Monday, January 8, 2018

*Takes Burden Off Shoulders* "Here, This Belongs To You," She Said.

I have a story to tell. It's a story we've heard before. Different day, different details, but one we've all heard. My story isn't remarkable. It should be, but it's not. No, what's remarkable about my story is that I truly, honestly didn't realize it was worth telling. It didn't even occur to me.

I was in college and I had just a treasure trove of wonderful friends that I adored. I look back on those years as being overly dramatic and lots of fun. I knew exactly zero people when I arrived at my college (and that town) so I made all my friendships from the ground up, instead of having a high school history to lean on.

In those days, everyone had a roommate so when you made a new friend, you likely became friends (or at least acquaintances) with your friend's roommates. One of my friends had a roommate he'd known for a long time. I'm going to call him Mike.

Because that's his fucking name.

I liked Mike right away. He was funny, kind of shy, but also a smart ass. He was handy so he came over to my place to help me put together my futon, which was my only furniture at the time other than my tv placed on an upside-down Rubbermade tub and my twin mattress on the floor. We listened to music as he tinkered with the futon and we had a good getting-to-know-you conversation. What a nice guy.

Until later when he tried to force himself on me.

Twice.

Now, I feel I can make a prediction here and say he would insist that he never tried to force himself on me twice. I'll let you be the judge.

I was in the back seat of a car, alone. I don't remember what I was doing, but I must have been  looking for something in my purse or the like. Suddenly, Mike jumped in the other side of the back seat and started rapidly talking about how he was sure he could make me orgasm if I just gave him a chance he was sure he could do it and it wouldn't take long and I'll enjoy it just let him do it just let him do it sshh sshh sshh no no don't freak out it will be fine just let him do it.

I did not let him do it. I jumped out my side of the car and got out of there.

I don't remember if I told anyone about this at the time.

The second incident came at a Halloween party I was throwing at my apartment. The party was at its tail end and there were a few stragglers in the kitchen. I was on the opposite side of the apartment when Mike approached me. He backed me up against the door in my foyer, putting his forearm across my collarbone, and simultaneously trying to get his hand up my dress, again saying how he was sure he could make me orgasm if I just gave him a chance he was sure he could do it and it wouldn't take long and I'll enjoy it just let him do it just let him do it sshh sshh sshh no no don't freak out it will be fine just let him do it.         

I was saying NO. NO. NO. when another friend came around the corner and Mike jumped back like my pussy had caught fire.

Now, this incident scared me, but I was also furious. I told many people about this, many times. I asked their opinion what they would do. I told his roommate, whom I considered a great friend. I assumed his roommate would be incensed. He wasn't. I assumed my friends would shun Mike and support me. They didn't. I assumed people wouldn't totally ignore this situation.

They did.

My friends still included Mike in all their invitations, they still dated him (seriously), and called him their friend. When I started dating one of Mike's friends and told him what happened, he defended Mike. So I quickly realized this was on ME. If I wanted to keep my "friends," the burden was going to be on me to keep the peace and smooth this situation out and figure out how I was going to handle keeping this motherfucker in my life.

I was on my own.

Some years later, Mike rode a charity bike race in honor of one of my closest girlfriends. I knew this because our mutual friends had forwarded his email, asking for donations.

Here's where it gets really fucked up.

I donated to his ride. I was super broke at the time so I opted not to show my donation amount because it was so embarrassing, but I remember making the decision to not make my donation anonymous and to show my name.

And I remember why I did this. When I looked back on everything that happened, I felt incredible embarrassment, the kind that makes your eyelids fly open at 2:00am whenever it pops in your head. If my friends, the most important people in my life other than my family, thought that what had happened wasn't worth acknowledging, than why was I freaking out about it? Nothing really happened, right? I wasn't bruised, bleeding, and it had stopped before Mike could really get anywhere.

When I donated to his bike ride, I put my name on the donation roster because I wanted Mike and my friends to know that I had gotten over it and moved on and we're all friends now.

Oh my God. How seriously fucked up is that.

It gets worse.

This happened in......1999? 2000? Well, it's 2018 now and we've been talking about sexual harassment and sexual predators for a while now. Oprah brought down the house on last night's Golden Globes with her amazing "Time's up" speech. Women have been tweeting "Me too" stories for months. It has been on my mind as it's been on yours.

And yet, through all of this, I didn't consider this a Me Too story because Mike, my friends, the world, and I had so thoroughly convinced myself that this incident meant nothing. These attacks were so buried, I hadn't even told my husband or my best friend about them because I assumed they wouldn't support me. Why would I think otherwise?

I am so thankful for this movement or else I may have gone to my grave thinking that I am the one who should be embarrassed. This jolt of reality shook me to the core and gave me a healthy dose of humility because I've always thought of myself as strong. I thought my years of being bullied had given me a great sense of when I was being taken advantage of. I was literally slack-jawed when I realized that I had so thoroughly buried these attacks that I didn't even consider them attacks.

For a long time I've been telling the world and myself that I'm embarrassed about this and I'm sorry that I involved other people in my drama.

I'd like to change that statement:

I am not embarrassed or ashamed about what happened. I thoroughly blame Mike for this and Mike alone. I do not blame my tight black dress at my Halloween party anymore. I don't blame myself for not telling the world about the first incident. I don't blame the alcohol, the "times," or the party atmosphere. I'm giving my friends some slack because like me, they were young and didn't know how to handle the situation. However, I feel like I can now be angry at them for not supporting me and continuing to put me in harm's way by keeping Mike in our circle without ever discussing it with me.

I recently did something I've never done: I looked up Mike on Facebook. I wanted to see some glimmer of evidence that he'd matured or changed so I wouldn't worry as much about other women who cross his path. His profile picture was him, hands on hips, shirtless, with aviator glasses and a trucker cap. *sigh*

So he's not in jail as I fantasized. He's not declaring his support for the women's movement now that he's taken a good look at himself and his past and apologized to anyone he's hurt. He has not apologized to me for what he did and likely never will. And that's okay. I don't need his apology to live an awesome life.

And now he lives in my town (which I didn't realize until I looked him up on Facebook, fuuuck) and I will also have to live with that. But now I've found my support. My husband and my bestie have vowed to punch him in the neck should they ever encounter him. I realize they would never actually do this, but goddamn does it feel good to hear them say that they would. I hear the anger in their voices when they talk to me about this. I see that they are hurt, listening to my pain. What a gift it is to have them in my life. Their support is more important than food on many days.

I'm sick of carrying around this burden. It's been almost 20 years that I've lugged this around and become complicit in protecting someone I consider dangerous. So to Mike and everyone like him:

Time's up. You fucker.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wearing My Debt On My Sleeve

I just took a seasonal, part-time job at Banana Republic a couple months ago. I'd been throwing around the idea of getting another job for a while. I already have two, but hey, I'm an American and that's how we roll.

Because we have to.

But I can't really complain about this job because as it turns out, I freaking looooooove it. I can't speak for every BR store, but I've fallen in love with the staff and management. On my second day, one of my co-workers, a woman in her fifties, came up to me and said, "You are going to LOVE working here." But I was already sold. Our store attracts the nicest customers. There is no stress. Lots of smiles and laughter. I help women match earrings to necklaces, I fold sweaters, and I go home. 

I thought I was going to hate this. I thought I was going to be working with jaded, underpaid zombies who were sick of waiting on pinched-faced, entitled customers all day. So when I was shopping at BR one day, they were having their hiring blitz for the holidays and they approached me about the possibility of working there as temporary seasonal help. I rolled my eyes at first because customer service is NOT my strong point. I've always thought I'm better suited locked in a back room with a computer where my mouth can't get me in trouble. (Indeed, on my second shift at Banana, I used the term "sperm dumpster." It was not to a customer, and it was met with riotous laughter, but still.....what is wrong with me....) One of my first jobs out of college was at the Cheesecake Factory and I should have been fired so, so many times. I once offered an asshole customer a cup of turpentine. Another time, a customer asked me if I liked my job and I looked him dead in the eye and said, "I don't give a shit about my job. Are you ready to order?"

I'm not proud of that behavior today. But then again, there are very few things I can point to in my early 20's and say "I'm proud of that! Go me!" I came away from that experience thinking that waitressing was about the worst job I could have chosen, and wary of people in general. My job choices slowly had less and less contact with other people. By the time I walked into BR that day, I had two jobs and two volunteer gigs - all four were telecommuting positions. So I decided to give BR - and myself - another chance, and I'm glad I did. 

Now, you might be asking yourself why I went through all of this if I already have two jobs. A third? My husband has a child from his first marriage, but we have no children. We have a nice house, but it's nothing fancy. We don't travel extensively, the only expensive jewelry I have is my wedding ring, and we don't covet fancy cars. My husband is a successful veterinarian. Why do I need three jobs?

Because the four years at the University of Minnesota Veterinary School has put us in almost a half million dollars in debt. 

So far. 

With $26,000 in interest tacked on every year, it's growing rapidly. And then that interest generates interest, and so on until the number gets so big it's not even real to me any more. It started out as a $300,000 loan in 2012 (plus about $50,000 for Will's undergrad degree, because you can't just walk into a veterinary program without first getting a bachelor's), but because a starting salary for a veterinarian in our area is about $50,000, our debt is growing. Fast.

My husband and his fellow veterinary students literally had to take a class to learn how to live in debt the rest of their lives. (I keep meaning to call the U of M to ask how much that class cost us with as little sarcasm as I can muster.) Even the school is beyond pretending like this is something that can ever realistically be paid off for most everybody. They know they're setting up their students to fail. That they're setting up Americans to fail. That they're setting up the future workforce of our country to fail. 

I was raised to never talk about money: good, bad, or otherwise. You didn't talk about how much money you made, how much you owed, how much you donated, or how much you spent. You didn't show off and you didn't complain. So it was hard for me to talk about this. 

At first. 

But now, my conversations look something like this:

"How come you took a third job?"
"Because we're $500,000 in debt from four years of veterinary school."

"Why did you take another job?"
"Because the government has put us in almost a half million dollars in debt."

"Hey, I like your new haircut!"
"Thanks! We will never be able to pay off our school loans as long as we live."

As I get older and wiser (hmmm... "wiser" may be pushing it), I'm learning that I'm embarrassed about things I should not be embarrassed about. Like my "friend" who tried to force himself on me in college? I was embarrassed about that until.....well, until I personally confronted it just a couple days ago. Why the fuck it took me almost twenty years to realize that he should be the one that's not only embarrassed, but also filled with shame while he sits in a jail cell.....

Likewise, some people have tried to embarrass us about this: "Well, he didn't have to become a veterinarian. He chose that. You guys chose to put yourselves in this situation."

Okay. Let's look at that. 

First, that's all true. Will didn't have to become a veterinarian. But it was his dream. About six months into his career as a full-fledged doctor, he came home and said, "I feel like I'm doing what I was meant to do. When I get to work, I feel like I'm coming home." So yeah, he didn't have to become a veterinarian. So you score one point, nay-sayers: He certainly could have abandoned his dream and chosen a career that would be less fulfilling and probably paid off his school loans in fifteen years. 

But remember this: If you feel comfortable saying this to us, you better get comfortable saying it to your kids. 

"Mommy, I want to be a veterinarian someday!"
"Well, honey, you certainly can! And what a great dream, because you I know how much your adore  Tootlebuttons. But you'll be in debt the rest of your life because we can't raise $400,000 [I'm adjusting for inflation] by the time you're old enough to go to school. But I think we can afford for you to be an accountant! Doesn't that sound like fun? C'mon, grab Tootlebuttons and I'll show you what a spreadsheet is."

Why anybody would think the solution to all this is to reserve certain professions for the wealthy and privileged is shocking to me. That is a shitty, shitty solution. If you don't realize how shitty a solution that is, again: try explaining it to your kids. 

I realized that my embarrassment about our debt and my reluctance to talk about it was making me complicit in allowing this go on. Many people don't realize how bad the situation is getting and they're in for a surprise when their kids reach college age. (Actually, it's the kids who are in for a surprise because all they've heard their whole lives is "You can be whatever you want if you just work hard enough." If they have to learn that's bullshit the same time they learn Santa isn't real, that's going to be a tough week.) I realized part of the reason for people's ignorance is because the shame of debt has zipped our lips.

And the truth is, I'm still embarrassed. I can't help that yet. It's an automatic reaction. But what I won't do is allow the embarrassment to silence me. 

Because like my "friend" in college, I should not be the one who's embarrassed. There are people with the power to do something about this and they won't until we make them. They're the ones who should be embarrassed, filled with shame. And sitting alongside his ass in jail.

My name is Tauni and I have almost a half million dollars in debt. And I am pissed off. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Dear John Letter to America

Dear America,

Look. We have to talk.

I don't want to be one of those couples who go years with their arms crossed, in tense silence, with no warmth or affection. And I think this is the stage we're at: constantly angry, bitter, resentful, frustrated.

It didn't always feel this way. But this was an arranged marriage, remember, so we obviously didn't know each other in the beginning.

I learned as a child that you were the best match I could have possibly hoped for - the biggest and most powerful and bestest ever country of all time. And I loved you the way I loved my mommy: with eyes that saw no flaws. I named my doll Nancy after Nancy Reagan, the closest thing I had to a queen. There was no gray in my world. I was safe, happy, people spoke of freedom ad nauseam....... this was going to be a great relationship. Forever.

That's what I thought, I really did.

As I've gotten older, our differences have gradually come between us. As I moved on from childhood, my pride in you dwindled, not only because of your faults, which seemed to be expanding the more I learned about you, but because I realized how fucking stupid it was to take pride in something that was handed to me with no work or effort on my part, just luck.

Okay, okay, by now you're wondering what's really going on, why is this all coming out now, this is so sudden, we've been so happy in the past. And you're probably a little suspicious, and I am beating around the bush a little, I apologize. The truth is..... I have met someone else.

You're furious and I understand. You're probably yelling "Traitor!" But I am not, I assure you. The truth is...... it's not me, it's you.

See, I'm not a traitor. I just realized that I am the only one trying to save this marriage.

I've been telling you for over two decades how important my values are to me: education, life, freedom, health, peace, in no particular order. And you have been promising me for decades that you would learn to value these things along with me. You promised me you'd change.

Well, time's up. Thirty-nine years is all I'm willing to wait. I'm at an age now where I'm not willing to give away years while you try to figure out why I matter. (fyi: I matter because I'm a person. You know I've been trying to tell you that for YEARS, even though I know the questions you're going to ask next: "But what color are you? What's your sexual orientation? Are you rich? Are you poor? Are you educated? Are you fuckable? Are you Christian? Are you an immigrant? Do you have developmental disabilities? Do you have mental health issues? What gender are you? How big is your house?" And then I would respond, "NO, DUDE, I matter because I'm a HUMAN BEING." And then you'd get a nosebleed and we would have to continue the conversation later. Remember? This was just last week.)

I have tried so hard to get you to change. To help you understand why my values are important to me. I've called representatives, senators, I've written letters, donated money, given my time, attended protests, signed petitions..... I really feel like I've done all I can except run for public office, but my anxiety disorder would make such an endeavor about as pleasant as killing myself with a blender.

I can feel your eyes scanning this letter, wondering who the other guy is. And yes, I'm afraid your suspicion is founded.

It's Canada.

Now, I realize you're probably angry, and I understand that. But you really have no right to be angry with me. Because like I said, it's not me. It's you.

Maybe you remember some of these past conversations?

Me: What would happen if I got cancer?
You: Do you have insurance?
Me: Yes.
You: Then you'll probably just go bankrupt from deductibles and co-pays and out-of-network providers that will most certainly be assigned to you at some point. But don't worry, you won't be like, millions of dollars in debt because you have insurance. You're lucky!
Me: What if I didn't have insurance or money?
You: Eat shit and die for all I give a fuck.

Me: What happens if I get killed by a gun?
You: I'll do my best to make sure the person who kills you is put in jail. Then I will fully rally around the NRA to ensure that other people will be killed in the future.
Me: What if I got shot and didn't have insurance?
You: Oh, well then I'd piss on you before I went to rally around the NRA. But don't worry, I'd still try to get the person who shot you put in jail. Unless a police officer shoots you, then it's cool. But you don't have to worry about that, you're white, right?

Me: You're always bragging about your American dream. My husband's dream was to be a veterinarian. He attended a state university for four years for veterinary school. Those four years cost us $350,000 + $26,000 in interest every year, so now it's up to nearly half a million dollars and quickly growing. His starting salary as a doctor was $50,000. How can you claim to value education and then set up your students, the future leaders of you, to certain failure and condemn them to a lifetime of massive debt?
You: *burp*

Me: I'm a woman.
You: Are you fuckable?
Me: I think so?
You: Go away if you're not fuckable.
Me: That seems really weird.
You: You're still talking but I don't care about the words that come out of your mouth if you're not fuckable.
Me: Really?
You:

Me: I want rights to my own body.
You: HAAAAAAAA HAAA HA HA HA HAAAAAA HA *giggle cough snort* OMG MY FACE HURTS!!!! HAAAAA HA HA HA STOP STOP I CAN'T TAKE IT YOU ARE *snort* JUST THE FUNNIEST HAAAAAAAA HAAA HA HA HA I CAN'T WAIT TO TELL THE GUYS THEY ARE GOING TO DIE

ME: I care immensely about the LGBT community. Do you----
You: HOLY FUCKING SHIT WE LET YOU WHINEY BASTARDS GET MARRIED SHUT UP AND GO AWAY and seriously don't touch me or look at me. I don't want God to think I've gone gay.

Me: Oh yeah, about that God thing. Isn't there supposed to be a separations of church and state?
You: COMMIE!

Me: I'm not Christian.
You: *sigh* All right, I didn't want it to come to this. I'm going to have to kill you because you are a terrible person and a worthless human being.

Me: I value science immensely and staunchly believe it should be taught in our schools.
You: But we don't want to teach lies. We want to teach the Bible. Oh my God, look at how distressed you are! Come on, no tears. I'm sorry I'm laughing, but girls are so cute when they're mad.

Me: My employer grabbed my butt when I was leaving the office. It freaked me out and now I'm embarrassed and ashamed and I don't know what to do.
You: Slut.

Me: I want to be paid a dollar like Jeff.
You: Here's seventy-seven cents. Be grateful.

Me: Oh my God, these exhausted people fleeing violent countries! Torn to shreds! Children! We have resources to help them! We should!
You: No. I only value children if they're American or in the womb. Unless they're poor. Remember how we just revoked the free lunch program in elementary schools because those lazy motherfuckers wouldn't bring up their grades? Parasites.
Me: I thought you were Christian?
You: *confused* I am. Why?

Me: The environment should be our number one priority because without it, we have no hope.
You: *taking a bath in oil* I keep telling you, I'm working on that. Patience, woman, geez.

Me (in disguise): I'm a rich corporation!
You: *begin cunnilingus*

Look, I know Canada isn't perfect. They have problems and legislation that makes me mad (QUIT BANNING PIT BULLS, MONTREAL!!) and they will continue to make me mad.
But it will still be better. Because my core values fit theirs. If I get cancer, Canada won't tell me to fuck myself. If I want an education, Canada won't outright rob me, set me up to fail, and condemn me to debtor's prison as a reward for all my hard work. The people of Canada elected a person who's first priority was to make his cabinet 50/50 men/women because they value me as a woman. You elected one that brags about his entitlement to my pussy. And they don't pretend to separate church and state. They do.

I know what your saying: You can change! And of course you can. Your next leader could be AWESOME! Really! And honestly, I think your next leader will be awesome because I think there's going to be a swing in the other direction. However, even if you have a fabulous new leader, the citizens that elected your present one will still be there. And they frighten me.

Yes, I used the word frighten. Because I think their ideas are exceedingly dangerous and potentially catastrophic. Waking up every day, knowing they're going to be there in my grocery store, delivering my mail, directing traffic, teaching our children...... it's eating me away and I'm slowly becoming more and more agoraphobic. I feel like my soul has an ache that won't go away because your flaws, America, have overpowered everything good in my eyes.

And it finally dawned on me: What the fuck am I DOING here?

All this time I didn't want to leave because it felt like abandoning my post. I felt, and still feel, a responsibility to stay and fight for change. But the truth is, I'm fighting for a country that literally doesn't care if I die. And I've been trying for so long to explain why I matter, but you're not listening. And even if you start listening some years down the road, it's too late now. I'm not willing to wait any more. I've done my part and now I feel like I need to be with people who value me. In a country that values me.

So we're coming up with a plan to leave. When I was little I thought I was lucky to be born in America, but now I consider myself super duper lucky to be married to a Canadian citizen. We're doing the research, counting the funds, and starting dreams. Don't worry, this won't happen for a few years. Moves like this take time and money, but we're starting the process.

I don't like the story you're telling, America, and I don't want to be a part of your story any more. I don't want to be part of your history. I want out.

So good-bye, America. I'm leaving you.

And I'm taking my pussy with me.

















Saturday, July 29, 2017

FINE. I'm writing. SEE? I'm writing. THIS IS ME, WRITING!!

My therapist wants me to write. My friends want me to write. My husband wants me to write. Not because they're particularly interested in what I'm going to write (my therapist has never even seen my blog), but because I'm not doing well and they know I do better when I write.

So here I am. Happy, you jerks?

They're 100% correct, of course. I've only written one post in the last year and while that is completely unacceptable, there's also a reason for it.

I'm really, really terrified of what's going on in my head.

And until I write about it, nothing else seems worth writing so I better just face my fear and write it. Which is going to be difficult because now my palms are sweating, dammit. Gross.

So why am I scared? Because nobody is going to like what I have to say.

I've been living my life like a lot of other people: recycling dutifully, making better choices about packaging and locally sourced goods, I've called senators and voted for policy change and signed petitions and donated money, I've argued with relatives about the reality of climate change..... but at the end of the day, my thoughts go like this: "I can rest easy because I know I did my part. I have no control over others and all I can do is what I can do. It's just too bad that none of what I did today matters since we're obviously too flawed to sustain our species and none of us are going to be here soon, anyway.......Oops! Forgot to brush my teeth."

This is a fear unlike one I've ever faced because it's not a phobia and it's not irrational and yet the basis of my fear is so catastrophic that I can't even imagine it. Armageddon-type movies make it seem like a story so far-fetched it couldn't possibly happen without CGI. And yet it's happening in reality as much as it's happening in my head.

But here's the thing: while it's happening to all of us, I feel like it's only happening to me.

Not because of a sense of self-centeredness (which is something I have to call myself out on CONSTANTLY) but because no one else seems to be scared. Well, except maybe Al Gore, but even he doesn't spend his first hour of the day mute and stiff with fear like me before he can coax himself to start the coffee.

I recently read an article about a fabulous resort that's being built. Everyone is SO excited for this resort. I broke one of my rules and read the comments on the article to see what people's reactions were, and they were full of yay: "When will it open??" "It looks BEAUTIFUL!" "Can't wait to take my family there!"

They were just SO excited that a frozen tundra and its "road" had thawed for the first time, so now they can build FINALLY on it. Hurray!!

Am I the only one who reads this article as though we're playing the fiddle while Rome burns?

_____________________

My therapy sessions are insanely frustrating right now. Not for me, but for my therapist. Our talks go like this:

Her: "But why do you feel like this is happening?"
Me: "Irrefutable scientific evidence."

Her: "What if you gave your time to an environmental protection charity?"
Me: "I'm open to that.....I'd have to learn how to find purpose fighting for something I really don't think we can win. Hmmm."

Her: "What do you fear will happen?"
Me: "I don't know exactly what will happen...... I mean, this is the first time we've ever melted the ice caps. But I'm sure the results will be something to fear."

Her: "Do you talk about this with your friends?"
Me: "You mean my friends who all have small children? Do I talk to them about how I think we're going to leave their precious children with a dead planet when they just want to talk to me about how their kid can memorize a song on a piano in under an hour? Um, no, I don't."

Me: "I think of today's efforts to curb climate change like an ambulance. [Warning, extended metaphor upcoming, but stay with me] If you're having a heart attack, you call an ambulance. Since the ambulance doesn't have the appropriate equipment or personnel to administer, say, a triple bypass surgery, their job is to keep your heart beating as long as possible until you get to the hospital. The hospital is the real solution to your problem. The ambulance is the vehicle needed to get you to the solution. I feel like all our current and past efforts to curb climate change aren't the solution, but rather the ambulance ride. I feel like all we're doing is slowing it down slightly while we try to get this motherfucker to the hospital."
Her: "So what happens when we get to the hospital?"
Me: "There isn't a hospital. I think we're all standing around looking at each other hoping someone will build one for us."

Her: "What do you think it would feel like if you could find joy within all of this?"
Me: "I think it would feel like celebrating a new resort being built on a newly thawed tundra."

Her: "Do you have any sense of hope?"
Me: "I really, really, really hope that we don't destroy the planet to the point where life can't continue to thrive and grow in one form or another after we've made it uninhabitable for ourselves. But I sense that isn't the hope you were talking about."

______________________________

All joy feels like denial.

The article about the resort on the thawed tundra was more disheartening to me than any of the "climate experts warn we only have until 2020 to turn this around" type articles because we are at such a precipice. We don't have thirty years to get everyone on board with this. We may not even have a day. Everyone needs to be on the same page to save us now. Right now. But instead of being concerned, people are happy about the new resort and the fact that the tundra is thawing.... and well, we just elected an administration that will gleefully sell our future to the highest bidder, so......

I don't know what to do. I really don't. My husband says, "We've had to face disaster before. Look at the Cold War; everyone thought they were going to die in a nuclear war." And I reply, "But in that scenario, the bombs lay dormant in wait. I feel like the bomb has been launched. But it's dropping very slowly and everyone refuses to look up. And who can blame them? It's far too terrifying."

A part of me really resents the people who can talk about, say, what the music business will look like in a hundred years without giving a second's thought about whether there will be people here to enjoy music at all. And if there are, will they have time to enjoy music or will they be desperately trying to survive on the broken planet we left them? Oh my God, what I would give to have my biggest worry to be whether or not the Beatles will still be relevant in 2150.

I'm doing what I can to stifle the fear: I'm still sober. I've taken up drums. I talk to my husband. We adopted a kitten. I'm planning a great vacation next year. We've increased my meds. Meditation. These things help intermittently. But man, am I struggling. You should see my palms right now, GROOOOSS.

_______________________

Therapist: "How would you live your life if you could let go of this fear? How would your attitude change?"
Me: ".........Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Good luck, folks." 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Break My Mom's Heart Every Day

I was raised in a Lutheran family. ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Lutheran, to be exact. Looking back, our church was somewhat progressive, but when comparing it to other churches in my very rural South Dakota upbringing in the early 80's, that's a pretty low threshold. But they didn't kick you out for being gay or force you to apologize to the congregation if you were pregnant at your own wedding like other churches in the area, so I'm going to go ahead and call them progressive. 

I was also raised by a mom who subscribes to an extreme form of honesty. It's not that she doesn't have a filter, because she absolutely does and would throw herself into a fire before she would make anyone feel uncomfortable or offended. But she simply cannot lie. So when we were growing up, we always knew that Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy were all bullshit, because my mom refused to lie to her children, even then. 

This same super-honest mom is also a very strong Christian. Her love for Christ is bright and unapologetic.  My mom is resilient and strong, and when she attributes her faith to getting her through difficult times like the sudden death of my father, I believe her. 

Like many Christians, it isn't enough that she have her own faith and that it help with her own life. It's also important to her that everyone else finds faith in the ELCA Lutheran Christ to help with their lives, too. 

Now I'm guessing here, but I attribute her passion of recruitment to three elements of motivation:

1. As a Christian, she believes it's her duty. She believes it is her duty to spread the gospel and therefore save people's souls because that's what God commands. 

2. If her friends and family aren't saved, they won't go to heaven and she'll never see them again after death. Pretty big motivator here, I'd say. She believes that heaven is a place reserved for people who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and Jesus as the son of God (sorry, Jews, you're out.). 

3. She feels the need to spread the word about her faith because it gives her a feeling of righteousness because she knows a truth that you don't, neener neener neener. There's a sense of (false) pride that comes with believing you're more enlightened than your neighbor. I think most people have experienced this feeling, myself included.

Now, I've struggled with the church and religion all my life, even as a kid. There was a stark contradiction to all of this. At home, my mom told me Santa Claus wasn't real because of course, one man can't possibly fly through the air with magic reindeer and deliver presents to everyone in the world, duh. Oh, but guess what, this guy in biblical times built a giant boat all by himself and managed to put two of each animal in existence onto this boat and after he rounded up all the lions and giraffes and penguins and otters and elephants and snakes and bears and scorpions and deer......they all lived in harmony and didn't kill each other and apparently all had litter boxes and plenty to eat while God flooded the earth. (I live with four cats and a dog and my life is chaos. This story is bullshit.)

But see, my mom is an honesty extremist. So if this was what she was teaching me, it was true....right?

Much to everyone's chagrin, I started asking questions, and didn't stop. How did Noah get all those animals? How did he build a boat so big by himself? How did he have enough food for everyone? How come it takes a hundred people to plan and build a simple boat today, but one guy was able to plan and build a boat the size of Texas?

Answers would vary between "well it was a miracle from God" or "maybe it didn't really happen that way exactly and it's just a fable from God meant to teach us something." In other words, "we don't know, quit asking hard questions."

But my questions became more persistent. If there are so many other religions, how do we know ours is the right one? Will people from other religions go to heaven too, even if they don't believe in our God? How do we know our God is the right one if they believe in different Gods? On and on. Beaten down, my mom sighed, "Oh honey, you're too young to be asking these questions."

I thought she was too old to not have the answers.

Thirty-something years later, I still don't have those answers and neither does she (or anybody else, for that matter). But she's forged ahead in her faith, steadfast and true, without a moment's doubt or hesitation. And it has worked for her. She's incredibly resilient and she handles tragedy and hardship with grace and strength. I was in awe of her composure after my dad's death, even though she was clearly in tremendous pain. 

She doesn't need all her questions answered. Her faith works for her. I see it. 

I, as you've probably guessed, have taken a different path. 

For me, the game was over when I realized that no one could tell me anything: if God exists, if there's a heaven or a hell, what happens after we die, are souls a real thing, etc. Once that lightbulb went off over my head, I was through listening to anyone who claimed to know  (and not simply believe in) these things, because they were, intentionally or unintentionally, lying. 

But I soon discovered it was nearly impossible to have a rational conversation about these things, because people would grasp at cliche straws as soon as they were getting uncomfortable or backed into a corner:

"I know it's true because I've experienced/seen it."

"I know it's true because God has a plan."

"I know it's true because it's the word of God." 

These are dismissive arguments that are infuriating because you can't possibly argue with them. How can you argue the existence of dinosaurs with someone who believes that dinosaurs didn't exist and God only put dinosaur bones here on Earth as a test of our faith? It's the equivalent of arguing with someone who will only reply with "I know you are, but what am I?" You are going to lose the argument not because you're wrong, but because the other person refuses to play the game.

__________________________________________


I cried hard, choking sobs on the morning of November 9. I was genuinely scared, overwhelmed, and hopeless. I cried and scrolled online all day long, looking to see how my friends were dealing with their grief, looking for signs of hope and words of comfort with my broken heart. 

Some friends lashed out. Some were overcome with grief. Others condemned people for sinking to the same level as internet trolls and insisted we must find a way to start listening to each other.

But I feel like I have been listening. And I also feel like I've been heard. But I don't understand how we can continue a conversation when we can't even agree on simple, fundamental facts.

I'm trying to figure out how I can have a conversation with someone who insists that 2+2=5 because God says so. They will not acknowledge that 2+2=4, no matter what, and they are willing to die for that belief. No matter how long I listen and try to understand, in the end 2+2=4 because fact trumps faith. But in their mind, no matter now long they listen or try to understand, 2+2=5 because faith trumps fact. 

On November 9, I knew that we were going to live in a country with a government that makes decisions based on their fundamental belief that 2+2=5, no matter who gets hurt or discriminated against, because 2+2=5 is gospel. 

And I cried. I cried because I knew my friends were going to suffer because of their color, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. I cried because I was overwhelmed with hopelessness at the feeling my childhood bullies had all been elected to run my country and bigotry had been vindicated. All my proclamations that "it does get better" felt hollow and far away. 

As I come through the fog and grief, my questions change from "why" and "how" to "what now?" My instinct is to gravitate toward the idea that we need to learn, listen, and understand each other. (What can I say, I'm a bleeding heart liberal who strives for peace. Sue me.) But I am truly confused as to how to do that. 

In the organization I work for, we have recently pulled support from some offices that haven't been performing well and don't seem to have much hope of performing well in the future. People are understandably hurt and angry, as they have put blood, sweat, and tears into trying to get these markets to succeed. 

One market in particular is pushing back quite a bit. They insist that they raise much more money than some of the larger, neighboring markets. When we showed them in black and white that this is not true, that they actually only raise 25% of their neighboring markets, they refused to believe it. There it was, in black and white - irrefutable numbers. But they looked at the numbers and said nope, they don't believe it. Dismissed. 

We said "2+2=4" and proved it. They said "2+2=5 and nothing you say or show will convince us any different." Everyone went home angry and both sides have been hostile to each other ever since. 

How do we work through this? How? When someone justifies a vote for Trump by insisting 2+2=5, what do you say? What do you say that inspires growth? What do you say that inspires love and understanding? These are not rhetorical questions.

I break my mom's heart every day because I am no longer a Christian (see #2 above). I believe in God, but my God believes that 2+2=4, loves Muslims, marches in Pride parades, protests with Black Lives Matter and believes I can rule a country even though I have a vagina. That no longer seems to agree with what many Christians envision their God to be, so I don't feel like I belong in their churches anymore.

I hate that I break my mom's heart. I mean, what's worse than seeing your mom sad, knowing you're the cause of the sadness? Nothing. Nothing is more gut-wrenching and awful. I wish more than anything I could reassure her of my faith in the God she believes in to make her happy. But I can't. 

Because my mom taught me not to lie. And 2+2=4. And that's the truth. 


Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'll Tell You What' Up, Doc.

So I'm in therapy.

Ugh, therapy. I dread it as though it's an hour-long family reunion. All I can think of are the screaming kids, the awkward conversations with elders who couldn't hear your conversation with a bullhorn, the marshmallow and canned fruit "salad," and my uncle putting on a three-hour slide show of his world travels. Once I get there it isn't that bad of course (with the exception of the slideshow), but the anxiety I get leading up to it is enough to put in therapy. 

Actually, it is enough to put me in therapy. Because anxiety is my issue.

I remember my first anxiety attack. I don't remember how old I was, but I think around eight years old. It was the morning after a friend slept over at my house and we were playing before it was time to take her home. I went upstairs to get a toy or something, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I needed her to get out of my house. Now. Right now. Getoutgetoutgetoutgetthefuckout. 

Why? No idea. We hadn't had a fight, I wasn't sick, the house wasn't on fire.... there was no reason I can think of, to this day, why that happened. But after that, it happened over and over again, for several years. This was the eighties and you didn't get help for your kids unless they were burning down buildings. Hiding and denying mental illness was always preferable to getting treatment back then. (In my parents' defense, though, access to child psychology was assuredly lacking in rural South Dakota in the 80's.) 

I was talking to my sister the other day. My niece has started showing the same symptoms I had, and at the same age. We talked about her behavior, and it all sounded very, very familiar. My sister asked me what did I think she should do, since I had gone through this myself. I asked her if she was anti-meds? She said no. I asked if she was afraid of detrimental effects if my niece went into therapy? She said no. 

"Then why aren't you taking advantage of every tool in the toolbox to see if one will help?" I asked. 

A light bulb went off in her head and she said, "You're right! Why am I not doing this? I just hoped it might be a phase...."

phase |fāz|
noun

• a stage in a person's psychological development, especially a period of temporary unhappiness or difficulty during adolescence or a particular stage during childhood.

I dislike the word "phase." It's the word we desperately cling to when a loved one's behavior becomes worrisome in order to buy us time in the land of Denial. It prevents us from taking action and allows us to laugh off troublesome behavior to our friends as we roll our eyes and say knowingly, "I'm sure it's just a phase." 

But it's hard with kids because they do go through phases, sometimes it seems like a dozen in a single afternoon. And you don't want to throw your five-year-old daughter into transgender therapy and hormone treatments if one afternoon she says she'd like to have a penis. It's a delicate dance between staying out of denial and yet not overreacting. 

Anxiety is rarely a phase, though, as I've experienced in my life. I've found many ways to deal with it in my thirty-seven years, both healthy and unhealthy: drinking, exercise, sleeping too much, drinking, procrastinating, eating well, eating terribly, and more drinking. Basically, I led a life wrought with poor decisions and destructive behavior with just enough brief periods of progress and personal growth to get me through to my thirties. 

Once in my thirties, though, I got serious about my health and turned everything around, which has worked out very well. Until recently.

For quite a while, my dissatisfaction with my job had me slowly slipping backward into Anxiety World, but my promotion in March suddenly made my regression go from a gentle slope downward to hanging onto a creaky little branch over the side of a cliff. 

Suddenly it was hard to get to sleep at night. I have no appetite and rarely have a bite of food before 9pm. I pace. I can't make simple decisions. I don't exercise. Getting out of bed in the morning is the worst. I avoid leaving the house. 

And what did I tell myself these last few months? THAT IT WAS A PHASE. That as soon as I got into the swing of things with this new job, I wouldn't be as anxious and I'd once again find my healthy routine and everything would be sunshine and unicorns. 

What can I say? I'm a slow learner. 

A few weeks ago, it was a perfectly sunny, lovely Sunday morning, my favorite time of the week. As we were making plans for the day, my husband and I had a disagreement. It was a little disagreement over something trivial, but it didn't matter - I was a frayed rope that had been pulled taught for so long, it took almost nothing for me to go over the edge and rage over the tiniest little thing. And I did. 

Later, my defeated husband said, "You know, we were having a great morning. It's a beautiful day. Why did you have to make such a big deal out of this and ruin it?"

He was right. And that's when a light bulb went on over my head as I thought back to my conversation with my sister. I wasn't taking my own advice. Sure, the job situation might be a phase, but I've known all my adult life that my anxiety is not. I'd lost my grip on it and it was starting to affect not only me, but my family. I wasn't using the tools in my own toolbox. 

The next day, I stopped making excuses and made an appointment with a therapist. I long ago let go of the social stigma that comes with being treated or medicated for mental illness. Once I got older and realized how fucked up everyone is - and I mean everyone - a little anxiety and alcoholism no longer seemed like such shameful secrets. I once heard someone say they were terrified of having their family find out they were in A.A., but for some reason they weren't terrified of their family seeing them once again falling down drunk on a Tuesday morning. My situation wasn't dissimilar: Having anxiety isn't what should make me ashamed. But ruining a beautiful Sunday morning with my husband because I refuse to take responsibility for my anxiety, though? That's shameful. 

So I'm going to try to dig myself out of this hole. And my first step is to get on the couch. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

When I was in my early twenties, either I really did enjoy spontaneity, or I was so insistent that I enjoyed it that I forced it with an enthusiastic smile. I'm not really sure which it was, but at any rate I lived my life with a lot of unpredictability and I don't remember a lot of fear involved. I made changes all the time and to varying degrees; Whether it was a last-minute night on the town or I decided to rent a U-Haul and move to a different city or apartment, I never seemed to sit still long enough to get too comfortable or to reflect on what was really going on.

But there are a lot of elements that usually come with your twenties that nurtures one's tendency to be spontaneous. Most of the jobs you have in your twenties are disposable and friends seem to come easily no matter where you move. Often children and spouses aren't in the picture. Funds are limited, but where there's a will, there's a way. And in my twenties, I willed myself all over the place with little thought, no plans, and that seemed to suit me fine.

My mistake was thinking that because that's how it had always been, that's how it was always going to be. If I like to fly by the seat of my pants at 23, I will like to at 37, right? I was so married to this part of my identity that I held onto it long after it was clear that I wanted more than my impulsive lifestyle was going to yield. But routine and predictability seemed so lame, so boring, so old.

But I wasn't 23 anymore, and my body couldn't keep up with unpredictable me anymore. So I grudgingly began to identify with the woman who wanted routine and the safety and comfort it provides.

But now that I've been my lame, boring, old self for several years now, I've swung too far in the other direction, and not only do I shun spontaneity, but I dread any change, period.

So when, in the last six months, I went from being an special events assistant to being a regional operations manger for twenty-six freakin' sites from coast to coast in my organization, there wasn't just anxiety. There was full-on, nauseous, white-hot panic.

Because of my terror, one would think that I was just offered this leaps-and-bounds promotion out of the blue and that's why I panicked. Oh, no. I did this to myself. I researched the job, I fired up the ol' resume (after asking a bunch of twenty-year-olds what their resumes looked like. Who knows how the kids are doing it these days. Are they still even called resumes?) and drafted a cover letter after making my best friend read and re-read it until her eyes bled. I contacted old references and had a heart-to-heart with my boss, who I love and love to worth with. So you would think with all this effort, this promotion would be something I really wanted, right?

In my years of sobriety, I have learned that I can often control my anxiety by focusing only on the present. So I told my husband, "I'm not going to think about it. I'm going to apply, but I'm not going to think about the what-ifs. No what-if-I-get-an-interview. No what-if-I-don't-get-it-and-this-was-all-for-nothing. No what-if-I-actually-get-the-job. None of it." And I did. I let it go.

The problem with this strategy, though, is that when I did get the call and they offered me the job, I was totally, utterly unprepared. And so my first thought was crystal clear: "WHAT have I DONE."

All the reasons (and there were many) that I wanted the job went out the window. All I could foresee, and all I could feel, was the dread that comes with major change. Everyone around me, including my husband, was ecstatic and saying all the right things. "You are PERFECT for this position!" "You finally get to work from home like you've always wanted!" "You are going to LOVE this role, I know it!" "You are going to be so happy!" And they were right. I knew they were right. But fear penetrates reason and common sense, and it's hard to talk yourself down from that ledge once you're on it.

Of course, I accepted the offer, but with very little eloquence because I was concentrating on not peeing my pants. It's been about a week and a half since then and in that time, the wheels of change have been in motion. I'm training a new person to take over my old position. I've ordered new furniture for my home office. I've signed contracts, ordered new tech gear, and even made my first travel plans to Texas to help manage one of the events there.

So I'm putting one shaky foot in front of the other and trying to embrace it, because I know old routines will give way to new routines. I know that this change is good. I know I have a lot of support and my friends and colleagues are confident in my ability.

And whenever my self-doubt and fears start to creep up, I remind myself that my new office is going to look something like this.


Pretty soon now you're gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
--David Bowie