Sunday, August 25, 2013

Give yourself permission to be exactly who you are!

Art © Moki!/RiversInTheOcean

"You may not be able to control what other people say or how they act, but you can always choose how you treat yourself. You can choose who you surround yourself with, and who you let go of. And no matter what your circumstances, you can choose to believe in yourself and your worth.

Because at the end of the day, trying to please everyone is exhausting and impossible. No matter how you change or who you become, there will always be someone who doesn’t approve. So instead of wasting your energy in a futile attempt to become someone that other people want you to be, give yourself permission to be exactly who you are. And know that who you are is exactly enough.

You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend, or a new acquaintance; you don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change. But if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go.

The right people will find their way into your life. These are the people who will love and accept you wholeheartedly and without conditions. These are the people who matter. Let go of the rest."

~ Daniell Koepke

I discovered this article the other day and have been chewing on it for a week or so. I can tell the ideas here must have been sinking in because I found myself thinking about boundaries and the way I haven't felt safe lately on Facebook.

Recently, whenever I go to post something on FB, I have to stop myself and then never end up posting because I know that nothing I want to write these days will be acceptable to certain family members who will read it and judge me behind my back. I used to believe in the same religion as my family, so I didn’t have to watch my back as much in the past. But even then, I had to be careful about what photos I could put up. If my shorts or jeans were too tight, or if the photo looked too revealing, it would be scrutinized by my father who has access to my page through my mom’s account. Ugggh. I have always been so sick of the way he stares at my sisters and I, looking for immodesty so he can berate us in the name of God for it. I hated it back in the day when I lived on the homestead, and I’ve always hated knowing he was doing the same to me even as an adult on FB or at family functions. I put up with it on FB, just because I figured I had to. I also had to hide or restrict my postings on FB because a lot of my friends’ comments would have been considered lewd or unseemly to my family. My family would have assumed I was the same in associating with them, and they would have been keeping tabs on me, judging me and these friends. I hated having to restrict expressing myself, but somehow thought that as an obedient Christian daughter, this is what I had to do.

The last year or so though, I’ve shed a lot of my family’s toxic religious beliefs that I had believed for many years in the past without even thinking about it. I’ve become  interested in expressing this transformation with like minded friends. At this point in my life, my biggest social outlet is FB, and I’ve rubbed shoulders with  so many beautiful, amazing people who live outside the field of wrong and right. I’ve wanted to connect with them on FB in a public way, but have held myself back because I know my family would confront and shame me for doing so.   

There is this interesting belief that my family circulates about one of my sisters and I. Since both of us became ill with chronic fatigue, PTSD and adrenal burnout, my family members whisper to each other that God is judging us with this illness because of our sins. They say that God will continue to curse us with illness until we “get right with God.” They say they are on God’s side and they won’t help us out when we need help, as long as we remain stubborn and hardened against God. As if they know what it means to be right with God! They say we will never get our careers back and never lead a successful life until we ask forgiveness, get back under submission to God, and get back into the church. As if that is ever going to happen. Basically, my family is cursing me, and I’m supposed to take this bullying as my due. I’m supposed to back down and submit if I want their judgment to stop. What they are doing is tough love, God’s tough love. Their God is a bully who will rain bad luck on me until I relent to him and repent.
Well, I am long past that stage in my life. I don’t believe in a God like that. That kind of treatment is an insult to my soul, and I brush it clear off of me. My creator and I are one, and there is nothing I could ever do “wrong” in his/her eyes. I have nothing to be afraid of. I am simply infinitely loved.
And yet, I do not feel like I have the freedom to express this to my family. I have been treated like a black sheep and denied help in the past, but my confirming their suspicions would result in some kind of subtle social punishment for me. My mom might not be allowed to visit or call me anymore, and she might not be allowed to pick me up and drive me to appointments. My family would start praying for my repentance, and they would add me to the prayer list under the category “back slidden” at their church.  Family parties would be strained and weird.  I’m not sure I want to speak my truth to them yet. I don’t know if I’m ready yet, or if they are even ready yet to hear me speak. When the time is right, I will know.

But in the meantime, one thing I do know is that I don't like hiding who I am. I am ready to start taking steps towards my freedom. The other morning I woke up and sat up in bed and felt so angry. I had barely time to wake up and already I’m angry. I’ve recently started the habit of checking in with myself, asking myself how I feel. I’ve repressed my emotions so much in the past, that I’m rusty at this. So I check in now every half hour or more often, in the hopes that this will eventually become my natural way.

As I sat there, I felt myself saying, “I’m angry.”  So I asked myself, “Why are you angry?” And I heard myself say, “I’m angry because I am repressed. Here I sit in my own bed, in my own home, with my own comfortable blankets wrapped around me, and I feel unsafe like I can’t even express myself on my own Facebook Page. I am done with feeling like I have no voice!”

So in the next few days, I de-friended my family members, and instantly I felt lighter. I wrote about what happened on FB, and my online friends were so supportive. I love them all! Their spirits shine true in a way that I don’t pick up on with my family. I’m starting to see other areas in my life where I am still repressed. I can’t define yet what these areas are, as they are foggy. I think I have been so used to not having boundaries, that unhealthy boundaries still seem slightly normal to me. However, I have gotten a taste of freedom, and I want more.





Friday, August 23, 2013

The neighbor waved

Fall is arriving in my small town... this is a tree I see when I go on walks.
October 8, 2012

I was taking a walk this morning, and was enjoying how warm and toasty the sun felt on my shirt despite the cool temperatures. I was coming to a turn in the road where I live, when a truck slowly inched into view. A man waved for me to cross the street before he went ahead, but I made a hand motion showing I wasn't crossing the street, I was just turning onto the road he was on. I smiled because it would have taken him less than a second to drive through that intersection, when it would have taken me two and a half minutes or more at the speed I was moving. Suddenly I felt special, like someone thought I was worth two and a half minutes or more of their time. The guy smiled and waved again as he drove away, and I recognized him as a neighbor. I kept walking on, but felt like I had been hit with an epiphany. Which is: "People out in the world are nice." I was walking on air the rest of the walk home. I kept thinking, "I can make it in the world. People out there are nice. They aren't cruel and against me after all."

It has felt like the world has been against me for the last few years. When I got sick and had to give up my career and my apartment three years ago, I didn't know that I was also giving up my independence and all of the things that I loved most. It was a big adjustment. It has taken awhile to get used to no longer hopping in a car to go places anytime I want to. My health isn't good enough for me to be driving yet and it isn't safe for me to be behind the wheel of a car. When I lived in NYC, I could walk anywhere, but I'm in a small town now, so I can't walk to convenience stores or public places.

I have to admit, it's been tough being tucked away from the world like this year in, year out. It's been several years now where I've not gone out to the grocery store, mall, parties, other people's houses, to a work place, to a gas station, to anywhere except my backyard. My backyard is a wonderful place, don’t get me wrong! I see so much more in nature and in details now that I didn’t see before and now appreciate. But I think I forget what real people are like. There aren’t any people in my backyard. I forget what my old life was like. It's kind of like I am living in someone else's story, in some remote world far from the world I used to live in. It's odd, to be sure. People don't tell you what happens when you get sick. They don't talk about these things. They don't talk about how difficult it is to accept this different world.

People don’t tell you that when you get sick, the scaffold of your life just might fall out from under you. Why would they tell you this, though? It’s an unthinkable possibility. But all those threads woven so tightly underneath your feet, all those supports that you’ve unthinkably assumed would always be there for you if you fell might suddenly unravel at a moments’ notice.  I guess I was oblivious in thinking that of course I had a scaffold. Naive. Head in the clouds. Thinking more positively than I possibly should have been. I guess I couldn’t have imagined that so many organizations, groups and people who I thought would support me... could just bottom out all at once and let me fall suddenly through the cracks. For example, once I became so ill that I couldn’t work anymore, my health insurance gave out, and then I got denied coverage due to a pre-existing health condition. So you lose your coverage because you are sick, but you are denied future coverage because you are sick. The healthcare system here in the US currently sucks, so this wasn’t a surprise to me. I knew that the condition I had doesn't qualify for disability benefits. Again, not a surprise. The doctors I went to for years on end eventually also had no answers for me. This was upsetting for me, but it wasn’t the end of the world. What was most surprising to me is that suddenly my closest supports started faltering. First my coworkers and friends disappeared, and then somehow my family and the church started acting shifty.

I think that at first, the hardest thing for me about getting sick was falling out of the old social network into this stretch of isolation. Nobody I knew pre-illness keeps in touch with me anymore. To be honest, I didn't really have close friends back then since I was a private person, but it was nice having coworkers while I was working. I got my taste of social interaction by going to work. Now that I’m not strong enough to work or invite people over, I resort to making friends online. These friends are mostly sick, so they don’t have the juice to interact much. Which is understandable. At times I get mad at my ex-coworkers and friends because they don't try to keep in touch with me. But then I realize that they are busy with their own lives and have long forgotten me as the coworker who rarely talked with them and kept to herself. It's not their fault, or mine, or anyone's fault. It's just how it is. But that doesn't make it easy. Even though I enjoy my alone time out in nature or holed up with a book more than most people, these long stretches of complete isolation aren't something I enjoy.

I guess one thing that surprised me most about getting sick was the way different churches and ministries treated me. I was shocked, honestly. Back in the day, ever since I can remember, I fit so well into the church scene. I was saved and meant it, was baptized, was an excellent teacher, a peaceful law abiding person, going to church, volunteering to teach Sunday school, tithing, helping others.  I was in that bubble, part of the group. I didn’t think I’d ever be the one outside the bubble, pressing my hands and face against the wall trying to get in. And yet, when I got sick, each ministry and church I tried to get in contact with refused to get back in touch with me. This was heart breaking. I was too sick to leave the house for a few years and not one ministry or church returned my calls or emails to come visit me or talk on the phone. They treated me like a leper. A few of them told me I had unconfessed sin in my life, and demonic spirits that needed to be exorcized. I got myself exorcized, did a ton of self examination and confession. One pastor told me that based on my exhaustive list of symptoms, I must have done an enormous amount of sinning, more than any one person could reasonably rack up. He told me I needed to study the Scriptures and repent more. So I studied voraciously for the next couple years and got nowhere except sicker. I checked back in with the pastor and he basically told me he was done with me, there was nothing more he could do. And at this point, the other ministries still wouldn’t speak with me. It was confusing to me how of all organizations, the church could turn its back on me. I wasn't even asking for much. I wasn't asking for money, or anything. I just wanted a kind word, a sympathetic ear. But no. None of that did I get. I was told that everything that was happening to me was my fault, and there wasn’t a drop of compassion to be shared with me. It did make me angry, but I was so unwell that I didn't have the energy to stoke my feisty side and make a scene. Over time, I became disgusted at their response, and eventually gave up even trying to contact them.

So how the church treated me was interesting, to say the least. I would have never expected that. But the thing that they really don't tell you when you get sick is.... your own family might turn on you. My family has never been the type to call or stop by, and although I thought that my being ill would change that, it hasn't. It's like my family just keeps going on in their normal daily lives, while their sister/daughter is in a crisis. I tell them all the time I'm lonely and would love company, but it just goes over their head. I think they think they'll catch the illness from me, or something. But I never thought they would push me away. Not in my wildest dreams. And yet, how does the saying go, "When tragedy strikes, you will see the true colors of those that say they care about you."

I started noticing subtle signs that things weren't as loving as I'd imagined they'd be soon after getting sick. My parents couldn't drive up to help me move from NYC to PA, and they knew nobody who could help me either. They grumbled and complained if I asked them to drive me to get groceries. They went out of their way to judge me behind my back and whisper that I wouldn't ever get better and get my career back until I "got right with God." After a few years, I went through a period of time where I was very sick, unable to shower, cook for myself or care for myself. I thought I was dying. I asked my parents if I could move in with them, and they told me no. They told me I would be a nuisance, an intrusion to their privacy. I was told to check into hospice care, and no I shouldn't expect them to give me a ride. I didn't have a place to go after that, so I became very confused and sad. Let me tell you, I was completely shocked. I always guessed based on my family's treatment of me that I wasn't really that loved, but I never thought when it came down to the wire, my family wouldn't have my back. I was so unwell that I couldn't think straight, and was very scared to be alone. I thought I dreamed it up, it seemed so unreal. And I didn't have a network of others to tell, to check in with to see if what was happening was really happening. I don't think that what happened was right, but to this day no one mentions it, no one is sorry about it, and no one hears me if I try to bring it up. But, back to the story.

I kept asking myself, what did I do to deserve this? What could I have done to have prevented this? And I realize I didn't do anything to deserve this, except agreeing to get born into this world. The only way I could have prevented this was perhaps having some real friends as a support. But if I knew how to make friends, I would have gone about that business real cheery like a long ago. But my dad beat us as children for making friends, so the neurons that normally connect as a child when you learn to make friends got severed back then, and no matter how old I was, I always felt like a large presence was going to beat me if I got caught smiling at another human. So I get the feeling that I couldn’t have created a better, stronger safety net. I couldn’t have known.  And yet, I get the feeling this isn't how life is supposed to work. This is not how I imagined life to be like. The only thing that happened was I got sick and couldn't care for myself, and all of a sudden people run from me willy nilly, like I have something contagious they don't want to get. Like they don't want tragedy to rub off from me to them.

Is that how life works? At the moment you are no longer contributing to society anymore and have to ask for favors, you are on the outs list? I just can’t believe that something as simple as getting sick for several years on end could make people drop their love and care for me. Had they never loved and cared for me in the first place? Was I just simply that unlovable, and nobody had ever bothered to tell me? Or I just never realized it before? It was so difficult for me to wrap my head around believing that my family never really loved me. I resisted this, because it meant that I was by default unlovable. But I didn't know the truth then. I hadn't yet experientially realized that my value as a human being didn't depend on what those closest to me said or did. I had not learned this before, and didn't know it then. I was in a dark place.

But that morning when the neighbor waved for me to walk by, I felt loved. I felt like maybe the world wasn't against me after all. I wished that man was my father. I wished that I could re-experience all over again the breaking apart and shattering of my world, but this time with the knowledge that my parents would have my back after all. When your world falls apart, the last thing you'd want to fall away is the safety net of your family. Guess what? I had no safety net. I went into free fall, and got stuck there in that vortex. Spinning there, dizzy, but whoosh.... out of  the corner of my eye, the neighbor smiles and waves, and waits for me to cross the road. Love. There are good people out there. The whole world is not out to get me after all.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Thank you, Dad


Thank you for showing me who I am not.

Age five
You beat me with a rod because I laughed when my baby brother shot peas out of his mouth and laughed. My baby brother wasn't obeying you when told to eat neatly, and you said he was old enough to have the devil beat out of him. You said the next one who laughed when my baby brother spit peas onto his high chair would get the rod. The next one was me. So you beat me with a wooden rod.

You pushed me out of anger. I was too shy to dance, but my sister was dancing and being foolish, and you praised her. I got up the courage to do a twirl or two, and you got angry because I was obstructing your view of her. You pushed me out of anger, and I fell, cutting myself and bleeding. You promised me a sticker to make up for pushing me, but when we got to the farmer's market with the stickers, you forgot. I reminded you, but you hushed me down so my other brothers and sisters wouldn't hear about the transaction. You got me a 2 cent sticker the size of my pinkie, but I wasn't able to say I didn't like it because I was afraid of you, that you would hit me again for speaking up.

When I was 5, I crashed my tricycle off of a sidewalk onto a concrete slab several feet below. The handle bars swung around and hit me on the condyle of my jaw, knocking it out of alignment, and causing intense migraine. I laid there for hours, crying and thinking I was dying, too afraid to move. Finally I limped inside and my mom comforted me, but then you found us. I was in my sisters crib drinking out of a sippie cup eating a Ritz cracker. You lost your temper when you saw me. You started roaring and yelling at me. I felt the intensity of your anger like flames sinjing me. You ordered me out of the room, out of your sight. You told me never to make my mom baby me again, and to never get in my sister's crib again. I felt disgusting, like I didn't deserve to live. I thought you wished I had died out there on the pavement, and that you were mad that someone as disgusting as me had lived and dared to show my face afterwards. I was afraid of you from then on. I've had daily migraines, jaw pain and scoliosis since then. You never sent me to a doctor, and shot me dirty looks when I was a teenager and suggested we go get it checked. You told me it was God's will for that to happen, and that if I spoke up again, you'd put me in my place and make me wish I'd never opened my mouth.

Dad, I had my first panic attacks when I heard your footsteps thundering up the stairs when you came home from work. I was 5 years old, and I would stop breathing. I would make sure my hair was perfectly straight and my toys were perfectly in line so you wouldn't yell at me.
Dad, you taught me that I am worthless. You taught me that my emotions are worthless. You taught me that speaking up was pointless, and you didn't ever want to hear my point of view. Dad, you roared at me in anger the few times I attempted to speak up when I was in the same room as you. Dad, I was afraid of you and still am. I couldn't meet your eyes back then and still can't.
Dad, you took us to church three times a week and we sang about God's love, salvation, the joy of the Christian walk. We sat eight in a row in the pew, all the arrows in your quiver lined up so quiet and well behaved, the perfect family. We were shaking in our boots, afraid of you. You abused us emotionally, psychologically, physically and sexually. Some of us starved, while you locked food up in ammunition boxes in the fridge. Why did you do that? You denied us medical treatment. You had the money, but you spent it on expensive toys for yourself. Why did you do that? You made us girls feel sexually dirty. Why did you do that? You picked me out as your special target. You hated me most, Dad. I asked you why on the phone last year, do you remember? You told me that I reminded me of yourself the most, and that's why you disliked me most. You said it matter of factly, as if that was all there was to it. I don't know, Dad. I kind of think that if I had a child who reminded me of myself more than my other children, I'd be tempted to love that child the most, if anything.
Dad, you taught me that God is angry, vindictive and cruel. You taught me that God doesn't care about my emotions, and that he thinks I'm worthless too, aside from the mass salvation he provides to those who fear him enough to accept it.

Dad, you taught me hate myself. You taught me and my sisters how to submit to men without asking questions. You taught me that any kind of chastisement or punishment at the hands of a man was really God's divine strengthening of my character, or a punishment for my sins. That either way I should accept this treatment with open arms, praising God for his generous discipline. You taught me that I was worthless and always would be, and that I could look forward to a lifetime of further abuse and loving punishment from God, praise the name of the Father and his Almighty Son, amen.
I got sick a few years ago. Real sick. I had to give up my career as a teacher, my apartment, transportation, my independence. I had to come home. I had to ask for help. I wasn't able to shower by myself, make food, or stand up. I was dying. I wrote out my will and all my passwords. And twice, Dad, you told me I couldn't come home. You told my mom to tell me to go to hospice, and that I shouldn't expect a ride there from you. I had no where else to go to. That was my breaking point, Dad. You knew it, too, but you didn't care.

You think you're worthless, Dad, and that's one reason you can't help but try to drown others like me. You taught me to believe that I was everything that I am not. If I didn't experience being your daughter, I wouldn't have been forced to look inside of myself to find out my true value laying hidden there all the time.

So thank you, Dad. You meant to squeeze all the life out of me and leave me by the side of the road to die. You played your part well. If we were all actors in a play, with life itself as the stage, then you Dad would have won several Oscars for your tough guy, sadistic portrayal as my father. Kudos to you, you did break my spirit, and strip me down to absolutely nothing.

But in that nothing, when I was sick at the point of dying, with no family to comfort me, I should have been feeling very worthless. But surprisingly enough, I heard refreshing snippets and phrases coming to me from the "world" of all places, not from the church or you. From Nike ads, from the ads for Dove deodorant, from L'oreal, from my New Agey friends who posted inspiring messages on Facebook to each other that they loved each other, and that the beauty of life was inside of them. Something deep inside of me said that was true, and that there was love and life outside of religion, outside of Christianity, outside of my family. So I went on a mission to find out more, and guess what, Dad?

I found out from the voice inside of me that it doesn't matter what you say. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am beautiful. I am worth it. I don't deserve punishment. I don't deserve abuse. I don't have to endure pain to be learn lessons. Life is not horrible. There is something beautiful inside of me, and it's the same thing that's inside of you, and all of us.

So, thank you, Dad. You played your part well in my life. You didn't teach me that I was worthy and lovable. You taught me the opposite. But even so, I found out anyway. And who knows, maybe my belief in myself is stronger now than if you had just spoon fed this to me since I was a baby.

The neurons and DNA and cells in my young child's body were programmed miserably since age 5, in a way that made me fearful, tense, anxious, unloved, and toxic. But that does not concern me. Right here and now with my adult mind and heart, I am resetting all neuron connections, all my DNA, all the cells in my body. My heart's magnetic field is strong, and it influences my whole body. I am being reprogrammed so that I am growing more loving, more flexible, juicier, more vibrant, stretchy, relaxed, wholesome, balanced, settled, grounded, happier, more content, and more joyful. I've come home to myself, and that is a beautiful place.

Thank you, Dad. I might forget every now and again when I see a photo of you or walk past you at a party. I might forget and think that you ruined a good portion of my life. But then I will remember how good I do have it now. You showed me very clearly everything I am not, and then you pulled the rug out from under me. You clearly showed me in no uncertain terms that there was zero love for me at my neediest moment. And in that moment of extreme clarity, when there was nothing there, I still felt love. It was coming from absolutely no where, for no reason at all.

So thank you, Dad. Thank you for signing up to play this role in my life. It has been difficult, but it has caused me to discover that I am loved, in a very deep way that nobody can take from me. Namaste!