to experience grace

Four weeks ago, I wrote about unlikely inspiration: being laughed at and photographed for wearing a face mask. I wrote about how reflecting on that encounter helped deepen my commitment to practicing empathy even—perhaps especially—when it’s hard:

If I rage at [Unmasked Woman], the maskless woman who set this post stirring, I do not show care. I do not show empathy. I do not reflect, in act, my deep belief that “redeemable” is a category into which every single human being may fall.

A few days later, I’d learn of the police murder of George Floyd. I’d see my husband, a Black man who has gently walked with me as I’ve grappled with the enduring consequences of my own many encounters with trauma, split open and bleed out decades of racism-born trauma. Unskilled at being with him in his own trauma, I’d leap right into the roiling waters of trauma with him, leaving us both exhausted, wounded, and wary. Continue reading “to experience grace”

“You’re in my threat radius, sweetheart.”

Once upon a (not-so-recent) time, I used to spend hours arguing with my husband, Anthony, about the dishes.

Specifically, I thought he should be doing the dishes a whole lot more often, and I made it my mission to bring this utopia to life.

More recently, perhaps a month ago, I asked Anthony not to do the dishes. Since being stuck at home due to COVID-19, I’m finding doing the dishes keeps me grounded in the here and now. Continue reading ““You’re in my threat radius, sweetheart.””

safer

On Monday morning, I spent three hours writing about cultivating empathy in the face of COVID-19.

By Monday evening, I was ranting to my husband about a particular group of people,

a divergence that didn’t amuse me until Tuesday morning.

For months now, I’ve half-heartedly worked on making a habit of morning “RPMs”: Read, Pray, Meditate. The days I begin thusly are often the most manageable of all, a fact that isn’t always persuasive to my 4 a.m. self: “Do I really want to RPM, or do I want to just stay here in bed and half-doze until the kids wake up? I mean, both of these things are good for me, right?”

Until this week, half-dozing has tended to win this morning battle within myself. Fortunately, I chose wisely this Tuesday morning, grumbling as I climbed out of bed and went to find my healing books. Continue reading “safer”

each other

From my very first post here, I’ve written about how trauma has shaped my life.

Since before my first breath, I suffered the effects of violence from within my mother’s womb. This wired my nervous system in very particular ways even before I endured my first direct bodily blow.

I don’t write much about many of the specific blows I experienced. Most the specifics are lost to my thinking memory, stored instead in muscle, bone, and implicit memory.

Because most the specifics are lost to my thinking memory, I can be triggered–catapulted back in time, so that I’m confused about whether I’m in relatively choice-filled 2020 or choiceless 1988–without knowing why. Without knowing what sent me back.

A couple of days ago, my sister Rachael wrote “Meringue Pie & PTSD.” Continue reading “each other”

To walk through

Late last Spring, I read a paragraph that sent me tumbling into despair.

Leaning into that despair was the best thing I’ve ever done,

a fact most profoundly clear this last week.

Late one Spring afternoon, I was curled up in bed reading a book on self acceptance. I reached a chapter on trauma and excitedly dug in: Great! Here’s where the healing will really start happening!

Paragraph by paragraph as I read, I felt something unpleasant building within me, until at last I read one that released a landslide. I felt myself tumbling away from my body,
falling,
falling,
falling.

My body knew that feeling. I’d felt it time and time and time again in the face of violence I alternately witnessed and endured as poverty, abuse, and predation throughout my childhood.

I’d just never had a name for it before. Thanks to the pages before The Paragraph, though, I had a name for it. The fact it had a name meant it was real, and the fact it was both real and named meant I could not simply run from it anymore: Continue reading “To walk through”

Turning points

Two years ago, I took a few small footsteps that began my changing the course of my life. Those steps marked a personal turning point, as did many of the more figurative steps that followed them.

Early last year, a friend suggested childhood trauma continued to impact me in ways I couldn’t necessarily see. After first dismissing her words, I soon came to understand how right she was. I began consciously pausing, especially when I felt urgency to respond. This, too, was a turning point for me.

Recently, my ten-year-old asked me, “What’s PTSD again?” Before I had a chance to respond, he sagely continued, “Oh, right! It’s when you can’t tell the difference between the past and the present.” Continue reading “Turning points”

The Elevator Test

I grew up in poverty, chaos, and profound violence.

I spent so much of my childhood convinced I wouldn’t actually survive it, it still often surprises me that I did. More than surviving, I’ve even built a love-filled adult life with a gentle partner and kids who know what I experienced without, blessedly, “knowing” it as I did.

Why put quotation marks around “knowing”? The answer is often clearer, in my experience, to people who’ve already endured life-shattering violence than those who have not, yet:

There are different ways of knowing.

In security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, he writes at length about the power of intuition to enhance safety. Far from being silly and spun from misguided fancy, “when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  1. It is always in response to something.
  2. It always has your best interest at heart.”

Unfortunately, for people without close personal exposure to violence, these words can seem abstract. Trivial. That intuition could provide meaningful data that thought-filled analysis alone cannot often runs counter to their personal experience of the world.

Not having seen the beast up close even once, let alone spent years in its presence, they misunderstand where it lives, how it moves, and what it looks like. Continue reading “The Elevator Test”

Empathy, hijacked

Until two weeks ago, I misunderstood psychopathy.

I believed that all psychopaths were serial killers, and vice versa. I also believed that their numbers were infinitesimally small.

They were, in other words, not worth much consideration, for the chance they’d impact my life personally was negligible.

My path to learning otherwise began with a simple question: What’s it called when someone treats you not as a human, but a need-meeting device? I figured there had to be a word for it, but I didn’t know what that word was.

Fortunately, I happened across a book that answered the question in a single, succinct sentence. In The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success at Work and in Relationships in a Shortcut World, Dr. John Townsend writes, “When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of a desired commodity, that is objectification.”

There was my word: objectification.

I was surprised. Seeing this definition, it was immediately clear I’d misunderstood objectification as strictly sex-related. That misunderstanding had barred me from identifying prior experiences with objectification for what they were.

Armed with the word, I began searching for information on people especially prone to objectifying others. What would these people look like? What other kinds of behaviors might appear together with a propensity to objectify?

I found a few articles on “social predation.” In these articles, I found affirmation that objectification as a routine behavior doesn’t often travel alone.

The people who routinely exhibited this suite of behaviors were “social predators.” Having never found that term before, then, I looked up “social predation.” How had I never heard of it? The answer quickly became clear: when traveling together, this suite of behaviors is more commonly referred to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy.”

I needed more information than I could glean from a couple of articles. I needed a framework. In short, I needed a book.

I first read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, in which the author uses the words “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” interchangeably.

As I read, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. Continue reading “Empathy, hijacked”