Skip to main content

Windfalls for You and #MeToo

Knowledge is dropping all around us these days, of the sweet and the sour and the poisonous and the rotten. Abusers are named like Rumpelstiltskin. Goose Girls find an iron stove to cry in, and good kings hear them and forge brutal justice. How satisfying it is to see monuments crumble and false idols topple from their pedestals.

Meanwhile, the victims who stand as accusers more often than not go down with their tormentors, martyred on the pikes of public scorn and retaliatory hate.

And then, what comes next for us down here on the ground? What comes down upon the millions of children and women and men scarred by someone who is poor, sick, anonymous, or dead, or also a child and a victim too? What happens to those of us who can't or won't tell? To those who have nothing to gain from disclosure?

What if you can't afford the risk to yourself and your family? Sharing a story publicly can draw blame and shame upon the victim. It can traumatize or re-traumatize people who witness your story. And, sick but true, it can titillate and encourage predators, resulting in a rash of copycat sexual violence.

A few days ago, Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke gave an interview about her plans to shift away from trauma and toward revelations of healing. I breathed such a sigh of relief when I read her words. "You have to get it out," she says,
...but it doesn’t have to be... on social media at all. It could be a trusted friend. It could be your journal. That’s hard for survivors because people are always saying, 'Tell your story.' It’s like a balancing act because I have to acknowledge that stories are important, and sometimes saying the words, 'This happened to me' and 'This is what he did' is cathartic to get out. I think there’s enough evidence in this world of survival and recovery to show that repeating that doesn’t help you, though. Reliving that doesn’t help you. I want to teach people to not lean into their trauma. You can create the kind of joy in your life that allows you to lean into that instead.

Ooh, I know the relief of getting it out. I kept a journal all through my childhood and adolescence, the usual kind where you write down all your secrets and the literal facts of your days. I have felt the surging rush of printing in glossy ink the names of victims and perpetrators on the clean, receptive paper of a notebook that locks: the names of children, babysitters, relatives, teachers, priests--legible to the eye and tactile to the finger, pressed in hard with the pen, like a magical incantation. A protective charm. A curse.

I also know the strain of being pressured to disclose what you can't. When the most traumatic incident in my life occurred, I was four. There were other victims who surely do not wish to be outed. At the time, I quite literally lost the ability to speak for a time. I experienced dissociative amnesia and derealization, traumatic hallucination, and flashbacks years later. I had thoughts of self-harm and death and a strong wish to disappear. I had panic attacks and digestive ailments bad enough to lose me a couple of jobs.

And now, as an adult, I don't have those symptoms anymore.

And why I don't--that is the story I want to share. The solution, not the particulars of the cause. As Tarana Burke puts it, "If I sat here and gave you the gory details of what happened to me, what are you taking away from that?"

It's a dangerous tightrope. It is important that other victims know that they aren't the only ones who have been through what they've been through. Sometimes, as Rebecca Solnit explores in densely thoughtful prose, it is nothing short of revolutionary to break the silence and the story. Someone must do that--but that someone doesn't have to be every victim. It doesn't have to be you. Each one of us does what we can, and our first responsibility is to heal ourselves.

It is essential for victims to know that survival is possible. That you don't have to stay a victim. It need not become a part of your identity. It need not define the borders of your life.

Everyone's responses to trauma and healing processes are personal and unique. We don't choose how our bodies and brains respond to the initial wound or what it takes to heal us, just like we didn't choose what happened to us. The way it plays out isn't fair. Some victims have greater barriers to recovery than others. Children who are poor, those with certain inborn personality traits, the disabled, the mentally ill, and people of color often have a longer road to travel and fewer resources available.

I was fortunate in that my symptoms came on so suddenly and acutely, at such a young age, that my trauma was discovered immediately by my parents. I am also fortunate that they were willing and able to acquire professional treatment for me right away. Unfortunately, that isn't how it goes for most child victims of abuse.

But if you are alive, you have the power to heal. It is never too late to begin. And no matter how many resources are unavailable to you at any given time, there is an unlimited field of possibilities to try, as long as you're breathing and your heart is beating. There are no quick fixes for deep, systemic problems. There is no justice in this mortal world that isn't crafted by hand. But there is endless evolution.

Today, I am 35 years old. I am happily married, with a healthy and bright daughter, an adorable cat, and a simple but comfortable life. I still have lingering anxiety tendencies that can be triggered to flare up, but my anxiety is well managed and rarely interrupts my peace. At this time in my life, my favorite therapeutic habit is writing fiction. For those who enjoy it, novel writing can have potent mental health benefits which are different from, and take me much further into healing and wisdom than, the effects of retelling the facts of what happened to me.

I have found, throughout my life, that a focus on nurturing good habits is far more effective than a focus on rooting out bad ones. Robust health in a person--the same as in a whole ecosystem--is the best defense against illness or injury. Instead of trying to harden myself against danger or purge myself of evils, I try to stay supple and flexible and enmeshed in warm, strong relationships. Instead of seeking purity, I fill myself with good nutrition--literal and metaphorical--so that I can enjoy my naughty treats in faith that my healthy self can handle them in casually unmeasured moderation.

The habits that end up helping each person along the road to healing are as different as we are from each other. I have a list of practices that have helped me--not all at once but at different times in my life, when each one felt right and good for me. My list won't be identical to anyone else's list, but maybe it can serve as an example of ideas to consider.

A common thread running through all healing practices, though, is the maintenance of healthy boundaries. These apply to relationships between people--recognizing interpersonal dynamics that are harmful and disengaging with them--and they apply to one's own self-discipline. If a practice is not working or no longer working for me, I stop. If I try something and it makes things worse, I don't stick with it. I can always come back another time if there is good reason to believe it will work for me at a different time or in a different context. And if it is working, but I fall off the wagon, I expend the effort to climb back on, because I have the power to set long-term goals for myself.

Practices that help or have helped me to grow in health and happiness include:

  • clinical treatment (short-term; in childhood, as a teen, and as a young adult)
  • yoga
  • Zen meditation
  • self-defense and martial arts
  • distance running
  • regular walks in nature
  • cooking and baking
  • belly dance
  • music for every mood: everything from sweet folksong to brutal heavy metal and thrashy punk rock
  • gardening
  • comedy and laughter, especially twisted or raunchy humor
  • bicycling
  • drawing
  • painting
  • making collages
  • building fires and piling up the hygge 
  • mothering and trusting my instincts
  • celebrating holidays, personal milestones, or any other opportunities for a party or spontaneous expression of fun with friends
  • obtaining good enough health insurance that seeking care is not an overly stressful decision
  • learning to manage money and live within my means
  • acquiring job skills
  • travel
  • volunteering for causes that move me
  • choosing and committing to meaningful employment
  • democratic participation
  • reading all the books and magazines I can consume
  • blogging and posting joyful junk on social media
  • watching artsy and foreign films, especially emotionally intense, shocking, or creepy masterpieces
  • scheduling regular visits to the salon

Some of the above practices fit well into the trendy notions of "wellness" and "self-care," and others may read as frivolous, counter-intuitive, or simply a drag. But the truth is that human beings contain multitudes. We must replenish many physical, mental, and emotional wells within ourselves to be at our best for ourselves and our loved ones, and each one of us has different needs and tolerances. Though we absolutely need other people in our lives to be whole and healthy and to have access to the sources of healing that we need, we also absolutely need to direct our own healing. We must be our own fairy godmother, because no one is coming with a magic wand to fix us. Life isn't fair, and it isn't necessarily just, but it is beautiful and endless in its possibilities.

As the poet Mary Oliver asks, "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Only you can answer. Only you can make it happen.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

Happy Spring Awakening of the Rusalki!

The water spirits demand hard-boiled eggs.


According to MagPie's Corner on Facebook, the ancient Slavic holiday week known as "first Rusalii," when the rusalki first awaken in the rivers and streams, is happening now. Apparently, they wake up hangry for bread and hard-boiled eggs.


My family will be baking bread and boiling and decorating eggs, you know, just in case. We do live very close to a river. And traditions are important.

So happy First Rusalii to you! Happy Good Friday! Happy Easter weekend! Happy spring, no matter what or how you celebrate. Where I live, Easter is going to be the first warm, beautiful day we've had in a long time, with many warm days to follow--the perfect weather for a spring awakening.

P.S. Matka Danu Miklagarth, epic historical thriller featuring rusalki-impersonating pirates, is nearly 170,000 words long. If this book ever gets printed, it could be used as a weight to walk across the bottom of a river for real.

The Golden Moments

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. -George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) 

The only time this is not generally true for me is in the fall. This is the golden moment when I feel most alive, aware, and present with everyone and everything around me. This is when my daughter and I begin most days with a walk in the golden hour of the morning, in this most golden season of the year.

It's also that magical time when my little golden child is still excited about school, from our morning walks to seeing her friends at recess to the Scholastic Book Fair to riding the bus home with more friends. She has already earned another "Golden Warrior of the Week" award (for exceptionally helpful behavior) and received an excellent, glowing report at the first parent-teacher conference of the year.

I've extended my "fallow period" from working on my novel, and I'…

My Alpha

It turns out my husband is a fantastic alpha reader. Who knew? We've been married for 13 years and have known each other for 21. And last weekend was the first time I ever had him alpha read for me. Turns out he's the best creative partner I could ever hope for and that he still has the ability to surprise me with hidden talents and acts of love.

My husband is not really a fiction reader. He probably hasn't read a novel since high school AP lit class. It's not that he doesn't love a good story, it's that he doesn't like sitting still long enough to read a book or watch a movie. He's a very active and extroverted man, and he'd rather have a conversation or a real-life adventure than read a book. He's kind of like Gaston if Gaston weren't an asshole.

So until now, I haven't wanted to bother him with requests to read my writing, because reading novels isn't his jam, and also because I've always harbored guilt at how much time I spen…

My Parents Bought a House in My Neighborhood

Welcome to the West Side, Oma and Opa! My family is among many who have chosen to live closer together as the Boomer generation retires. Whether or not we have children, we want to make sure our parents are within reach so that we can help them stay healthy and free to live in their own homes--and, of course, so they can help us hapless Millennials and Gen Xers with their home renovation skills.
We need each other more than ever now that health care is a nightmare, social supports have been weakened, economic inequality is rising along with sea levels and pollution, and loneliness has become a deadlier epidemic than smoking. I believe that we are also rediscovering, after a few decades of cultural emphasis on independence, the value of family bonds across generations.

Modern science reminds us that humans evolved to live well past our fertile years to give our families the power of grandparents and that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are healthy for childr…

We're All Gonna Die, So.

Happy All Saints, All Souls, Samhain, Day of the Dead, Diwali, or other festival of mortality! We're all gonna die, so let's love it up while we're together.

This year, my family kicked off the season of sweet sorrow by dressing as the three best members of the Addams Family to trick-or-treat at a local park. It's a good thing we took that opportunity for a Halloween "dress rehearsal," because it turned out to be the only chance we had to put on our mysterious and spooky drag this year. Our poor little Wednesday caught the public school pukes two Tuesdays in a row, held out through the next one, and succumbed to a third bout on the morning of Halloween. Sometimes, you spend all month grooming your Gomez mustache (pictured above left) or your Morticia nails (one of which I bent backwards but was able to save--oh, the beautiful agony) and then trick-or-treating is canceled anyway. C'est la vie. We shall carve a pumpkin and roast its seeds for our departed …

Ísbíltúr: When It's Too Hot for Hygge

October is here! It's time for sweaters and crackling fires and pumpkin pie and... a climate crisis heat wave. I just got out all my knits and candles and squishy throw blankets, only to endure a couple of swampy, Florida-hot days. In October. In Michigan.

This is the third year in a row we have had a sweltering heat wave in October. It does not make me feel the hygge. I feel... I feel...


...more like death metal Greta Thunberg, yeah.

So I decided that, instead of burning up fossil fuels and warming my house by cooking dinner, my family would explore a different Scandinavian concept: ísbíltúr, the Icelandic national pastime of going out for ice cream.


We ate ice cream for dinner. Outside. In October. In Michigan.

Today, it has finally cooled down outside--for now. I got out the velvet pumpkin basket stuffed with hats and gloves and put it in the foyer, by the mosquito repellent and the flip-flops. You never know what you might need on the walk to school.

No matter the season or th…

I Have Created Something!

I have completed (and rewritten and revised and revised again and edited) an epic historical dark thriller. I have written a subversive Parsival tale in contemporary style, narrated by a a teenage orphan girl of unknown heritage, raised by a hermit of unknown origin, with no particular religion, certain race, or coherent social class, a girl who seeks identity and meaning along her adventures with assorted outcasts, misfits, criminals, and trailblazers. It's a queer, multicultural, interracial, boundary-blurring brick of densely woven subplots and big themes glued together with tears and profanity and bestial love. In other words, I have produced the kind of Byzantine journey saga that only the Millennial alumnus of an urban American public school with both gang violence and a celebrated AP program could have written.

I have no idea whether this work can be packaged and sold as a consumer product (though I sure hope it can), but in this moment, I am riding that high that comes afte…

In a World of Calvins, Be a Hobbes!

My favorite season is here, and I'm taking a short break from working on my book to bask in the joys of fall. Beautiful autumn days are too precious to waste! I'm renewing my vow to be a Hobbes as part of my 2019 mantra to Be Bestial.


I'm taking author Kate Angus's advice to give myself a fallow period, even if it's short. For the next week or so, it's going to be stormy outside, which is both detrimental to outdoor activities and kind of exciting and inspirational, so I'll be back at my writing desk. If all goes well, I will soon be working on my agent submission documents!

BE BESTIAL: A Mantra for 2019

Call it a resolution, a Phrase of the Year, a slogan, a motto, a mantra. Whatever. This is my battle cry, my howl, my declaration of love for the final year of this tempest-tossed decade. This is my medicine, to be taken by myself and offered to anyone else who could use the same antidote to our zeitgeist of vapid soullessness and cynical waste.


I want to get back to nature--my nature, human nature--not in the sense of rejecting vaccines and worshiping crystals pillaged mercilessly from the habitats of endangered beings but in the sense of honoring the depths of every layer of my own mammalian brain and body and those of the people-beasts all around me. I want to get back to trustworthy instincts, back to passion, back to the visceral pleasures of real life.

This year, I'm gonna be a savage, because brutal times call for brutal humor. Ain't no shame in this filthy game. The appreciation of sick jokes is associated with higher levels of education, intelligence, and emotional sta…