Toxic Women I Have Loved

You are traumatized, woman.

Your whole self is one big string of survival mechanisms

And so you have become toxic

You reached out so many times and each time you were pushed away

And when you tried to run away and you were pulled back in

So now you are chaotic

And where ever you go this chaos follows

You manifest it

In each wound that is cut so deeply

And the world re opens them again and again

The world is what has stopped them from healing

Ripped apart endlessly

You sew them shut hastily before you could clean them out

And mold grows thick and black inside

You don’t make sense (On the surface)

But there is a reason for each lie, each manipulation, each outburst

You break yourself. You run away and stand your ground, but always at the wrong times.

So you stay so stuck

Your misery is the only thing you have left

When it’s all youve ever known

There’s a comfort in it- familiarity

And you are terrified to change

Of being not broken. Of being not yourself anymore

Because the only thing you’ve attached to is your own self hatred

So you make those who love you crazy

And you are so hurt- you are so alone.

There is a reason for everything you do.

There is a cause. There are people who caused this.

But you are toxic. You are dangerous.

And I can no longer love you like I did.

Diligence

I am tired of everything the universe asks of me

I am tired of patience, or diligence, of seeing the higher purpose

Of opening my arms to catch the bricks of every falling tower

Only to have them crumble in my hands and return to the earth, covering my toes in dust

I am spread across the ground like this leftover rubble

Dirty with regret

My best years are gone

And my future is hidden behind giant clouds and lightning

Yet the universe asks for more patience. More gratitude. More discipline.

I have nothing left and there is another leap to take. So I must tumble myself into the next phase.

I am told: this is greater than the individual course of your fate. But there is so much I don’t understand.

How do I know what to do next if I have never lived this before?

And over and over the answer comes:

Patience. Diligence. You must wait. You must continue.

The last brick falls. The earth swallows every last crumbling stone.

I stand in a bare field, and the universe asks me for faith. She asks me for trust.

I am as angry as a bare root. I am as hardy as a seedling. I am as grieved as a stump. I am as small as a twig.

But in the emptiness I plant my feet

And root

When Gods Speak

There are things we do that make gods speak

You guide me into it

My back pressed into the ground, skin smeared with sand and ash

And in my eyes only sky, only stars

But you are close by: the tightness in my stomach tells me

What I desire is wrong: the sacrifice. The horror. The frenzy.

But when we do it together it is right.

The primal need for my blood fulfilled.

So we do the things that make gods speak:

I cover my face with dirt, and feel my rib cage collapse under the pressure of your feet

Each bone snaps in ecstatic chorus

A shock wave of ache and fear as my spine folds in on itself

This is how I am opened

This is how I am transmuted back and forth

Through lifetimes

These rituals unfold again and again:

The torment. The bliss. The blood. The skin.

You are my healer. You are my savior. You are my destroyer. You are my life ender.

And only the gods can hear my desire: the strange craving for the pain you inflict.

But we have done this many times before

Lifetime after lifetime

It is the only way we can make the gods speak to us

I go as far as I must to hear their voices

And I do

So this is what I asked for

So this is what I suffered to find

So we stand still and listen.

Broken

These are the years that broke me

Broke me with black eyes- black tongue- throat gaping

These are the years I survived

Survived with bones of grey and nerves of white

My fingers prying open what had closed

The ash of each tragedy poured like thick dust from my mouth

There was hardness where there should have been softness

There were leaks of bile and blood where there should have been strength

Dampness eroded my core. Dryness peeled apart my skin.

These are the years that broke me. Years of skeletons, years of gravestones.

Worms grew out from under my nails.

I was muffled by my own corpse. Waiting for early death.

These are the years that broke me. These are the years I pieced myself back together.

Pulling apart each thread in my own fate.

I broke open. Rebuilding cell by cell. Fusing back what fell apart.

These are the years that broke me. That tore me open.

Weighed down by own death. Weighed down by fate.

But I am alive now, and my soul drifts untethered.

Frozen

I stumbled on an invisible wall and fell to my knees.

I wail against it with hard fists. But the wall digs deeper into the ground with stony heels- with callous soles- and refuses to budge.

Here in the deep layers of me there is a mountain as course as concrete. My nerves are wrapped in cold resistance.

I can feel along the edges of it, but I cannot pull it down or break it apart. My hands are left covered in flakes of concrete and clay.

Some days I find the smallest crack, and I can peer down into the underbelly of myself- but the path descends down into the dark forever.

Still: I breathe, and I grow into the space.

I Died Every Day

For a year my body died every day.

Thunder rolled in my chest. My brain stuttered fast.

For a year my tears would not stop. My breath flew away from my chest. Dread circled in my gut like a spiny shark.

For a year my body died every day.

And I was not brave. My spirit fluttered weakly. I cried hot tears as I felt each moment pass- and each moment was my last. Endlessly in a horrifying spiral.

Every breath the final breath. Every second for a year. I said goodbye to the world. I said goodbye to my life.

I could not explain it. I could not put words to it.

Every moment I was dying. Without my deepest concentration I knew my breath would leave forever- my heart would beat into oblivion.

For a year my body died every day. But now I am alive.

So I ask myself: how do I come back from the dead?

How do I haul my soul out of the grave?

I Don’t Trust My Body

It is so hard for me to trust my own body. Some people feel easy in their bodies. They assume their body will automatically do the things it needs to take care of itself. They know their hearts will speed up when they run and slow when they lie down. They believe their lungs can handle the exertion of being in motion, they have felt that their nerves can take the stress of a hard day, they are assured that their livers can sift through the toxins they encounter and will protect them. They live their lives without thinking much about their bodies and how they function. They assume it will all be fine. Their bodies will take care of themselves.

I do not feel this way about my body. I never have. I have always thought that there was something deeply wrong with my body. I have always had an idea in my head that I will die young, and strangely. That people will scratch their heads in surprise when they hear about it, and how it happened. I have always been convinced that I need to be careful with my body, more than other people. I can’t trust that I will not die at any moment. I feel that I must tiptoe around my body, that I should subject it to too much or it might just break down. It could all just collapse at any moment: I track my heart beat to make sure it stays steady. I listen to my own breathing all day to make sure it doesn’t stop. I have lived my life in this fear, outside of the natural flow others find in their bodies.

I look back to find the deep roots of this problem, emotional and physical, that is now manifested. My parents never trusted me growing upno matter what I did to try to prove it. They always told me that trust is earned, but somehow I could never earn it. They didn’t trust my abilities, they didn’t trust my motivation, they didn’t trust my desires. Eventually, when faced with an impossible situation, there is nothing to do but internalize the very problem you are faced with. No matter what I did I would not be able to make my mother happy. If I was perfect, by her standards, she would be happy. But no body can ever be perfect. And eventually I turned this in on myself- finding all the imperfections in my own body.

I was betrayed by my own culture. My body was compromised from early on but no one intervened. My body cannot tolerate the expectations that are normal in this society: to eat foods that are toxic to us, to soak up the poisons in our shampoos and body washes, to live a life drenched in stress, to cope with the every day violence that is synonymous with womanhood. And no one helped me. My body was left to desperately survive on it’s own- so what could it do except internalize that is is inadequate? But it is not. It struggles like everyone else’s- the fact that it can put up with less of the stress that we are all under is a sign of it’s own strength, a sign of it’s own ability to sift right from wrong, to set clear boundaries with myself and my own culture and say NO, this is not how I was meant to live. Nobody knew how to help me until I was deep into autoimmune disease and I sought answers on my own.

What was my body supposed to learn from a world that didn’t help me as I struggled, except that I cannot trust myself, and there is no hope for me? The message was that I must suffer alone- I cannot trust my body to take of myself, and I cannot trust others to take care of my body.

So now these messages manifest in my disease. My body over reacts to everything. And I cannot trust it. It responds strangely and suddenly, without warning the inflammation starts and I feel like I am dying. Every fear I’ve ever had has been realized in this illness.

And yet, somehow, little by little, I am beginning to heal. I try to pull my illness out of me from the roots. Reaching down even farther, seeing if I can find those firm and stubborn seeds deeply imbedded in my cells, in my psyche, in my spirit. And the truth I know is that to heal I must open. I must allow. I must trust. I must forgive every betrayal of my own body.

Water Mother

Flow of water, what can you teach me?

I am lost, lost like a child-

But there are lost children in all of us.

We all share it: those first terrible moments outside of the womb.

Our primary wound. Universal. Lodged in the space between memory and DNA.

And we spend our lives trying to return to this comfort we cannot remember. Our first home.

Seeking those wisps of sensation. Murmurs of comfort. The yearning to know: we are safe. We are loved.

A feeling that comes from the inside out.

Water mother: find me here floating, suspended in water, deep in the center of myself.

Teach me to contain myself like a small pool of light and moss.

Teach me to unfurl like the gentle hand of a fern.

Teach me to pull in and tendril out again like a brave little tributary, tasting new ground.

Water mother, teach me to change. To reconfigure. To stir up the river bed in the river bed in the winter, so when summer comes we can find beautiful stones uncovered from last year’s mud.

Self Sabotaging for Survival

There was a time when I insisted on making myself crazy. I insisted on sabotaging myself. I would set myself up for betrayal. I sought it out. Every time something good happened, some part of me would decide that I had to ruin it. I actively created the prophecies that I predicted for myself. Somewhere deep in the subconscious parts of my brain I had decided that I would always be a victim. Relational trauma had created survival patterns that flourished and grew far beyond their purpose. And those survival patterns worked- they had protected me- but they protected me both from hurt and now from the potential to thrive. I had survived the trauma I was faced with– but those parts did not have long term usefulness in mind. My survival left me with a deeply distorted self image. It had spawned a deepening pattern of neurosis. To survive, I had to let go of belief in love for myself. Because otherwise it would have been too tragic to accept what I had experienced. Because I had not ever seen evidence of the possibility. I had only seen betrayal. I had only seen attachment that ended in apathy or deception.

Those survival parts of me would do crazy things. I would look for ways to grow doubt within myself. I would find opportunities to disquiet any happiness that I found. Part of me didn’t believe in the capacity of others to feel loyal attachment to me. Part of me would insist to myself that I didn’t deserve it, even if I had it. I told myself that I was too crazy to handle it. I convinced myself that it didn’t matter- because I didn’t really believe in a relationship that was fulfilling and devoted anyway. I told myself this even when it was sitting on my lap, staring at me in the face, shouting in my ear, telling me it wanted me.
I did these things because I didn’t know any better. I learned these ways of understanding relationships from the people around me, from almost every man who had ever entered my life, from the ones I had thought loved me, from those that at one time I trusted to care for me. Over and over again, I was lied to, I was discarded, I was left to survive, gasping, on my own. So what did this tell me about myself? What stories did I keep about myself? What did my subconscious brain learn to help my survive- to protect me? That all I have to do is sit and wait for it, and the betrayal will find me. I could see it peeking around the corner at me all the time. And it would drive me crazy to wait for it, knowing it was coming. I could not handle the suspense. So I would go looking for it. I would find ways to twist words around to prove that my paranoia was right. I found one thousand ways to anticipate betrayal.

The story is not entirely a sad one. I have healed from this. This is a part of me- but it is resting in the past. This part of me is quieter and safer now. Healing from these extreme self-sabotaging and maladaptive patterns is possible. But it takes time- it takes gentleness- it takes re-parenting of the tender parts of the self. It took me stepping back, looking at things from a bigger perspective. It took recognizing the patterns. It took humble acceptance of my own part in the patterns I helped to create. It took understanding that I am not crazy- I am a survivor. And with all of that, it took commitment to myself that despite all of it, I could challenge myself to get better.

The “domestic violence problem”- an issue with language

In social service and community mental health settings, domestic violence tends to be talked about in a very general or vague way. For example, clinicians may say, “the family has a domestic violence problem”. Or they may say, “the parents were involved in domestic violence”. Or even, when referring to a victim of domestic violence, they were in a domestic violence relationship”.

What do these commonly heard phrases really mean? How does a family get a “domestic violence problem”? How does one become involved in a “domestic violence relationship”? Putting it in these words makes it sound quite ambiguous, like something just sadly but inexplicably happened to create violence between two or more people. Does no one know where the “domestic violence problem” is actually coming from?

Well, we do know. We know exactly where the problem comes from, and we know precisely how a family becomes violent one. At least one person in the family has to perpetrate violence against at least one other person in the family. This is the root cause of violence in relationships: someone at some point has to make a choice to behave in a violent manner. It is unlikely that everyone in a family will have equal power or influence when it comes to the perpetration of violence. Parents generally have more power than children. In our culture, men generally have more power than women. And often one person has more access to money and other resources. These and other factors influence who has power in a family system, and who does not. Access to power and desire for control significantly influence who is more likely to perpetrate violence in a relationship. Using specific language that references the power differentials within relationship is a more accurate way to describe family dynamics and provides necessary information for proceeding with treatment.

There is also an important distinction between using violence to obtain power and control in other people, and using violence as a way to defend yourself against an abusive person who is targeting you. Using specific language helps us pinpoint the actual cause of domestic violence in a family and releases victims from harmful blaming or dismissive attitudes. By using generalizing terms such as “domestic violence in the family”, we lose the important details about what roles each person in the family played and how very different interventions will be appropriate for family members depending on their role.

We can easily shift our language to be more accurately describe domestic violence, and what the dynamics more realistically look like in family systems. We can say, “There is a violent person in the family”. Or “This parent was a perpetrator of domestic violence.” Or “They were in a relationship with an abusive person.” These are subtle changes, but extremely important ones. They provide far greater insight into the specific situations that people affected by domestic violence experience.