Yearly Archives: 2013

Brighter Than Today

Yesterday was the winter solstice. While the solstice has significance in many religions, it has always been a powerful secular symbol to me. The solstice is literally the darkest day of the year. While a powerful metaphor in itself, darkness and cold have real consequences. There is seasonal affective disorder, the cold prevents me from doing a lot of my favorite outdoor activities, and there are even links between emotional warmth and physical warmth.

Winter is also a dark time in other ways. December is prime breakup season. The winter holidays are a stressful time for many people. The new year is often a source of disappointment as we inventory our goals from the previous year and realize how short we’ve fallen. There is often family drama. For atheists, this time of year can be especially isolating as overt displays of religion reach an all-time high, especially among those who have religious families.

The solstice has meaning before me because it means that, though the world is wreathed in maximum darkness, every day for the next six months will be slightly, imperceptibly, but undeniably brighter. It means that every day is the brightest it’s been since December 21st. It means that we have 365 full days before the world is ever this dark again. To me, the solstice marks the turning point from things getting worse to things getting better.

Last weekend, I attended Brighter Than Today: A Secular Solstice in New York City. It was a celebration of secular values through music and storytelling. While I had some criticisms of the event, I truly enjoyed being able to spend the solstice with a group of like-minded people (including my partners and some of my favorite people from the community) celebrating secular values like togetherness, hope, and beauty. I recommend that anyone who can make it next year, do so.

I want to wish everyone a happy solstice, and to remind you that no matter what, tomorrow will be brighter than today.

A Post About Bras

As a pre-teen/teen, I was, to say the very least, physically late blooming.  What I had in bizarre mental wisdom and fortitude, I lacked in evidence of pubescence until I was about 16.  And I was completely ashamed of it.

When I started 6th grade, I came to class to find that many of the girls who had looked just like me the year before had started to really grow up, and all of them were obsessed with breasts and the potential for a first period.  It was relentless.  It was all they talked about.  Everyone wanted to know what bra size everyone else was and whether they had “gotten it” yet.  I always tried to hide during these onslaughts of maturation discussion because I was exemplifying nothing and couldn’t relate.

As I didn’t have any boobs for a long time, I didn’t wear a bra.  This seems pretty obvious and logical to me, but the other girls had moms who were all about getting their daughters ready to be women and apparently a bra signified that.  I’ve always thought that the concept of the training bra was sort of hilarious because I don’t really think there’s much too it, other than remembering to put one on.  But the girls who had one were proud of it and made those of us who didn’t have one feel like toddlers or simply defective.

When I was in 8th grade, every girl in my class was forced to go to an all day seminar/workshop about how to be proud to be a woman and to not feel shame about it.  However, it ended up being a day when I felt possibly the most body/development shame that I had ever felt up to that point.  According to the workshops, all there was to being a woman was boobs and periods.  After watching an assembly that consisted of popular oldies sung with rewritten lyrics (like “Walk like a girl.  You can rule the world.  Walk like a girl, my friend”) and reassurance that we can do anything we put our minds to, we had to go to these workshops.  The workshops began with an icebreaker activity called Girl Bingo (or something) and you had to go around asking people things in the squares to see what you all had in common.  If you found someone with a matching answer to yours, you got to check it off.  Of course, one square was “Bra Size” and another square was “When did you get your first period?”  Having had experienced neither of these things, I felt mortified every time someone came over to me to ask.  The rest of the workshop was more of the same, talking about breasts, blood, and how cruel boys are.  I was ridiculously anxious the entire time and left feeling worse about my own femininity than I ever could have dreamed.

At home, there wasn’t a lot of body shaming per se, but my mother was constantly worried about her weight.  She managed to not exactly pass this on to me, but one thing I was aware of was that she was oddly uncomfortable with the subject of breasts.  Hers were small (she is a generally petite woman) and she often seemed to judge larger busted women for some unknown reason.  The easy explanation is that she was likely uncomfortable with her own, and anything that made her uncomfortable was cause for judgment of others, seemingly.  She used to get on my sister’s case (behind her back) about my sister referencing her boobs all the time.  It was true that my sister was sort of bizarre about it, always pointing out how often she got food on her shirt, right on her boobs!  But, like, whatever, she was sort of bizarre about a lot of things.

What I’m saying is, boobs were a really uncomfortable subject for me and apparently my entire family.  For a bunch of hippie/sort of pagan types, this really seems ridiculous, but someday I will write my memoirs and it will be titled, “This All Seems Pretty Ridiculous, Honestly”.

Gym class was the worst.  As all students have had to do, we were forced to change into gym uniforms in a locker room together where there was no privacy.  And everyone loved to comment on everyone else’s underwear, especially if it was to demean and draw attention to the fact that you were underdeveloped.

At some point though, my pituitary gland kicked in and the things all those strange health class films talk about started to happen to even me.  Before that, I learned about the pituitary in said health class and, since it was at the base of the brain, I thought that maybe I could manipulate it through my head, pressing on my hair hoping to give it a message to get going with the hormone action already.

Yes, I was getting pretty desperate for the mocking to stop.  I was also 14 and didn’t really understand science or logic yet.

And kick into gear it did, slowly but surely and by the time I was 16, I looked pretty much like I do now.  But I was pretty ashamed of my body and was carrying it like someone who would get mocked.  While I wore interesting clothes, they were not form fitting and I kept the fact that I didn’t wear a bra yet as much of a secret as I could.

But gym still sucked.  And I was getting really tired of having to either hide in a bathroom stall or have people stare at me and comment (these people were my friends, by the way…ugh).

So, I decided that I was going to be brave and ask my mom to buy me a bra.  I didn’t have any of my own money (I only got that a few times a year), so I couldn’t take myself at the time.  Also, I figured that this was one of those things that parents do for their kids.  And yet, I was terrified and completely embarrassed by the thought of asking.  But not as embarrassed as I was to not be wearing one in the locker room.

One morning, I mustered all the courage I could, and I was leaving for school, I said, “Hey, Mom.  Do you think we could go out and get me a bra?”

She heard me and looked at me with this strange, skeptical look on her face. “What do you need that for?” she asked in a sort of adversarial tone.

“Well, um, I, uh, have to change in front of people for gym class and it’s embarrassing.”

“Why? You’re just changing in front of a bunch of girls, right?”

“Yeah…but…I…it’s still embarrassing.”

“Yeah, fine, we can go out and get you one.”

She seemed exasperated by the notion and I felt mortified once again by the subject.  I was quickly learning the lesson that there was no way to not be uncomfortable about breasts.

The next weekend, my mom took me to go get a bra.  For whatever reason, she thought it was more appropriate to go to the King of Prussia Mall for it, instead of The Gallery.  KOP was a 45 minute drive from our house and The Gallery was a 30 minute walk.  Who knows?

So we get to the Mall and walk over to Macy’s and find the lingerie section.  I was amazed, looking around at all the options.  I was under the impression that we went to this place for a professional fitting or something, since I had zero clue what I needed to get.  My mother also had zero clue, having never worn a bra in her life either.  But apparently, she decided she was an expert and eyeballed what I would need.  She grabbed a bra said, “This will fit you,” based on looking at my chest through a baggy t-shirt, bought it and we were on our way.

I got home, and was not shocked to find that the bra did not remotely fit me.  It was a 34B and it felt like a corset without any of the flattering aspects.  So, basically, I didn’t have a bra STILL.

I decided that asking my mom for help in this regard was a lost cause, given the Mad Dash Through the Bra Racks I had endured.  So I started saving my money that I got every now and again and finally, after several months had enough to take myself to Kmart (of all places) and get myself something.  I had no clue how a bra was supposed to fit and was too embarrassed to ask anyone who worked there for help, so I found something that felt comfortable and looked fine (I guess) and purchased it in three different colors and walked out of the store having accomplished something that really shouldn’t be all that much of an accomplishment.

It would be years until a friend would take me to an actual professional place and I would be informed that I was wearing the completely wrong size for 15 years.  But whatever, those bras that I bought myself were triumphant purchases. It was a time when I had a nagging problem that was causing me a lot of stress and I found a solution.

Of course, looking back, this was definitely one of those times when I learned more shame than I needed to.  I told this story to my therapist last night and we were laughing and she said, “If it wasn’t so absurd, I’d cry.”

I think this is a pretty apt description of my youth.

These days, I am generally told that my boobs are my best physical feature.  This is sort of a bittersweet thing for me given elements of the stories I just told you.  It’s like, “well, that’s great, I guess, but can’t you see that it is shameful to acknowledge them?” In addition, as an American woman, I fear that if I did not have them no one would look at me ever.  Media, old “friends”, experiences like the ones described above had resulted in my internalizing this idea that I am ugly and not much to look at other than THOSE BOOB OMG and, while it might sound absurd, I fear that I would be nothing without them. I know this is a lie, but sometimes it feels incredibly true.

A large part of my current therapeutic work is about understanding and ridding myself of the immense shame I feel for all kinds of things.  It is unsurprising that I have this, since I grew up around all kinds of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, job shaming, money shaming, art shaming, sex/slut shaming…really, anything you can think of, I was around shaming of it. So, it’s going to take a while.

But, it’s super worth it, you know?

Relationship Anarchy and The Spectrum of Relationship Control

For most people, having a sexual/romantic relationship with a person means exercising some kind of control over that person. Traditional couples vary in the amount and types of control they exercise over one another, but part of traditional monogamy is a substantial amount of control over a partner’s sexuality and “outside” relationships.

Part of polyamory’s primary appeal to me was the breaking down of this power structure. For me, the biggest appeal of opening my relationship was that my partner was allowed to do what she wanted, without worrying that she was infringing on my rights as her partner. Several forms of the types of monogamy that I endorse involve partners exercising less power over one another (or explicitly recognizing and formalizing their power structure).

RELATIONSHIP ANARCHY

Relationship AnarchyRecently, I’ve been reading about a relationship style that radically breaks down the relationship power structure: relationship anarchy. As the name suggests, it involves the rejection of the traditional power structure that is the norm in our society. Like polyamory, RA doesn’t have one clear definition or philosophy, but I’ve found several sources which give consistent descriptions.

As will all research projects, we start with Wikipedia:

Relationship anarchy (abbreviated RA) is the practice of forming relationships that are not bound by set rules. It goes beyond polyamory by postulating that there need not be a formal distinction between different types of relationships. Relationship anarchists look at each relationship (romantic or otherwise) individually, as opposed to categorizing them according to societal norms such as ‘just friends’, ‘in a relationship’, ‘in an open relationship’, etc.

The Thinking Asexual has a primer on RA basics. A short excerpt:

A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes sex. A relationship anarchist does not assign special value to a relationship because it includes romance, if they even acknowledge romance as a distinct emotion or set of behaviors in the first place. A relationship anarchist begins from a place of assuming total freedom and flexibility as the one in charge of their personal relationships and decides on a case by case basis what they want each relationship to look like. They may have sex with more than one person, they may be celibate their whole lives, they may live with someone they aren’t having sex with, they may live alone no matter what, they may raise a child with one sexual partner or multiple sexual partners, they may raise a child with a nonsexual partner, they may have highly physical/sensual relationships with multiple people simultaneously (some or all of whom are not sexually and/or romantically involved with them), etc.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, and specifically about how RA applies to asexuality and other nontraditional orientations. There is also a good introduction tot the concept at The Anarchist Library. My favorite part:

Life would not have much structure or meaning without joining together with other people to achieve things — constructing a life together, raising children, owning a house or growing together through thick and thin. Such endeavors usually need lots of trust and commitment between people to work. Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything — it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments like raising children or moving in together have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings. Start from scratch and be explicit about what kind of commitments you want to make with other people!

As you can probably tell, I find RA very appealing, not as something i want to do, but more as a name for something I am already doing. These concepts echo concepts that I have been advocating since I began practicing nonmonogamy, and they resonate with a lot of other ideas that I’ve encountered in the poly community.

THE SPECTRUM OF RELATIONSHIP CONTROL

The term “polyamory” is broad. It covers a lot of different relationship styles, some more controlling than others. If you’re a member of any polyamory groups on FacebookReddit, or other online communities, you’ll often see disagreements regarding the amount of control that’s ideal to exercise in a relationship. Some community leaders such as Franklin Veaux explicitly argue in favor of a less controlling dynamic. Often, this idea offends people (particularly unicorn hunters) who feel that they need to maintain a substantial degree of control in their relationships. Media coverage of polyamory tends to exacerbate this issue.

These disagreements arise often, and my theory is these disagreement are inevitable until we come up with a more robust vocabulary. The problem is that people hear different things when you use a term like “polyamory,” specifically in regards to how much control partners exercise over one another. Relationships exist on a spectrum of control, ranging from total master/slave relationships on one end (where one partner makes all major decisions for the other) to completely independent relationship anarchy on the other. In the middle are all other relationships. The archetypical spectrum looks something like this:

Relationship control continuum
^Click to embiggen. There are many other archetypes that carry assumptions about the level of control in the relationship. The problem is that many relationships don’t fit into the archetypes on the spectrum. Some polyamorous relationships can be just as controlling, if not moreso, than traditionally monogamous relationships. Some polyamorous relationships have all of the same rules as traditional monogamy, just with additional people. Some skeptically monogamous relationships can be just as free and egalitarian as relationship anarchists.

I think that, when most of us get involved in the poly community, we’re looking for like-minded people who share our philosophy on relationships. The problem is that those of us on the right of the spectrum have very little in common with polyamorous people on the left of the spectrum (and actually much more in common with skeptically monogamous people on the right of the spectrum). So long as we have no way of communicating our level of control in our relationships, these disagreements are going to continue.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important for people to be exposed to other perspectives. Particularly, I think newer poly people (who tend to be further on the left of the spectrum) benefit enormously from the perspectives of more experienced poly people (who tend to be further to the right on the spectrum). It’s important for people to see examples of sustainable relationships and how they operate. I’m also not a fan of exclusion, so I’m not advocating forming communities that keep anyone out.

I do think, however, that as polyamory grows in popularity, it will be necessary to come up with a more robust vocabulary to describe our relationships. Any ideas?

Adventures in Therapy: Owning Up to the Truth

[Content Note: Sexual assault, abuse]

This might be a difficult read.  Please know that yes, I am starting with a new therapist next week who I think will give me the help I desperately need.  I write here because the process deserves documentation and because to have it concretely down in words is a step toward recovery.

Things that are true: Emotional strength doesn’t usually feel strong.  Fear accompanies courage. Sometimes the wounds of what has been done to you do not open until years after the damage is done.  Many lessons we learn as children are false lessons.

I am a survivor.

Many of you may assume somewhat rightly that I am referring to being a survivor of sexual assault. Yes, I am a survivor of that.  I could not say that until recently because I refused to call it sexual assault and because it could have been worse, I couldn’t credit myself with “surviving”.  You know how it goes don’t you?  There are levels of assault and you only get to feel a certain amount of bad depending on the level.  It’s like the terror alert system, accept there are a lot of things you’re not supposed to not feel bad about and if you do, well, you’re weak and probably brought it on yourself anyway.  I mean, having sex you regret isn’t assault.

Or whatever.  Fuck you. Regret born from fear and a feeling of lack of concern or consent is assault.  Yes, internet, I said it.  Having sex you didn’t want to have is nonconsensual and is therefore rape.  Plain and simple.  I’m tired of this shit.  You don’t get to police people’s pain.  It hurts because a wound has been inflicted. It hurts and it shouldn’t fucking happen.

Seriously, you guys.

But actually, I want to talk about how I ended up there and why I was quiet and felt I had no choice in the matter back then.  It is because I am a survivor of insidious emotional abuse…abuse I endure for my entire young life for as long as I can remember.  My first memories were knowing certain truths that were so very false.  But I was a kid.  I was a good kid.  What defenses did I have?

I remember lying there bracing myself for pain I had asked to please not be inflicted upon me wondering why I didn’t just get up and go home.  At the time I thought, “well, I let it get this far.  This is my fault.  You can’t just stop at this stage of the game.  You deserve this.”  But what that really was about was a profound belief, barely conscious, that I do not matter.  My well-being does not matter.  My safety does not matter.  My happiness is irrelevant.

Where would I pick up such an idea?  I mean, I’m an American for fuck’s sake! Individualism! Westward expansion!  Killing buffalo on the way to Oregon in order to make a life in the gold filled mountains.  Seizing life by the hojos in order to fulfill your own desires! That’s ‘Merica!

But, I assumed that was for someone else.  Or more to the point, I was taught from the earliest age that to be of service to others who have big dreams, to sacrifice of yourself until you have nothing left to aid in the achievement of those desires, to put my own well-being aside when someone else had problems, was the only way to be a Good Person.  More accurately, it was the only way to earn love.  I believed that putting myself first would directly result in a loss of love.  I did not believe that I had any value other than what I could do for other people and if there was ever a time when I could have done more (and you can always do more), I was not doing enough and was unworthy of happiness or love.

Pretty fucked up, right?  It didn’t get better once I was in school and I attracted friends who exploited this about me.  I was exploited for my kindness, obedience and lack of self worth at home and at school…and wasn’t even really aware of it until I was well into my 20’s.

I was depressed for most of my young life as well.  I didn’t think of it as clinical because I was surrounded by awful people almost all the time.  At home, my parents were my best friends.  I didn’t like people my own age.  This is mostly because I grew up fast.  I had a lot of responsibilities at the house, not the least of which was being a counselor, almost a contemporary to them.  I took on their weaknesses and worries and didn’t know it was happening.  I was a kid and learned a bunch of wrong lessons, interpreting what I heard in the worst way and then not having it disproven.  When I tried to question the “truths” with which I was raised, I was told to be quiet, to not cop an attitude, to not argue.  Sometimes when I was upset, I was told to cut it out because it was inconvenient.

At school, I was manipulated and guilt-tripped on a daily basis over the problems of my peers.  I was an easy mark, as I would accept whatever blame people wanted to place on me.  If I was at all involved in a less than ideal situation, I would take as much blame as there was because I could have done more to have avoided the situation.  I could always have had more control over my part of things and for that I felt nothing but guilt and fear.  I feared that I was not worthy of friends, that if I was not as selfless and sacrificial as I could be that being treated poorly was punishment for my imperfection.

I believed that if I was not the most supportive, the most giving, the nicest, the humblest, I would inevitably be left by anyone who made the mistake of loving me or even just liking me.  I watched as the decision to no longer speak to extended family members or family friends was made without consulting me.  I always heard the reasons though…usually something about not being supportive or selfless enough or giving enough.  How could I unlearn that?  How could I get away from that truth?  Anyone’s head could be on the chopping block at any time.

And so I live with this today.  It is a deep, unmoving cut surrounded by years of scar tissue.  I have a home full of wonderful people who love me dearly.  They want to be near me.  They want to build a life with me, all of us looking forward to becoming the caricatures of cantankerous old people we know we will be together.  I believe this, when I am not looking through the veil of depression and fear.  Even then, I believe them intellectually, but deep in my heart I remember all those years of worthlessness.

When I was about to graduate from highschool, I had a boyfriend who was the darling of the computer department.  Everyone expected to go on to do great Bill Gates level kind of things.  It was pretty accepted by everyone that we were going to get married because you think that way when you’re 18.  One day, one of the computer teachers took me aside and told me that it was my responsibility to make sure he stayed motivated for greatness in life.  Basically, I would best serve the world by standing behind him, by holding him up.  I was heart broken at that moment because, for me, that summed up everything I thought I already knew about life.  I asked her, “Don’t you care if I succeed on my own merits?” And she said, “Oh, I’m not worried about you.  You’ll be fine.”

I think I was supposed to take this as a compliment, but in reality it was icing on this particular Reality Cake.  That was everyone’s excuse for minimizing me.  I have always been so independent, so well behaved, so self-sufficient, so uncomplaining.  I didn’t need to be cared for because I was going to be fine.  I wouldn’t be great though.  I would be fine.  My job was to make sure that geniuses achieved their greatness, whether those geniuses be my partner or my parent.  If greatness failed to be achieved? Why didn’t I do everything possible?  What more could I have done? Why didn’t I give until I was dead?

And therein lies why I was never suicidal.  Did I want my constant guilt and sense of uselessness and sadness to end? Of course.  But if I were to die by my own hand, I would no longer be in service.  I would cement my legacy as the mule, but mule who didn’t care enough or give enough to live for everyone.

So as I lay on that bed those few years ago waiting for it to be over, hoping it didn’t turn violent, wondering why I didn’t yell or fight to have concern paid to me, to be cared for, I knew that it was because I believed that my purpose was service to anyone who wished to take from me.  I was part of a cycle that had ruined parts of the lives of some of the women who came before me.  It manifested differently in each generation.  For them it was choosing to be selfish and being blind to that fact.  For me, it was desperately grasping to inclusion and believing whole heartedly that if I stopped grasping for just one second, I would lose everything.

I could say more history of them, but this isn’t a story about them.  This is a story about me and I am a survivor of abuse and assault.  Perhaps the assailants were unwitting in their crimes, but crimes they were.

I matter.  My well-being and happiness are important.  I mean more to those who love me than the sum of the services I provide.  I am strong.  I am courageous. I deserve the life that I have built.

I am completely terrified.

And I am finally loved.

Free Speech and the Value of Social Punishment

So, this happened the other day:

Image

The first part was a question by me. The second part was the other guy’s answer. It was part of a discussion about the value of boycotting Barilla pasta. Other Guy was arguing, basically, that people should never be punished for voicing problematic opinions because “free speech.” Needless to say, this is a problem.

Freedom of speech is one of America’s founding principles (no – that does not make it magically a good idea). It is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It has been a stated value of most democratic societies dating back to ancient Greece. It’s an incredibly important bulwark against tyranny. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of a free society, without which democracy cannot function.

But here’s the thing: freedom of speech only applies to the government! The reason it’s important is that if the government can censor the public, the government can get away with anything by suppressing all dissent. It also has tons of exceptions, and is a sophisticated legal doctrine, which incorporates a healthy dose of nuance and weighing of factors. “Freedom of speech” does not, and never did, mean that there are no consequences for saying problematic things.

The suppression of ideas is not always a problem. In any movement to change public opinion on a topic, a big milestone is the point at which advocacy of the offending idea is no longer safe to do in public. The fact that voicing an anti-gay opinion in public is now a liability is kind of a big deal. As few as five years ago, it probably wouldn’t have even been news. Now, not only has it cause a public uproar, competitors are now rushing to express their support for homosexual relationships. Not only is this a sign of progress, but it’s actually helpful to the movement.

Descriptive norms are one of the most powerful ways to change public opinion. Saying “support gay rights” is much less effective than saying “everyone else supports gay rights.” When people see negative reactions to anti-gay sentiment and positive reactions to support for equality, people are much more likely to support equality themselves.

And at the risk of stating the obvious – suppressing ideas through social disapproval, far from being a violation of free speech, is a validation of it. Criticism of speech is also speech. Expressing our collective disapproval of an idea is a form of political speech, which is the most protected form of speech.

Tl;dr: if you’re not talking about government censorship, “freedom of speech” doesn’t apply. If your CEO publicly expresses bigotry, I’m not going to buy your pasta.

Whirling, Twirling Towards Sanity

As you saw in Shaun’s most recent post, there’s a lot going on at Polyskeptic Compound in terms of new people appearing on the scene.  It appears everyone has new partners and is excited about them and that is pretty awesome!

Well, not everyone has new people. I don’t…but I have something else: an increased Zoloft dose, a new therapist (soon) and emotional development!  And really, people, isn’t that the BEST partner?

I’m sure it’s easy to read sarcasm into that statement, and sometimes when I am feeling alone in the ginormous emotional task I have presented myself with maybe I feel a little broken and bitter.  But honestly, this time I don’t feel alone.  I feel loved and supported, and despite all the newness around everyone has been there for me.  I feel very cared for, which will make my recovery speedier.

The last few months have been harrowing, to put it gently.  In this time I have: Come clean about the fact that I was raped with those who love me, had terrible experiences with unprofessional and uncaring therapists, made a final attempt at civility with a biological family I already felt abandoned by at the time of the attempt, finally said things in a not-so-civil way so that we could just get this shit over with, ceased communication with said bio family, spiraled deep into depression and anxiety, made an appointment with a therapist my dear friend goes to and thinks will be an excellent match, lost my sense of humor and had panic attacks about my partners replacing me with their new partners and my chosen family falling apart because I am not worthy of them, got a Zoloft dosage increase, got my sense of humor back, and am happy for my family’s new connections.

I cannot say enough good things about antidepressants.  I fought with myself about the dosage increase, calling myself weak and undisciplined.  I was also depressed and depression lies.  When I made the decision, I let everyone in the house know (since adjustment before was really tough).  The first night was awful.  I had been really depressed all day (and all week, which is why I made the call to up my dose) and taking the second pill in the evening threw me for a loop.  Meanwhile, Wes had one of our friends over so I felt inclined to try and hide my anxiety, but that never works very well.  In addition, Shaun was in the process of getting things to work out with his newest partner and was bringing her over.

I was convinced that this was the beginning of the end, that I was obsolete and imminently replaceable.  I envisioned everyone in the house finding families that fit better with them than me.  I was waiting to be told that I am the weakest link and that everyone would be happier if the family I want didn’t exist.  I was absolutely terrified and had the closest thing I have ever had to a full blown panic attack.  Wes came upstairs to comfort me and as I fall deeper into chaos I whispered, “I would die without this family.  I don’t want to live without all of you.”  When I uttered these words, something crystalized for me and I gained a greater level of understanding. Then Wes said, “Me too.”

All the while, I was very aware that this was my depression lying to me and that these fears I have are deep rooted and persistent as they were taught to me at a very young age.  It is so easy to learn the wrong things, harmful things when you are young and unaware and soaking everything up like a sponge.

While this may sound dire and horrible, it was actually somewhat positive.  For one thing, I wasn’t feeling jealousy.  I was feeling fear of abandonment while also feeling in favor of the new relationship.  I recognized the fear for what it was, and while that did not make it go away, I was able to see a light at the end of it.  Forcing myself to think through what is happening while have an emotional meltdown meant that I clearly saw the problem and that pinpointing it allows me to have well defined, achievable goals for therapy.

The next day I woke up still not doing too well, but I took the next dose anyway and hoped for the best.  By lunchtime I was a different person.  Or, more to the point, I was what I have learned to accept as Normal Gina.  I was talking to people, getting work done, laughing, cracking jokes, and being helpful to coworkers.  Even better was I was observing myself and felt confident and could see, finally, why people would love me and want me around.  This may sound trivial and absurd, but the belief that I am worthless is entrenched and ruthless.

It has been a few days and I am still feeling like myself.  I have a lot of work to do, but I feel capable of doing it and know that I will succeed.  And though I am still feeling some of the stress and fear of new people replacing me (it will take a while and a lot of effort to remove that fear) or of being treated poorly because I am now Old News and Broken, I will trust in my loved ones and let them show me that neither of these things will come to pass.

Don’t get me wrong, antidepressants are not a cure-all.  I am still having a very hard time with life but I can manage and even have fun and have some release.  I was getting to the point where I wanted to be a hermit on a hill somewhere, and the Zoloft brought me back down to the village at the foot of the hill.

So, no, I don’t have anyone new in my life.  But I am working towards something just as exciting: A new me.  A freer me.  A happier, more self-possessed me.  A sexually liberated me.  A me without constant shame and fear.  And then? Maybe new people.  Maybe not.  Who knows what the future holds?

The Fat Kid, 1994-2013

When I was in 5th grade, I found out that I was fat. I was cast to play Santa Clause in the school Christmas play, Some kid, I don’t remember who, said something to the effect of “heh, you won’t even need any stuffing.” It wasn’t until that moment that I learned to be ashamed of my body. Before then, I didn’t really think about it. But at that moment, it was revealed to me that my body was ugly and unpleasant. That was the moment where I changed from being able to watch “Stand By Me” unaffected to flinching every time Jerry O’Connell got referred to as “the fat kid.” That was the moment where I stopped wanting to take my shirt off at the beach.

Being “the fat kid” makes life difficult in a lot of ways, but none so much as dating. I’ve been interested in girls since first grade, and probably before that. Dating in elementary school is just weird, so I don’t really count that. I even had a girlfriend in 5th grade. It seems like a ridiculous thing, to have a girlfriend in 5th grade. I don’t think we even kissed, but it because very important to me later. She and I didn’t particularly interact after we dated, and I can’t even begin to remember how or why we broke up, but I it meant a lot to me all through middle school that someone was willing to give me that kind of attention.

Middle school (6th-8th grade, in my district) was a near-constant stream of rejection. I watched my classmates form romantic connections and hold hands in the hallways. I would hear stories of experiments with adolescent sexuality. Girls would express interest in my friends. I would look around, and clearly see what all of these people had in common – no fatties. The point was driven home by social rejection in other ways, most notably a regular outpouring of teasing for my weight, my fat ass, my “tits.”

Remember how I said that my 5th grade girlfriend ended up being important to me? That’s this part of the story. That “relationship” was probably the only thing that kept me from feeling like a complete loser throughout middle school. As with most adolescent boys, I was obsessed with girls, not only because I had strange new desires, but also because I wanted to be a person with a girlfriend. Somewhere along the line, I internalized the idea that having a girlfriend was the most important thing a person could do to be worthwhile. The longer I spent single, the more pathetic I felt. The only thing staving off complete despair was the fact that I had a girlfriend and one point in my life, so clearly I wasn’t completely worthless to girls.

Except, really, I always knew I wasn’t completely worthless to girls. Girls liked me. I had a number of female friends, and I tended to get along well with girls in general. There was only one part of me that was worthless to girls – my body. No matter how much of a connection I formed with a girl, she would be repulsed at the idea of touching me on any level beyond a friendly hug. My body was disgusting to girls. Sometimes, they would tell me so. Most of the time, they would give me one of those so-called “polite” rejections, e.g. “I just don’t feel that way about you,” or “I don’t have time to date right now,” or “I’m busy on [every evening you ask me out].” Until Mandy.

met Mandy in 9th grade. Well, back up. I met Mandy in 7th grade and thought she was really cute, but she disappeared over the summer. I next saw her again once I got to high school (turns out she skipped a grade). Mandy changed everything. Mandy liked me. Mandy like-liked me. She was beautiful, and smart, and fun, and soft, and amazing to touch, and she. liked. me. Naturally, I had no idea what to do. We dated for over a month before I would even kiss her. But I did kiss her, and she kissed me, and we didn’t stop kissing each other for two months. I, being 15 years old, made some poor decisions, and Mandy left me in July of that year, but I never believed that it was because of my body.

After Mandy, I didn’t date again for almost six years. Oh, I went out with girls. But they would make it clear that we were not on a “date.” As before, girls still liked me, just not my body. In the latter half of high school, I started developing real, deep feelings for girls. I started getting emotionally close with people, even intimate. But none of that changed the fact that my gross, fat body was undesirable at best and repulsive at worst. And every year, I got fatter.

By 2002, my freshmen year of college, I was 275 pounds, and my body-shame was at an all-time high. I was a 19-year-old virgin and hadn’t kissed a girl since 1997. I would fall in love with any woman who even looked in my direction. My shame was so great that I felt unable to turn away any attention, even if it wasn’t the kind I wanted. I let myself be used as not much more than an emotional sounding board. I had a drunken makeout with someone whose name I didn’t even know at a party and I looked at it like I’d just been awarded a Nobel Prize. Hey! A girl who was near-falling-down drunk could stand to touch me! It was pathetic. By the time I went home for the summer, I was convinced that college was going to be a lot like high school.

The Fat Kid, 2000

The Fat Kid, 2000

Mandy saved me again. She randomly came into the record store where I worked that summer. It had been four years since we dated, but she was as attractive to me as ever, probably moreso, since I was now convinced that nobody else would ever be interested in my stupid, fat body. The situation was a complete mess. She was going to school in Pittsburgh, and she had a boyfriend that she would break up with, and then get back together with in the course of a week. But I didn’t care. I wanted her so badly, and we finally had awkward sex in the front seat of my Oldsmobile 98, ducking to make sure nobody on the not-10-feet-away sidewalk could see us. It didn’t matter to me how awkward it was. It wasn’t the sensation that was important. It was the status. I wasn’t a virgin any longer. I wasn’t a total loser. I wasn’t undesirable. This person desired me. She desired me so much that she was willing to massively complicate her relationship situation to be with me.

The Fat Kid, 2001

The Fat Kid, 2001

Unsurprisingly, the situation went to hell within a few months. I visited her in Pittsburgh a few times, and those are some of my fondest memories of that entire time period. She made me feel amazing, and sexy, and she reminded me that not everyone saw my big belly or my fat face as revolting.

Sadly, and to my shame, I didn’t do the same thing for her. While all I wanted was someone to take an interest in my body and my sexuality, she was all-too-familiar with such things. Her life had been a mirror image of mine, and she was convinced that her body and her sexuality were her only assets. While the relationship did wonders for my self-esteem, I suspect it did the opposite for hers. In retrospect, I used her as a self-esteem booster and a status object. I think she just wanted to be valued, and didn’t know how to say “no.” She tried to tell me, and I didn’t listen. Mandy, if you’re reading this, thank you, and I’m sorry.

The Fat Kid, 2002

The Fat Kid, 2002

Around that time, I tried the Atkins diet. It was in vogue at the time, and it was the first time that I tried any kind of rigid diet. It worked amazingly well. I lost 10 pounds in a week. 5 pounds the following week. Another 5 pounds in the next two weeks, for a total of 20 pounds in a month. Eating bacon. I was still 250 pounds, but I felt great. My clothes fit looser, and when I looked in the mirror, I looked thinner! I decided to keep it going, and signed up for Weight Watchers (I figured Atkins would give me a heart attack if I actually kept it up). Over the next year, I lost about 40 more pounds. The need for smaller pants gave me indescribable joy.

Spring 2003 was when I got to know Gina, and fell for her almost immediately. This, also, was a mess. She had a boyfriend at the time, and we were all in a 6-person show together. This was not new to me. By this point, I was used to having unrequited feelings for “taken” women. Even with my new smaller size, I was still “obese” according to my handy BMI calculator, and didn’t harbor any illusions that my body looked good to anyone but me.

It’s a long story, mostly involving me being too desperate to give up and Gina not wanting to admit her feelings. BUT it all worked out, and we’ll be celebrating 10 years together this January.

The Fat Kid, 2005

The Fat Kid, 2005

My body image issues got better after that, but they still weren’t great. I still saw my body as unattractive, but actually having a girlfriend, especially one as great as Gina, was helpful.

Wanting to feel wanted while in a monogamous relationship is a strange thing. Up to that point, I always wanted to be wanted for practical reasons – I hated being single, and I wanted somebody to be with. Now, I was with somebody, and didn’t need to impress anyone but her – but I still wanted to. I still wanted to be wanted, not for any practical reason, just for how it made me feel. Or, more accurately, how not being wanted made me feel. Being wanted by one person was great, but I still didn’t feel attractive, and I still didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

The Fat Kid, 2009

The Fat Kid, 2009

It wasn’t until Gina & I opened our relationship, and I lost another 30 pounds, that I started actually feeling good about my body. My first relationship after opening up was kind of a disaster. I was still feeling vulnerable due to my body issues, and she represented all the girls I couldn’t “get” when I was younger. She was skinny, outgoing, popular, and every guy I knew wanted to be with her. When she kissed me, I felt like the coolest kid in school, like I’d never felt before. She was also self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and within a handful of weeks, her attraction to me waned, and she started seeing a much skinnier guy. Like I said, kind of a disaster, but she meant a lot to me at the time.

The Fat Kid, 2011

The Fat Kid, 2011

In February of 2010, I started dieting again. March 27, 2010, was a big day for me. That morning, I weighed myself, and the scale came out to 201.5 pounds. That number might not mean a lot to you, but it meant everything to me. For my height, weighing less than 202 pounds moved me from “obese” to “overweight” on the BMI scale. I honestly never thought I would get there. It felt great. Over the next year, I lost another 25 pounds, and bottomed out at about 175.

More than the weight loss, my body image was improved by joining okcupid. On okcupid, I could meet women who actually found me attractive, and who were ok (or even enthusiastic) about dating a married man. I stopped being able to count on one hand all of the women I ever knew who found me attractive. I started seeing real evidence that my body and my sexuality were not generally looked at as disgusting and repulsive. Women appreciated my body. I even met women who didn’t seem to like me that much, but were still interested in my body. It was surreal at first.

Since then, things have gotten much better. I’ve gained back about 30 of the pounds I lost. I’m not happy about it, but I no longer believe that I need to be thin in order to be attractive. I’ve also stopped viewing women as status objects that I can use to prove to myself how not-hideous I am. Because my insecurities are under control, I’m able to connect with people on a much deeper level. It still hurts when people tell me that my body holds no value to them, but it’s bearable. I love Gina more than I ever did, and I have an amazing fiancee who can’t get enough of me. I’m performing in a burlesque show (and yes, I take my clothes off).

This week is weight stigma awareness week. This morning, I weighed 208 pounds. I’ve eaten 1,397 calories today. My pants fit a little tight. The buttons on my shirt are pulling a bit. I have a lot of love in my life. So it goes.

The Fat Kid, 2013

The Fat Kid, 2013

The First of Likely Several Angry Tirades about Feelings

Writing about what is going on with me these days is difficult to do coherently and concisely.  In the coming weeks, I will likely only be able to muster fragments that will perhaps give you insight into my head and my process.  I am unpacking 25 years or so of consciousness and pain and scars.  Hopefully, brighter days are coming.

I am angry about the emptiness of words.

Or rather, I am angry about the empty way people throw around words and phrases that should be packed with truth and meaning.  We’re taught this early on in our lives.  When you say hello, ask how someone is.  It’s the polite thing to do.  You don’t have to care or even want to know, but the other person should believe that you would like to know.

And then you hear people whine about if you ask a particular person how they are, “They will tell you EVERYTHING.  Jeez, I didn’t actually want to know.  What an annoying jerk!” Why do you ask if you have no actual desire to know anything about how that person is doing?

But there are countless other examples of this.  Take, for example, the sentence, “I am here for you”.

Some people mean this when they say it.  I am lucky enough to have 5 people in my life who mean that.  How do I know they mean it?  They show me.  They swoop in when I am sinking and do their best to lift me, to help me work through the feelings, whatever is needed.  They sometimes ask how they can help, but mostly they know me so well that they know what I need or what would help without me telling them.  It can be as simple as wrapping their arms around me and helping me ride out the badness.

But many people say this because it’s what you’re supposed to say when people confide difficult things.  They say it, but they don’t know what it really means.  When they say it, it translates to, “See? I am a good friend/family member!” But if it is not followed by any action, any actual effort to be present and to help lighten the load that the afflicted is bearing, then it is empty and ultimately hurtful, because you likely won’t follow through with anything.

For instance, I am currently dealing with some major Emotions about my biological family.  Recent communications have resulted in my making the decision to not speak to them anymore, at least for quite a long while.  Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons, but there are too many to enumerate here and it’s painful to speak about them at length on here.  But it was revealed that none of them knew how depressed I have been for years, and all of them suspected that they have been “losing me for a while now” and my recent communications served as a “final blow” to my relationships with them. Everyone ignored my rather obvious depression and watched as I drifted away and chose to do nothing, because doing would require effort and possible discomfort on their part.

But they claim they are there for me and always have been.

In addition, they have gaslighted me about my experience growing up and in recent years and have made statements about my being selfish and inconsiderate.  I am the black sheep.  I am the bad one.

But…they are here for me.  Every message has contained this sentiment.  Well, I call bullshit.

Another loaded but often meaningless thing people say is, “I love you”.  All of the communications claim this as well, but I think that people say this without knowing what that really means.

People tell each other that they love each other because we’re supposed to love our family.  We’re supposed to love our partners. But I think it loses its meaning when there’s nothing there to back it up.  How do I know I love my people? Because when they are happy, I am happy, even if what they are happy about scares me (new relationships, being far away).  Because I try to be as available as possible for them for when they might need me, and if I fail in knowing what they need, I take the criticism and learn from it so that I can offer better care the next time.  Because envisioning my life without them is a bleak and desolate landscape that I want no part of.  This is because my life with them is bright and full of potential.  It is full of potential for long term happiness and continued blossoming into the people we want to and can be.  I love them because their presence, the people that they are adds to the person that I am.  To say that you love someone when it is conditional or simply a sentiment that requires no action or growth on your part is meaningless and ultimately hurtful.

What I’m saying is that lies hurt, even the vague societally approved lies of everyday language.  Happiness, I think, has a lot to do with trusting the people close to you because trust in the people around you results in feeling safe and we cannot flourish unless we feel safe in our intimate lives.  Trust cannot be attained with the use of empty words.  A thin veil of care does nothing but give way immediately when pressure is applied, and the person needing care will fall fast, this time knowing that you were not prepared to follow through with your claims of love and presence.

I’m going to go look at pictures of otters now.

Adventures in Therapy: PICK UP THE PHONE

Life is…life. No, let me not be so cynical.  Life right now has a lot of good going on, despite the anger/sadness/anxiety party going on in my head here and there. Our burlesque show opened and has been going wonderfully well, and generally dancing around in awesome costumes and allowing myself great vulnerability amongst happy patrons has been exactly what I need at the end of the day.  I often feel this way about Arcati Crisis shows.  I have spent many a show getting my stress out with the power of rock.

I think I would have become “certifiably crazy” years ago if I didn’t have a very healthy and eclectic sense of humor and multiple artistic outlets.  I have very bad days where I can’t seem to laugh at anything and I have zero inspiration for creative endeavors.  Those days are the bleakest.  But most days are at least peppered with moments where I laugh a lot to myself or out loud and where I have ideas for projects I want to do.  Thank goodness.

The show yesterday was absolutely awesome (a blend of no technical problems and fun and appreciative energy from a fab audience).  My final piece takes a lot out of me, as it is about peeling away the artificial layers in order to reveal the true version of myself…yes, I’m such a fucking artist.  Stop rolling your eyes.  Anyway, it is emotional and I haven’t been getting enough sleep.  Long story short, I cried hysterically all the way home out of a sense of loneliness and loss and it was great.  (Note: it was not great)

I have a lot going on and am in the process of making some difficult and life changing decisions to finally rise above the much and mire of my teens (I know…I probably should have done this, you know, in my teens, but whatever…better late than never).  I’m also still dealing with that whole sexual assault thang and in the process of learning to think about myself as important and worthy of considering.

As you might imagine, this is not easy.  So, you know, a competent therapist would be hella sweet right about now, but…GUESS WHAT? Apparently, therapists don’t check their voicemail for days at a time.  And if they do, it doesn’t matter because they have no time for me, but they totally have some names of other therapists I can call and wait around for!  Aren’t they helpful?!?

Dear therapists, I know you are busy because a lot of people need help and I am really happy that some of the stigma is lifting and people are coming to you for the help you need.  But…I really don’t understand why it’s this hard to just get a call back from people.  I know that my experience thus far is not a reflection of the profession as a whole, but what exactly am I supposed to think?  Has therapy really been reduced to an “I know a guy” industry?  I feel like my experience in finding a therapist has been similar to the search for a non-awful/cheating/unethical mechanic.

Look, all I’m saying is if you are going to insist that people call you and leave messages (because for some reason you don’t want people to email you), CHECK YOUR VOICEMAIL AND RESPOND TO PEOPLE IN A TIMELY GODDAMN MANNER.  It’s not hard.  But you know what is hard? Calling a hundred therapists and being treated like you’re just calling to shoot the shit or something.

I cannot say this enough: The process of coming to terms with the fact that you would greatly benefit from professional therapy is a hard one.  If you’re like me, you think that you can do everything on your own and that you should leave the doctors and the therapists and the flu vaccinations and everything else to the people who had it the absolute worst.  I am strong and can take the hit, so if you need this resource please don’t let me take it from you.  This is me giving too much credit to my own privilege and ignoring how much I am hurting and all the stupid shit I believe.  Does that sound easy to you?  It shouldn’t and you should be pretty happy that I have gotten that far without you calling me or respecting me.  But the process of actually finding a therapist should not be this hard.  Picking up the phone is hard, but you shouldn’t have to keep worrying after you get the nerve to do that.

So yeah, I’m aggravated.  I thank all the people who gave me recommendations.  Perhaps it’s me or something though…because people either cannot see me or don’t want to talk to me (apparently).  What I’m really good at finding are useless therapists who do more harm than good!  So if anyone is looking for one of them, hit me up.

I know, I know, I’m sounding cynical again.  Let me assure you that despite the fact that I am developing a general distaste for the therapy industry, I am actually making a lot of progress on my own (well, not strictly on my own…I have some pretty amazing people helping me on a daily basis and I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for their presence in my life now and for years to come).  I am a different person than I was even a month ago and things that were hard for me to do before are getting easier and I am learning quickly how to be my own person in a way that others can see.  I knew after my ridiculous therapy appointment a couple of weeks ago that this whole finding not-a-douchebag was going to be long and arduous, so I couldn’t wait around to start the work.  So I’m getting there and I’m functioning well, even if I still have some meltdowns.  It’s ok to have meltdowns.  Things are upsetting right now but I’m living with it and showing it whose boss.  Or something.

Soon I will write a great feminist triumph story that was a light in my life recently.  So there’s that!  But if you have a therapist you love and you are local, ask them if they have evening or weekend hours available and I’ll give them a call.  I will keep calling.  I will keep trying.

Keep moving forward.

Alright, I Think That’s Enough for This Week, Yeah?

This week I have done several rather difficult things and I think my brain might be ready to crap out on me at any minute…so of course I choose to blog.

On Monday, I worked myself to the bone until a meltdown happened and only gave myself permission to myself to stop both working and melting down after both Shaun and Wes had to tell me to stop folding laundry.  There is little more pitiful looking than a scraggly haired girl in a tie dye dress weeping helplessly as she attempts to fold a pair of jeans.  I curled up on the couch for a while and switched back and forth between staring at the ceiling and staring at the dog, who was staring at me and raising her hilarious ears as opportune times.

Indeed, I have been looking the part of the non-functioning depressive lately, putting off showers until late in the day and arriving places with wild hair, a skinny look to my face and a distinct inability to laugh at most things.

Except I can always laugh at the dog’s ears.  They’re amazing.

143_520365720866_8487_n

 

Yes, she is dressed as turtle.

Yesterday, I fired my therapist before we had even begun because she was completely irresponsible, unprofessional, and patronizing.  Sure, sure, maybe my standards are too high, but you know? Sometimes you just have to take a gamble and hope there’s something better.  Please tell me there’s something better, because seriously I’ve about had it with the profession at this point.

cthulhu-is-a-terrible-therapist

 

Today I wrote a letter that I have needed to write for years but was too unhealthy and afraid to write it, let alone put it in an envelope and then take a special trip to the post office to physically put it in a mail box before I had a chance to back out.  Family is hard, especially when you have spent 20-25 years not saying how you feel, what you want or what you need.  I feel a bit like a hollow shell of a woman at the moment, but I know that this just means that I can fill it back up with the right things.  I don’t know how the message will be received and I don’t know what will come of it, but at the end of the day I did something incredibly terrifying that needed to be done quite desperately.

And I’m proud of myself because I haven’t gotten any actual successful talk therapy, with the exception of my very competent friends and I have gotten myself to do these things.  This is mostly because I am finally allowing myself to not be alone.  Our problems do not exist in a vacuum.  We must accept support when it is given from an honest, loving place and I have that in spades.  How lucky am I?

As I made the final decision to push the letter into the mail slot, all I could think was:

Funny-Animals-Storm-s-a-comin

 

And that might be true, but I think I am prepared now.  I have plenty of water (especially in hot tub form), delicious food, supportive people, and of course an entire case and a half of homemade red wine.

wine therapy

 

Ok, yes, I know that’s a terrible philosophy.

But, sometimes it’s pretty fucking true.

Stop judging me.

Oh, you’re not judging me.  You just want me to pour you a glass.  Well, sure!

I mean…GET YOUR OWN.

Alright, I admit it.  This entire post was just an excuse to look for funny illustrative pictures on the internet.  I mean, that’s what the internet is for so I guess I’m approaching normalcy? Sure?  Yes.  I’ll take it.

Tomorrow is Thursday and I am hoping beyond all hope that I will have a mind that is functional beyond handling incredibly difficult and cathartic emotional activities.  I’d say I can’t take much more, but that’s not true.  I can take a lot more, but it would be nice to have a break, you know?

Then it’s Friday.

So, I’ll end with an obligatory Rebecca Black reference.

Rebecca-Black-Friday

 

You’re welcome.  OK.  I think I’m done now.  Can I go home yet?