Stripping Bare in Public

Earlier this week I learned that my insurance covered psychological counseling. I had discovered the value of counseling at the beginning of my divorce, when I sought out a counselor through church who offered her services for free. She was extremely helpful to me, but I felt guilty continuing to claim her time and attention when I had nothing with which to pay, so I ceased my visits and worked on my own to followed the excellent advice she had given me.

Now I am seriously worried about my children, several of whom are displaying various “cries for help” while, simultaneously, rejecting my attempts to help them and treating me with varying degrees of contempt to overt hostility. Now that I see how my abusive upbringing led me, unconsciously, to choose and stay trapped in an abusive marriage, I can see how my children are set up to follow the same, unhappy path. I want to save them from that. I want them in individual counseling and us all in family counseling together. Both counseling types my children unanimously refuse to do. I thought if I led the way, by seeking personal counseling, which I believe would benefit me, assuming I can find a good counselor, my children might grow more receptive to the idea.

My initial contact with the counseling offered through my insurance was discouraging. I had a zoom conference with a supposedly trained counselor so she could evaluate my needs and assign my case to another counselor. This conference only lasted an hour, much of which was taken up with reviewing my forms and her asking me open-ended questions which I, apparently, failed to answer in the way she expected, causing me frustration. Knowing time was short, I spoke quickly, struggling to condense my complex concerns, and the extensive reasoning behind them, into the short answers she was seeking. I am a very open and emotionally expressive person, by conscious choice. When I talked about my fears, I let my anxiety show. When I talked about my guilt about having failed and continuing to fail my kids, my sincere tears fell. When she chided me for not answering her poorly phrased questions the way she wanted, I forced a self-deprecating smile and apologized.

Toward the end of this hour, she told me that she had diagnosed me as a manic-depressive with PTSD. This swift and incorrect diagnosis, based on what my study of psychology informed me to be insufficient data, shocked me. I did not finish my degree in psychology, switching to something far less practical, unfortunately, but I don’t believe it is possible to diagnose manic depression in less than an hour of constantly interrupted conversation. Manic depression is a pattern established over time characterized by massive mood-swings, typically independent of external stimuli. I have periods of depression, always for excellent reasons. I do not have the typical manic periods and, generally, my moods are constant and within normal bounds. I am stressed, again for excellent reasons, which is NOT the same as manic. She would not explain why she had reached her diagnosis, but she seemed sure of it. This severely shook my confidence in her.

She gave me breathing and grounding exercises to try when feeling stressed, and suggested I keep a journal. I thanked her for the exercises and directed her to this blog, which functions as my journal. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, insisting that my journal needs to be private. I assured her that, with as few visitors as I get to my blog, it essentially was private. I would have liked to explain why private journals fail to work for me, but she had lost patience with me and, anyway, the interview was over. She promised to try to find a suitable counselor for me though, if she is focusing on one specializing in manic depression, the counselor may not meet my needs. I can only hope the counselor this woman chooses will be far better trained than she was.

I have tried to keep private journals in the past, and always lost interest in them quickly. I am a trained writer. I view writing as a form of communication, which means that I am always writing TO someone, forming my writing to, hopefully, keep my imagined audience interested, entertained, and, somehow, benefited. Much of my writing ends up being for myself, in the sense that I don’t think it worth keeping and throw it away. All writing to myself falls in this category, since I know, without doubt, I won’t ever bother to read it again. It therefore not only fails to serve anyone else, but also fails to serve me and becomes a pointless waste of my time. Only when writing to one or more others does my writing take on any meaning for me. It is the only condition under which I will persevere in writing at all.

I understand the concern that, when writing to others, I will fail to be fully honest. Most people, of course, wish to project the best version of themselves to others – some even to the point of misrepresenting who they really are. The assumption is that this will be my tendency as well. I reject that as a valid concern in my case.

I was, among other things, an actress before I was married. One of the things I learned from acting is that one does not succeed by going on stage and playing a false character. Acting only works when it is a real expression of a true, human soul. Actors may hide behind the illusion that the parts they play are not really them, but if their characters connect with an audience enough to move them, then the fact is it is their true soul connecting. Actor’s strip their souls naked, becoming intensely vulnerable, imagining themselves (and whatever backstory is necessary) in the parts they play, revealing their joys, sorrows, fears, dreams… Anyone who cannot do that, cannot truly act. They may play a caricature of a person – which may entertain to some degree – but which will never be great acting.

Writing fiction is, for me, more distancing, as I intentionally create characters as different as possible from myself. However, in the end, many of my characters are still expressions of facets of myself and/or whom I might have been under different circumstances. The Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God. I am not God, of course, but I am a creator, in my fiction writing, creating characters who, in one way or another, end up being in my image, however varied they are. Only my nonfiction writing, relaying information in as objective a way as possible, is impersonal. However, a blog like this is me, stripped bare, holding myself up for the world to see as clearly as I can render myself. I do this knowing that, for too many, this makes me a target.

I have always been attacked simply for being me, from as early as I can remember. Everything I did was deemed a failure and used as proof that I was, essentially, unlovable. All honors and accolades I ever earned were dismissed as worthless. I had a choice in how to respond to this. I could give up or keep striving for approval. I chose the latter since I saw no point to the former. Giving up only sealed my failure. Continuing to strive allowed me to continue to hope for improvement. Note, this was not a single choice, but one made over and over as my failures kept mounting and my hope of success, acceptance, love, etc., grew dimmer or, at moments, seemed to perish. All I knew was that when/if I gave up, all hope was gone indeed. I knew I could not live with that.

Another choice I had to make was whether I should hide myself, to protect myself, or reveal myself fully. This was a more difficult choice. When people hate you, they either avoid you or hurt you. Family, who cannot avoid you, hurt you worst of all. I do not like being hurt. Hiding myself would seem the more rational choice, therefore, but I looked down that path and realized it led to hopelessness. What I wanted, more than anything, was to be loved. I could pretend to be whatever the people around me deemed lovable (although my brief attempt to do so failed miserably) but I quickly realized that, even if I could succeed in this, it would not be me being loved, but only the false image I was projecting. What was the point in that? I wanted to be loved. I was willing to improve what I could about myself to become worthy of love, but not to pretend I was someone else. If the true me was unlovable, as my family insisted, then so be it. Through showing myself honestly, I could, at least, still, hope to find someone in the world who would appreciate me, eventually. If I hid myself and played a part – one that would be unsustainable for long – that hope was lost and my life would be come a pointless lie leading to desperation. So, yes, showing myself, warts and all, is a terrifying risk – leading to and, hopefully, through pain. Hiding myself, however, is a worse risk that traps me forever. It may prevent present pain, but it leads only to true, deep isolation, loneliness, and it sacrifices all hope of ever being truly loved.

My entire life has been one of living in hopes of a brighter future. Without that hope, there is nothing left. Pursuing that hope requires me braving the slings and arrows of a cruel world, filled with hateful, destructive people. I walk through the shower of missiles pelting me and painful blows from every side, looking for the people who are NOT trying to hurt me and hoping to find people who may even be kind enough to help me or who may be worthy of my help. This manner of living takes tremendous courage and strength. Yes, I do falter sometimes. I face the despair, cry it out, then pick myself up and carry on, because this is my only chance to achieve what I need. It is my only hope, and I refuse to give it up.

So I write this blog, as honestly as I can, to readers who can respect the courage and strength my life requires. I write to other optimists who are not sunny because life is good, but stay positive and hopeful, even through the worst of it, knowing that this is the only way to persevere. I write with as absolute honesty as I can, so that others who may be in similar circumstances will understand you are not alone. I write to encourage you, as well as myself. We can do this. We MUST do this – not only for ourselves, not only for each other, but for the world, because I believe the world truly needs the strength and courage this kind of honesty requires. My exposed heart has been battered, bruised, torn, shattered over and over into a million pieces which I have reassembled, every time, with enduring hope. It overflows with limitless love – enough to fill the entire world. Maybe I will only ever give love and never receive it, except from God, but I live in the hope that there are others who will appreciate and reciprocate all that I offer. I may never know who you are, but if I can help you, even in passing, even unknown to me, my life has value and purpose. I write to you, for you, and my hope of your existence sustains me.

Help Wanted

I just saw a meme advising to “Surround yourself with those on the same mission as you.” I am on a mission – one that can only succeed with the cooperation of MANY good people who share my vision, but I’m currently all alone.

My vision is to create “Step-Up” communities. (For a fuller explanation please click “HERE”) Eventually, I hope there may be many of them, all around the world. These will be communities where people who are homeless, destitute, escaping domestic abuse, broken by the cruelty of others, suffering from various traumas, etc., can be safe, heal, learn, rebuild, and create the best, possible version of their future lives.

I know I cannot be the only one in this world who sees all the pain from others’ cruelty crushing the glorious, God-given potential in their victims. I cannot be the only one who realizes that this must be stopped! It is not only the victims, themselves, who suffer from this, but also the entire world. We may never know all the wonders and beauties that should have been created by the people we allowed to be destroyed by evil, but our ignorance does not diminish our loss. The loss is not just of the people, themselves, who were crushed before they could accomplish their greatness, but of all the accomplishments of all the people who would have been inspired by those destroyed dreams. What amazing paradise this world might already have been had we not stood aside and allowed evil to steal it from us!

Even worse, cruelty and abuse become generational curses, as children, warped and embittered by the abuse they suffered, turn into abusive spouses and parents. It is a vicious cycle that must be reversed or it will spread, eventually destroying everyone. I know it can be healed, however, with loving kindness and some effort. Maybe we cannot stop damaged people from being hateful and abusive, but we can save their victims and help them heal before they, themselves, become damaged beyond repair. We can help them become shining, joyful successes, each person capable of saving many others, and parenting children who will grow up healthy, happy, and capable of helping save yet more. In this way we can turn a generational curse into a generational blessing that will eventually fill the earth instead. We, ourselves, may not live long enough to see its ultimate fulfillment, but perhaps paradise on earth is possible for our children and grandchildren if we begin the work toward it now. Even if we fall short, the point is that we must stop as much cruelty as we can. As many people as possible must be saved, for everyone’s sake.

I hope this is a mission that many people could easily share, but I don’t even know where to begin to find these people. I’ve been struggling to heal and get back on my feet since my divorce from my abusive husband took everything I had, leaving me destitute, broken, physically in pain, and, according to the doctors, dying. I’ve been thinking I need to figure out how to save myself before I can save others. Sadly, I’ve been failing so far, alone, isolated, without kindness, encouragement or real love from those I love and try to serve.

Isolation is deadly. We are made to be communal creatures and man is not good alone. The solitary person keeps asking himself what is the point of working so hard to survive when there is no one in the world who cares if he dies? What purpose is he serving when he is serving no one but himself? Is there any point to his life at all? Life becomes a moment by moment struggle to find any reason not to just give up.

This vision of creating Step-Up communities – this hope of one day being able to help others – has become most of what has kept me surviving through this last year, but I’m no nearer to realizing it than I was a year ago. Despite all my efforts to improve my situation, I’m still continuously losing ground rather than gaining. I’m trying to heal while still trapped in unhealthy conditions with people who are still harming me. How can anybody heal old wounds when new wounds must constantly be addressed? I’m struggling, and failing, to create an income – to make something from nothing. It is common sense that I must be able to support myself and my children before I can even begin to support others, right? At the rate I’m going, however, I’m guaranteed to die before I’ve helped anyone at all.

I clearly need a new tactic. Maybe I should just throw myself into realizing this vision. Maybe my own healing requires me to heal others first. I believe this vision of Step-Up communities is a mission set for me by God. Maybe I should just let everything else go – like trying to survive and support my children – and find a way to follow it, trusting in God, alone, to provide the means. Is it just me, or does this sound crazy?

How can I realize this vision of a haven for those who need healing? How can I build something this wonderful from nothing – even less than nothing? I have no idea where to begin and nothing with which to start. All I know is that God created this entire, amazing world from only chaos and void – less than nothing. If I give God my emptiness and pain, which is all I have left to offer, couldn’t God create these Step-Up communities from that? Perhaps I don’t need to raise the money first. It sounds insane, but maybe that it the point of faith. Perhaps I should shift my focus to trusting in God and seek wiser, more capable people to help me start doing what God wants me to do. Maybe the meme is right and I should seek out others on the same mission. If it is really from God, I can’t be the only one to whom He gave it, can I? But where can I even begin to find these other people who share my mission?

God, help me, please!