I’ve begun waking up at 3:30 am with things on my mind. I get out of bed, light candles, but I can’t meditate. I drink coffee but I don’t get woke. I nibble on a favorite comfort snack: toast with honey and cinnamon, wrap a shawl around myself. Cozy. My version of creating a feeling of safety. And then I am back in my small childhood bedroom where I learned to self-soothe like this…a shoplifted Three Musketeers bar hidden in my sock drawer, a small radio tuned to Lux Radio Theater which I kept on low to drown out the fighting and sobbing downstairs, a second story window and a weeping willow tree on the front lawn I imagined climbing down and into the arms of… who? Any of the older married men I had begun having sex with by the time I was fifteen? Finding my father in the afterlife and berating him for leaving me alone with my volatile half mad mother when I was twelve?
Once I realized the white horse was not coming for me, in fact, it had been shot and sold for dog food, I found the ultimate safe place….a cool numb chamber inside where all my feelings got checked at the door. A sweet surgical painless operation that I readily consented to…sign here and the grief and terror you are feeling will be severed from you. You will proceed with your life as if you are whole. Marry. Have kids. Make friends. Do meaningful work. No one needs to know you abandoned your feelings in the cloak room six feet under.
Call it burn out. Call it whatever you want. All I know is that the rotting, stinking we- are-all going-to- burn- in- hell political news has awakened the dissociated numb one inside of me who survived by not caring. I read impassioned pleas to save the arctic, save the glaciers, save the whales the birds the last grassland the last unicorn, and my response is flat, flat lined, a metaphorical ho hum.
Now I know this is not all of me. For more than a decade I was a hospice social worker, capable of extending deep listening and compassion to the dying and their families. So what’s happening now to elicit this stone cold non-response? Why can’t I rouse myself to contribute $5.00 on a monthly basis to keep independent journalism alive, to march for climate change, to write fiery letters to the editor exposing greed and corruption?
I want to shake myself. Wake up. The world is burning. Turn on the light phone 911 turn your pockets inside out. Give. Care. Bleed.
And here’s the thing: I want to feel now. I want to claim all those dissociated pieces of myself that flew out the window, reassemble myself like a Barbie whose limbs have been torn off by teeth, by hands with bloodied cuticles, by a childhood avalanche of junk food and bad friends, fake IDs to buy real alcohol with boyfriends with slicked back hair, by stolen makeup by rude behavior by so many I don’t cares and fuck yous that to awaken these missing parts means being willing to accept the full spectrum of my grief and fear. Long gone is the need to protect myself from my family; they died by their own hands, their despair pulling them into a black hole they welcomed with exhaustion and relief. I want to have an opinion without being afraid I’ll be beaten for talking back. I want the courage to stop cowering in the face of the bullies, rapists, con artists, the hustlers who are stripping the earth with one hand, the other hand down our pants.
I want to thaw, to find my missing parts in the deep freeze like the last ten minutes of a horror flick…see, this is where they dismembered her, stowed her torso, her head, her heart.
I have a needle and thread and I am slowly stitching myself back together again, the hero of my own mythic journey, and this is how I am doing it. I had coffee with a dear friend yesterday and confessed. I told her I felt numb, despairing, impotent in the face of…well, everything. You know the list. And she told me she feels the same way. So do her husband and her daughter. So do some of our mutual friends. I cried and it was funny in a way because there I was feeling something so deeply while I was blubbering about not feeling anything.
I know there are people who were raised with encouragement and support. I know because before I start reading a book I always read the acknowledgements… to my mother who told me I could do anything; to my father who taught me to fight for justice. Well, it wasn’t like that for me, or for a lot of the men and women I know. We barely made it intact out of our brutal childhoods; we survived with sex, drugs, cutting ourselves, numbing ourselves, hating ourselves. But I also know that we are a force to be reckoned with because we are finding our voice now, the one that was gagged, the throat that was throttled. We are telling our stories again and again. I was afraid. I hurt. I want to feel whole now. I want to welcome all my raw alive sensations without trying to escape or numb them away.
So this is what I’m saying. Talk to your friends. Confess the years you were gone from yourself but don’t stop there. Weep so that your tears fall upon the earth, and in that spot a tree will blossom bearing fruit to nourish you, a tree to capture rain that will water the soil, a tree born from your own sorrow that will shelter you and keep you safe in the storm.
“Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.”
Mary Oliver – Red Bird