My tongue is in my hand…

Before and After

Posted on: November 10, 2008

Okay, so I’m going to start with this:  My sister gave me incense as one of my birthday gifts.  The one I picked to burn tonight reminded me of some time between 6th and 7th grade.  For all practical purposes, I could probably just label this time as “before”.  It wasn’t before sickness or death, but otherwise, it was “before”.  Incense doesn’t always smell as good when it burns as it does before, but this does.  I actually just brought the carved wooden burner down from the top of the bookshelf to my desk, so I could watch the thick smoke weave around my glass of wine.  The wine is called Serendipity. It’s a sweet red wine.  Also on the table are mini chocolate chips, spilled from their bag, perfect before a sip of Serendipity. Or after.

I just had dinner, lying on my stomach watching Fight Club.  Leftovers from my birthday dinner with Jason.  Chicken in lemon butter sauce with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, a side of spaghetti.  Wonderful.

I think now, I should say that my father gave me 50$ before I went to the craft fair with my mom and Natalie yesterday.  He always slips me money, like he doesn’t want anyone else to know what he gives me. I don’t care.  The craft fair was crowded, fun.  I bought lotions that I said I was going to give as stocking stuffers, but only managed to put one in the closet Christmas stash, keeping honeysuckle blossom, coconut lime, hydrangea, and another I don’t remember right now; I gave up country apple.  Natalie got a free carved deer and snow cone, got her face painted. I have most of that money left.  It’s going towards jeans. Muy importante since I just rubbed a hole in the knee of one of my two pairs while playing with Natalie.

My mom gave me earrings I admired at a different craft fair a few weeks ago. They’re simple, unique. Perfect.

Rachel, in addition to the incense, gave me the movie The Wedding Date, which I haven’t seen, and more importantly, two CD’s.  She made me two flashback CD’s.  I’ll have to list the contents another time.  It’s awesome.

When I got home on Friday (my birthday), Natalie came up to the car and said “We got you ice cream cake!” Jason said it was supposed to be a surprise, and she said “We got a pa-prise for you!”, singsong like.  Turns out Jason had bought flowers and a Victoria Secret gift card (which I have no doubt already spent) and an ink cartridge for the printer, in hopes it would now work for me. It won’t, but not for his lack of trying.  He had pizza right out of the oven (this is actually quite huge, to have dinner ready when I come home). And there were two framed pictures of Natalie, and a card Natalie and one of her friends had made, which Natalie was very excited about and proud of.  Natalie ate cake before pizza.  We ate cake after pizza.  It was good, it was a “pa-prise”!

Next weekend we should be going to hear my brother in law play at a bar/club, hopefully with some friends, if we can figure out the whole thing with membership or whatever. It’s great when your birthday spreads itself over a week or two.

So now, with all that said, there are only two more things to say: I sat in the Aeropostle dressing room and prayed and I checked, for the first time ever I think, to make sure Natalie’s windows were locked.

I sat on the bench in the dressing room and lay my head in my hands that were resting on my legs “Please give me the strength to not hate my body, and the ability to get rid of this fat“, disgust seeping into my prayer.  I know, fluorescent lights after an Italian dinner are not a great idea, but still, it was bad.  I grew up with three floor-to-ceiling mirrors (those are standard closet doors in modular homes made at that time, apparently).  I had no curtains or blinds, so a lot of natural light.  I was critical, but I never was filled with the self-hate that I developed some time after I got married.  I also developed at this time a desire to isolate, writer’s block, and food as a serious vice.  I would be miserable and disgusted, but eat more because it didn’t matter, I was ruined beyond repair and no one cared anyway.

Being a “Qualified Mental Health Professional” as my professional title states, I’d say this is known as depression.  That word is so general, so common.  It doesn’t, unless you know from experience, give any indication to the various nuances and depths of depression.  It is a sneaky and chameleon-like thing.  It figures out the very best way to creep in and it molds around you just so and in the smallest ways disables you until by the time you realize it, it’s too late.  You just don’t care.

But it’s this specific aspect of it that I have to write about now: self-hate.  I have to do something with this.  There is not room in my life for this. Any time spent hating my self is time I’m not spending loving my daughter, or anyone else for that matter.  And when self-hate is cultivated, the whole space becomes a place for ugly and destructive things. And it’s not only toxic, but it’s also uncontrollable, it begins to choke out the good, and you begin to throw seeds of it at others.

I ask people, when they are being hard on themselves if they would say those things to me or their daughter.  They always say no, almost in horror.  It’s the same.  I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS tell Natalie that she holds less worth because she has fat or cellulite.  Or because she was disorganized or late. I would never tell her that she was ruined, disgusting, or ugly, stupid, or incompetent.  And I would tell her, if she wants to do something about it, she can, and I will support her.  I would tell her that she didn’t need to change to be beautiful, worthy, sexy, wonderful, or amazing, and that I love her always.  That she should only do something because she wanted it, and that she should love herself in the meantime, or whatever she was going to do wouldn’t work, and would instead consume and destroy her in a whole new way. I would tell her that being a good person is not about being flawless. I would tell her that sexuality and sensuality has less to do with the shape of your body, and more to do with what you do with the shape of your body.  Personally, I don’t really care so much about the shape of someone’s body in terms of sexuality.  There’s a lot of other things that I care about and those things pretty much determine someone’s sexiness to me.  So why is it not the same for me?  What does that say about what I think about men and what I believe they value? I don’t even want to go into that.  Same with my lack of ability to “do it all” and do it all flawlessly.  Do I expect that of others?  Do I not think others are capable of accepting my flaws?

I think of all the negative things I have been told about my body.  I’m sure I’ve been told more positive things, but those don’t stick, not if you don’t believe them, not if you think they’re lines or assurances for getting action.  I think about two boyfriends in a row having their friends call me to break up with me because they found someone “hotter”. I’m sure that’s more of a reflection on those boys, or my choice in boys than it is on my worth. I’m also pretty sure this just means they found someone who would put out, but that doesn’t really sting any less to a 14 year old.  It just starts a whole new train of thought.

And I checked Natalie’s windows because I remembered that violence is everywhere, it is unpredictable, and we have no promise to be saved from it.  This is much harder than the self hate thing.  Much much harder.  Reading “Lucky” by Alice Sebold reminded me of this, but it’s been here since I was mugged.  Such a small crime, minuscule act of violence, if you could even call it that.  But it put me on the other side, as she would say in the book.  The side you end up on is the side where you know that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are or what you’re doing, you can be assaulted, you can be robbed, raped, kidnapped, abused or murdered. You can lose your job, your home, your car, your family, your credit, your health, your money to natural or man-made circumstances. You can love God and have these things happen to you.  You can be a good person and these things can happen to you.  You can follow the rules, you can follow precautions.  You heard it before, that it could happen to anyone, but until it happens to you, or someone close to you, you really don’t think it can.  You reason that it can’t- you pray enough, or something.  We want reason.  We want prayers to be guarantees.  But they aren’t.  And I left more than the skin of my palms on the asphalt in the Wal-Mart parking lot when I was 16, I left belief.

And I found a new truth that I was not safe and there were no safe places and there was no one to save me. And I found a very real fear.  There could be more, it could be worse, it could happen to anyone I love.  It was someone in the parking lot, it could be someone in my school, someone in a store, someone on my road, someone in my home, someone in my car.  People suddenly took on supernatural abilities in my mind to be anywhere at anytime and they all planned to hurt me and if not me, my family.  It was ceaseless, it was very very real.  It was undoubtedly consuming.  I don’t remember how I functioned, but I remember I just prayed and prayed that the fear would go away.  And I didn’t know what to do about God.  If he wasn’t going to keep bad things from happening to me, then what was he going to do?

I had this dream one night that will probably sound silly as it’s described, as dreams often do, but it’s effect was profound, so I’ll describe it anyway: I was in the woods and I had the fear, the same fear I felt daily.  I saw a bunch of sticks, bundled and hanging in trees in a circle and I was terrified.  I could feel evil right there, I was paralyzed.  And through the treetops there came a white light and this song: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”.  I woke up and the fear was gone, not just from the dream, but from my day, from my mind, from my throat, my chest, my stomach, my heart.  I was free.  i was laying in sunlight.  I had room for gratefulness and peace and joy.  I had room to move.  I switched them out again: fear for belief.  I realized that I don’t have room for both.

And during the struggle that lasted about a year, the question really was:  Do you trust me, do you have faith or not?  Because you do or don’t.  You decide and go from there.  And I just couldn’t decide because I wanted faith.  I’m a believer, that’s how I work best, but how do you believe in the grit of the violence and the unknown?  Columbine happened shortly after this, compounding my terror that anything could happen to anyone at anytime, my fear that there was no safe place. Knowing all the horrible things that can happen and have happened and do happen and will happen.

And now, as an adult, now that money and credit and cars and homes and jobs are playing the role of “safety” and are just as susceptible to ruin as anything else, there’s opportunity for fear.  And fear dresses up like logic and reason and preparedness and responsibility.  Fear, like hate, once cultivated will spread and will choke out peace and joy and hope and belief.  I don’t have room for hate and belief together within me and I don’t have room for fear and belief within me.  Not to stay.  I understand that I must touch and taste these things though, or my belief is not belief.  Belief is a choice, an action, and insistence.  Belief is not blindness.

And when it comes down, and it will come down, you just do or you don’t. After you have laid down belief for a while, for whatever reason, it’s different when you pick it back up. And that’s not bad.  I’d say, my faith wasn’t faith until I acknowledged what it wasn’t.  And faith is something you decide on over and over again.  There are chances all the time to leave it behind.  And there are chances all the time to pick it back up.  Same with fear, same with hate.  Fear and hate are readily available everywhere. And wanting logic and reason and control are aspects that these things play on, that they manipulate with.  I’ve said before that belief is defiance of fear, it is also the defiance of hate.  Belief is other things too.  Belief is saying: yes, I know all that bad stuff and I choose to believe anyways.  It’s like love.  It’s a defiance.  It’s an acceptance.  It’s a constant choice.

I could imagine now all the horrible things that could happen to me and the people I love, or I could imagine that I will be okay in the face of anything, that beauty, hope, love, peace, and joy will still exist, and I will still have access to them.  I think sometimes we think this is some kind of cosmic allowance for bad things to enter our lives, that if we accept them and say we can handle them, then this somehow invites trouble, but this is naive.  This is pretending we have control again that we don’t have; we want to think we can prevent things, but we can’t.  We can only deal with things.

It breaks my heart to think of something bad happening to me or anyone I love, but that really doesn’t change anything. That doesn’t halt things in their tracks or create a shield.  It is so sad the things that are laid on people’s lives. But it can be beautiful, what can be done with these things. The hardest thing about faith is accepting that there is some thing that makes sense that we don’t understand. What I believe is that we are all part of this big masterpiece and we can see the beauty of our life when we are open to the different permutations of beauty and accept our lives as they are, instead of focusing on what we wish they were or thought they were or were told they would be. I believe that though we may think there are specific things we would change about our life, we can never know if those changes would really make things better. I believe that prayer is a way to transform our internal lives, not our external circumstances (though by transforming us internally, we may transform our circumstances)

A friend of mine wrote in a blog: “Sometimes, pain is so deep that even the promise of heaven isn’t enough.”  and I find this so true. There is a depth of pain in which heaven, faith, and God no longer seems relevant to us, not in the way we knew of before. But I think, when in that depth, if in some parts of our heart we are still hoping for some kind of salvation, still wanting more, (which I believe that everyone still living is doing in some way) then we can discover a whole other idea of these things.

I had the opportunity tonight to buy fear and I tried it on and I didn’t want it but it wouldn’t come off, it’s stubborn, it’s like depression, or hate, or any maladaptive thought, it quickly adapts to us, fits our forms at first and then forms us to fit.  And when you fit something like this, you have no room left for anything else.  You have to actually peel away a layer of your skin before you are released, and then, your landscape has changed.

But maybe that’s the only way.  It’s not so much the landscape, as what you do with it, right?  Eventually, no matter what happens, there are befores and afters.  I just can’t go back, I won’t, I won’t. I will not cultivate self hate.  I will not cultivate fear.  I don’t have room for those things.  I understand what’s out there and I, with that knowledge, choose to believe because I understand who I am without belief and I don’t like that person, I don’t do well as that person, I don’t do anything worthwhile as that person. I will not be that person. I choose. Sometimes, it seems like every breath is a choice and I don’t choose belief with every breath, I don’t choose self love with every breath.  Sometimes I purposely step out of belief, to remember why I choose belief, to remind myself of my options. Sometimes, I’m just in a mirror disgusted and verbally abusing  my self, or checking my child’s windows imagining murder, rape, and abductions. But the thing about the “after” side is that there is a vigilance here, and an understanding that there’s a difference in survival mode and living.

I like laying in sunlight, incense wrapping around wine bottles, craft fairs, singing Ace of Bass with my sister, and “pa-prises” of homemade cards and frozen pizza. Survival mode doesn’t register these things. Survival mode is an after, but it’s also a before.  It’s after the shatter.  It’s before the choice.  It’s a fight sometimes, to survive and a fight sometimes to do more than survive. But believers are fighters and I’ll fight. I’ll fight to weed out and stomp down, burn, bury, and compost the things that I don’t have room for, the things I choose I don’t want. I’ll fight to feel good enough to be present for the things I do want, to not be consumed by fighting.  I am flawed.  I can not do it all.  I can not save anyone or myself.  I will fuck up.  Things will fuck me up.  But I believe.  I believe.  I believe.  I believe because I choose to.  I believe because I want to.  I believe because I need to.  That’s all.  You do or don’t.

I wrote these lines, referring to the mugging:

There are bruises on my arm,

gravel in my palms,

you just did me a thousand favors.

The cumulative experience of the loss, the fear, the struggle, and the release granted me the opportunity for a new kind of faith.  It was an after, but it was also a before (as all things are). Because I have seen that there are tunnels and there is light.  I believe not because I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but because I know there is a light.  I believe knowing that there is light before and after the tunnel; there is a tunnel before and after the light.  I believe that with each light, I can take for myself a portion to carry through the next tunnel, and I can do this until the tunnel has no more room for darkness, and I am with the light all the time.  But I have to keep moving and I have to keep pushing the darkness out with the light; within me, around me, before me.

I believe, I believe, I believe.


2 Responses to "Before and After"

Deeply refreshing and upliftingly honest and I absolutely love your blog title!

Thank you, for reading and for the comment!

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