A Brief Update

I’ve been absent from writing here for a few months. At first, I was overwhelmed with work and then, more recently, I’ve felt stuck every time I try to write. I know how healing this process has been in the past for me, so I want to at least post here and there even it is to say that I don’t know what to say.

I am struggling on a daily basis with feelings of judgment. I feel so angry at others for not doing their part in facing what we are dealing with as a country and as part of the human race. My rage shields me from the helplessness of the moment in which we are living (at least in the U.S.). I cannot control so much of the systems that are failing the most vulnerable at every turn.

I’m someone who can’t shut off from reality for very long because I fear losing myself back into a state of denial as I did in regards to the abuse I endured as a child. Oppression and the genocide of indifference sit with me. I feel called to hold vigil for all whom we are losing and who have been lost. I want to hold space for the collective suffering that is upon us. Only then will my rage be transformed into whatever grace finds me.

Failures in Empathy

I am feeling angry today and I don’t know what to do with my anger. First, I’ve struggled for years to empathize and relate to people in the Boomer generation. Both of my parents fit into this generation so it was always destined to be the one I would have the hardest time with, but seeing multiple neighbors and community members playing games with social distancing by forming what look like extended tailgates is setting me over the edge. We shut down our entire society in large part to protect this generation, and the “thanks” I am witnessing in return is an adolescent belief of invincibility. I cannot muster a lot of grace for someone who purposefully puts themselves in danger when they would seem to be at a place where they should have had enough life experience to know better.

To top it off, I took my dog to the park and finally found a large open space where we could walk without any chance (or so I thought) of running into another person. Right as we were making our way between reservoir areas, this absolute f*ckhead got out of his car and starting hitting golf balls in our direction of travel, effectively blocking off a vast area of land from us. The park was most definitely not a golf course. I had a lot of nasty thoughts go through my head because it seemed intentionally sadistic–“hey, here’s this person trying to enjoy a walk, let me ruin it!” He got in his car and drove away after I’d walked quite a distance across the parking lot in the other direction.

I am someone who wishes bad things on those who are intentionally cruel. I want them to suffer. On an intellectual level, I know that this is where grace is supposed to enter the picture, I’m supposed to think of the times I’ve been mean on purpose and therefore empathize with that sentiment. I can think of a few, but I generally try to lighten other people’s load in life, not to add to it. I make many mistakes and react with impatience, but I do not go out of my way to mess with someone trying to, for example, enjoy their day. I want justice for those who are victimized by the sadism of the powerful; I would go further and say I lust for it.

But, stepping back, I know my desires are too concrete and too rigid. They lack the nuance of awareness of the interwoven systems within our society. For example, idiotic leaders who tell their acolytes that social distancing is impinging on their “freedom” to get sick and die in service to America’s “economy” (aka the rich and powerful) are in part to blame for the poor decisions of some Boomers to treat the shelter-in-place as a joke. The idea that the thinly-veiled threat of violence cis white men can hold towards people like me who are queer (as well as those who are PoC, poor and so forth) is not limited to one human specimen who decided his “recreation” included obstructing my freedom of movement, but is embedded in the patriarchal, heterosexist white supremacy inherent in American society. I can acknowledge those truths intellectually, but I still wanted respond aggressively to the flaunting of privilege and ignorance I witnessed. Once I calm myself after episodes like this, it usually leads me to redouble my efforts at constructive change, but, if I’m being totally honest, I do truly savor the schadenfreude that results when the powerful get what’s coming to them.

Emotional Self-Acceptance (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For as much of my life as I can remember, I’ve existed in states of flight, fight and freeze. I feel anger and anxiety more often than not. At times, I become so overwhelmed I go numb, losing my connection to my body and to the present. I crash from these fragile states into deep ponds of depression. Coming to terms with who I am emotionally, then, has not been easy.

One of the ways in which I’ve grown more comfortable with myself emotionally is that I’ve learned it is possible to have positive emotional experiences alongside the negative. Happy and sad emotions are processed, to an extent, in different places in the brain, so the experience of one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other out. Activities such as my Daily Writing have helped me to bring a little joy into my life amidst the sea of negativity in which I find myself floating.

In addition to having moments of feeling upbeat, I have also benefited from a fuller capacity (after much therapy) to give voice to not only the situations that cause me distress, but also to what I feel moment-by-moment when I am upset. Being with my body, even when it doesn’t feel good, has lessened my dissociation and helped me to feel slightly more confident in approaching stressors. There is a sense of “this will be over soon” that comes to me at times, rather than the timeless horror my trauma-brain foresees.

Finally, I think aging itself has enabled me to see my track record more clearly. No matter how impossible, how helpless and hopeless I feel, I muddle my way through things. I do not give up immediately when difficulties arise and I also recognize when something is intolerable and must be resisted or released. I do not trust life to be kind or easy, but I do trust myself to find a way to respond to it. What is the nature of your emotional life? What have you learned about yourself and how have you grown emotionally?

After the Fire (In the Cards)

Today’s In an Open Hand card draw was the Dampen card. This card centers on releasing anger and noticing where it might be transforming into grief. Specifically, the card invites a consideration of accepting disappointments.

My experience of anger in relation to issues that affect people other than solely myself tends to be in reaction to injustice, for example, in considering issues that relate to a societal level of unfairness and inequality. I often cycle in and out of rage, uncertain as to whether my energy is best spent fighting to right a wrong or in uplifting those who are working to create equity. There is likely a place for both experiences that I hope to reach.

My personal rage is of the same thread, but is harder for me to channel into a productive series of actions. When someone harms or disappoints me, I notice my contribution to the issue and then feel stuck as to whether or not it is fair to blame the other person for their role in the situation. I tend to withdraw from the person who let me down as a way to manage my emotions, because my experiences of directly confronting those who have hurt me very rarely leads to genuine contrition and a sense of my needs being cared about. There is no forgiveness possible when the other person refuses to own their actions. My anger, then, seems futile, and my disappointment invalid.

One query the Dampen card poses is about what needs to burn out on its own. This is the only path through my personal anger that I’ve found–to simply allow time to pass and my attention to drift so that, eventually, the slights I’ve endured feel less intense. New growth will replace the old, charred heartwood of connection that was destroyed through hurtful actions. The ashes, though, feel like they accumulate in the low-lying areas, creating a landscape with divots of barren in my heart. Each flame-up of anger takes more than it leaves and each re-growth is more sparse than the one that preceded it. It is the area in which I feel most helpless and hopeless as a trauma survivor. “Try again!” is weak courage when I know how high the risk of conflagration runs. How do you handle your anger and disappointment? What keeps you seeking connection even after the failure and ruin of a close relationship?

Adventures in Perspective-Taking

If there is one skill set my system has perfected, it is to eviscerate the incompetent. Any delay, any error of a practical nature, any inconsistency, and my eye is hawk to mouse. It took a very weird trip on some strong drugs (oral surgery) to flush out the true rustle of grass from wind-shift meanderings. My conclusion is that I need to make a crucial adjustment to my perspective-taking.

The Starting Point

I am not kind to strangers. My patience is razor-thin and I show no mercy to those who do not apologize immediately for their oversights or mistakes. “Do better and do it now” is the north star of guidance for my inner compass. I’m the person for which dating sites offer warnings—the rude one who exhibits distain for those who are merely trying to provide a warm meal or bag some groceries. I justify my behavior through my own diligence and sense of duty: If I can show up and give my full effort and/or acknowledge my flaws directly, why can’t others? Does character count for nothing?

It feels like war, to go out in public and rely on other humans to get my needs met. I’m a general more concerned with arriving home, spoils intact, than anyone or anything else. I dehumanize instantly and profoundly whenever someone cannot or will not march at my break-neck pace. I’m not sure when and where others were conscripted into my army of efficiency, duty and thoroughness, nor do I think most would stay enlisted were they given the chance to leave. I have insta-rage always at the ready as my chosen weapon should anyone disappoint me.

Climbing

On my recent very long and strange trip, after getting IV sedation for oral surgery along with narcotic pain medication, I discovered a sliver of tooth in my mouth. Not from the extraction site, but from another nearby tooth. I contacted the oral surgeon, who tried to tell me my tooth sliver wasn’t a tooth sliver. Fury erupted and I vowed to never go back to him again. I ranted to my friends about his obvious incompetence. Something less than perfection and/or immediate prostrate confession of inadequacies had occurred. Unacceptable.

My mind, however, saw an opportunity in my drug-induced haziness to challenge me to examine the landscape I’ve simply scampered by every other time I’ve climbed to the pinnacle of “once again, humans suck and I’m mad” mountain. What if not everyone saw him (the oral surgeon) in the same light as I did? What if he was good at some tasks or roles, just not in relation to me? What if my experience with him, flawed through it was, was an outlier? All my life I’ve searched for the three stones I deem necessary to prove someone is an idiot (once is an accident, twice is pushing it, three times and it’s on). What if I was missing the many-hued scrub and sunset of beautiful humanness in my quest to be right and smart and less shitty than others?

A Panoramic Vantage Point

The lightbulb moment for me on my journey of perspective-taking is the realization that I have spent much of my life overgeneralizing my personal interactions with an individual into a representation of their entire being. I feel shame at the arrogance and haughtiness behind my assumptions, but I also glimpse self-protection under the crevasse. If someone treats me in a way that evokes my contempt, what is it easier to do? Respond with derision and decide that’s simply who they are as a person, or wonder about the individual and societal forces leading to the person’s actions? If someone makes repeated mistakes (like ringing up an item incorrectly), what role does my insta-rage have in leading them to additional fumbles? What if I’m missing joy and authenticity in my desire to punish others for the “unfairness” of having to wait or explain or contend with flippancy?

Descending into Complexity

Something in me recoils at the idea of tossing the small stones of poor performance to the side. They threaten to find entrance to my shoes and, though tiny, blister and boil their way back into my experience. I simply cannot consistently overlook someone failing to do the basic requirements of their job in a professional manner. I get to say “that wasn’t what I deserved.” I do much more than this, though. I throw stones. I demean and demand my path be cleared of all debris, lest I stub my precious toes.

I aim to choose now to weigh the pebbles, note their characteristics and place them down, rather than to continue to turn them into weapons. It is okay to name an encounter as disappointing or sub-par. I have to remember, though, at every turn, that what I hold in my hand only one grain of sand among millions. That I believe that my dust particle—the proof of how much someone sucks at something based on one encounter I had with them—stands a true testament to the collective amalgamation of water and blood and stone they are as an entire person behooves me. The literal grit in my teeth after my surgery represents to me the cost of chewing on and absorbing other’s failures. Why not dig out each bit, label it and then return it to the earth? Why not free up my breath and my hands and my toes and all of me to encounter beauty and connection, rather than dwell on the insignificant proofs of concept to which I am steadfast?

There are, of course, more than pebbles and grit. There are boulders of abuse and neglect that have sought to crush out my soul. Some people have done me great harm in my life and my being struggles to weigh the offense accurately, finding all injustice equally threatening. Even so, choosing to carry other’s shame and failure as my own is self-made torture. They’ve callused and wounded me, but they do not decide my path nor do I owe them gratitude for the jagged ridges they’ve carved. Those stones are relics to what was in my life, not shrines before which I must prostrate myself. The liquid of my tears erodes their surface. I am not crushed and I am not fully encumbered by what has been.

Having scoped out new land, I can walk steadily towards it without each new obstacle categorized instantly on the side of threat. I can choose, wide-open scene in mind, to counter each shard of incompetence with a reminder that the people I encounter who fail to perform to my standards are in fact dazzling kaleidoscopes, shimmering, gleaming and transforming far beyond what my minute sampling can ever afford. Where I see flaw, others see crack in stone revealing gem. I can hold my sand and proclaim their inadequacy, but I must also acknowledge the sparkle of the divine we each contain.

How do you respond to people who seem to not put in effort at what they are “supposed” to be doing? How do you balance your desire for order and performance with grace for the mistakes we all make? How do you process disappointment and failure while remaining connected to a shared sense of humanity?