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It’s Not Always A Mental Illness!

7 Jul

I have worked in the mental health field for twenty-three years. I know the terrain extremely well. And although I am grateful that public knowledge of mental illness has increased, I grow weary when I frequently hear every societal problem attributed to mental illness.

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Not everything is a mental illness!

Sometimes we’re distraught because we’re going through something tough. Perhaps a death in the family, a divorce, or job loss triggers a challenging period. Or maybe we’re anxious because we haven’t learned to manage stress well and we’re going through significant life changes without much social support. These types of things greatly influence mood state and to a certain degree are a regular part of life. Human beings suffer terribly and we are all challenged by how to develop resiliency.

I invite us to consider the concept of mental wellness. How do we learn to function whether we’re ever given a mental health diagnosis or not? We all need to address mental wellness no different than we look after our physical health.

Mental health exists along a continuum. It is comparable to physical health. For instance, if I have a runny nose, am fatigued, and don’t feel well, I meet the criteria for a cold. After two weeks, when the symptoms have cleared, I no longer have the diagnosis. But if I have diabetes or a heart condition, I might have the diagnosis my entire life and then I learn to manage the symptoms. Mental illness is no different. Sometimes we’re given a diagnosis at one point in our lives but later, we may no longer meet criteria. With another illness, the diagnosis might persist. Or, we may never meet criteria for a diagnosis. Nonetheless, we still need to develop basic coping skills and to manage our emotions and stress in a healthy manner.

Contrary to popular belief, mental illness isn’t the root cause of all sociological problems. It is actually the other way around. Sociological problems can put people at risk for developing mental illness. There are only a cluster of diagnoses whose etiologies are based in pure biology and genetics. More often than not, mental illnesses emerge from a combination of factors such as trauma, genetic predisposition, environment, social isolation, family dynamics, relationship ruptures, abandonment, and abuse, etc.

If we want to reduce mental illness statistics, we also need to address bigger cosmic factors that contribute to it. We have to stop pointing fingers at “mental illness” as the cause for all and start looking at the impact of how we treat our fellow humans. TLC goes a long way in influencing mental wellness. So does social justice.

On the same token, just because we have risk factors doesn’t mean we’ll develop a mental illness. Likewise, even if we aren’t exposed to primary risk factors, we could still be vulnerable to developing a diagnosis. We could have all the support and advantages in the world and still live with schizophrenia or severe depression. Mental wellness is a complex issue because we humans are complex. We’re a unique blend of body, spirit, intellect, and emotions. We all have different temperaments and life experiences.

Finally, one of the greatest mythologies about mental health is that people with mental illness are all violent. It has become very vogue to explain every catastrophic event that occurs as a by-product of mental illness. If a crime is committed, we immediately assume the perpetrator had a mental illness. If a child or teen acts out, he or she must have a mental illness. Because who in his or her right mind would commit a crime if sane, right? Well, crimes are committed all the time by people who do not have a diagnosis. In fact, only four percent of gun homicides can be attributed to those with a mental illness. What then compels people to violence? Why do we hurt each other? Is it greed, entitlement, poor impulse control, no moral compass, ignorance, or evil? Who knows. But not everything is caused by mental illness alone.

But one thing is certain. We can all work on our mental wellness. We can challenge ourselves to engage in basic acts of self care. Exercise, get enough sleep, breathe, socialize, and relax. Explore feelings and get in touch with our inner selves. See a therapist or join a support group. Laugh. Reach out to others. Connect to something that endows life with meaning. Because we all need to feel like we have a purpose and like we’re in relation to others. That part isn’t rocket science. It’s fundamental to humanity.

 

 

Prison of Shame

12 Jul

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary for a 5th felony DUI she was transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was taken in a Sheriff’s bus. The vehicles are typically painted black and white like a zebra. It is rare to see one of these buses on the highway. When I do, I cringe. It is especially difficult if I notice prisoners’ faces at the windows. I have no idea whether my mom was handcuffed or if she talked to anyone during the ride.

My mother never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. Yet her silence spoke volumes.

When she was released from Chowchilla, she was given a Greyhound bus ticket to get from Central California to San Diego. She had asked me to take $200.00 from her accounts to purchase some items for her. Her instructions had been incredibly specific. Most important, she needed an outfit to wear on the bus so that she didn’t have to return home in orange prison attire. At the time, orange wasn’t the new black. She wanted a nice tracksuit and asked when I purchased this at Target that I try it on since we were the same size. She also wanted a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of bean dip. All of these items would have to pass inspection at the prison to ensure that drugs or weapons weren’t being smuggled in.

I drove to the mailbox store and quickly found out that packages sent to a state penitentiary required special paperwork. I fidgeted as the clerk asked me various questions related to the forms she was filling out. I remembered that even sending books from Amazon to the prison had been a challenge. I worried what the woman at the mailbox store thought of me because I was sending something to an inmate. As I paid the fifty bucks to have the package mailed, I realized both my mom and I were doing time in one way, shape, or form.

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Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.

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If I Wanted Your Unsolicited Advice, I’d Ask For It

27 Jun

We’ve all been there. At that baby shower or office function or social gathering where someone feels compelled to give us unsolicited advice. Not that we were asking for it. Yet that never seems to stop someone from telling us what we should do with our careers, our relationships, our hairstyles, or our investment portfolios while we’re holding a cocktail enjoying ourselves.

The meta messages here are “something is wrong with you” and “you’re not working hard enough.” Because if you were doing it right, life would be different.

Whenever someone starts pontificating about how if you just did x, y, and z, then your life would be just like his or hers, be on alert. Instead quietly say to yourself, “Dear people, there is nothing wrong with me. I repeat, there is nothing wrong with me.” Then get back to enjoying your life and listening to your own inner wisdom.

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting feedback from others can be very helpful. When we ask for it or when individuals ask if we’d like to hear their thoughts. We can then take or leave what we hear accordingly, but being pummeled with unwanted feedback is like being hit with a bull dozer.

Yesterday I was talking with an individual whom I’d only just met that morning. That didn’t stop her from giving me her two cents on what she thought I should be doing with my life. She’d known me for less than a half hour, yet made a number of personal recommendations. I wasn’t aware that my life needed fixing but apparently it does.

I then gathered my belongings and headed straight to the golf course where I’d planned to have lunch. Later that evening I had my neighbors over for drinks. Because there is nothing wrong with me.

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And there is nothing wrong with you!

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Embracing Our Phantoms

3 Oct

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I’ve always thought of the “Phantom of the Opera” as a haunting and dark love story. Never did I see it from a Jungian perspective, i.e. that the Phantom represents a vital part of Christine, the heroine. But when viewed as such, the story reflects deeper power. And in a way, the story makes a hell of a lot more sense. It’s not just a gothic tale with plush costumes. Instead it’s a tale of cosmic beauty.

What would it be like if the very part of us that we despised, that lived in the bowls of a church, was also the part of ourselves that served as our angel of music? What if the deformed part of ourselves, hiding beneath a mask, was the part that inspired creativity? The part that drew out beauty, passion, and Divinity? Would it be possible to love this Phantom? Or would we run from him in fear?

The reality is that if we deny this part of ourselves, it will indeed possess us. It will keep us captive. It will haunt our dreams and wake us up at night. It will keep us prisoner from the Light of day and keep us forever victims. It will also bar those waiting to fully love us in a way we never imagined possible.

Perhaps meeting our Phantom side represents the greatest love story ever. Here is the epic tale of befriending him in the dark and delivering him a kiss. Maybe it’s about touching the deformed face under the mask with profound gentleness and compassion. And when we do that, perhaps we are finally liberated. Free to leave the basement of the church and free to stand in majesty. Uniting with the animus, we are finally whole.

Perhaps the world’s greatest lover is right here inside oneself, in the music of the night.

Broken Open By Love

7 Sep

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Sadly, it is often only in retrospect that we see our parents more clearly. It took my mom’s death to really understand the depths of her love for me, despite her deficiencies stemming mostly from alcoholism and depression.

My mom was not initially depressed. In my formative years she was vivacious, enthusiastic, hard working, and fun. But when her second marriage ended, my mother was never the same again. That was the beginning of the end for her emotionally.

I remember being frustrated at her never ending melancholy that would get amped up during the holidays. Who would carve the turkey, if there wasn’t a man to do it? Why cook a turkey if there wasn’t a man there to enjoy it? And who would help us put the Christmas tree on top of the car and who would get it in the stand? These were the jobs for men. Now, we women had to figure it out. I was a kid. I loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just wanted to enjoy the bloody holidays without her still crying over a husband who was no longer around.

What I didn’t realize was that in some ways, the train had left the station for my mom. Despite actively dating, she never again found a suitable partner. The whole process wore her down. When she did finally feel a connection with someone, he was married. Completely out of character with her morals, she had an affair, which of course was the worst thing ever for her self-esteem. The man never left his wife for her and once again, my mom felt she had no value. She couldn’t get a man to stick. She also had to make her way in the world financially all on her own, which she nobly did.

During the time I focused on her neurosis and fragility, I neglected to see her largesse of spirit. It took her years to get over the hurt of her second failed marriage and yet because of me, she learned to forgive. When I moved back to California as an adult, I initially stayed with the man she’d been married to and with his family. It must have torn at her heart that I was with them instead of her, but she didn’t have room for me in her tiny studio apartment. At the end of the day, she knew that her ex was helping me in ways she couldn’t. When he bought me a much needed used car, my mom was grateful despite the weirdness of it all. She was able to transcend her hurt of not getting the life she desired for the fact that he was helping me, her daughter, who needed father figures in her life. My mother also showed up at my biological father’s bedside when he was dying, once again to support me.

My mom always thought that her second ex-husband stopped loving her. I think he always cared for her, despite moving on to a new relationship, but that was too hard for her to see. After all, she never got another shot with someone. And she wanted the love that comes to a wife; not the love that feels more like that reserved for an acquaintance or neighbor. A “hello” here, a “hey, what’s up?” there… But once again, it’s the breaking of hearts that often opens them. When my mom died by suicide, it was her ex that was there with me identifying the body. It was her ex and his wife, that hosted my relatives at their house because with Comic-Con on that week in San Diego, all the hotels were booked. He and his wife hosted the reception after my mom’s service and took me under their wing during my grief.

One day while swimming and trying to work out an issue that had been troubling me, I felt my mother’s spirit so strongly that tears came to my eyes despite the fact that I was submerged in water. I heard her say in my head, “On the other side, it doesn’t matter. All the things humans worry about, it doesn’t matter either way. In the end, it doesn’t matter.” I realized then that she’d found the love she’d so long craved on earth. The love that here on this planet we often fail to perceive because we’re caught up in duality, caught up in lack, caught up in ego, and caught up in need. Living in a human body, in the human world, is painful.

It’s a long journey home. It takes active work to perceive that home is here and available to us all while still living in this dimension. My mother reminds me that love is all there is, if we reach out to Spirit and ask Spirit’s presence to be known. The rest of it just doesn’t really matter.

 

 

On Trauma, New Hearts, And New Bones

29 Aug

Without a doubt, Ezekiel is one of the weirdest books of the bible. It juxtaposes extremely misogynist, violent passages with some of the most exquisite prose on healing and redemption ever written. It is a strange read indeed and perhaps one of my favorite texts – perhaps because of this very contrast between horror and transcendence.

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Ezekiel is rarely preached on. After all, how do you explain that God alludes to Jerusalem as a whore, for aligning herself with other nations and that for this unfaithfulness, God basically decrees she is brutalized, raped, stoned, and cut to pieces?

Ezekiel 16:35 – Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord God.

Yeah. That’ll preach…

I’m not a biblical scholar so I’m not going to exegete this text or provide a long historical context for this particular book of the Old Testament. Yet current scholars speak of the prophet as being traumatized himself, as a Hebrew in exile, and that some of the violence of his exhortations reflects his own experiences of victimization. Scholars claim Ezekiel’s own internalization of the oppressor. What I’m more focused on are the healing and the redemptive components of the book. How do traumatized people restore their hearts and souls? How do humans find meaning, hope, and life after profound brutality? How do cultures that have been decimated, exterminated and/or marginalized ever experience wholeness again? How do survivors survive? How do people face the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man and not have hearts of stone? How do people receive new hearts? These are the challenges of healing trauma on personal and political levels. More often than not, we need God’s redemptive grace for transformation to occur.

If God is the breath – the spirit – the ruach – how do we breathe in new life?

Is it not in breathing that emotions release and life force begins to flow again?

We see in Ezekiel 37 a profound shift in language and message:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Ezekiel 36:26 states: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

I love these passages for as I watch the news each night and take in what I know of the world, the amount of trauma truly overwhelms. The degree of suffering in the world is beyond belief. But somehow, the spirit endures. It lives and transforms and there is a message of hope – despite it all.

While I don’t condone the misogynist language of this ancient patriarchal text, the violent metaphors, contrasted with healing and redemption, nonetheless exerts its power.

The Roles We Are Vs. The Ones We “Play”

11 Aug

The other day I was in the drug store when I heard a girl who couldn’t have been a day over nine years old say in a sharp voice to her younger sibling, “You need to stop running around and get here in line with me, right now!” I did a double take. The girl’s voice was not her own. It was clearly channeled from her harried mother. Someone had put the girl in the mother role, expecting her to look after her sibling and she was pulling it off with a Meryl Streep performance. The incongruity of her little body juxtaposed with the adult posturing of  stress and impatience was astonishing.

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What roles do we play and which ones do we authentically own?

As a drama therapist, I encourage people to expand their role repertoires and to not always play the same parts. On the other hand, I believe in an authentic self that supersedes any roles we play or conventions life asks of us.

What about the roles we deeply long to star in that we haven’t been offered? How do we account for a career stalemate and/or turn our game around? How do we simply write and cast the movie, assign ourselves the lead and then pick the supporting players?

About two years ago, I listened to the poet David Whyte give a lecture/reading in Asilomar, CA. I had had the fluke chance to meet David a few months prior, but I had never attended one of his events. His theme centered on “the art of asking the beautiful question.” At one point he asked us to reflect on a couple of words that had resonance for us and/or that we wanted to better cultivate in our lives. He then had us write the words down. I scribbled “mother” and “lover”, two words I felt I could barely identify with, yet as soon as I wrote “mother”, I realized I completely resonated with the word. Although I had never given birth and my two cats had just passed away, I realized I was more than maternal. I had loved on and nurtured scores of young people in my life and had more innate, motherly instincts than many who have given actual birth. I was reminded of a statement a male friend once said to me. “Lise, anyone can fuck. Anyone can get pregnant. Not everyone knows how to shape and encourage a young person’s development.” He was right. If mothering was about shaping and fostering a young person’s strengths and potential, then I was a mother.

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But now this other word…. Lover… Shit. I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even been kissed for years. I felt completely bankrupt. How could I be a lover without a lover to love?

If you don’t know Asilomar, David’s event was held at a site along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific coastline imaginable. Asilomar basically butts up against beautiful Pebble Beach, the 17 mile drive, and the famous golf course. During the afternoon breaks between David’s talks, participants were free to roam along the beach. After the session, I took a long stroll along the shore. It was a stunningly gorgeous day in January. The sky was a glorious blue, the sea greener than a cat’s eye, yellow labs played in the waves, and the sun brushed upon my skin as gently as a lover’s caress. I watched couples holding hands and then felt the pit of emptiness in my stomach. “I’m not a lover. I don’t have that.”

The instant this thought went through my mind, the Universe defied my thought distortion and challenged me to a debate. Simultaneously, the wind joined the sun, stroking my face. It was nature’s form of a menage a trois.  I found myself smiling at the pleasure of the moment. And I thought, “WHOA!!!!! I AM A LOVER! I am a lover of nature, of people, of the sea, of animals, of the things about which I am passionate, I am a lover of words and art and dance, and I am a lover of life. Nothing and no one can take that identity from me. Not only that, I am sensual and I express that, whether I am sharing my body with someone or not.”

From that day on I identified myself as a consummate lover. I was not a wife. I wasn’t even a girlfriend. But I was a lover. It was a role I’d played many times, but now I was fully embodying it as part of my authentic self with or without a co-star.

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Within two months after that, a real life lover materialized. And now, once again, I am a woman without a consort. Without a dance partner for sharing and enjoying romantic love. People tell me, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone. ” I despise that phrase. I despite the whole idea of it. Sure. You can definitely shift your focus by pouring your love and sensuality into someone else. Sometimes this is healthy and a natural progression of life. A relationship no longer works and you step into one that does. But to naively say, “Reclaim yourself by fucking someone else,” is the most bullshit way to take one’s heart and power back. If love making comes naturally and organically and joyously, that is one thing. But to just scout out some lover in a bar to make yourself feel alive again, will only reinforce emptiness that can’t be filled by someone’s sperm or a few moments of ecstasy in the sheets.

A lover is someone who is passionate, powerful, sensual and compassionate. Another person may help strengthen these qualities and draw them out in us. But true love is sustained when we are these qualities with or without the body in the bed next to us.

Ladies, the sooner you figure this out, the sooner you’ll really understand the power of your own self-worth and what is truly sexy. You are the lover and player of your own life. Do not wait for someone else to validate that which is feminine within you. Honor it, embody it, and be it first and foremost for yourself. Then if you so wish to share yourself with someone who is worthy and who you feel delight in, more power to you. But the power is yours. Not the other way around.

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough

14 Jul

I have never been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. Sorry. If insight was enough to change, most of us would have quit smoking, lost weight, and kept any other New Year’s resolutions by now. Most of us would know we are worthy despite maybe having been mistreated as a child and most of us would make choices for ourselves that are healthy.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think influences our emotions and behaviors and without a doubt there is some truth here. If I wake up and see that it is raining, a thought such as “Oh, crap! It’s raining. Now the day is going to suck,” will definitely get the day off on the wrong foot. Yet if I wake up and think, “Oh, wonderful! I love the sound of rain on the roof and we need the rain,” then I’m going to be in a much better disposition. But what if you implement the positive thought and yet your mood doesn’t follow suit?

Herein lies the problem. Our thoughts aren’t enough. Here in Western society, we make cognition the King, the Supreme Being. Thinking (pun intended) reins over all systems. We negate the intelligence of our emotions, the secret knowledge of the heart, and the ridiculous accuracy of our guts.

In reality, behind every thought form is energy and energy vibrates at certain frequencies. Not only that, the energy that accompanies subconscious thought patterns often trumps any conscious work on “catch it, change it, change it” strategies.

How then do we break down old narratives?

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I’m a firm believer that some of the deconstruction has to start on the physical, cellular level. We do this using our breath, by having corrective, positive interpersonal interactions, and by creating new neural pathways vis-a-vis kinesthetic movement. In the process we begin to rearrange dimensions of our nervous system, which in turn influences mood, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We embody new narratives when we create a new reality of presence.

Yet we also have to purge ourselves of the energy associated with the traumas that created the thought forms in the first place. What subconscious contracts did we make with our parents? What energy did we pick up in the household (or in the society at large)? What belief systems do we carry that aren’t even ours? Have we taken on one parent’s issues and energy in order to stay loyal to him or her? Are we subconsciously holding ourselves back because to live a different life would be to betray mom or emasculate dad? Do we dare to be happy if our ancestors weren’t?

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How come the third generation of Holocaust survivors sometimes relate to the terror of the Nazi occupation on a visceral level, when the family history was never discussed or even acknowledged? Why might a child in utero sense the mother’s fears and resentments about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? Why do various ethnicities carry historical trauma even when healing has occurred and why can you burst out in tears during a massage when a certain knot in a muscle is expunged? And why can the touch of one’s beloved make you cry out in relief and ecstasy?

Sometimes my clients look at me weird when I suggest a method of treatment that entails flushing out traumatic memories and patterns vis-a-vis the energy centers of the body, or chakras. Yet even skeptics can’t help but acknowledge that when they place their hands on their hearts or throats while declaring a specific statement or pattern unique to their experience, they sometimes experience intense images, feelings, insights, and sensations. The body doesn’t lie; the body keeps the score; the body is a wealth of knowledge. The subconscious, now made conscious loosens, as does the energy and resulting belief systems associated with traumas. Catharsis, as painful as it can be, clears and removes long held defense structures held within the body and cognitive schemas.

We can’t always think our way out of the the energetic ramifications of trauma. In fact, we never can. We feel, intuit, move, and then think our way out of intra-psychic prisons. Prayer too helps because it changes the energetic frequency when you invite in the presence of the Divine. Catharsis of repressed emotion and giving voice to long held anger can also liberate and energize.

Healing is a far more complex process than keeping thought records and dissecting behavior like diagramming sentences in grammar class. This can become mental masturbation and a Woody Allen monologue. Transformation comes when we dive into the energy of our traumas and into the joy of movement, breath, and sensate experience.

 

I Found God in an Airport Bathroom Stall

16 Jun

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Instead of finding God on the corner of First and Amistad, I found Him in an airport bathroom stall. Yes, an airport bathroom stall. Or at least as I came out of one.

I’d been crying. Sitting on a toilet with my hands in my face. It had been a year of crying in airports or wherever else my damn psyche wanted to let loose. I had no shame anymore. If the grief was waving through, I found somewhere to sit and let the emotions have their way.

As I came out of the stall, I noticed myself in the mirror. I looked like a drowned rat with puffy eyes. All the beauty and vitality were washed away like the mascara that had come off my face.

I thought I was all alone yet I wasn’t. I sensed her presence. A young woman approached me. She too had no shame. “Do you need a hug?” she asked. I simply nodded. I’d learned long ago that when someone offers kindness, you don’t refute it.

The young woman put her arms around me and I started convulsing with sobs. The kind that make you sound like a dying animal. She simply stroked my back like I was her baby that needed soothing. Oh, how I needed soothing. She didn’t flinch or pull away. She waited a full five minutes until the wailing subsided.  When I pulled away, I saw that she was crying too.

They say that God cries when we cry. Perhaps that is true because the angel that touched my heart cried tears of compassion and anguish too even though I didn’t say a word.

Resurrection comes in funny places. Even in airport bathroom stalls.

 

Love Is A Selfie

8 May

The other day I was talking with a friend. He mentioned a photograph he’d seen in a collection entitled “The Ten Worst Selfies.” The picture he described was of a woman scantily clad in underwear and bra taking a selfie while her six year old son looked away towards the wall. If a picture says a thousand words, this one sums it up.

I didn’t even see the photograph. I can imagine it though. I know the scenario all too well.

When my parents were alive, no one took selfies. My father however was the poster child for narcissism. True to the myth, he was in love with his own image.

I might as well have been in the bedroom watching my dad take a picture of himself in his underwear with my head turned to the wall. I saw my dad in his underwear many times. I also heard him making love with the girlfriend of the day, week, month or year, as his bedroom was right above mine. I heard him call each of them “honey” as if she was the most gorgeous, wonderful and ONLY woman on the planet. In reality, she was always one of MANY. I recall a Christmas Eve when we went to two different women’s houses where my dad wooed each. Then Christmas morning we went to a third girlfriend’s house. I agued with my dad in the car that he needed to pick amongst them instead of stringing them all along. Lying to each was cruel.

My dad needed multiple women. One pussy wasn’t enough for him. His ego needed constant stroking. That he was a divorce attorney served him beautifully. He always had vulnerable, broken women before him whose husbands had broken their hearts. He would be that great guy who would treat them better.

In his mind, he loved them all and treated them well. Yet if one got upset with him, there was always someone else waiting in line next for him, so he never had to experience any kind of genuine loss, remorse, or heartache. He also never had to be accountable for his behavior.

My dad was truly evil. But I look around me and see mild versions of the same behavior happening everywhere in our society. A relationship doesn’t work out but no matter. We can just start texting and instant messaging someone else. Why not cultivate something new and improved? Heck, let’s do that while we’re in a relationship so that if things fall on rocky ground, we’re already planting the seeds for our next venture. We might be bummed initially at the time of a break up, but those endorphins from the first flush of attraction are quite the rush. That sparkle is so much better than the hum drum of a long term relationship, the bickering, and the tending to each other’s needs. Not to mention how cool we look when we can bag another babe or guy instantaneously. That’s quite the super power to have. Why not post a picture of our new situation  and see how many likes we garner, as if we’re all the prom king and queen from high school?

We justify our actions by saying we want more, we want something new, it’s not healthy or normal to practice monogamy. We say we had a right. We did nothing wrong. We didn’t hurt anybody. It’s all good. Be a little more open minded. These things just happen.

We live in a carpe diem society high on instant gratification and low on emotional maturity or self-sacrifice.

We all yearn for contentment and love and relationship and yet we’re doing very little to learn how to sustain long term care and appreciation of one another. I think we’re all guilty on some levels, myself included.

I am that young child watching her parent take a selfie in a sexual, seductive pose. I am that child who witnessed so much crap that I feel I could vomit. I am that child who vowed I’d never be treated like a disposable object or commodity. I am that child who declared no man would ever define whether I was beautiful or not. And I am that child who grieves for what I see in the modern world wondering if love is real or a mirage in the desert.

Perhaps love is a selfie. And it’s very selfish these days.