On Surviving

This week was crazy long and hard. Watching even parts of the Kavanaugh hearing made me feel panicky and sick, and I couldn’t help but see it. The images were everywhere. Men shouting. Men demanding. Men slamming fists into tables. Men whose righteous indignation bled out into the world like acid, corrosive and dangerous and, for me, terrifying. Let me be clear, my trauma is not sexual in nature. Certainly, misogyny and patronizing behavior is writ deep into the story of the last few years, but sexual harm has not been my experience.

Then I read this by Marianne Willaimson:

“It is not just that they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever been sexually harassed or abused; now they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever had her opinions ignored or her feelings scorned. Ted Cruz said in his statement that Dr. Ford had been treated with respect. I suppose he means that’s because they didn’t throw eggs at her. What those men don’t understand is that being silent after hearing her speak, as though actually she had not spoken, does not show respect. Basically ignoring what she said does not show respect. Making it all about “Brett, poor baby, he is one of us and he is hurting” does not show respect. In fact, their entire strategy now rests on ignoring what she said… not even grappling with her credibility, much less allowing a further investigation or more witnesses to testify. And every woman who has ever felt that her words meant nothing, that they somehow disappeared into the air after she spoke them and simply bounced off the ears of a man or men in the room, whether she was ever touched inappropriately or not, she is triggered now…”

And my soul opened up and cried. I have sat in that seat. I have faced men who demanded my silence and my obedience, who expressed outrage at the money they spent on enforced counseling at an organization and counselor of their choosing when I did not return submissive, grateful and above all FIXED.

“…every woman who has ever felt that her words meant nothing, that they somehow disappeared into the air after she spoke them and simply bounced off the ears of a man or men in the room…”

I have been manhandled, mansplained, and managed and the experience scored deep wounds in my psyche and soul. This week brought every bit of that to the surface.
I believe now my church experience is like my cancer experience. I survived it, but not without real and lasting damage, much of which cannot be seen. Not only that but for decades I have tried to walk away from the emotional weight of what it was like to live with and walk through the experience. But there’s too many like me, women who need help, women who need hope, women who need to know they aren’t alone.

When I sat in a room of angry men, I had to humbly beg for a woman friend to sit with me, a request which was nearly denied. I will never forget her gentle presence, her quiet support, the power of knowing someone who sat in that room heard me and believed, whose intent was understanding rather than correction. I experienced this too, and it in many ways it saved me.

I don’t always want to be the person who stands with, who has gone before. But I also can’t walk away from her. Each time, whether cancer of the body or cancer of the soul, it rips those old wounds open again and I bleed, and I hurt, and I live those terrible moments over again. And they are terrible, the stuff of nightmares.  But just as I pulled my children into the curve of my body in deep nights when they came to me afraid, so I can reach out and pull another into the warmth and safety of my nearness. I can whisper, “It’s ok. You aren’t alone in the dark anymore.” We all need this, no matter how old we’ve grown.

Yes, this week was hard. My trauma is still fresh, sitting just below the surface and aching like a deep bruise when pressed upon.  But the courage I saw this week was inspiring and beautiful, even though I don’t actually believe much will change. But maybe, maybe if we can be brave enough to draw our lines in the sand and say, “This far, but no farther.” If we can stand together and say, “Me too.” If we, together, can shine a light into the darkness, maybe we won’t feel so scared and alone.

Hope is hard work. Exhausting sometimes, but here at the end of a hard week, I’m still holding on to it with both hands, and bleeding a little as well.

September Song

“Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when we reach September” — Maxwell Anderson

 

September has been a hot mess of a month, perhaps the meanest one this summer. I can’t even talk about the temperatures except to say that the last two days I have at least not wanted to die the moment I stepped outdoors. Party’s over summer; SEE YA! But mostly the weather has served to underscore the discomfort of some necessary soul work. It’s been six months since Craig was fired from his position in ministry. The first three months we spent adjusting to me working full time and him not working at all (Oy Vey!). The second three months we spent adjusting to his new job and both of us working full time at which point I completely gave up ever caring about what’s for dinner or whether anyone eats at all.

 

And here we are. Forty-eight hours from the final severance check, the final tie to anything church-related, and me with enough normalcy and time on my hands to start uncovering the wounds and scars in order to see what’s left of me. The good news: I seem mostly intact.

 

I don’t know what I expected to happen at this point, but in some ways, I think I hoped to be further along than this? Which is silly, really. A decade of damage doesn’t magically go away in only six months. Perhaps it’s the settling that has me unsettled. For six months everything was new and exciting and amazing. RAH! RAH! RAH! And now? Well, now we’re settled. This is life. Probably life until we retire to the beach and what the hell are we going to do with it? That’s a question, isn’t it? Probably not one I’ll answer in one morning of writing.

 

You see, I’ve started making myself write every morning again. Most of it is not for public consumption but some of it may evolve into thoughts worth sharing. The thing about all this freedom is that I don’t want to squander it. I literally have everything I wanted, everything I asked the Universe for this time last year and I don’t want to waste time wallowing about in the mire of victimhood. And yet, I’ve rumbled with the chains of professional religion for so long, I haven’t quite figured out how to live without them. I’m so buoyant I don’t know what to do with my limbs, and I worry about floating away instead of using my freedom to fly. Or maybe I’m just creating my own drama now that I’m free of drama thrust upon me. I wouldn’t put it past me.

 

We’re racing into my favorite time of year. The span from October to January is traditionally a time I thrive. I’m using these creative morning moments to look at the months ahead as a canvas to paint on rather than a soapbox to stand on.  Now that I’m finally free to share whatever opinions I want, I feel less inclined to. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have to worry about setting myself apart from a culture which lately has me feeling more and more ashamed of its image. I’m looking forward to creating my own image and identity and exploring Divine images and identities previously unknown to me. For the past two years, we hoped to be done with Milledgeville by the close of the waning year, but this year we’ve chosen a new outlook. We’re ready to thrive in a place which grew on us when we weren’t looking and provided a chance at something entirely new in ways we never expected.

 

These are gifts I can’t ignore.

 

Last night as I was climbing into bed, I thought to myself, “This is my real life. What am I going to do with it now?” I know, nice put you sleep thoughts, aren’t they? But the truth of them is still ringing in my head this morning. This is my real life. I’m not waiting to move, or for the other shoe to drop – An aside, I don’t know how many shoes those people wore, but they dropped them at least monthly for years – or for things to get better. This is my real life to shape and create and do with whatever I please. The only person I answer to is just as invested in creating a great life with me as I am, which is another gift I don’t take lightly. Along the way, I’m certain to talk about my life experiences, both recently and long past. They have me shaped into the person I am, a damn fine, imperfect and evolving human being, more gifts upon gifts.

 

What will I do with my real life, my wild and precious life? I guess that’s partly what this space is for now, to unwrap all the gifts that freedom reveals and all the ways I am learning to grow and fly in it. This doesn’t have to be the settling place, instead, it can be a launching pad, a dynamic space which includes my wounds and experiences but isn’t limited by them. Where both what has happened to me and what I do with it propel me forward instead of constantly dragging me back.

 

What does life look like when the kids are grown and the mid-life crises are navigated, when the careers have changed and the retirement plans are decided and all that freedom you thought you had when you graduated college as a “real grown-up” (don’t take offense, I use quotation marks when I call myself a “real grown-up” too) finally makes an appearance?  Well, I don’t know. But I plan to find out – starting now, at the end of a hot, messy September.