Saturday, July 19, 2014

Not Fit for Human Interactions

Today, I think, I’m a terrible human being.

Not fit for human interactions.

I broke into my pastor’s locked office.

And that was just the first, and relatively insignificant, breach I committed.

See, a friend of mine works at the church. And she was cleaning the office building. And I was hanging with her because I’ll be leaving soon and I wanted to enjoy her presence.

She’s in seminary and has a paper due tomorrow and she needed resources. She needed books. She thought the pastor just might have something she could use. She needed Rauschenbusch and she couldn’t get him anywhere else.

“I really wish the pastor’s office wasn’t locked,” she said to me as she looked forlornly at the double French doors which separate his private office from the group study room. She turned back to her dusting.

I glanced over at the doors myself and noted several things:

* The French doors lack an astragal
* The latch barely engages the strike plate
* The secondary door has auxiliary head and footbolts applied
* Only the headbolt was engaged

‘Puzzle solved,’ I thought, as I disengaged the headbolt, providing enough play that the latch and strike no longer engaged at all. Both doors swung open smoothly.

“What did you do!?” my friend exclaimed with delight.

“To be clear,” I told her sternly, “my intent was NOT to break into the pastor’s office and violate the sanctity of his private space. I just did it because I could.”

My friend made a thorough search of all the books in the office. Rauschenbusch was not to be found. My breach didn’t even net a positive result for her.

I’m awful.

Things only got worse from there.

I just like to know stuff.

Really. That’s it. That’s what gets me totally jazzed in life. Even if it’s information about stuff I don’t necessarily care for. Knowing stuff just makes me happy. Sometimes, knowing stuff, changes my life. In the smallest and seemingly most insignificant ways imaginable. I learn something new and it opens up a world I could never have accessed prior. Even if I never find a home in that new place, just knowing that I can appreciate something that was completely foreign and off-putting moments before is kind of awesome.

Example: I’m not a huge fan of music. There are a lot of really good reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into here. But I enjoy reading about music. Now, there are some genres of music I simply despise. Most I’ll tolerate. One, however, just rubbed me wrong up one side and down the other.

Jazz.

See, whereas I have a trauma response to heavy metal and drums - snare drums in particular, jazz used to sound like just a bunch of really confusing noise that didn’t make any sense to me at all. I didn’t understand it. When I happened to be in a place where it was playing in the background, it was okay. Until the musician started all that weird improvisational stuff. That just sounded like a lot of discordant noise to me.

Until I read a book about how the human brain processes music (This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin). Levitin wrote that improvisation in jazz is always done from the base melody. It’s a playful way to step out of the comfort zone of the written notes while staying within the basic principles laid out by the melody.

I went out and bought a jazz album on CD and listened to it. There it was. I could hear the melody which was the baseline and support system of the improvisation. Suddenly, this foreign, unpleasant, sometimes painful noise became a beautiful weaving of playful sounds. Listening to jazz became a bit like watching a yo-yo guru. All the tricks and magic to delight the eye as the yo-yo spins and flips and moves about in the air, but always linked and always returning to the hands of the one who holds the string.

I just like knowing stuff. Sometimes, it enhances my life by allowing me access to experiencing things in new and appreciable ways, like Jazz.

Sometimes, it enhances my life simply because I have something, some bit of knowledge or information, I didn’t have before. And I really like collecting information. I just like knowing stuff.

Onto my second breach today.

I had been perusing some information and happened upon an accidental. Something that probably shouldn’t have been where it was. Something that made me pause and go, “Hmm.” Then, I moved on and forgot all about it.

Until I got home this evening. What I had seen earlier in the day came back to me and I thought, “I wonder if I can solve this puzzle.”

Thirty seconds later and a whole new world had opened up before me.

And I’m pretty sure it was a huge breach. I’m pretty sure this is a violation. Epic violation. I’m pretty sure it falls in the category of unforgivable sins. I’m pretty sure I messed this one up big time.

I never do much of anything with information I collect. I never do anything at all with confidential information, unless I’m legally required, as a mandatory reporter, to share that information with the appropriate authorities. I just really like knowing stuff.

Once, about 12 years ago, I found an abandoned journal and looked in the front cover to discover the owner’s name in the hopes of returning it. It was unmarked. I began to flip through at random seeking some identifying anything. About fifteen pages in, I happened upon an entry in which the author mentioned someone in his office who shared the same name. The author referred to himself as “The other …” Puzzle solved. I could return the journal.

I read the whole thing cover to cover, over a hundred pages of private, personal, intimate word-vomit.

“How did you know this was mine?” he asked as I returned it. “I’ve never put my name in it…”

“Well,” I said, suddenly feeling a bit warm with discomfort. “I mean, there as nothing on the inside cover or first page or anything, but I was kind of flipping through thinking there might some identifying information and then, you know, pretty close to the beginning, you recount this tale, and…”

“I’m incredibly grateful you returned this me,” he said. “If you don’t mind my asking, did you stop reading once you had figured out it belonged to me.”

I swallowed hard. “Ummm, no,” I told him honestly, beginning to sweat in fear and shame. “I read the whole thing. Cover to cover.”

“I see. And why,” he asked gently, “would you do that?”

“Because it was a rare opportunity to take a peek into the life of another person, to know … something more.”

“And what do you plan to do with the information you obtained in reading this,” he asked.

“Absolutely nothing.” And I never have. I never will. I just like knowing.

But today, my obsessive need to know and the ease with which I gained the information I sought leaves me feeling like a spectacularly vile person.

There isn’t enough water or grace in the world to wash away the stain of this sin.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When I Say

When I say, "I appreciate you,"
     I hope you hear all of the silent things
     hiding within my heart.

When I say, "I appreciate you,"
     I hope you hear:
          "You are important to me."
          "You matter to me."
          "I want you."
          "I want you."
          "I want you."

When I say, "I appreciate you,"
     I hope you see,
          that like a rare and beautiful orchid,
          my heart פֵאֲרָֽךְ׃ before you.
               My hands outstretched and open,
               offering myself in sacred trust,

Choosing fearlessness in my fear,
     I believe that the blessing is found
     in the offering of the self
     regardless of the other's accepting.

When I say, "I appreciate you,"
     I hope you know that what I want to say is,
     "I love you.
          Exactly as you,
          for all of who you have been,
          for all of who you are becoming.
     I love you."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's In a Name?

An Open Letter to an Unnamed Individual

*****

Tim Fauvell.

I've spoken his name more times in the past two and a half weeks than in the previous seven years combined.

I learned early on, in what I'll call "the grieving process," that most would not understand my grief and in their own discomfort, they would seek to re-frame the relationship in a way that they could understand so that they could minimize the loss, invalidate my suffering and not be present with me in the trauma of Tim's death and the pain of that loss.

Silence was preferable to misunderstanding. Silence was preferable to having to explain that, "No, there was nothing sexual about the relationship. No there was nothing romantic about the relationship." Silence was preferable to having to explain, "Yes, there was a deep emotional intimacy in the relationship. Yes, Tim loved me. Yes, I love Tim. You cannot put a time limit on when love blooms in a relationship."

So, I did  not speak his name. I did not write his name. I did not talk about him at all except when absolutely necessary, and then only in the vaguest of terms, sharing as little information as possible and never ever speaking his name.

During my first last year of seminary, I took a class on Jesus's Death and Meaning Making in the New Testament. That may not have been the exact title of the class, but it's close enough and the name says it all. The first century community found ways to make meaning out of Jesus's death, the results being the New Testament.

This was the semester I left school, taking a two year medical leave of absence.

There is this oral tradition surrounding these texts. A handing down of stories before they were written down and collected as our canon. There is power in telling stories and perhaps the most important words I ever heard Hal Taussig speak concerning these stories and how meaning was made are these: Just because it didn't happen doesn't mean it isn't True.

This is still true today as faith communities interpret texts in their own contexts to create meaning for themselves and their place in the world. This is still true today as we seek to interpret and make meaning of our own experiences as a way of orienting our own selves in the world.

I never speak Tim's name, I don't even write it, because I have no idea how to do so. Words fail me.

I wonder if this is because, in part, I've been conditioned by the responses of those early encounters which sought to minimize and invalidate my grief based on the brevity of my relationship with Tim. It's safer not to talk about it because people are dismissive; because I do not talk about it, I cannot find the words to explain.

As something of a wordsmith, I use words to define my experience with exceptional nuance; I use words to orient myself in a space. In moments of trauma, whether something triggers the trauma of Tim's death or my physical safety is threatened, I lose my words. I cannot speak. This inability to speak about my experience, to have literally no words in my head to even begin to think about it, let alone to try to explain it, leaves me disoriented, unable to self-stabilize, my equilibrium gone.

It is this sense of having lost my equilibrium, of being adrift, disconnected from all that allows me to understand myself, as much if not more than the anxiety which accompanies the triggered trauma, that leaves me feeling under constant threat, terrified, vulnerable to death.

I know, in part, that this sense of being adrift, disconnected, disoriented is related to the circumstances in my life at the time of Tim's death. At that point I was adrift, disconnected, disoriented from my own life. I had lost all equilibrium. My horizon was gone and I was having trouble orienting myself and understanding who I was in the world when it seemed that every means by which I understood myself to exist had been systematically stripped away.

Within a few weeks of the semester's start, my father had abandoned our family and all of the roles and rules were up in the air. I did not know what it meant that my parents were married but he had moved 1000 miles away and started a new life with a whole new family - a chance to for a do-over, it seemed to me. As though he couldn't live with the consequences of how he had raised us and this was his chance to invest in another family and get it right.

But what did that say about us? About our resilience and the work we had done and the strides we had made? What did it mean that after everything he put our family through with his addictions and abuse and the healing I had done through years of work that suddenly it wasn't good enough? He just called it quits and picked up a new life with a new, ready-made family somewhere else.

My understanding of who I was in the context of this family no longer seemed valid, because the family as I understood it no longer existed.

At this point, I had been attending a church, non-denominational, for two years. I had developed several close relationships with various members of the church. I wasn't a huge fan of the pastor, but I loved my community. I loved worshiping with them. I loved doing life with them.

Then, one Sunday the pastor decided he didn't want to be a pastor anymore. We had no pool of candidates or options for pulpit supply. "The rent on this building is paid up for the next two weeks," he told us. "This is my last sermon. My family and I have already transitioned to attending another church here in town." The church essentially stopped existing in that moment.

Because this community had ceased to exist, I lost my identity as a member of this community.

A man who had been pursuing me romantically, who had told me that he loved me, who had asked me to marry him, slept with another woman.

Because the church and community of which I had been a part on Sundays was relatively small (50 people), I had been attending small group activities at a larger church that was part of the same association of churches. This is how I had met the man who said that he loved me.  When I spoke to the church leadership about what this man had done, I was blamed for it. I was told, "That's just the way he is. If you got hurt, it's your fault because you didn't guard your heart."

When I told the pastor's wife that I felt her response was inappropriate and that a church which holds to conservative sexual mores probably shouldn't have a man who behaves this way in a position of leadership when so many of the young men in the church looked up to him and viewed him as a role model for engaging in faith and relationships and how to treat women, I was kicked out of my small group and blacklisted in church. I had begun attending this church's Sunday evening services not long before my first church shut down. After speaking to the pastor's wife, I was pointedly ignored at all future services and told explicitly that I was not welcome at church social events.

Having grown up being told by the church that virginity was the greatest thing a woman had to offer and determined to hold onto it until marriage, having been devastated by this man's faithlessness and my own sense of futility in continuing to believe in the possibility of there being any men out there who weren't just like my father, and having been treated with such complete disregard when I expressed my concerns to the leadership, I just threw in the towel. Why hold onto something when the promise that it's the key to a happy, healthy, harmonious marriage is clearly a load of crap?

So, after significant consideration about how and when and to whom and boundaries and expectations and limits and acceptable behaviors and environment, and having written out these stipulations so I could articulate them and not forget anything, I gave away my virginity. Immediately I started experiencing flashbacks to a rape that occurred when I was fifteen, and which I had repressed. I had always told myself the abusive situation from eleven years before had stopped just short of rape.

And so in this, I lost a large portion of my identity in being a) perfect (i.e. a virgin) and b) not a rape victim.

These things all happened within the first two weeks of school. My first consensual sexual encounter happened the night before my first one-on-one meeting with Tim, my CPE supervisor. In that first session, we talked about ALL of it.

Tim offered to walk the journey with me. Tim was the only person in my life who was fully present with me during that time. Tim was the only person in my life who loved me unconditionally. Tim neither wanted anything from me nor wanted anything for me. Tim was simply present, a witness as I struggled to create a new life for myself separate from all of the ways I had previously understood myself to function, from the persons I had previously understood myself to be.

I tried to steadily hold onto something, anything during this time. I was still attending school and had made an appointment with a psychiatrist as the first step to finding a therapist. The way things worked at Columbia, you would meet with a psychiatrist who would determine any medical reasons for your symptoms, prescribe medications as appropriate and then refer you to a therapist if necessary.

Classes had been in session for three weeks when I came to the realization that I was in way over my head and made the appointment. It was going to be two weeks before they could get me in for the intake. It was the soonest anyone could meet with me unless I wanted to go to the ER.

Now five weeks into the semester, I met with the psychiatrist who prescribed an SNRI for the anxiety and a barbiturate to help me sleep. She also agreed that my issues were not strictly biological and therapy would be appropriate. The earliest they could get me in for an intake session before then assigning me to the therapist who would be my primary contact was four more weeks.

As a result of all of these things going on, I dropped out of school. I simply couldn't manage everything. Thus, I lost another large portion of my identity - I was no longer a student.

So, I started to build a new sense of identity in the only area of my life where there was any sense of stability and continuity. I was Tim's intern. And he let everyone know it. It didn't matter where we were in the hospital on a given day. If we happened to be in the same place and anyone greeted "Father Tim" he'd say hello and then he'd introduce me. "This is M," he would say, "and she's my intern." Always, there was enormous pride and validation and joy in his voice. It felt almost proprietary. Of all the CPE applicants, he had chosen me; and he knew that in spite of the fact that all the other places and ways of existing in my life had ceased, I belonged here.

A week before my therapy intake evaluation, I was brutally raped by a stranger. The attack lasted hours.

I never reported it. What would be the point? I didn't want anyone to touch me and I did not want to answer 1001 intrusive questions about what I had done to invite the assault. I dropped out of CPE. Then, I quietly curled up in my bed and left it only to shower repeatedly and meet with Tim who was still willing to walk with me. Tim, who was still claiming me as his intern.

This pattern of scrubbing my skin raw and curling up in bed continued until six days after the attack when the man to whom I had given my virginity called and I agreed to have sex with him one last time, because really, I didn't want my rape to be the last sexual experience I had.

The next morning was my intake appointment and joy of all joys, they could get me in to see the therapist who would be assigned to my care in another six weeks. That was my only option. Take it or leave it. I scheduled the appointment, because, really, what else was I going to do?

Later that night, Tim Fauvell died. Three days later, I was taken to the emergency room myself for a medical crisis that nearly ended in my own death.

Though I'm well aware of magical thinking, and though I'm well aware that it simply isn't true, and though I'm well aware of just how crazy a belief it is, I know that Tim died because I had sex the night before. God was punishing me for screwing up. Again.  And I survived my own medical crisis days later so that I could continue living with the knowledge that I was the guilty party.

It's my fault.

Even though I know that isn't true.

So, in moments of lucidity, when I can ask the question, "Why did this happen?" and not come up with the answer, "God was punishing me," I fall back on the only real answer there is: The circumstances were conducive to the outcome.

The problem with this answer is that it isn't an answer at all. It explains how it happened. It doesn't tell me why. It's an answer that does nothing to create meaning.

Humans have always made meaning of their experiences. We still do it today. "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink of it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Just because it didn't happen, doesn't mean it isn't True.

The circumstances being conducive to the outcome is an insufficient answer because it does not make meaning out of Tim's death. I cannot make meaning out of Tim's death because to do so would mean being guilty for real; not in the magical thinking "God is punishing me" kind of way. Rather I would be guilty in the "My life has changed and been shaped in these ways as a result of these experiences and those experiences have value" kind of way. I would be guilty in the "I'm grateful for the relationship I had with Tim and I'm grateful for the discovery of new ways of being the world because this is what it means" kind of way.

I had no trouble making meaning of Tim's role in my life. But how can I possibly make meaning of his death? He death meant yet another loss of identity. It also meant another opportunity to discover facets of myself, my resilience, my abilities, new relationships with people I met in the aftermath. If I benefit from Tim's death in these discoveries, then surely I am culpable.

More magical thinking, I'm aware; however, this is where I'm stuck.

And I never speak Tim's name because doing so is a reminder that he was alive then and is not now. Speaking Tim's name means feeling that loss when I'd rather not. Speaking his name invites questions that I simply don't have answers for.

Because every single thing in this world that reminds me of Tim's death puts me squarely back in that space I was in when I was told that Tim had died: disconnected, adrift, disoriented, having lost all sense of equilibrium; under constant threat, terrified, vulnerable to death.

And above all else, more terrifying than the rest, I am without words. Unable to even think, let alone speak. Nothing but painfully resounding silence in my brain as utter panic sets in.

Seven years of therapy and I've addressed all of the issues that were present in my life at the time of Tim's death. Tim's death itself, though, is something I haven't even begun to touch. I had thought if I didn't even try to speak of it, if I didn't let myself think about it, if I held onto the knowledge that the circumstances were conducive to the outcome, if I simply didn't allow myself to feel anything about it, that it meant that I had grieved and healed and was ready to move on.

Then, CPE. Again. And day one of orientation and the trauma of Tim's death was triggered. Tim was there and I couldn't ignore this truth any longer. I have not grieved. I have not healed. I have not moved on. I have not made meaning of Tim's death. No longer was I remaining silent about Tim to avoid feeling the pain of that loss; rather, I had lost my words completely: disconnected, adrift, disoriented, having lost all sense of equilibrium; under constant threat, terrified, vulnerable to death.

I tried to say all of this to you but words failed me.

I tell you now because I'm starting to find those words - to be able to speak Tim's name and to write it - even if I still have no idea how to make meaning of his death. I tell you now because it was my interaction with you that brought into clear and sharp focus for me the truth that I have not grieved or healed or moved on. I tell you now because you are the person who showed me that I am stuck and I do not want to be. I tell you now because I unfairly made you the focal point of my experience of being under threat, terrified, vulnerable to death; I am sorry for that.

Words still fail me. Still, I try.

I tell you now because you are a powerful and effective teacher. I tell you now because painful though the lesson was, I am grateful to you for teaching me.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Community

I went to a community event with a new group of friends Thursday night. Some of the individuals have been in the community longer than I and some were newer than I.

Brand new that night was an individual I'll call Bill. Bill seemed polite enough, so when he friend requested me the following afternoon from our community page on a social networking site, I thought nothing of it.

When he messaged me a "hello," I responded. A "How are you?" opening and an honest response of "Sunburned" led to flirtatious banter. This was a bit sudden for me, but being an occasionally overly friendly individual and sometimes flirtatious individual, I didn't have an issue with light banter.

Within a few exchanges however, Bill's remarks stopped being light banter and became distinctly, yet subtly, sexual. I told Bill not to get dirty with me, that banter was fine, but he'd crossed a line. To this, Bill responded, "I love banter. But at some point you have to shit or get off the crapper."

Time to shit or get off the crapper fewer than 10 hours after I met you and 35 minutes into our first conversation? Time to shit or get off the crapper when my profile online clearly indicates that I'm not interested in ANY kind of relationship other than friendship? "Friends with Benefits" was an option and I did not choose it.

Immediately, I sought to steer the conversation away from anything even remotely sexual. Forget light banter, forget subtle flirtations, forget friendly conversation. I signed off without so much as a good-bye and went about my day.

Thinking on it later, I was actually quite upset. I talked to my person, Eddie, with whom I am beginning, really have tentatively begun, a relationship. "Am I being overly sensitive?" I asked. "I was really uncomfortable."

"If you're not comfortable, I'm not comfortable. And all things considered, from the way this is going, I'm actually gravely concerned. This is how we're going to address it online - this is how we will label our relationship online. If you're okay with that. It might seem a little extreme, but it should send the message that you have interests elsewhere and end the unwanted attention. My only regret is that I can't be there physically to protect you."

I was 100% okay with this resolution. And so, the next morning, I headed to a coffee shop, accessed the internet, and updated my relationship status as we'd discussed. I felt better. Territory MARKED; all others beware.

This did not stop the unwanted attention. Another message that could have been read in a manner that was completely non-sexual or very sexual. I can assure you that it was intended as the latter. I chose to respond as though it were the former. I chose to make clear that Bill's overly sexual attentions were not welcome. I thought I was clear.

And then last night's party.

My friend John and I have been hanging out a bit lately and we were both on the early side in arriving. John asked about my profile update and things with Eddie. I gave him a brief rundown of what had happened with Bill and how Eddie had recommended we address it online. "If you'd asked me, I'd have offered to stand in to protect you," John said.

"That's actually why I'm telling you the whole thing now," I said. "All of this happened after we had ice cream yesterday. Since Eddie is 800 miles away, and Bill has indicated he will be here tonight, can you act as my buffer? Will you be Eddie's proxy?" John agreed immediately.

We began to socialize with others, chatting with each other and wandering individually to other people and conversations. I was feeling comfortable and safe and genuinely enjoying myself, though I was as nervous as I ever am in social settings in which I don't know many of the assembled.

When John rejoined me, I touched his arm a few times, a casual affection because I'm comfortable with him and because I wanted him to know what my "comfortable" touch felt like.

"I don't know what that touch means," John said to me.

"That was just casual, friendly affection," I explained withdrawing my hand. "I didn't mean...if it bothers you...I'll stop."

"No," John said. "It's fine. You can touch me. I just wanted to know what you were communicating."

I explained that most, if not all, of my touch was likely to be casual affection. "If something happens and I feel unsafe, I'll touch you in a very different way."

"How will I know?" John asked.

"You'll know," I told him. "If you have any doubt, I'll tell you that's why I'm touching you."

Shortly thereafter, John and I were joined by Victoria. We were chatting and headed outside for a few minutes so that Victoria could smoke. Not long into our time outdoors and Bill showed up with two other people. I recognized him immediately though he was still some forty feet away.

Everything in me began screaming. Internal red flags waving frantically, alarm bells pealing loudly, icky tummy feelings. All of it. Absolutely screaming. Frantically, I clutched John's arm. "That's him?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," I whispered back.

John immediately shifted himself in front of me, using his body to block access to me. He stepped up onto the curb, placing himself slightly above me and making himself seem larger. He allowed me to pull his arm around my waist and hold his hand behind my back.

As Bill and the other two people with him approached our group, he paused. Everyone introduced themselves to Victoria who introduced herself to these three. Bill pointedly ignored me.

Maybe he had finally, blissfully, gotten the message. Maybe he saw John's protective stance before me, arm around me, and understood that I was not to be approached, that his attentions were unwelcome and everyone in that particular circle knew that this had been communicated clearly.

Once Bill and his group had moved inside, Victoria turned to me. "What is going on? What was that?" she asked, intense concern lacing her voice, as John said, "Yes, I knew what that touch meant."

I explained the situation to Victoria and told her I was pretty sure it was being handled. "If he bothers you again, these are the people you can ask and they will take care of it," Victoria said, listing off eight or ten people.

Feeling more confident and comfortable, I began to relax again as John and Victoria finished their conversation and we headed inside.

Once inside, our group split up. We each sought new conversations. Before long, John and Victoria were deep into focused conversations and I was interacting with a few new people, while keeping an eye, generally, on where my "safe" people were.

And this is the moment, when John was physically removed from my presence, that Bill chose to show up. Immediately he attempted to strike up a conversation.

Fortunately, the woman to my left remarked on something that I had an interest in and I was able to use that to turn from Bill's attentions and begin asking her more in-depth questions. Thankfully, Bill moved on. But not all that far. He took a seat directly between me and the door and I was clearly in his line of sight. Soon, the woman with whom I'd been conversing moved on.

I thought briefly of finding John, but I needed to get out. NOW.

One of the safe people Victoria had named was walking by. I quickly got his attention. "When he's done with his conversation, will you please let John know that I left a little early?" I asked.

"Yeah, absolutely," the man said.

"And would you be able to walk me to my car?" I asked, beginning to tear up.

"Of course," he said. He escorted me out of the building and through the parking lot to my car. "Is everything okay?" he asked.

"It's fine," I said. "I just had a really uncomfortable interaction with someone online yesterday and they're here tonight, and they approached me and I just really need to leave."

"If you're sure you're fine," he said, "but connect with me through the community page. If you decide to give us a name, we can address it directly and make sure you aren't bothered again." I thanked him for his kindness and headed home.

On my drive home John called to check in and I explained how Bill had approached me as soon as John himself was completely absorbed in conversation elsewhere, "That to me was just absolute confirmation that my internal alarms were right," I said. "That he waited until I was isolated from the person he knew was looking out for me."

"That kind of pisses me off," John said, "and you're right. That he waited until you were alone to approach you is absolutely confirmation that he is unsafe."

Next, I explained what had happened to Eddie, that I was safe, on my way home, that the community had my back tonight, and that I would be sending a very strongly worded message to Bill when I got home that he was not to approach me in person or online again as he had not respected the boundaries I'd established.

By the time I had composed and sent this message to Bill, a general message had been posted to our community board about the expectations for community engagement. Above all, safety for the members of the community is priority. Perhaps it was coincidence. Perhaps the individual posting heard what had happened and wanted to clarify for EVERYONE what is acceptable and what is not.

Regardless, I'm grateful that I have a community that is concerned with the safety of its members, new or seasoned. I'm grateful that I do not have to justify my internal alarms to this community. I am grateful that I am part of community which clearly states that it is acceptable to be friendly and flirty without the expectation of any sexual or physical contact. I'm grateful that people will not only tell you they'll take care of individuals who continuously violate an established boundary, but that these same people WILL take care of (i.e. remove from the community) individuals who continuously violate established boundaries.

Bill has as much right to be in this public space as I do. However, Bill does not have the right to use intimidation and subtle threats (through isolation and boundary violations) to frighten people. And that's exactly what Bill was doing.

I met Victoria for the first time not 15 minutes before Bill arrived. If she picked up from my body language that something was SERIOUSLY wrong, there's no way in hell Bill didn't know. If John was using his body to physically block access to me, there's no way in hell Bill did not intentionally seek me out when I was not in immediate contact with John.

I am grateful for Victoria, John, and Eddie. I am grateful for the bouncer who walked me to my car. I am grateful for the way they treated me in the midst of this.

I did not have to explain or justify my feelings. I did not have to justify or defend the fact that I had engaged in banter. There were no questions about why I was wearing a red dress and 5 1/2" heels if I didn't want sexual attention from men. There was no hint that the choices I had made had invited the unwanted attention. There was no suggestion that I was being overly sensitive or unfair or that I should give everyone a fair shot. There was no indication of doubt concerning the veracity of my experience. There was not a single word uttered that would in any way justify or excuse Bill's behavior or seek to blame me for any of it.

Whether I stay in this place or move back to where I come from, I am grateful for this community. Whether I stay or go, I am grateful for these new friends. Whether I stay or go, I am grateful for this safe space. Whether I stay or go, I am grateful that I have people in my life who, regardless of personality differences, will "stand behind [me], next to [me], or in front of [me] when it comes to matters of safety." Whether I stay or go, I am grateful for the time I have in this community.

I am grateful.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Kindness Epiphany

It was a painful kind of day, Thursday.

The day had not started painfully. The day had started beautifully, full of hope that smelled of iris and honeysuckle; ripe with love that was full and soft and sweet as mango picked from the tree at its peak. I opened my heart to another and with hands outstretched, offered myself to them. I felt no fear. Only certainty that the step I was taking was right and good and lovely.

I did not receive a response. But then, I did not need one. I had offered myself freely and completely as a gift. No strings attached. Should that gift be rejected, I knew there would be a sting, but I was also fully confident that such pain would be survivable and I would be better for having risked the gift of love in the first place.

Then, I went to the place of interruption. At first it was okay. I knew I would be okay and I was still brimming with the joy of having stepped beyond my self-imposed fortress and invited another to see me.

But then, in a small, cold room, full of other people, I was confronted with the memory of that interruption of death into life which had so disabled me for so long. I was confronted with the interruption that had kept me from talking about the interruption. And it was in my chair.

A place of comfort and continuity and safety in a situation so full of people that the anxiety of not being able to attend to the presence of all at once could only be mitigated by that seat in the room so that I could focus on each speaker directly and still hold  the whole in my periphery -- as much for my own comfort in not being startled by sudden movement or noise from behind and to have a clear view of egress, as by my desire to attend to those who might want to speak but may not have been seen by anyone else.

My chest began to constrict painfully with anxiety. Because I was not able to mitigate it by taking a place of security that would allow me to pay attention to what was being said, I stood apart. It seemed there was no safe room for me in the circle. I thought briefly of asking to have my need for this space honored, but quickly rejected it, as a previous attempt at engagement about the chair had ended in derision and previous engagement with the particular individual now occupying the only safe place in the room had ended in a verbal attack so violent, I defended myself vociferously for fear I would be swallowed whole by the feelings of shame that erupted when confronted by the dichotomy of being asked for vulnerability and being verbally run over and diverted in every instance in which I chose to say those alien words that strike fear so deeply in my heart my throat closes off and I can scarcely breathe: I need....

Twenty minutes and report was delivered and we were free for 15 minutes until the start of the next activity which would be safer. I retreated to a quiet space and reminded myself that what felt like an attack was not; what felt like an intentional denial of my safety was not. I tried. But my muscles had started to ache and my joints were getting stiff. Pressure was building in my eyes.

And then the questions. Ten people all asking. Yet, whenever I would answer, they didn't seem to hear; when I would try to clarify, someone else would begin speaking and I would be shushed for interrupting their interruption. Falling silent, I would wait until they would finish so that I could go back and say, "I need you to understand, that's just the presenting symptom. I want you to see and know the source that underneath it all it's really about this and I've been trying and trying and trying for weeks to tell you this most important part of who I am and I'm trying and trying and trying to trust you with the single most sacred thing in the world to me because it's here, in this time and place that that sacred experience and the loss of it is making it impossible for me to connect because it's bigger than I expected and I didn't know if you were safe, but I was told you were and I'm trying! I'm trying so hard to trust you with this so that you might see me and then judge me or not, but if you do you'll at least be judging me for who I am, not for who you think I am, and if you don't judge me, if you just accept me, then I'll know that I'm safe and I belong, if you would just let me explain."

But by the time the other person had finished talking, another jumped in, and then before I could clarify, I was asked another question and I tried to hold it all together, but now my anxiety is so high that my fingers are aching so badly I can barely think of anything but the sensation of pins stabbing through my knuckles and the fire in my fingertips and I can't look to the person on my right as they ask their next question and still see the person on my left because I had chosen to edge a few inches out of that safe space because I really do trust you even if you don't see it, and now I'm trapped and I can't retreat and the questions just keep coming and there are so many voices in the room I can't begin to understand how I can possibly answer whatever the question was while other people try to explain the dynamics and I am told, "But what's important isn't what anyone else said or did. What's important is that you understand why you responded that way."

"I know exactly why I responded that way," I say. I've been trying to tell you for four weeks and no one will listen or let me find the words, in the moment, to clarify and then the moment is gone and there isn't a chance to go back and I'm being attacked with these questions that won't let me go back and now I feel like an electric current is running through my whole body just under my skin and it hurts and  the back of my throat is closed so tightly I can't swallow and I can barely breathe and I want to throw up because my stomach is roiling and I can hear the blood rushing in my ears and my brain feels like all of the electricity running beneath my skin is ending there and it's building until I can feel everything in me begin to short-circuit.

"Can you tell me why then?" a gentle voice asks me. And I know somewhere in the recesses of my mind that this voice is one that will hear, but I feel like a wounded animal, caged and beaten and desperate to be left alone to heal and recover.

"None of your business," I say with cold finality. And then silence. And I know that it's bad. I know that I've thrown away my chance to be understood. That gentle voice looks taken aback, surprised that I would pull so violently away at this moment. I've been trying for weeks to tell you this most important part of what this experience is for me and no one has listened. Everyone has spent an hour in an all out assault against me, nine to one, and now, now that I am at the end of everything, you ask me to open my heart that I've desperately been trying to show you for a month. You ask for the vulnerability everyone has actively rejected at every turn.

Beaten, broken, bleeding, I can't process the gentleness in that voice. All I know is that I am alone in this place where no one has been willing to know me; I am beaten and terrified and will do anything to protect myself; and opening my heart one more time hoping again that this time you might understand is not possible.

In that moment, I do not hear the gentleness as an earnest desire to understand. I hear it as a call to submission before you deal the fatal blow. "Tell me so that I can finally destroy you entirely."

"None of your business."

Surprise.

I am wrong.

I have to make this right.

But there isn't time.

And there are more voices and we're being ushered out, and I hope, I fervently hope, maybe next time I can make it right. I can go back and explain. I can tell you that I know you asked for all the right reasons and I missed it and I want to tell you so that you'll know because I want you to know, because even if you don't accept it, it's important for me to say it to you so that I will know that I have taken the risk and offered myself and regardless of the outcome, I know there is joy in the offering. I want you to know the joy of knowing who I am and I want the joy of knowing you. I want to start over. I want to begin again and I want to tell you, "THIS (the relationship, the life that was interrupted by death that left me incapacitated) is what I hold most dear in life and you deserve to know this, because we are all going to be living with this sacred experience in the next seven weeks and it's going to be here and you are going to feel it and you have a right to know what it is."

Shortly thereafter I learn there will be no next time.

Maybe with the intense trauma response I've been living with for the past four weeks it's better. I know that it's physically and emotionally safer than continuing without change. But I wanted the chance to make that change.

I want the chance, now that you've finally asked me, to tell you that this is a very painful but very welcome interruption. I want the chance to tell you that I don't know how to be in this space of welcome pain because I've spent my whole life trying to mitigate pain. I want to ask you, "Will you walk alongside me in that as we journey in this place together?" I want to tell you, "Wherever you're at in your journey, I'm willing to walk with you, too!"

But there will not be a next time.

After it all, I went to a movie. I entered the theater through a side door and saw kiosks in the lobby. They only take cards. I wanted to pay with cash.

I approach the customer service counter and ask the woman behind the counter where I can get a ticket. "We've got the kiosks right there," she said with a smile and a gesture.

"Oh, no. I mean, I wanted to pay cash. If possible. I have a card. I can certainly use it, I was just hoping...." I feel flustered and unsure.

"Cash payments can be done outside," she tells me.

"Oh. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to bother you," I tell her, realizing that once again I'd made a mistake. "I didn't realize... I'm not from here and the set up is different...." I want her to understand that I tried. I really did try. I just didn't understand.

"I'm not really supposed to," she says, picking up on my distress, "but I'll let you pay here just this once. Since you didn't know. In the future, though, just remember cash outside, cards in."

"No, really, it's okay," I tell her, beginning to cry at having inconvenienced her and overwhelmed by her willingness to break the rules for me. "I'll just go outside to pay." I turn to leave the desk.

"No. I'd really like to. It's okay. I just know that not everyone would, and I wouldn't want you to be turned away again."

Tears are streaming down my cheeks now, and the delicate skin just beneath my eyes begins to sting as the saltwater hits the microscopic tears that the abundance of tissues used earlier in the day have left. "I'm so sorry," I sob to her. "I don't mean to cry. You haven't done anything wrong. I'm just having a really hard day."

"Oh, honey," she says, "I don't know what's going on, but I do know for sure it'll get better. Eventually, it always does. And I'd like to help you have a better day. I really want you to go to the movie as my guest. No charge."

"I can't...I don't...It's too much...Thank you," I say as she hands me the ticket.

"I'll say a prayer for you," she tells me, a sure sign of where I am in the country. "Theater 16, just to the right. It'll be just a few minutes until they start seating."

As I walk away, humbled by this unexpected generosity, feeling worse that I've so inconvenienced someone with my tears that they felt the need to care for me in the only way they could, I heard Jesus, clear as a bell, ask me, "Do you really believe that you are so undeserving of kindness?"

I begin to sob in earnest now and make a hasty beeline for the family restroom where I can keen and wail with the pain of this softly spoken truth. Perhaps if I were to believe that I do deserve kindness, from myself and from others, then I could accept invitations to know and be known as the gifts they are and not reject them as fiery arrows of attack from an unknown entity.

Now I know. I know that it is my own deep sense of unworthiness that has kept me from being able to declare, "Here I am, world! I trust you to treat me kindly, because we all deserve a bit of kindness, including me! But if there's a misunderstanding, it's okay, because I trust it isn't intentional and just maybe if I'm willing and you're willing we can figure it out together. But if we can't, it'll still be okay, because I know who I am, and that is enough."

I want to go back. But it simply isn't possible. All of the unspoken words that have filled me up for the past four weeks are spilling out of my fingertips with no one left to witness.

Friday, May 30, 2014

This is NOT Transference


When I met him, this was what I was carrying with me:

1. Father abandoned family
2. The church I had been attending shut down one Sunday when the pastor decided he didn't want to be a pastor anymore; being a non-denominational church, we had no pool of candidates or options for pulpit supply and the church essentially stopped existing in that moment
3. P pursued me, told me he loved me, told me he wanted to marry me; then, he slept with S
4. I was blamed for #3; I was told, "That's just the way he is. If you got hurt, it's your fault because you didn't guard your heart."
5. Kicked out of my small group and blacklisted in church because I told the pastor's wife about what P had done and expressed my concerns that he might not be the best choice of small group leaders given the church's mission and stated values
6. Gave away my virginity and started experiencing PTSD from a rape at the age of 15, which I had repressed
7. Lost a large portion of my identity in being a) perfect and b) not a rape victim

1-7 happened within the first 2 weeks of school. 6 happened the night before my first one-on-one meeting with my CPE supervisor and he offered to walk the journey with me. He was the only person in my life who was fully present with me during that time. He was the only person in my life who loved me unconditionally. 

8. Dropped out of school because of 1-7 and lost a larger portion of my identity as a student
9. I was brutally raped by a stranger on Halloween; the attack lasted hours
10. He died on November 7, 2007

9 weeks, 6 hours, 13 minutes after we first met.

People who do not know me, did not know him, and who had no experience of our relationship have often accused me of “transference” and “counter-transference” when they hear the depth of my grief and the intensity of the bond between us. People encourage me to get more therapy and understand how he was a stand-in for my father.

Their interpretation is patently false.

If there was any kind of transference and counter-transference whatsoever, the person I identified and responded to him as was Jesus. He was the incarnate Christ to me for that brief time that we had together.
Jesus was the ever-present source of comfort, affirmation and protection in my life throughout my childhood. Jesus is the one who held me when I cried. Jesus was the one who assured me that I was okay. Jesus is the one I turned to for protection when my father beat my siblings and I prayed desperately that my father would not hit me. Jesus is the one I sought when my father came after me with the intent to kill me and I had to hide in a laundry hamper, with dirty close pulled tightly on top of me, a hot, sticky, wretched mess of breath amidst the dirty pants, socks, and t-shirts of childhood.

Jesus is was the one who heard me, affirmed me, protected, stood by me, walked with me, and never asked anything of me. Jesus is the one who loved me unconditionally and asked nothing from me and wanted nothing for me. Jesus was the only one who simply loved me where I was, as I was, in the way I needed.

That is who He was to me.

He was the incarnate Christ. As one who professes an incarnational faith, it is no great leap to me that I saw Jesus in Him, that I saw Him as Jesus to me for that brief period of time.

If there anything that my relationship with Him taught me, it was that incarnation is an active, present, on-going reality. We, all of God’s children, are the body of Christ. This has allowed me to see Jesus in others, in each person I meet. It is not always easy. It does not always come naturally. No one carries the image as fully, completely, and utterly as He did.

But, having found Jesus in Him, I am able, in spite of experiences that would inform me otherwise, to intentionally seek out the image of God in others and to affirm that they are children of God, just as He was, just as I am, and I can see Jesus in them, too.

How can that possibly be unhealthy?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Today, I Quit My Job

I lied to you and I am sorry.

It was always my intent to leave without telling anyone other than my boss, and so when it happened, and you knew it might, and you asked, I couldn't bear to tell you that, yes, I was leaving. I did not want to face it.

So, today, I quit my job. I gave my notice two and a half weeks ago and today, I walked out without a word to anyone else that it was my last day.

I lied to you, repeatedly. I am sorry that I lied. I did not want to face it, the end, the fact that I would not see you again. Magical thinking - the belief that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event can be averted.

If you've ever read "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion, you might understand. It's like her husband's shoes. Though he had died quite suddenly, Joan wrote that she found herself unable to get rid of them when she was cleaning out his closet. Though she was able to remove his clothes and other personal effects after he had passed away, she could not get rid of his shoes because he would need them when he came home.

It was a bit like that for me. If I didn't tell anyone I was leaving, it wouldn't be real and I wouldn't have to feel the pain of loss: not seeing you every day at work, not talking about our lives at those times when we could catch a moment to chat, not seeing your smile, not reaching beyond my comfort zone to touch you in a gesture of friendship that is bigger than you might realize....

If I didn't tell you I was leaving, I wouldn't have to miss you or think that you might miss me.

Magical thinking. If I can convince you it isn't real, then it can't hurt me.

I lied. I'm sorry. I hope you'll forgive me.