave because something about the performance means never really being seen at all. 

Those of us who know this experience of being human are often pathologized for the ways in which we manage existing in a different reality than the one that takes up all of the space in the scripts of our cultural norms. Much like my children, who are sometimes maligned and even disciplined for being overly active, clumsy and accident prone, engaging in rough play, being unaware of their own strength and the force of their movements, the volume of their voices or the sensations in their bodies that alert them to things like hunger, having to go to the bathroom, etc, we are often labeled as unhealthy, imposing, codependent, addictive, needy, attention seeking. And the implication is always that we are in need of “help” of “fixing” or repair when the reality is that we simply know a different experience of what it is to be here, human and therefore require different ways of being in the world, different orientations, different ways of being met in relationship, in order to get our needs met. However, we exist in a world that does not care that we require different sorts of “input” in order to locate ourselves in space. And the ways in which we get our needs met are labeled manipulation, “acting out”, instability and any number of coded, pathological terms. .

And the idea that this is a choice, a matter of personal responsibility to fix, and the implication that there is no value in coming to the collective table of humanity offering a different perspective is catastrophically harmful, both to those of us who know this lived reality and to the collective. For this way of being in the world, this way of seeing, though it, unarguably has its costs, also has its benefits.

It was never my choice to become a stray, to know, in the most fundamental of ways, what it is to be fully fluid, uncontained, to not know where others end and I begin, to perpetually have to find my bearings, reorient and ask myself, “Where am I?” and perhaps more importantly “Who am I required/allowed to be?” according to where I am . “Who am I?” is a privileged question to be able to ask and one that I have never been afforded. Abjection was imposed on me from my infancy and, in it’s own way, erased all of the lines, all of the touch points, all of the moorings I might once have been able to hold onto and safely differentiate, had I been given a different start in life.  

And so the creation of this blog is me, straying. Locating myself and more fully inhabiting the darkness with which I am so familiar and most comfortable and from which I no longer believe I need saving.  Growing comfortable in the space outside the lines, instead of trying to find myself inside of ones that have always been too constraining – something I have come to know as an exercise in futility.  Choosing to take up residence in storm and shifting sands and not knowing any one thing to be constant, certain nor universally true, instead of on a search for the one great truth or cure that might fix me, make me more palatable, more socially acceptable or make me whole. It is an attempt at the languaging and re-languaging of what it is to live through and with complex trauma, an experience that, like so many things, has been and is being co-opted and colonized, stripped down, sanitized, cataloged and categorized by whiteness and patriarchy. And it is an invitation, a signaling to others, for whom this resonates, to join me here, in a space of our own making, away from the demands for narratives that are clean and clear and stories of inspiration and redemption and sameness, for conversation and truth-telling and not knowing and being in reality, together.