Through the Darkness
A friend called me the other day. Told me he was going through a tough time; he had two deaths in his family and his marriage just split up. He couldn't understand why he wasn't handling it better. He couldn't understand why this had knocked him down so hard, because, he said, he is the kind of person who uses stuff like this to get stronger.
It's an interesting thing, when someone calls you out of the blue and tells you the story of your past, from the beginning of theirs. I shared with him that I had gone through the same thing in about 2007, and I had given up, resigned myself to living in a lifeless apartment at a job I hated with two cats that were, frankly, dumped on me by a dude who bought them for me in an effort to convince me that I actually liked cats. Which did not really work.
But I told him that he was exactly where he was supposed to be. Even though it sucks, and even though it feels empty. It is in a way, a beginning, if you allow it.
In my beginning, I was so sad I was numb. I didn't care if I ate, or what I ate, which isn't like me at all, and I figured I could just wait on death to come. I was there for a while, maybe weeks. Then, one day, in my gloom, I picked up and read The Secret Life of Bees, a book my mother had given to me before she died, and as I reached the end of the book, I knew. It was a message from her to me. It was a message to use my grief. Even beyond death, my mom was kicking my ass in to life.
I cleared out my dining room and created a wailing wall. I used all the old pictures, love letters, death certificates, marriage certificates, all the stuff my parents left behind when they died; pictures of my family before my parents divorced, and pictures of my parents and me throughout my adult life. It took two days to build it. The whole time, I cried. I played good bye songs on my computer, songs like "I'll be seeing you" as sung by Billie Holiday because really who else would you want to sing you the saddest song ever written?
After the wall was completed, I felt better. So much better that I went out and bought myself a strip steak and vegetables. I ate better than I had in months that night. I even had pudding for dessert. I bought two kinds, banana and chocolate, and mixed them together. Because that is my favorite.
I kept that wall up for about six months and would add things to it on occasion, stare at it now and then, and every once in a while, cry my fucking eyes out at how much I had lost and how much I missed it all. But I stayed with my grief, my sadness, and the possibility that I might indeed be completely empty.
I stayed with it until slowly, I felt a bit more like myself; I felt like quitting my job. I felt like having sex. I felt like painting. Everything I loved to do came back to me, and this time, it felt a little like an acid trip. Everything was so visceral. I couldn't believe I had gone without these things for so long.
This was of course, not the end of my grief. Even now, ten years later, it will pop up on me. Always a surprise, but always at a logical time of the year, like Valentines Day. For many years before his death, my Dad had sent me red pistachios on Valentines day in cool boxes. It was the only thing about the holiday that I liked. And he died on Valentines day. Which was too bad. Because really, I can take or leave the holiday itself, but the pain of losing him seemed to be emphasized, like a period at the end of a very long sentence, because he left on that day.
When I took down the wall, I put all the stuff into a one gallon glass jar. I still have it to remind me that everything is useful, even the people you lose. Even the emptiness at the end of a life. Even the memory of how great you had always wanted things to be, but never quite got there.
There is nothing wrong with feeling your pain for a while, nothing wrong with rolling around in it and letting it cover you like a heavy blanket that will never warm you. There is a beauty in pain that cannot be duplicated by any other emotion, and we have the right to it. Some things are meant to break us open. Allow this. Live in it.
And then, and only when you are ready, move on. You will be better for knowing your pain, and you will be more comfortable with who you are for having felt it.
When I die, I hope people are sad. I hope they allow themselves to feel the loss of me. Of course I do. . I hope that in the end, when I am gone, the people who know me allow themselves to feel that loss.
But I also hope that this leads to joy, inspiration, and growth. I hope my death leads to revolution.
The thing is, in order to get there, we have to be willing to work through the darkness.
Happy Valentines Day a couple weeks early. I am making hearts and stuff and working on my harassment training book. I have decided to call it #Timesup Training for Everyone. Like It? Well, I am gonna give ya all a sneak peek. Soon. MAYBE even next week. I will letcha know.
I completely understand the sentiment. It is infuriating to try to explain to the people closest to me how much the presence of misogyny and sexism in this culture has effected me. It is like trying to explain breathing to someone who needs proof that air exists because he can't see it. Though he benefits from its presence, he will require more than my say so to believe it is real.
But I do not believe that time is actually up. Not until I stop seeing articles written by incredibly intelligent people calling for anger. Calling for a lashing out. Not until I start seeing people who understand that if it is truly a cultural problem, then we must understand that the whole reason rape culture exists IS anger, IS people lashing out. It IS violence.
I have known many sexists, misogynists, racists, homophobes, and more. They all had one thing in common: Anger. Feeling like they were in fact, a victim. I know it sounds crazy, and as someone who has endured sexual abuse, it has always been hard for me to swallow, but this is the truth. These people, men and women alike, have been raised in a culture where this is not only allowed, but rewarded.
So what do you do to stop this? When anger is not a solution and punishment has never proven to be a deterrent or solution? You stop participating. This is the only way to shut it down. In order to end this, we must ALL OF US stop participating in it.
What does that look like? Well, in my life it looks like this: I quit jobs where the misogyny is so thick that it gets in the way of me doing my job. (To date, every one I have ever held.) I do not interract with people who behave in this manner. Men and women alike. When people I know do or say things that I believe adds to this violent culture, I point it out. When people point it out to me, I correct myself. If I have hurt someone, I apologize. I try to do better.
But regardless of the situation, I make sure that I am willing to give up what I am needing for the greater good. Yes, I need a job, but honestly, I need rape culture to go away more. Yes, I would like friends, but I would like rape culture to go away more. Yes, I want love, but not at the cost of losing my identity and not at the cost of healing the culture. Yes, I want a government, but not at the expense of so many Americans who deserve human rights.
All other violent behaviors will also be solved with this. Peaceful non-participation. Other people, great and small, have used it in the past to great success.
But please, stop asking for more violence. Stop asking for a reckoning. Because in this culture, we are all participants.
Until we are not.
I needed a break. Huge shifts in my consciousness and my emotional body required a shutdown. So, I have been gone for a while, crying a lot and figuring out what needed to change. I am back now, feeling better, having made some decisions about my new life. Decisions, which, as you might guess, have been a long time coming.
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