Belief

TW/CN: Mentions of abuse, childhood abuse, gaslighting, rape, sexual assault

I’ve been contemplating things like why I am not working and researching and writing, even though I know I could at least research and write (the working part is often more doubtful, depending on type of job and how my body is feeling at any given time).

And, due to recent events with a now-not metamour, I’ve been thinking about belief, and why people believing me is so important.

This is different from believing in me. My partners believe in me. They believe I can do whatever I want to do, and that’s a wonderful thing.

But I specifically mean people believing me when I say things–like, “I need XYZ” or “Please give me some time” or “I am an honest and direct person.” I don’t lie. I don’t think I would make a very good liar–I would trip over myself, because I have been gaslit so often that I have difficulty believing myself. It is much easier on me if I tell things straight from the beginning. And if I get details confused, I do my best to own up to that and recognize that my fragmented brain has reflected things at weird angles.

The ex-metamour didn’t believe me–not about anything I had to say about myself over a period of almost two months. Hence, my reflecting now.

That lack of belief cut deeply–right to the quick of how I was abused as a child. My parents didn’t allow me to be a person, not a real, whole person, as a child. Everything about me was confined to narrow parameters that they made up and changed while my eyes were closed, and if I bumped into those parameters, everything went to chaos and terribleness. So it was with the ex-metamour. And the core of that? The core is lack of belief. It is very easy to unmake a person if one chooses not to believe anything said person says. That was my childhood. My parents didn’t believe I’d broken my arm; that I had mono; that I had pneumonia; that I’d torn my knee–all physical, easily proven ailments. I almost died from both the mono and the pneumonia–the former when I was in 8th grade, the latter when I was 4 years old. I have lived in the United States my entire life, and at both those points in my life–and for both the broken arm and the torn knee–I had decent health care under a not-as-bad-as-now economic system. I suffered with the torn knee for days before being seen by a doctor, all while being yelled at and told how I was making it up to ruin the family vacation; the broken arm? So many people stopped by our house that never randomly stopped by and made offers to watch other children in the house, to take me to the doctor, to drive (even though my mom could drive). Mom made me wait until after my step-dad came home, and by then, it didn’t even hurt anymore. Shock, I guess.

Anyway, the point isn’t about the injuries and etc. The point is that even with easily provable, physical ailments–and things that were pretty easy fixes under the then-existing medical and economic systems–I wasn’t believed. So anything non-physical? Anything I couldn’t ‘prove’? That definitely wouldn’t be believed. It is no wonder I didn’t ever tell anyone when I was sexually assaulted and later when I was raped.

And now, later in my life, I find myself at this place where I know I am a fantastic researcher and writer. I know I can do these things. But then, saying that–writing it–gives me anxiety. Because I feel like someone will come along to tell me I’m full of it, that I’m bragging, that I’m making it up. Impostor syndrome (not uncommon, I know). And it’s pretty easy to see where it comes from, given the lack of belief. And I also find myself not researching and writing unless I am in a setting where I am surrounded by people who believe me. I am motivated and I do well when I am in an academic setting–seminary, undergrad. And then, once I’m out, I stop. I don’t have a community of support out here, and I don’t know how to find one.

And also, it is a little terrifying. Because, sure, I could try to do it all alone, by myself, without that community of support. But I don’t know if I’m strong enough to withstand the voices in my head–the brain weasels–let alone anyone else who might be an abusive jerk. And by that, I don’t mean people who have valid criticisms of my work–that’s how academia works, by critiquing and building upon work. But people who seek to tear down? I don’t know. Without a community to tell me whether what I’m doing is valid or helpful?

Plus, without that community, what’s the point? I don’t particularly want to shout into a void.

Anyway–I think I’m supposed to be writing and researching. I think I know the things I want to research and write about, even. But I lack the funding to get into another academic setting–especially with 45 and etc taking down students–and I lack a support community, and I don’t know how to find one outside of a formal academic setting, and I don’t even know if such a thing exists.

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Anger and Stories

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This image lives on my desktop. It’s not my background, but it lives as an icon, a thumbnail reminder to myself.

And yet, I rarely obey it.

I’m afraid. I am afraid.

I am afraid of my anger. I’m afraid of all the anger inside me that will come pouring out when I open up about all the ugly, unbeautiful parts of my life. I’ve opened up about some of them, but there are more.

I am afraid of others’ reactions–not necessarily those of strangers, though there’s a certain fear of not being believed. I’m more afraid of those I love–what would they say?

And I know, I know: if they wanted me to say nice things about them, they should have treated me better.

But what about forgiveness?

But forgiveness shouldn’t be compulsory, either. And some things cannot be forgiven at all, and some things cannot be forgiven without being worked through. And some things just aren’t forgiveable things, even if I am angry about them, or hurt about/by them. It’s complicated.

I want to be compassionate. I want to be loving. I want to be a good person.

I know that good, loving, compassionate people also get angry.

And yet, there’s so much messaging that says the opposite–that love and anger don’t go together, that compassion and anger don’t mix, that being a good person and being an angry person aren’t the same thing.

I don’t want to be an angry person. I am an angry person. I hate being so angry all the time. I am so sad that I am so angry. I am so angry that I am so sad. And I am so so tired.

I wish I could just let go of the anger. I tried. I tried to just…put it aside. I tried. But that ended up just building walls inside me, walls I didn’t even realize I was erecting until almost too late, until I almost took my life because I cut myself off so far from everyone and everything around me.

I have to deal with all of these things, but dealing with them means being angry, and I really, really don’t want to be angry.

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

The Town of Angry Bees

For me, there’s a town full of angry bees.

Sometimes the bees are dormant, as if covered in snow. The buzz is there, but buried under feet of cold crystals. It can be ignored, talked over…for a while. But there will be a price to pay if I wait too long, because snow does eventually melt.

Other times, the bees are very active. Sometimes they’ve been swatted at by others, made angrier, ready to sting with no provocation. Sometimes they’re just…there…being angry bees…and it’s wise not to go near.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if I’ve been away or out of contact for a long time.

I’ve discovered that there are bigger bees and smaller bees; bees whose stings I notice immediately and those whose stings take a long time to show.

I thought some of this swelling was protective, and to a certain extent, it was–but it turns out it never needed to be there if the stinging hadn’t taken place.

I almost never want to go to this town of angry bees, but I keep getting pulled back. Responsibilities. Guilt. That one bright spot amid all the bees.

The bright spot plans to get out.

After that…I think that town will always be filled with angry bees for me.

What I Wish I Could Un-Know

CW: Abuse


The sun brightens most of the rooms of my family’s house. Mom sits at the table, working on a paper for her college course–an emotional piece, designed to sway people.

I’m in the long, skinny bathroom next to her, doing laundry: bend, dig out one of my abusive step-dad’s work shirts, shake it out, turn and hang it; fish out a sock for the sock box; fold one of my siblings’ shirts and toss on their pile of clean clothes.

The TV patters in the background. Kids shout. Mom finishes her draft.

“Can I read it to you?”

“Sure.”

She’s written about my step-dad. About how he was abused as a boy. She’s persuasive. I don’t know how those details could fail to make anyone’s eyes fill with tears.

My heart breaks.

I hate her for that, a little bit.

“How was it?”

“Good.”

Validation and Empathy

Somewhere along my life path–pretty early on, I think–I picked up the idea that I had to seek validation from outside sources. What I did was very important; who I was, less so. One set of ‘parents’ paid me for grades (though they didn’t have to–I would have received straight A’s just for the achievement of it, and because I found school both enjoyable and easy), while the other punished me if I received anything below an A (including high B’s). I volunteered and participated in so many different ways, from church to school to community, in a continuous balancing act of pleasing two sets of parents with conflicting ideals.

I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, sneak out, get in trouble in school, or have sex (until I was 18, and that’s a whole different story).

And yet, I was never good enough. From at least age 12 onward, my life was full of accusations of how I was screwing up, how I would never make it, how I was doing all the things I explicitly did not do (drugs, drinking, sex) and not doing all the things I explicitly did do (good grades, volunteering). I was constantly trying to prove myself against this backdrop of irrational disbelief.

The few times I felt recognition for what I did do felt like heaven.

At the same time, I also learned or was born with a huge dose of empathy. It wasn’t until recently that I read anything by David Foster Wallace and realized I’ve been doing that my whole life: finding compassionate reasons for the things that seem to cause others’ blood to boil.

{This empathy caused a small tiff between my grandfather and me once, when a waitress slopped his coffee onto his saucer as she sat cup-and-saucer on the diner table. Grandpa began grumbling about how horrible this was, that this was the most terrible thing, that he ought not to tip her for that. I pointed out that perhaps she’d had a long shift or a bad day, and maybe he could give her a break. He shot back that I would be a lawyer for all the criminals someday. He did tip her, though.}

Right now, my empathy and need for validation are tangling nastily with one another. I’m in the process of trying to learn how to validate myself after 30-odd years of seeking outside approval. I’m trying to undo that awful voice inside me that says if I don’t do XYZ thing, I am not worthy of love and respect. At the same time, my empathy for various people and situations makes me want to do more.

However, if I am doing in order to feed my own validation, I am doing for the wrong reason–and I will likely end up hurting more than helping. These struggles are not about me–but if I let the need for approval/validation win, I will make them be about me, and that will be wrong.

And so I am struggling with myself, and learning to have empathy with myself.

God said "Love your enemy" and I obeyed him and loved myself. - Khalil Gibran