Shameless

I know it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, there will always be people who will ridicule you. They’ll talk about you, jeer, dismiss, and even attempt to undermine you. A good number of times, one will endure that from their own family. I’ve encountered all of that and I suppose I could always be a target for that mentality at any time and in any place. That’s just the really shitty side of life. That side comes from people who have yet to really dig deep into their own issues. What I’ve learned about that is, I’m not obligated to stay in that place with them – no matter who they are.

Despite a lifetime of being told it was a fruitless endeavor, there was good reason why I headed back 20 years ago to the community of my childhood. The fact that the community happened to be Indigenous was both inconsequential and utterly life saving.

I’d spent years looking for ways to understand why there was such a messed-up history that wrecked my nuclear family. Yes, it’s wonderful that much of the generation after mine has made great strides in the efforts of home ownership and good jobs, but behind all of that is that big black hole that still trails us. None of that is resolved by a good job, a nice home, an education, nor in running across or from the country. I did all of that first.

That black hole was borne in place of my familial history when I was taught my community, my relatives, my grandmothers and grandfathers were the cause of our life’s woes. Much like they are still said to be the bane of Canada and ‘its purse strings’. Because of that, I was meant to deny my own heritage and I followed through with it, like many in my immediate family still do.

I did my best to be a good Canadian woman who strives to be a success. Except, when your foundation is based in a self-loathing that no one, including myself, seemed to understand, all that hard work can go up in smoke as quickly as it takes to get into a really bad relationship or receive a phone call that informs you are seriously ill. Those were my turning points.

I’d spent years trying to figure out the basis of that self-loathing. Counseling helped me deal with emotional ups and downs and during the moments when it would intensify to unbearable, but in too many instances, it only served to confuse me further. Applying standard accredited counseling services to an Indigenous inter-generational trauma survivor was woefully inadequate and sometimes even more harmful.

An example was a group therapy effort where I was advised the point of my issues was a deep internal desire to be in a sexual relationship with the woman who had driven me to the ‘retreat’. Another was asking me to not only re-create a scene of sexual abuse, but to do it in front of an entire group. I left any support services for quite a while after the work of that eye-crossing frustration. Therapy created in absence of truth, the truth – still mostly unknown to all even today, is just more marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

When those old moments of inexplicable fears arose again, I turned to other methods of coping. Art projects, writing, loads of volunteering or Al-Anon – which was great support, but incomplete. Then I went back to the idea that a super, new job title was the answer after all. Three additional years of corporate abuse dispelled that notion for good.

As it turned out, underneath it all, I did know what I feared most– being seen for who I really was. That was one of the concepts they’d told me about years before, but the thing is, that was wrong too. Because as it is for most, it really all boiled down to being seen for all that had happened to me – and my mother, and her mother – for generations, and for what I’d done in all the processes to cope with that.

So, despite all that running, in the end, I edged my way back to that place I feared most – that black hole. To the source of all the pain and rage and searing sadness. To that place that is my Indigeneity. To that place where apparently, any value as a realized human is only partial for us, according to school, neighbors, Canadian politics, and the punitive digs by a few of my own chosen relationships.

I was never going to know about me until I saw the real me, the whole me, desperately in need of being heard by anyone who could truly know the very real and distinct intricacies of the Indigenous journey in Canada – and that sure as hell wasn’t on the couch of a Freudian-oriented psychiatrist.

It could only be found back among my own, with my own relations where they knew what I was saying with only a third of the words. Where they knew what I was feeling without having to provide every denigrating detail, and far more importantly, they knew everything behind the whys. They carried the key and it was what I needed to finally fill in that hole of debilitation.

I wrote this because despite reams of paper trails to show what this journey entailed and why I am where I am today, I am still in the line of fire for derision. Despite the triumph of being armed with the understanding of my own culture and its incredible value, I am now ridiculed for standing up for it, even from some family.

Canada has claimed dominion over many of us, and I understand the ease of giving in, but I carry centuries worth of family knowledge. That history matters. I understand exactly why the events that occurred happened. I understand them on multiple levels and that’s what killed the shame that was never mine to carry in the first place. I stand up for my mother and my grandmothers because I am them and I was always meant to embrace that.

This is a country that still must answer for my family and so many others who are still swept away in the daily mixed messages of what it means to be Indigenous within it. It’s a horrible shame those messages remain; it’s devastating to know they’re still being internalized at all.

RL

The Bandwidth of Pain

Whose Story Will Be the Worst?

Pain Profile 2

We all have a story to tell, I search for yours to better understand mine.

We all have a story that waits to be heard.   No matter how uplifting or how dire the tale may seem, we all have known pain and we’ve all known joy.  We like to mostly brag about the joyful things in life and to show off, a little, all the good we have.  It’s good to say my happiness in life is good, and maybe even a little special.

On the other hand, how odd and strange is it that we sometimes take great pains to take measure of the pain of others too? To judge whose suffering is worse or not, or even worthy?  Are we really special because of the ways we have been subjected to pain?

Regardless of our circumstances, richer or poorer, surrounded by many or none, we encounter the same range of emotions from various ranges of circumstances.  It is only the circumstances that cause us to judge what pain level is necessary, appropriate or even merited, as though some of us may have got away with something.

Some of us have had been abandoned as children, some only temporarily, but even so both groups will share those first moments of realization that they had been left behind on purpose.

Some of us have been told our bodies hold disease with early fatal outcomes.  Some will die, and some will have some amazing intervention that continues life, but what real difference was there in their feelings when they were first told that news?

Some of us have lost loved ones from sudden tragedies, lingering illnesses, and even family disputes.  Is the pain from these losses so significantly different?  Do we miss one more?

Whether we burn our hand on a match or a hot coffee, or lose our only key to the car, or if our laptop gets smashed, or we lose our last dollar, deeply or nor not, there isn’t any shortage of situations where life will shoot shards of feeling through us until we scramble for ways to cope and/or beg for escape.

The moments of aches and heartbreak may not rise from the exact same stories, but really there is only so much bandwidth for feelings.  How we feel them varies in degrees according to our natures and of course the circumstances, but short of incapacitation or an early death, we will all experience the range in some way in our lifetimes.

No one really, should feel like they are the only ones to feel what they have, not for the sake of comfort in a ‘misery loves company’ kind of way, but hopefully at a minimum, to share compassion that comforts.

Ideally, we would grow to focus on our commonalities and heal together. Our shared stories are guides to solutions.  It is the stories of how and how well we overcame pain that really says who we are.

Everybody’s story deserves to be heard; only some of us get that benefit, especially if we speak or write in public forums.  When we tell our stories, we think they are only our own, but I have to wonder, when we do tell them, how many of our seven billion people are we really speaking for?

 RL

 

Yes, I am That Confident – Up Yours!

Oh Snap 2“Well you can’t fix stupid either and you proved that”!!  That intended insult was lobbed at me in a Facebook note about a year and a half ago.  It was from someone who had at most a few superficial conversations with me and certainly no chat about the issue that was at hand at that time. Not that really knowing me, nor that person having full knowledge of the details then changes the bottom line.

I admit I was somewhat shocked at that charged-up energy coming at me. There are all kinds of ways to respond, but at the time I was more engrossed in the issue that precipitated the results of her research and it didn’t really register.

I re-read the post later and when I came across those words again, I actually ended up smiling. They reminded me of a personal motto that I used to say to people: “I hope I’m the dumbest one in the room”.  In return I usually got a look like maybe they had just found her.  What I really meant was that regardless of whatever activity or endeavor I was involved in, I wanted whomever else I was working with to be that much wiser, knowledgeable, and creative than me.  I was sure that would get me the opportunity to learn something great, and hopefully a lot of it.  Yes, I do know what that shot’s intention was, but I know myself well enough to be confident in what I may or may not be.

That exchange had interesting timing. Some friends and I had been having conversations about self- esteem, particularly in girls, and the often misinterpreted difference between assertiveness & confidence and self-centeredness & aggression. There are many examples of how these characteristics are practised, but in these chats we narrowed the issue down to the ability to stand up for oneself. It’s this point we felt that usually illustrates most of the differences between those two approaches.

We partially surmised that self-centredness starts with feeling some sense of entitlement or an innate belief that one can do no wrong. The world better be good to me first or the world is gonna hear about it. “Don’t confuse my personality and my attitude because my personality is ME and my attitude depends on YOU”.  No one better cross me or else! Ohhh snap! Or – Oh snap!, snap!, snap!- if they are particularly perturbed. This is more of a passive/aggressive or aggressive/aggressive defensiveness beyond my Psych 101 capabilities, or more to the point, patience levels.

On the other hand, real confidence says I will be good to you and if you are unkind in return, I can walk away with my self-respect fully intact without having to bring you down a peg to accomplish that. I would add that that also exhibits dignity, not an unworthy effort and something I wish I could have attached myself to much earlier in life.

Confidence asks how does whatever this is really matter to my life or me? Most of the time, whatever it is doesn’t make a bit of difference to anything.

Confidence also includes the element of humbleness. It says sometimes I may be wrong, but that does not diminish that I am a good and decent person and I will fix what I can fix about it.  By the way, the fixing action includes offering genuine apologies.  I’ve also noticed that people who cannot apologize are masters at becoming the victim in all their stories.

Self-centredness mistakes the element of humbleness in confidence as weakness. That mistake is the weakness that truly exposes lack of self-esteem.

In the interest of full disclosure:  some time after sending the note, my ‘insulter’s’ defense was that she responded to something that she interpreted as being negatively said about her.  I did my best to reassure that this was far from the case, noting that the discussion in play wasn’t even about her.  No matter, once her reaction was on the table for all to see, the never-intended reason became fact for her forever.  One less Facebook friend.  Too bad she didn’t take the minute to ask me about my intentions before she posted that over the top response.

Yes, it was interesting that that whole scenario played out right in the middle of those chats about confidence.  I guess you could say that a couple of us learned more than we were expecting at the time.  There is far more to the depth of these issues and their needs than I can, or care to, note here, but if you were to ask me what would I say in return to that hotly lobbed insult now?  In short, up your self- esteem!

Yours truly,
Hopefully the Dumbest One in the Room

RL

Little Mary Sunshine – NOT! Well Not Always, and That’s Just Fine

grumpycat

I had a chat with a dear friend recently that broke my heart and got my brain all rolling again. Please bear with me; I have an uncontrollable urge to get this out. Let’s call it ‘processing’.  While I was speaking with this friend, she was apologizing to me for a) crying while speaking with me, b) being angry & scared about recent terribly trying events, and c) not showing a better attitude about it all.

Holy mixed up universe Batman!

I think, with all the messages of inspirational platitudes that we receive daily, we can get all mixed up between knowing what is living in a state of ‘positivity’ and perhaps what we actually experience seemingly in contrast to that. There seems to be unknown, uneven territory to traverse around what is living in a state of positive thought versus a state of ‘what’s she on’, to beyond Pollyanna delusion or psychosis.

A lot of us who grew up in the era of Oprah-licious life lessons are now reluctant to be seen as anything but always having a positive attitude.  Unfortunately this means that very often we’re then hiding feelings and only putting on a happy face. This is fine for the stranger at the grocery store or co-workers, but how many of us are putting that act on for loved ones, or worse, for ourselves?

I’m not talking about people who’ve slapped on Grumpy Cat in place of their face, or those who storm around with that chip on their shoulders, or the sad sacks that revel in the precipitation of their overhead black clouds. These would be the whiners in my personality dictionary.

To my mind, there is a difference between whining and complaints of a sort.  I see whining as complaint with inaction.  Bad things happen and one sits down, and then stays there.  They’ve stopped moving or the movement is simply running from it.   No more desire to fix it, deal with it, and/or maybe becoming content with someone else picking up the ball and rolling with it. This is a dead end, more bad things are probably certain to follow.  A good friend should try to intervene here.

Back to the less serious activity of complaining.  It is when bad things happen and one says WTF?  Hey, this feels bad, or this really feels really bad, or it is admitting I am scared, or scared stiff or I am damned mad, I am furious, or I am frustrated out of my mind. There is an honest acknowledgement of feelings raised in response to real experiences.  To my mind, if it is acknowledging pain while carrying on, then this kind of complaining is not a bad thing.

I call it earned complaints. Lord knows if I haven’t earned the right to complain about the state of affairs now and then, then what have I earned? The same goes for other people, like the two moms I know who have children sick with deadly diseases, or another one that just learned her new health issue could turn her world completely inside-out overnight. Reasons don’t have to be this dire, to be sure, but it serves the point.  It also seems to me that, in general, discontent has been responsible for making a great deal of change for the better in our world.

So, the difference between the complainer and the whiner is that this complainer keeps moving. She doesn’t give up, and she continues to look for ways to ease the burden and lessen the pain. She is looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, but damn it, sometimes that light is barely a spark on the horizon.   So she gets to have the crying jags, some bitching sessions, or just a plain ill-tempered day because she is weakened, but still moving, and that is called coping.

Coping means managing to get through the days even though all is not right. All coping needs in support is a good ear, a hug, sometimes a lot of patience, and if you can manage it, maybe taking over a casserole.  Actually, whatever you can do to help is good, (I like martinis- Bond style), but you get my drift.  The good news about coping is that it means that she will get past this misery, not by pretending it’s not happening, (that’s that psychosis thing), but because she is walking right through it.

Acknowledging your reaction to an event is what we call processing.  Processing isn’t what happens before you get better; it’s what happens to make you better. It takes processing to return to honest positivity, to get back to a true state of grace – that place where you can again be grateful for all that you do have.

Some people are faster processors than others and can do this in only moments.  They are the examples we like to imagine we are, and/or that we hope to one day be, but don’t forget that takes some practise.  Please do not beat yourself up because you are not there yet.   Either way is fine, which is what I want to tell my friend(s). Please be gentle with yourself and you will be gentler with those around you sooner than later.

Regardless of how much time is taken, this is the action that demonstrates how I define what strength of character is. It’s not that you act like whatever happened hasn’t affected you in any great way; it’s that it has, and you have got back up and are moving again anyway.  Sometimes yes, it takes only one sunny moment to do it; sometimes it may take one hundred sunny days – whatever it takes to honestly & genuinely get you back is OK.

It’s the same premise along the line of, it’s not that you don’t make mistakes; it’s how you handle them that counts.

So, what I also want to say here to my friend(s) is go ahead – complain, cope, process. I will, we all will, see you on the other side soon. I promise.

RL

…”The principles are the same with national healing as with personal healing: darkness has to come up in order to be released. It must be consciously acknowledged and surrendered, or else it cannot be removed”     …Marianne Williamson

Robyn Lawson  c/r 708 March 9, 2013