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.

 

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