Monday, September 22, 2014

Rainbow Sweater Dress

Katie and our dogs at the dog park

Katie has a new favorite dress. It's a rainbow hoodie sweater dress, handed down from Will's cousin's daughter. She slept in it Saturday night. When we woke up Sunday, she said she wanted to wear it to church. I gave it a sniff test, checked for an overabundance of dog hair, and said, "Sure."

When she said she wanted to wear it today for a presentation she's giving at school, Will proceeded to wash it, dry it, and...get this... IRON it.

I wasn't even aware that we owned an iron.

The other day, I let Katie wear a shirt to school that had a giant hole in it. When she got home from school, Will told her not to wear that shirt to school anymore. Katie looked at me like, but you said I could. I shrugged my shoulders and told her she could wear the shirt for PJs.

Parents don't have to have the exact same standards to raise a kid together. In fact, I think it's good for a kid to see that not all grownups think alike. I'm of the mind that kids should be messy and dirty and too focused on learning about the world around them to care about their appearance. Will thinks kids should learn to keep themselves clean and presentable.

And guess what? We're both right. We come at parenting from different perspectives, but that's OK. I think it will make Katie into a more well rounded individual, with a style all her own.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Unbreakable Love

My parents each had three marriages. Five marriages ending in divorce and one ending in death, between the both of them. My grandparents on both sides either were divorced and separated by the end of their lives. I grew up with a mother miserable in her marriage to my father. He was verbally abusive and a control freak. It felt horrible to know that half of my blood came from him, such a jerk. I worried I would grow up to be like him. A yeller, a rageaholic, a serial divorcee who could never find unbreakable love.

As dad yelled at Mom, as he yelled at my half-siblings, as he yelled at me, we knew he wasn't just yelling at us. Because usually we had done nothing wrong. We mostly ignored him, wrote him off as a jerk, wrote funny songs about wishing he'd die, you know, all the sensible things people who grow up in dysfunctional families do to cope.

As I've matured, it's become obvious that Dad wasn't mad at just us. We were the straw that broke his back.

As my wise-beyond-her-years, eight-year-old daughter said to me the other day after asking questions about my rocky relationship with my dad, "He wasn't just yelling at you. He was yelling at his past, too."

My dad had a traumatic childhood. His parents, both oldest siblings of huge farm families, didn't want to have kids. They ended up having three, my dad, and my two aunts. Birth control was expensive and hard to find back in the Twenties and Thirties. There were no pills. Women douched with Lysol and prayed to God not to get pregnant again, and again, and again.

This way of life seems so foreign to me. I had access to birth control pills, condoms, all kinds of good birth control from the moment I first wanted to have sex. I never had to squirt poison up my vagina and ask God to spare me a lot in life that could easily kill me or my baby. I waited until I was thirty-five to have Katie. I was thrilled when the pee stick had two lines. Will and I had been married for over a year, and we had been trying to get pregnant for about eighteen months before I was able to conceive.

When we got married, Will told me he wanted six children. I was relieved that I wouldn't have to convince him I wanted a big family. Many people we know choose not to have children, or to have one or two at the most. Having a big family is rare these days. We live in a time when having a large family is usually a choice, not an inevitable burden. My medical condition, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, prevented us from choosing to have a big family. We've learned to love what we've got. We've had a lot of fun trying, but so far we've only been able to have one baby. I'm going to turn forty-four this year. I suspect our baby-making days are done, despite our desire to have more.

Our one child, Katie, is growing up surrounded by love. I have yelled at her one time, when she was about two or three, and I walked into the living room after having left her alone for what seemed like only a minute or two to find that she had dug feces out of her diaper and used it as Play-doh, smearing it all over our living room furniture, the TV, the floor.

Katie reminds me of this time, I guess because it was such a rare experience for her, having someone in authority who she loves yell at her, and also because kids like to point out the flaws in their parents. When Katie says to me, "Remember when you yelled at me?" its like when I say to my mom, "Remember when you sent me to Weight Watchers in third grade?" We love our parents, but we also like to stick our fingers on their parental bruises they acquired by stupid mistakes all parents make.

Will has never yelled at Katie. Neither of us has ever spanked her. She's one of those kids who has been raised to know that hands are for hugging, mouths are for kissing, and words are for expressing love. Before I became a parent, I thought that kind of parenting was hogwash. How can you get a kid to mind you if you don't yell at them or spank them? Then I had a kid of my own and I fell in love with her so much I decided I would try my hardest never to hurt her. I read a book called Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It changed my outlook on parenting. Conversations, not punishments or rewards.

Saying I don't want to hurt my child is different than saying I want her to always be comfortable. I think hovering over children and treating them like fragile heirlooms is harmful for a child's well-being. The other day Will said he wanted to fix the air conditioning in my car. I said no.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I hardly drive anywhere long enough for the AC to even kick in. I don't need it. The farthest I ever drive is an hour to see Mom and that's only like once a month," I explained.

"But what about Katie? Don't you want her to be comfortable in the car?" He asked. Will is an amazing parent. He always thinks of Katie first. His parenting style is both selfless and strong.

I thought about his question for a moment and then I said, "No, not always. I mean, I want her to be safe. She must wear her seat belt, and we must bring water to drink while we sweat, but no, I don't think kids have to always be comfortable. I think it's healthy to teach kids that life is sometimes a struggle. There's lots of kids in the world whose parents don't even have a car, let alone a car that has air-conditioning."

Will smiled like he does when I say something unexpected, nodded his head and said, "Right on."

I let my kid sweat. I don't buy her a lot of fancy toys or clothes. But I also let her pretty much eat whatever she wants, believing that a child should learn how to trust her body's natural cues for hunger and fullness. So far she hasn't gone into a sugar coma, and she's growing like a weed. I try not to pay attention to her when she's interrupting me while someone else is talking, because I don't want her to think the world revolves around her. I let her wear her hair messy most of the time because it's the way she likes to wear it. But when she comes home and tells me she got into a fight with a kid in her class, I sit down with her and listen to her side of the story before I punish or yell. We talk it out. We think of ways she could have handled the situation better. We think of ways that she can apologize and forgive. Instead of sending her away to time-out, or taking away her video game privileges, we talk.

I have the luxury to do so because we have one child to give our time to, we have books to read, we have our own choices. I learned how to be a good parent by growing up myself before deciding to have children.

When my dad was a kid, he got into a fight at school with a bully. Dad ran home. His dad was outside on the front porch. He asked Dad what had happened to his face. Dad's nose was bloody and his eye was swollen. Dad told him a bully beat him up. Dad's dad stood up, took off his belt, and beat Dad in the front yard in front of all the neighbors and kids and no one did anything to stop him.

"Why did he beat you?" I asked my dad when he told me the story when I was a teenager.

"Because he wanted to toughen me up. He wanted to make a man out of me. He told me to go back out there and defend myself against that bully. He didn't want me to be weak. It was his way of protecting me."

He was in second grade.

When Dad was twenty-two, after he got back from the War where he helped clean up bombed out cities in Europe and I suspect saw a cadaver or two, he walked into his Dad's house and saw beer bottles strewn all over. Dad's mom had recently left his dad. She could tolerate his alcoholism no more. She ran off to Nevada with another man. That weekend, Dad went to check on his dad. He heard the shower running. He walked into the bathroom and found his father, dead, slumped over in the shower.

The medical examiner said Dad's dad had a heart attack. He was 48.

Dad went on to marry, and divorce, marry, and divorce, marry, and divorce again. At eighty-seven, he recently proposed to this woman he dances with, but she said no. I think it has something to do with taxes. Or maybe she's leery of a man who's been divorced three times. Dad lives alone in a senior apartment complex. He dances, he plays bridge. He's on Sertraline. He seems happier than I've ever seen him. His only complaint: he hates to be at home alone.

Recently my sister had a party and invited everyone in the family, both my mom and my dad. They've been divorced since 1992. Time has lessened Mom's resentment. Sertraline has helped Dad lighten up. I sat there wondering what life would have been like if Dad had the psychotropic drug choices we have now when I was a kid. My life would have been so much better. Or when he was kid. Or his dad was a kid...

It's easier to have a healthy marriage and family nowadays. We have options. We have help. We have drugs. It's easier today than it even was when I was in my twenties. Every decade progresses and life gets better when we work at it.

When I was in my twenties, when lots of people in our culture decide to partner up, a close friend of mine said something that made sense, even though it stung to have the truth thrown at me. She said, "Becky, you weren't taught how to love. Growing up, you had no examples of what a good marriage is like."

She told me this when I explained why I couldn't be her bridesmaid. I don't believe in marriage, I thought. Kinda like how I used to think I didn't believe in going to church. When you grow up viewing institutions in a negative light, the last thing you want to do when you become an adult and make choices of your own is to join them.

So I waited longer than most people do to get married. I waited until I met just the right person. I met Will when I was 31 and he was just 21. We married when I was 33 and he was 23. When my mom asked me why Will's the one, I said because he's the only person I've ever felt completely comfortable around. As someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, that's saying a lot. I've had anxiety so long, it feels more like a character trait and less like a medical disorder. I'm anxious. I worry what people think. I'm really good at faking it. I can laugh and have a good time, but inside there is always a stream of anxious thoughts running through my consciousness.

But not around Will. He somehow calms my anxious thoughts. I knew Will was the person I wanted to marry when I realized he's the person I like to be around the most. It's as simple as that.

So when you hit on him the other night, and when my intuition told me to verify my thoughts with Will the next morning, and he said yes, you had asked him to have sex with you, emotions I have not felt in decades came rushing back. I was so fucking mad at you!

You were once my partner. Long ago. Two decades ago. My first long-term, monogamous relationship, but not a marriage. Back in the dark ages of our youth it was still illegal for gay partners to marry. Three years, we were together. And it was mostly awful. Fighting, drama, crying, breaking things, feeling like I was losing my mind. I was terrible to you. I was the worst girlfriend anyone could ask for. I screamed at you. I treated you like you were an idiot even though you are not. I punched you in the face.

I had turned into my dad--even worse! Dad never punched Mom.

I had to get out. I was turning into a monster. Something in you triggered such fierce anger in me. I wanted to love you enough that it calmed my anxiety, but I could not.

We broke up and it was the best thing for both of us. You got another girlfriend and I spent ten years more-or-less celibate, trying to get my shit together. I began eating healthy foods and moving my body. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books. I first took Lithium, then Amitriptyline, then Paxil, then finally, Sertraline. Sertraline really works for me. I guess I'm a daddy's girl after all.

During the time I was growing and changing and learning how to love, you dated a couple of people, but mostly you seemed like you were constantly searching for someone who could love you in a way you had never been loved. Completely, Without anger. Without jealousy. Without secrets and lies and betrayals. I'm not going to go into details about your family background. That's your story to share, not mine. But you were raised to think sex is dirty and your body is fat and repulsive. You were raised to stay away from boys because they only wanted you for one thing and that loving girls was a sin. It's no wonder you didn't learn how to love in a healthy way, too.

Years passed and we became friends again. We could laugh about the good old times. Yes, there were some. It wasn't all bad. I no longer felt romantically attached to you, so you were more like a good friend, or a sister. You signed my marriage certificate as a witness when Will and I got married. You bought toys for our kid. You came to family gatherings. Like a sister.

In the last year your drinking has gotten worse. You message me hateful rants in the middle of the night, and then when I try to talk to you about it the next day you don't even remember. For awhile now it's been a drag to hang out with you. You come over and talk about how lonely you are, how you wish you had a life-partner. I advise you to quit drinking because it brings out the worst in you, but you think I'm acting holier than thou, since I have my unhealthy habits too, drinking among them. You get mad and bring up old anger and blame. We fight, not as badly as in the old days, but still, it wears me down.

I feel guilty because I'm the one who bought you your first beer.

I've wanted out for several months now. I'm tired of being your friend. In a way, I'm grateful for your betrayal. Asking my husband, the person who turned my life around and taught me how to love, to have sex with you is the biggest betrayal. I thank you for it. It gives me an excuse to quit blaming myself for our horrible relationship. I can finally say, I'm done, I don't want to be lovers, I don't want to be friends, I don't want to see you anymore.

I've changed. I've grown. I've learned how to love. Will has helped me. Our daughter has helped me. Sertraline and therapy and exercise has helped me. My church community has helped me. I have helped myself.

You, on the other hand, have not faced your inner demons. You drink them away and pretend they don't exist. I don't blame you for your pain. You had a crappy childhood too. It's hard for a lesbian to grow up in a culture that tells her it's a sin to love. But you are an adult. You know actions have consequences and that it is wrong to ask your friend's husband to cheat.

I don't think it's all your fault. It never is with people. We learn to be cruel to others by having others be cruel to us.

Jesus was right to teach us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, to forgive those who trespass against us, to love God and love people. As simple as that.

Jesus was right to teach us to forgive, because it's more harmful to carry around resentment than it is to let it go. Hate is much worse for the hater. It's stressful. You think, "I'll show them! How dare they treat me that way! I'm never going to forgive them for what they did to me! I'm gonna hate them til the day I die."

You think you're right. It makes so much sense to hate someone who has hurt you. But one day you realize you're just going through the motions. You don't care about anything or anyone. You're miserable. Your hatred has consumed you. You hate those who wronged you, you hate the world, you hate yourself, you hate life. All you can feel is nothing.

Jesus said: Stop! Don't let hurt kill you. Because that's what it is, living without forgiveness. It's a slow, suffocating death.

Jesus said: Love! So I will love. I will not hate you. I will forgive you.

Forgive you and forget you.

After your betrayal, I know the best way I can love you is to leave you. Finally and for sure. Not lovers. Not friends. Not sisters. Just two human beings who are better off apart.

I don't ever want to see you again.

Still, I hope you find someone to love you the way Will loves me. Loyal. Eternal. Calm. Deep. It is a testament to my husband's loyal nature that he did not give in to his biological urges and say yes to you. We're coming upon ten years of marriage, and it's stronger than ever. No one will break us apart. I know that. It's a tremendous feeling to have for someone who grew up in a fractured family. May you find that kind of unbreakable love someday, too.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday School Teacher

Somehow I have tricked the amazing community of Grace. For some reason they want me to teach their kids about God and love and the mysteries of the universe. I began my first day as a Sunday School teacher today.

Ah, who am I kidding? I bet they don't expect miracles from me. Just love. And snacks. And reading stories and singing songs and creating things with Play-doh. I can handle that.

And because the other two teachers in our class are full of awesomesauce, and the kiddos are full of curiosity, it was a wondrous day.

I understand why people give their time to help others. The reciprocal good feelings. I feel good when I help you because it makes you feel good. This morning in Sunday School I spent an hour not thinking about my worries. Not once during my time with these gracious teachers and beautiful students did I think about war or disease or abuse or sickness. My mind was cleared of its catastrophes and calmed by seven small children sitting in a circle singing together, "this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!"

I understand why the atheist Karl Marx said religion is the opiate of the masses. In my experience, religion is the Clonazepam of the anxious.

I like working with kids because they are so wise and not judgy. They like to test limits, and so do I, because however else is progress possible?

I'm excited to see what happens.

Here are some quotes I found today that I appreciate as I grow into this role of teacher:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” 
― Madeleine L'Engle

“It's never too late to have a happy childhood.” 
― Tom RobbinsStill Life with Woodpecker

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” 
― Margaret Mead

"Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ” 
― Fred Rogers

" We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there.” 
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

"Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.” 
 Russell Brand

"One thing I had learned from watching chimpanzees with their infants is that having a child should be fun.” 
― Jane Goodall

"A child whose life is full of the threat and fear of punishment is locked into babyhood. There is no way for him to grow up, to learn to take responsibility for his life and acts. Most important of all, we should not assume that having to yield to the threat of our superior force is good for the child's character. It is never good for anyone's character.” 
 John Holt

"When you read to a child, when you put a book in a child's hands, you are bringing that child news of the infinitely varied nature of life. You are an awakener.” 
― Paula Fox

"We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” 
 John Holt

"If our children are unable to voice what they mean, no one will know how they feel. If they can’t imagine a different world, they are stumbling through a darkness made all the more sinister by its lack of reference points. For a young person growing up in America’s alienated neighborhoods, there can be no greater empowerment than to dare to speak from the heart — and then to discover that one is not alone in ones feelings.” 
― Rita Dove

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Come! Live in the Light! Remix

***warning: frank talk of sex and abuse and possibly blasphemy

Physically, my body matured at a very young age. Mentally and emotionally, I was a late bloomer. I blame this on a combo of precocious puberty inherited from my dad, childhood sexual abuse inherited from our sick secretive society, and absolutely no libido.

I used to like it when I'd be cruising shot-gun down the road in my friend Heather's penis car and we'd hear the Naked Raygun song, "Libido". We called Heather's 1973 Nova a penis car because, young feminists ourselves, we agreed it was ironic for her to drive such a masculine car. We were hipsters before hipsters were cool.

I liked the Naked Raygun song about the protagonist's disinterest in sex because I could totally relate. In an era of songs such as Madonna's hit, "Like a Virgin" and George Michael's "I Want Your Sex," I felt like the oddball at the orgy.

Not that I was asexual. I had my first crush at age 4: Radar O'Reilly on "M*A*S*H". I had my first sexy dream in third grade: Han Solo. (Not Harrison Ford, mind you. The fictional character of Han Solo.) I put posters of "Duran Duran" on my wall in eighth grade, but I found myself drawn to the least flashy and most unattractive of the fab five: Roger Taylor.

I honestly think I was drawn to him less because I found him attractive and more because I subconsciously thought of the other drummer named Roger Taylor, the one from Queen, one of Mom's favorite bands. Mom used to play their eight-track tapes while she dusted the house. I have fond memories of that fun and innocent time in my life.

I had fictional, innocent crushes on people as I was growing up, and occasionally I'd "like" some kid in my class, but only because my friends had kids they "liked" and I didn't want to feel left out. I had no interest in wearing sexy clothes or trying to be flirty or any of that. I just wanted to play basketball, or barbies, or watch "Mork and Mindy".

My first major crush on a real person ended as most every one's does, embarrassingly. My love for R.W. (I'm still too embarrassed to mention his name) was unrequited, except for some minor 3rd base action, and although I have him to thank for my love of Pink Floyd and red wine, he crushed my heart. I swore off boys for a few years after R.W. told me to quit showing up at his back door.

I'd always been sexually attracted to girls. Even more so than most boys when I was very young. Androgynous girls. Tomboys, as they were called back in the day. At age four, I walked up to a kid I thought was so cute, and I asked the kid, "Are you a boy or a girl?" Like it was a question she'd been asked a thousand times before, she said, "I'm a girl." That's all we said about it and we went on to play.

I'd also always been sexually attracted to boys, but not mean, tough, uber-masculine boys. Androgynous boys. Sissy boys, as they were called back in the day.

Seems I'm mostly attracted to people who like to rip off the gender binding and kick over the fence that holds us within certain gender boundaries. I'm a sucker for androgyny.

As a late-teen and an early adult, I was a serial monogamist who dated both boys and girls, just one at a time. Each person had his or her merits, but the relationships never worked out. I was in a bad place psychologically in my life.

That's when I broke up with my latest girlfriend and moved into my own studio apartment. It was the first time I ever lived alone. When I was born, I had four siblings and two parents waiting for me at home, and another sister who lived with her mom. All my siblings were older when I was born, so instead of growing up with the kind of brothers and sisters who torment you, I was treated more like a living baby doll. They loved taking turns taking care of me.

They also dropped me on my head. Forgot to latch my high chair so I tumbled over, face first, on the kitchen floor. I got diaper pins poked into my little newborn hips, and slid out of a baby buggy my sister and brother were pushing back and forth, like I was some kind of ball, rolling out into the middle of the street. Mom had to pick gravel out of my little baby cheek. It made me the resiliant person I am today. And maybe, perhaps, a little brain damaged.

But mostly, my older siblings were wonderful, kind, entertaining, funny, and inspirational. I have spent my life trying to be as awesome as they are.

It wasn't always good. There was lots of muck too. I was sexually abused by my brother, who later died of alcoholic induced liver failure, and his friend who I lost track of long ago. It's funny to think of me being treated like an inanimate object when it's a baby doll or a ball. That's cute. But it's just sick when the inanimate object I'm treated like is a sex toy to two hormonally-charged pubescent boys.

I can't talk for all sexual abuse survivors. Each person reacts to trauma in different ways. When I was a young woman, I reacted by regaining control of my life. I lived alone for ten years. I put myself through college. I took care of a cat from the time he was a kitten til he died at age 14. I paid my bills and went to work. I read self-help books and talked to therapists. I took meds my doctor recommended. I invested in a Hitachi Magic Wand. I felt great.

So great, that I began thinking, huh, maybe I'm not going to end up in a mental institution like Jack Nicholson's character in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Maybe I could actually find a mate and we could have a family and a life together that sometimes sucks but that's mostly wonderful.

I met Will at the library. He made me feel tingly. His smell. His long hair. His steely glare with those big brow bones framing his icy blue eyes. He's tall and strong. His hair is soft and smells like flowers or linen or sunshine. He sings and he cries at the end of good movies like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Fisher King" and dear God I love him so.

We got married and had Katie two years later. It's been rocky, but so rewarding. I've struggled with my anxiety and depression, finally diagnosed as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, but I've also learned a lot from it. I've learned to let go, a little.

I've learned that sometimes it's OK to let other people do things for me without it feeling like they're doing things TO me.

Will helps me enormously. He is an equal partner--totally--in our relationship. He takes care of Katie just as much as I do. He cooks and cleans just as much, if not more, than I do. He does all the lawn work. He works full time and he's been with the same company for nine years. His reliability is fucking hot to me. Someone who has been through trauma, like me, seeks out the dependable, the care-taking, the warm arms and firm embrace.

It's weird to give up so much control of my body to another person. But I trust Will. He's the only person who's ever made me feel orgasmic without simultaneously feeling anxious. He's all, hey babe, lay back, take it easy, relax, let me take care of you.

I never thought I wanted any of that crap until I met Will. The idea of letting someone rub the back of my bumpy thighs, my calloused feel, my jiggly belly--no. There's no way. People I allowed access to my body before I met Will were allowed to touch my mouth, my breasts, my hands, my vulva, and my back. That's it. Will, on the other hand, after a decade of marriage, has convinced me it's safe to let him lay his hands all over my body. I fucking love being married.

The loyalty. The trust. The understanding.

Some people like to be single, to be independent and strong and capable. I did too once. But I've found that having the support of a good spouse helps me allow pleasure into my life. I need the trust to let my guard down.

Don't let the people who took control of your body without your consent allow you to feel shamed by it. Your body is beautiful. Find someone you trust to share it with.

If you're scared at first to venture out into the dating world, I highly recommend that sexual abuse survivors get to know themselves through masturbation. I'm sick of society making it into a dirty thing. Masturbation is a healthy thing. Doctors prescribe it to men who have pancreatitis and women who have infertility. Check out the video, "Hysteria", about the introduction of the vibrator, which was used to treat women with the medical condition called "hysteria".

Masturbation helped me learn to love my body and all the amazing things it can do. I was a late bloomer. I didn't have my first orgasm until I was twenty-six. The day my Hitachi Magic Wand arrived in the mail in a plain brown wrapper from Good Vibrations in San Francisco. That was memorable. I felt completely and totally connected to every living being in the universe. It was intense. I'd finally broken the glass box I'd learned to seal around my libido after my experience with sexual abuse.

It's hard to get from a place of thinking of sex as bad and dirty and traumatic to full of connection and amazing sensations and universal harmony. But daaaaaaaamn! It's worth it.

Why do so many people shout out, "Oh, God!" when they come? I'm telling you: having an orgasm is life's reminder that we're all tapped into the same loving energy field: God. Don't let your abusers keep you from that feeling.

This morning after everyone went off to work and to school, I enjoyed a little me time. Afterwards, as I laid in bed looking out the window at the hint of glistening sunlight shining on the tree swaying in the breeze and the blue sky in the back, I said, "Thank you God!"

I'm a weird Christian. I actually don't pray that much. I dunno. Unless you're praying for someone else, praying for something you want seems selfish. I like to think God knows whats best for me without me having to give him hints.

But I tend to pray a lot after I come. "Thank you God!" "Thank you Universe!" "Thank you All-Encompassing-Love". I don't think about it really. It just happens.

This morning, I started humming one of my favorite hymns after I played around with my Hitachi Magic Wand. Then I started singing it with my own words:

To the tune of "Come! Live in the Light"

Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the World
We are called to be a sexy species
to live in the freedom of loooooooooooove!

We are called to act with passion.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to stop when you say no

Come! Open your heart!
Show your booty to all those you want!
We are called to be love for the loveless,
so all jealousy and unkindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great climax when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other as poets and lovers united in love!

Sorry, David Haas.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell

***trigger warning: sexual abuse***

Katie sings loudly in church. She's a squirmy worm until she hears the organ start and sees the congregation rise. Time to sing! At eight years old, it's her favorite part of church.

I don't like to sing at church nearly as much as Katie does. I prefer to sit back and listen to the poetry. Like this prayer by Pastor Jonas Hayes:

Mysterious and Merciful God, we push ourselves into exhaustion with petty tasks; we offer one another faint-hearted relationships; we run after so many good things that we run out of energy; we depend on our own capacities, rather than depending on you. Interrupt our lives with your revelation. Intervene in our days. Inspire us to love. Help us in our seeking, to find you and to live in your presence. Amen.

Isn't that beautiful? Too bad I suck at following advice. I suck at depending on God. I suck at depending on anyone. I'm awesome at depending on my own capacities. That's how a sexual abuse survivor heals. When someone takes control of your body before you are old enough to give consent, you spend your life trying to take it back. Feeling capable and independent and in control feels glorious to a person whose body was once captive to someone in authority.

It sucks though, control. Because I run out of energy trying to keep it together, keep in control. I let the worlds' crumblings and injustices get me down because I want to be strong enough to save the world from all its misery, even when sometimes I lack the strength to get out of bed. It's a weird balancing act, a power trip. First you feel strong and capable and confident. Then, when your savior-energy starts to drain, you feel like a big piece of shit.

I think Jesus was brilliant to teach people to simply love. Because if that's all you do, at the end of the day you've done well. You don't have to be brilliant or smart or well educated or talented or gifted or a winner. You don't have to know all the answers to all the questions. You can suck, gloriously, because all Jesus wants you to do is love.

And funny enough, practicing love is a confidence booster. It's hard to feel like a piece of shit if you're just hanging out, loving. Jesus meant for us to love ourselves too, you know.

I'm beginning to love to sing, even though I suck at it.

For a long time, I didn't like to sing because I lack confidence in the sound of my voice. I lack practice. I don't know how to read music, so I'm often lost, wondering which part of the song we're on. I try to listen to my fellow Presbyterians and follow their lead, but it's hard for me to hear the soft voices around me over Katie's confident boom.

It was easier when, for a short time, we were attending a Black Evangelical church. If I screwed up, no one could possibly notice with all the hootin and hollerin going on, all the dancing in the aisles and interjections of Praise Jesus!

The Mostly-White Presbyterians are quieter, more reflective and subdued. Except for Katie. She sings out, loud and proud, like a mini Mahalia Jackson.

But today was different. The congregation sang two songs, and I only screwed up on one if them. Yay me! Oh wait, I mean Praise Jesus. I'm still getting the hang of this whole Christian thing.

The first song we sang was this one:

"I Will Change Your Name"

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called wounded,
Or afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Over-coming one
Faithfulness, friend of God,
One who seeks My face

--D. J. Butler

It's the one I screwed up. The second one, the one I finally didn't screw up, is this one:

"Come! Live in the Light"

Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!

We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

--David Haas

The reason I didn't screw up on the second song is because I've sung it before at church. I guess if you stick with a church long enough, you get to sing the hymns more than once. So that's how people like me who lack natural confidence become good singers. Practice. Sing a song so much that it just comes out and you don't even have to think about it. Because letting go of thought is where Jesus kicks in. I don't mean to say that Christians are stupid any more than Buddhists are when they meditate. Thinking is great, but over-thinking hinders action. If you want to sing, instead of thinking too hard about it, just sing. Trust in Jesus when he commands us to love. Love your voice, even when it cracks. Jesus does. 

After church, on the drive home, Katie announced that when she grows up she's going to name her child Confidence.

"Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell," Katie said. Cantrell is the last name of her eight-year-old boyfriend.

It pleased me to hear Katie make such a ridiculous statement. I know, rationally, that Katie most likely will not grow up to marry the boy she loved at age eight, let alone have his baby and name him or her such a sanctimonious sounding name. What pleased me is to hear that the kid is actually listening to what she's singing. Sometimes I worry she's just going through the motions. Perhaps even showing off. But hearing Katie talk about the song and how she wants to name her future child after it made me feel deep parental warm fuzzies. She's paying attention. She's living in God's presence. That's where she gets her confidence. She knows God's voice guides hers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Statue of Liberty Got Lynched

This sickening video--I have no words. I'm just warning you: it's heartbreaking. Listen to this father begging officers to let him go, since he's innocent, so he can pick up his kids and go to work.

Here's more information on the case, reported in The Atlantic:

"City Pages explains what happened after the arrest. 'The man was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing the legal process,' they write, 'but those charges were later dropped.'"

Because he did nothing wrong. Other than waiting to pick up his kids while black.

Feels like the Statue of Liberty got lynched and she's swaying there in the harbor like some kind of strange fruit. And too many people are complaining 'cause their tour got canceled.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Excused Absence

***trigger warning: sexual abuse, mental illness

When I was a teenager I missed so much school, Mom told me to just write my own absent notes.

"Becky, I've got to get to work. I can't be late. Write your own excuse," Mom would say.

I could fake Mom's handwriting good enough. I never got caught. Never got questioned by a teacher or called into the office for forgery. Never asked why it was I missed so much school.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had a cold.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had a headache.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She was up late vomiting and needed to rest.

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday. She had menstrual cramps.

I only pulled out the big guns of using menstrual cramps as an excuse in emergencies, when a teacher was starting to act suspicious about why I'd had twenty colds this semester. Generally, I don't like to pathologize my femininity, but my depression trumps my feminism.

School officials should have suspected something was up when my excuses became more and more involved. Before I started forging my own absent notes, Mom would always simply write:

Please excuse Becky for her absence yesterday for she was ill.

No explanation other than the vague excuse of being "ill".

When I was a kid I thought Mom was just being impatient. Now I think she was being more honest about my absence than I was, only she just left off the "mentally". I thought she simply wrote "ill" on my absent notes because she didn't want to bother with the details. Mom's a "hurry up" kind of person. She doesn't like to spend a lot of time on one thought, one hobby, one conversation, or one note. She gets bored and wants to move on. Change things up. Try something different.

Mom's the kind of person who, when I ask if I can get her to take an IQ test out of a book of psychology tests I'd picked up at the library, she says sure and doesn't bother setting down the afghan she's crocheting or turning off the TV. She takes the test while simultaneously watching her show and keeping her hands busy while I read off the questions to her. I, on, the other hand, am the kind of person who goes into a quiet room and takes my time with the test. Surrounded by her favorite distractions, Mom still scored two points higher than me.

The woman moved into her current apartment last December after my step-father had passed away. Since then, I've visited once or twice a month. Every time, she asks me to rearrange her living room furniture. She's changed her cable plan at least three times. She sets out a plate of hot chicken nuggets she's just pulled from the microwave for our dinner and then she says, "Or would you rather have pizza?"

I'm more of a "slow down" kind of person. I like to take my time thinking things through. I get anxious if I try to do too many things at once. I analyze all my options first before I make a decision, and sometimes even then I have trouble making up my mind.

Should I say I was out sick with the flu or diarrhea? Or maybe pink eye? What did I write on last week's absent note?

Flash forward a couple of decades. I've learned to be more honest in my excuses. When I miss work, I openly confess if it's due to an anxiety attack or if I really, truly have a cold or a migraine or some other more socially-sanctioned ailment. When I start to miss too many days due to anxiety, I know it's time to call the doctor to up my meds, or to re-enter therapy for the who-knows-how-manieth-time.

But I still have trouble cancelling personal plans. I just can't bear to upset my friends and loved ones.

The last couple of weeks have been full of events that leave me feeling overwhelmed. I live day-to-day with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. Most days I feel pretty good. I'm on my meds. I move my body in pleasurable ways. I eat nourishing foods. I play with my kid and help her with her homework. I enjoy sharing both romantically and intellectually stimulating moments with my husband. I have a good paying job with an organization that I am proud of and excited by. Sure, I have trouble with low-energy, moodiness, indecisiveness, but most days I live well with mental illness.

Then crap starts to happen around me. I read about race riots and police brutality in the Midwestern state next door, religious and ethnic conflict in the Middle-east, the suicide of a comedian loved by the mainstream. My mom is sick. My dad's sick. They're both getting "up there," a vague age that seems to keep moving upwards as I also get older. Our old dog Sawyer is recovering from a nasty illness and the new puppy pees on the floor.

That's OK, Life. That's enough. I'm really quite capable of conjuring up worry all on my own. I don't need the world to crumble around me, too.

I write, hoping it helps. It does, but I'm not going to lie to you. It's not a cure. I still need a beer or a glass of wine or a half-of-a clonazepam to relax at night. I still need to walk it off when I start to feel like everyone around me is injured and I have no way to help them. I still need to eat salads and nuts and Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips when I'm hungry and quit listening to the propaganda spewed by the diet industry. I still need to go bed on time and stay up late when I've got something important to do and remember to nap. I need to take warm showers and wear comfy clothes. I need to feel my husbands arms around me and the warm breath of my child as she leans in for a kiss. I need to feel like the work I do each day makes this world a better place, even if it seems small.

It's hard, living with Depression and PTSD. Well-meaning friends and loved ones tell me to relax, take it easy, do something fun.

I don't know how. I get bored sitting in front of a TV screen. I worry about the laundry I need to put away when I lay on my hammock. Reading popular books and celebrity magazines makes me feel weird and misunderstood. I love to read, but generally only depressing stories about family and social dysfunction. Not stuff to lighten the mood.

"You should write romance novels!"

"You should write movie reviews!"

"You should write reviews of romance novels!"

I've heard it all from Mom. She encourages me to write because she knows it makes me feel better to express myself. What she doesn't get is that expressing negativity helps too. Mom doesn't understand why I don't like to write about "happier" things.

When I was a kid, before they divorced, Mom and I would sit on the front porch to get away from my dad. We'd talk and play games. One of Mom's favorites is The Movie Star game. Basically, you think of a celebrity and say the initials of their first and last name. The other person guesses until they guess right.

I know more movie stars of the Forties and Fifties, the time my mom was growing up, than I do about current popular entertainers. I know more about Grace Kelly than all the Kardashians combined.

Mom grew up in a lonely household with a mother who rarely got out of bed because she had "bad nerves". Mom spent her childhood listening to the radio, reading popular magazines, comic books, singing along to the advertisement jingles. I understand why mom loves celebrity culture. It's her surrogate family.

It was when I was a teenager, as I began to show signs of having a talent for writing, that Mom started suggesting I write romance novels. Or screenplays. Or murder mysteries. Or a Dear Abby type of advice column.

Mom, I can't even get a date. How am I supposed to write a romance novel?

Mom, nobody likes the same movies I like.

Mom, murder makes me cringe.

Mom, I'm 16. I don't even know what advice to give myself, let alone a stranger.

Mom ignored my protests. Mom has her flaws, as all parents do, but she honestly thinks I can be anything I want to be if I set my mind to it, and that kind of faith is uplifting.

So I'd sorta listen to her. I wanted to become famous so Mom would be proud of me, so Mom would be happy. I secretly fantasized that if I became famous and loved around the world I could somehow escape my chronic depression and crippling anxiety. How can you feel sad when the whole world loves you?

I didn't fantasize about becoming famous for the things Mom wanted me to become famous for. I fantasized about becoming famous for things that would make me feel proud: winning the Pulitzer Prize, being a Health at Every Size advocate, encouraging people to love themselves, ending world hunger AND eating disorders, striving for ways to engage in peace, both in the world and inside ourselves. You know, no big deal. All I ask is that I be the next, you know, Gandhi. John Lennon. Martin Luther King, Jr. Malala. Hedy Epstein.  A peace hero. The Princess of Peace.

You know, just your typical, ordinary Messiah complex.

Too bad I don't have the energy to get out of bed on low days. For the most part I give myself a break. Tell myself that if I didn't have Depression and PTSD, I really could do anything I set my mind to. Instead of looking at it as, "think of all you could accomplish if only you could overcome your mental illness," look at it as, "think of all you accomplish each day despite your mental illness."

So I'm not out amongst the protesters and demonstrators, community organizers and activists. Instead, I'm in bed clicking "like" on a Facebook meme and hoping it changes some minds. That's about all the activism I can muster some days. But it's better than not trying at all.

Yesterday, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a link to a Ted video by Andrew Solomon called Depression: The Secret We Share. Only when my neck began to cramp halfway through the video did I realize I'd been nodding my head the whole time.

Watch it here:

Here's a link to the transcript, if you care to read along. These quotes really resonate with me:

I found myself losing interest in almost everything. I didn't want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do, and I didn't know why. The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment. Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine, and instead of being thrilled to hear from my friends, I would think, "What a lot of people that is to have to call back." Or I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, but I'd have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it, and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.

Depression is so exhausting. It takes up so much of your time and energy, and silence about it, it really does make the depression worse.

So now people say, "You take these happy pills, and do you feel happy?" And I don't. But I don't feel sad about having to eat lunch, and I don't feel sad about my answering machine, and I don't feel sad about taking a shower. I feel more, in fact, I think, because I can feel sadness without nullity. I feel sad about professional disappointments, about damaged relationships, about global warming. Those are the things that I feel sad about now.

Valuing one's depression does not prevent a relapse, but it may make the prospect of relapse and even relapse itself easier to tolerate. The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It's of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again, "This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it."

My favorite of the letters that I got was the one that came from a woman who wrote and said that she had tried therapy, she had tried medication, she had tried pretty much everything, and she had found a solution and hoped I would tell the world, and that was making little things from yarn.

Making little things from yarn? That's my mom. In the Sixties, when she was involuntarily hospitalized with "a nervous breakdown" and given electroshock therapy--on two separate occasions--both times what Mom remembers most is making potholders. I wrote about it here.

Saying my mom likes crafting is like saying I like to write. Mom is a crafter as I am a writer. It's within us. We can't make it stop, the desire to create. Corner Mom for five minutes and she'll find the nearest scrap of paper and a pencil and start drawing a tadpole or a cowgirl or some sort of geometric doodle. Mom spent her early childhood sitting quietly in the doctor's office waiting room so her mother, my grandmother, could get her "nerve medicine". Mom would take a coloring book or some paper and pencils and keep herself distracted and content, surrounded by solemn misery.

Similarly, when I began writing down my troubles, I noticed they began to fade. I still feel sad when I have flashbacks of traumatic moments in my childhood, but I don't feel numb, like I want to hide away from the world under the bed covers.

"But you're so bubbly!" my friends tell me.

"You're so funny. And smart. And kind!" they say.

"You have such a wonderful husband and adorable child. You should feel so grateful for your life," they remind me.

And I do. That's why I know I have the illness called major depressive disorder because I do feel grateful for all the blessings in my life, and I feel like crap despite it all.

Not every day. My moods wax and wane. I've been especially down for this last week after hearing about the suicide of Robin Williams. It feels silly to feel so sad over the death of a celebrity. Someone I never met in person. Someone who concealed the suffering and pain he felt from his friends and loved ones, let alone me, just a fan of his work. "The Fisher King" is one of my all-time favorite movies.

But it's not silly to feel sad over a famous artist's death. I've been asking myself this past week, why does his death bother you so much? And I realize. And then I'm ashamed because it's so selfish. I realize it's all about me. I'm upset over his death because now I know there's no hope for my own personal cure. If Robin Williams, someone adored by so many people throughout the world, if someone so gifted and admired can succumb to the agony of depression, what hope is there for the likes of me? An unpublished novelist, undisciplined blogger, and part-time slinger of books, hiding in my safe little suburban neighborhood, with a lovely home and family, but also someone who many more days than I'd like to admit hides away from the rest of the world because I just can't put on my happy face.

Where did I learn to not tell the truth about how I feel?

Don't tell. You don't want to hurt Mom, do you?

That's what my brother said when he and his friend sexually abused me when I was a preschooler. Don't tell anyone or it would hurt Mom so much she'd have to go back to the hospital. I tried so hard not to make Mommy upset. I wanted her to be happy. Making Mommy happy made me happy. Such simplicity.

I grew up thinking I had to hide my pain and suffering. Smile. Be funny. Make everyone else feel comfortable. Keep my hurt to myself.

It's exhausting.

My first reaction to Robin William's suicide was to think, how could someone so funny be so depressed? Then I thought of all the times I've been called bubbly, and funny, and comforting. "You make people feel so good about themselves," my friends say to me. Of course I understand how he must have felt.

For far too many years as a child, a teen, a young woman, I focused on pleasing others. One of the greatest things about living a long life is you eventually learn to feel comfortable in your own skin. To live life by your rules. I've learned to tell my secrets, share my sad stories, focus on myself and my needs.

A big part of that comes from being honest with people about why I have to cancel plans, why I can't make it out of the house for the day. I got to practice last week. I was supposed to bring a cake to the Gay Christian Fellowship at my church. I couldn't even make it to the grocery store, I felt so stuck in my misery.

My knee-jerk reaction was to email Marvin and give him some sort of fake excuse.

I have a migraine.

My allergies are dragging me down.

I didn't sleep last night because of this cold and I'm just too tired.

But I'm tired of lying. I'm tired of pretending. Coming out of the closet as a person with mental illness who has her good days and her bad days is the best thing I've ever done for my mental health.

I sent Marvin an honest excuse:

I have post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, which zaps my energy from time to time. Unfortunately tonight is one of those times. I regret it so. I wanted to bake you a birthday cake, but I don't even have the energy to go to the store. I hope you understand.

And guess how he responded?

I love you.


I understand.

How freeing it feels to be honest about my shortcomings and to know I'm still loved and understood.

So now, when I think of Robin William's suicide, I still feel sad about it. I wish he could have found a way to hang on. But I'm also oddly grateful for the way his amazing sacrifice has taught me that fame will never lift me from the abyss. No matter how much the world loves me, it's how I feel about myself that matters most.