Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Category

Fear as the Dark Mother of Moving

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Yes, I am moving to Texas – the land of big hair and blue eyeshadow. I know, I know. But it’s my fear after spending ten of my formative years in Alabama feeling under made-up and under poufy-haired.

I keep thinking about fear, fear of moving, fear of my friends forgetting me, fear of loneliness from a general incompetence in making new friends, fear of the heat in Texas, fear that I am throwing out something important. The list goes on and on.

So, I went for a walk last night around Five Points late in the evening when the scraggly trees blend with the night sky. Total patches of the earth are black and vision-proof. I kept wandering the streets, shuffling my way along pavements occasionally stubbing a toe or tripping, bouncing off tree branches, feeling the spiders from said branches land in my hair, and working my way into a panic attack.

Like most Scots, when I’m worried, I walk and walk for a while, late at night, regulating my breath so the fear coalesces, snaking back into the dark edges to lay in waiting for the next time that it can grab me.

I can’t remember ever being freaked out about walking at night. I’ve walked this area for almost 20 years. I’ve survived the night of Dropping Spiders (one April evening I found three had dropped down crowning me with 24 legs – still makes me shiver). I have listened to the trains go past with the chug-a-lug sound, never changing in these two decades, and wondered about where I was going in life. I’ve sat on the swings in the park, surrounded by the toys of happily innocent kids and speculated if the wisdom gained is worth the innocence lost. In the dark, I have admitted my failures, where I’ve been mean or thoughtless, ignored then stared in the face my aging with the creeping vista of finitude, death. I’ve cursed and cried, laughed and said “I love you” where no one can hear me.

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I’ve met Kali, the dark mother, twice in one weekend walking these streets. During yoga teacher training, I walked my beagle-dachshund mix, PooPet, at 11:30 one Friday night. My doggie loved the darks holes, where the light had disappeared with the dipping sun and would scamper into places that looked fit for Moray Eels or Jack the Ripper. Nothing stopped her thirty pounds of courageous canine, but that night, we tromped along, meandering an uneven sidewalk when a silhouette stepped into the road. In a long robe, features obliterated, with a croak she whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” I remember opening my eyes wide, struggling to remain upright as PooPet jerked the chain to run behind my legs. When I gained my balance, the street was dark, leaves slithered in the breeze, and we were alone in the darkness. I didn’t think too much of it beyond, “Holy moly, we have weird ass people in this neighborhood.” But then the next night, walking the dog, another woman stepped into the light in the middle of the road. Even backlit I could tell that she was not the same woman. She lifted her arms toward the trees, and PooPet let out a bark that morphed into a whimper. The air stopped moving. I couldn’t breathe. Now I was seriously freaked out. PooPet was still, and for a moment, I could feel my blood move through my body, like I was being watered from the inside.

This Kali was formal, “There is no need to be frightened.” I think I said, “Uh, yeah, Okay.” At that point I was scared as fuck, running down that road to the safety of my townhouse. It didn’t stop me from returning to the training class the next day, but I was really, really, very alert between yoga poses.

Maybe that’s the way this is supposed to be. I am aware, actually frightened, that things could go wrong in a big way. But. I’m still going to move to Texas. My friends, come along for the ride but hold on. This will shake us up! Anyone up for a walk?

Om Kali Ma

 

Back Pain, Sex Books, and Responsibility

blog54         I did something bad, really painful to my back yesterday in yoga class. The muscles in my lower back seized tight like I had been digging graves or planting bulbs, you pick, for a few days. By 5 pm, I could barely sit at my desk, but walking helped, so I enlisted a friend, and we walked around Barnes & Noble bookstore for a good hour.

Giggling, I walked around the store, limping the gauntlet of back pain, circling literary fiction, then teen picks, over to poetry, and past the enormous display of 50 Shades of Mediocre Writing, More Mediocrity, and finally, The End of Mediocrity (until the author does some actual research into consensual sexuality versus stalking and rape). My friend was standing in the sex section.

You know.

The section of the bookstore that we want to peruse. But are frightened or plain embarrassed to be seen having interest, prurient interest in a topic that has been part of the NC legislature’s tussle over the last year.

Grow up folks; even the pearl-wearing and the seersucker-suited government is talking about sexual issues.

My friend looked pretty comfortable. We picked out books by their cover to be disappointed with the lack of pictures and the downright clinical tone of the books. When did sex become so dull? Well, I am living in NC, and it is a national chain of bookstores.

It wasn’t always that way. Ten years ago I took a similar jaunt to B&N to pick up some books for clients (counseling knows no shame thankfully). It was the middle of an afternoon in the middle of the week. I walked over to the shelves marked SEXUALITY, pulled a few books, tucked my skirt under me, and sat down with the books on the floor.

Within a ten minutes, a few people had walked by, walked by again, and then walked up to me.

“What you looking at?” asked a man.

“Books,” I said.

“Books about what?”

“Books about sex.”

“Oh.”

A few people skittered away. Fast feet and heads down. A few souls stayed.

“What do you think about this book?”

They sat down on the floor blocking the aisle. We started comparing covers. Yes, the cover of a book is crucial. (I like the hot pink and yellow book titled, ‘Hot Sex: How to do it.’)

In thirty minutes, we were a circle of people, different genders, different ages, different skin colors. And we were having a thoughtful conversation about what we look for in a sex book. Pictures, some humor, explicit information and directions, more humor, and permission to explore this important part of our lives.

“It’s great Barnes & Nobel has employees like you,” a woman said.

“Yeah, I’ve never felt so comfortable talking about sex.”

“Um, I don’t work here,” I said.

“Well, you should.”

“Who are you then?”

“Just a reader like you. Interested in sex.”

We unashamedly laughed, giggled, and snorted. Under the bright lights of the bookstore, we talked about the meaning of sex in our lives, how we wanted books that reflected that interest and employees that were knowledgeable and unafraid.

So what has happened in the last ten years? How did we end up with HB2? Why are we mute as our reproductive rights are being legislated away and programs are being defunded? We do not blink an eye as art, in its different forms, is rigidly censored. Art, the conscience of the culture, meant to confuse and inform and disturb us but we settle for sofa art – some image asking nothing of us.

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I think we are fucked, and not in a good way. What are you going to do about this?

Trumpatized – Canada Is Not The Answer

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I have been finding snatches of time in the day to cry since the election. A friend called it being Trumpatized. A great term combining Trump and traumatized, the cause of the trauma and the condition it is triggering. My reaction, disbelief and grief and anger over the election, has to find little crevasses in the day. Last Wednesday, I cried through Kathleen’s yoga class. I am pretty sure I was not alone. I cry between sessions and in sessions with some of my clients as they tell how they have been triggered back to memories of traumatic events from their past.

Right or wrong, whether you voted for him or not, Trump has reawakened many people’s past memories, snakes of violence jerked out of hibernation., and caused people to wonder about the moral development of the country. I can’t answer these questions.

I can give you some ideas for comfort through this time –

  • Get enough sleep – not too much and not too little. Your neurotransmitter level will thank you.
  • Eat warm and easy-to-digest foods – carbohydrates are helpful, soups, stews, chilis, tea.
  • Stay away from too much caffeine – it will further agitate you.
  • Keep your alcohol level to a minimum – flashbacks and memories seep in when guards are down and alcohol lowers the brain’s guardrails.
  • Be active – it will help you keep things in balance, regulate your nervous system, and get you out of your house (where I am likely to brood …)
  • Dress warm – it will calm your body so it doesn’t feel under siege.
  • Respect other people’s property – march and protest but this is not a time to riot nor recreate Kristallnacht.
  • Cry, find places and people who can accept your response.
  • If you can’t get out of bed or still feel numb, see a therapist. It’s okay to get some help.
  • Try not to re-Trumpatize yourself with on-going news shows and articles.
  • Turn off your blue screens one hour before bedtime to give your brain a chance to settle down. This decreases the frequency of nightmares and allows for more restful sleep.

(Holiday meals are not the time to bring up your differences. Everyone has someone dear to them who voted in a way opposite to you. Don’t spoil this time.)

Here’s the kicker – you need to do something. As I see it, we have three options –

  • Do nothing – that will keep you at war with yourself – only so many ostriches tolerated in this world.
  • Work to promote your beliefs – join a group, start a group, volunteer for a group.
  • Accept the results with grace – promote coming together with as calm a presence as you can.

You can do one or some combination of the three. But do something – the first option leads to feeling impotent which leads to violence against yourself and others. (Oh, and please don’t move to Canada.)

The choice is yours.

 

Boys to Men

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“Boys will be boys.” This primitive rationalization is reactivating long stored, sometimes barely remembered wounds in women and men.

When I was a teenager, my family didn’t have much money. Mom was a single parent to three expensive kids. As a teenager, I wasn’t very forgiving nor understanding of my mother’s struggles to keep me in clothes, clothes that my friends were wearing, and clothes for special events. So when I had an opportunity to go to a winter formal fraternity, I wanted a new dress. I had applied to this university; in my mind, it was important to make a good impression. So I pestered Mom.

She bought a dress for me. It was soft gray with a slight Japanese-flavored print of a bird on a limb floating across the long skirt. The top was gathered into a modest vee-neck. Why do I feel the need to defend the neckline? I have a vague memory of standing before Mom, twirling around with my hands spread. Both of us were smiling. I felt beautiful in the dress. The dress was carefully packed and I tootled off with friends to the university. The car ride moved along highways flanked with bare trees but nothing dampened my excitement.

Saturday night, I put on the dress and went with my assigned escort to the winter formal. My long hair was pulled up to show off another gift from my mother, a pair of dangling pearl earrings from my namesake aunt Trudi. The night was cool and I draped a swirl of ruffled material around my shoulders.

This is where the memories become strobe-like. I remember drinking with my escort. He seemed nice and quite gentlemanly. We danced – I loved to dance and he was willing to have fun. We laughed at nothing in particular. When the formal party was finishing, he said he would take me back to the dorm where I was staying with my friends but did I want to stop by an after-party? Sure. We walked into the frat house. The room was silent but filled with a group of boys, men from eighteen to their early twenties. I watched my date look at a man a few years older than him sitting in a chair. I had an urge to throw up. I remember feeling so small in my long party dress. My escort turned to me, reached to touch me, and I punched him. He went down and stayed down.

(The summer before, an older friend taught me how to lift weights and how to throw a punch. I will always thank him for those lessons. I wonder if he knew.)

Trying not to wretch, I looked at each boy, young man in turn. “Anyone else want to try this?” I asked. The boy, young man in the chair got up and left. The others followed him. To this day, I have no idea how I had the strength to do this.

Somewhat drunk on alcohol and high on adrenaline, I ran back to my dorm. My beautiful dress and my aunt’s earrings stuck to my body with sweat, I banged on the doors to have someone let me in. I don’t remember who let me in.

Before getting in the backseat for the drive home on that Sunday, I told a friend what had happened. He asked, “Are you sure? He seems like such a nice guy.” Continuing to stare at him, he said, “Boys will be boys.”

I didn’t say another word for the six-hour drive home. Grabbing my bag, I burst into my home, dropped my bag by the stairs, and looked for my Mom. I was proud of myself, terrified of what I had escaped, and confused by my friend’s response. I have a distinct memory of saying, “Mom, I punched a guy. Knocked him out.” Mom looked at me with her mouth open as I demonstrated my fighting stance.

“What are you doing?”

With that question, I picked up my bag and stumbled up the stairs to my room. Unpacking, I threw the dress in the corner.

At school on Monday, I kept my mouth shut afraid if I opened it that I would start screaming or throw up. After school but before anyone else got home, I took a pair of scissors to the dress. I sliced it into pieces so small that no one could have told what it had been. I ripped apart every seam. I shredded every bird. It took hours. The room was dark when I finished. The earrings were locked in my jewelry box.

A couple of years later, the disbelieving friend asked me out. The memory of that dress flooded in and I stood him up. I’m not proud of my behavior. I wish I had told him why I couldn’t go out with him.

“Boys will be boys.” No. This statement infantilizes males. This statement scares women into evasion and collusion. For thirty years, I have been a therapist helping people heal horrific experiences. Then things, people, events occur reactivating the traumas. The 2016 political campaigns have opened old wounds, wounds that we thought had healed. Wounds like mine.

Not A Trivial Pursuit

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I cried three weeks ago. It was the anniversary of my wedding to Rod and it has taken me three weeks to get up the courage to write about it. It’s been twenty years since he died and I thought it wouldn’t sadden me to write about it. But I was wrong. It is bittersweet.

I was terrified of getting married again. My first, starter, marriage had been a disaster on about every level. Coming out of it left me stranded in a town I disliked, with no money, in the middle of graduate school, and deeply scared of men. Most men. (My first husband has deeper issues, he told people I had died.)

Luckily Rod was not most men. He was a gentle giant who would call me on my shit and own up to his own pile of crap. We were very good at living together. So good I managed to avoid thinking too much about the future.

When the topic of marriage first came up – pretty early on he brought it up – I refused to marry him until he was twenty-five. “Your brain changes so much between now and 25. No way.” I was a tad older. Rod kept bringing up the subject. I would say, “No, no, no. You’re not twenty-five.” And I would throw him a bone – get another dog, wax the floors (really, no euphemism here), scrape paint off the old house we lived in with a heat gun at one in the morning. Our neighbors thought we were weird but … it worked for us. Our friends thought we were weird. We just smiled at them and carried on living our lives. Rod worked in a corporate setting and kept the pack of dogs we had accumulated. I finished my graduate degrees while doing some esoteric artwork on tubs, walls, and fireplaces.

 

All around us friends and colleagues were getting married. We went to the weddings, toasted them, got toasted, and went home to our lovely coupleness. I was happy.

I thought all was well until the night we were sitting at a bar drinking tequila and dark beer. We were in the middle of a highly competitive game of Trivial Pursuit when he pulled the plug.

“Do you want to get married or go to Greece?”

I downed a shot of tequila. “Greece,” I said wracking my brain for a song lyric.

“I’m twenty-five in three months and I want to get married.” He said the words slowly. The noise in the bar receded until I could hear the sounds of my ass shifting on the stool.

I knew I wasn’t ready. “Can we do both?”

I heard Rod put down his beer. “No.” His fingers drummed the varnished wood.

I looked up from worrying about my next piece on the game board. “Why not?”

“We don’t have the money for both.”

Looking into his eyes, I saw how much was riding on my answer. I had a weird realization of ‘this is it. He will leave me if I don’t ante up.’ I gulped. My brain flooded with panic. The thought, ‘I have time,’ barreled into my love for this man. My moment of truth with myself and him. Did I love this man more than my fear? That sounds so clichéd.

“Okay.” The thought of losing him was more frightening than the thought of facing my commitment fears.

 

That’s how we came to be engaged.

In my counseling office, people tell stories of their romantic lives; how they met each other, their shining moments, and the times they howl with wounds inflicted by the relationship. Coupling is never easy, and people want easy relationships. Immediately. I commiserate then I push the lesson.

I learned two important things during the night of the engagement. First off, a good relationship is full of pain from growth. Relationships are lovely in some moments and terrifying in other moments. Second, you are never really ready. But I would not have missed or changed our relationship for the world.

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