Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Surprise (or Learning How to Be a Friend)

Aleathia says:

     A few weeks ago I was asked by one of the people in my writer’s group to go to a concert. No big deal, right?


     Let me lay the groundwork for you. I’m nice, but awkward. I have a hard time making friends because trust is a hurdle for me. I am nice to everyone and I can carry a conversation if you start it. I understand the basics of friendship, but in my life I have had about 5 true friends. These are people that get me. They put up with my social ineptitude time and again. They make me feel worth it.

     Anyway, the concert. So on the outside this woman and I don’t appear like we should be friends. Read that sentence again, it’s petty, I know. As you may have seen from other blogs, I am working on shedding a life based on body image. I’m not there yet. I have spent a life handing out forgiveness for being too awkward or too fat or insert-something-that-annoys-another here. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it takes time. I’m middle aged and overweight. She is younger and a Cross Fit body builder. I’ll give you a moment to make the image.

     The take away from this concert for me was huge. We could’ve seen an orchestra or Liberace. It wouldn’t have mattered. It was the time in between the music that held the most meaning. On the hour drive there, we talked about our lives in trauma and with writing. Underneath our exteriors, under the skin, we slowly found that we were of the same tribe. Over the years, I medicated with food and she medicated with lifting. I didn’t ask her outright if that was the reason for the intense workouts, but from either point of view--food or weightlifting--it’s about control. People of trauma crave control, and as she put it, certainty.

     We shared our recent journeys in love and how we arrived at the present moment sitting in my car, splitting the countryside with our collective pain. Many times she apologized for speaking of her traumas on our first outing as friends. I didn’t acknowledge the apology because it wasn’t necessary. Car rides are the best place for people of trauma to spill demons, because the other person can only listen. There is no fixing, only understanding and clarification.

     Once at the venue, we went to buy water. She was going to buy mine because I drove. I refused and grabbed my wallet to pay for my own because it is what I do. Owe no one anything. I have lived that motto for my lifetime. She looked at me and said, “Let me buy this. This is what friends do.”

     Imagine standing in a lobby of humans and being invisibly struck by lightning.

     We talked some more as the first band came on, sitting while everyone else was standing. This was less trauma and more writing. When the band she wanted to see took the stage we stood, side by side, and something happened to me for the first time. Amongst a sea of young college students, next to this woman who is physically one of the strongest people I know, who is beautiful, and I found myself not caring about my body. I stood surrounded by beauty not worrying about how old I was, how fat I was, or whether or not I deserved to be there. I simply, was.

     The music was good. The light show amazing. The life lesson, priceless.

     In the land of healing a lifetime of traumas, these small wins feel like gold medal performances. This connected me to another human who has run a similar path, who is still working on healing and trusting and moving forward. I thank her for reaching out to ask me to do something, for noticing me, for making me feel like a valid individual. Score one for the home team.

     Thanks for reading. Be kind to each other. Write. Read books. Share your world.


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Lock on the Inside of My Door

Aleathia says:

      Often in life we require the unabashed courage of others to be on display before we can look inward to find our own. This happened to me this week.

      Yesterday, I finished the audio book of "Hunger" by Roxane Gay. This was a raw book about sexual assault and its lasting effects on the body and mind of a woman. Telling this story to the world had to be an excruciating, difficult task. The general public doesn't want to read about the ugliness that has happened to women, men and children. It makes them uncomfortable, and maybe, it should.

      Gay's story was preceded by the fact it was story about her body which she has struggled with since her sexual assault. She spends a lot of time drawing attention to her body and how others have treated it and still continue to treat it as a woman of size. But as I listened, I spent most of the six hours nodding my head. The trajectory of her life was oddly familiar to me.

Image result for images of hands over mouth

     I have been suspicious all my life that my step-father (now deceased) sexually abused me, but I have no distinct memory I can reference. There were outward things he said like "you'd be really hot if you lost 20 pounds" or how he'd stare at me from across the room like I was a trapped gazelle he was going to rip apart with his teeth. There was his making a point to be naked around me in the common areas of our house or trying to get me to go to the nudist camp as a teenager with "the family." I did go, but I kept my clothes on in defiance. There was the eating disorder I developed and the hatred of my body that grew each year as it got bigger and bigger. There were later thoughts of suicide, body dysmorphia, and a distinct dissociation with society on a human level. There was the time he threatened the life of my brother and mother if I left the state. These were some of the things that shaped my life.

     I wanted to fit in at school. I wanted boys to like me, but in order for that to happen, I would also have to be simultaneously attractive to my step-father.  When I did bring boys home to meet my parents, my step-father would come down from his bedroom, dressed as Rambo, complete with a Bowie knife between his teeth as if he were marking territory. When I was fifteen, my own mother placed a lock on the inside of my door. This action, though a safety measure, crushed me more than anything because she knew what her husband was capable of and would rather risk my safety than be alone. I buried myself in food, books, writing and work. I joined every club I could so as to not be home because it wasn't safe for me.

     When I left home I became reckless with my body sexually and physically. There were several times I risked being raped or killed because I didn't care. I couldn't see any worth in myself beyond being a sexual object. I learned quickly that how I looked mattered to men. If I were willing to give up some of my morals, then I was worthy of their time. Except for the man I married and later divorced, I chose men who were not always kind. If they were kind, they were alcoholics and so severely depressed that they took up all my time. If I cared for others, it followed that I didn't have time to care for myself. Self care? What's that?

     I never spoke up because like all children, I didn't think any adults would believe me. When your own mother turns her head to look away then you figure the options to share your truth are very small. I wish I would have had someone to tell me it wasn't my fault, someone to save me.

     My last long term relationship devastated me. Living with a narcissist is not recommended. He still haunts me around unexpected corners, but over the last two years I have nearly exorcised him from my life. He took away my trust of men, but what he gave me was an unexpected openness to my own self. Surviving a man like that woke me up to learning how to find my voice and stand up. Through all of the personal traumas in my life I have always tried to find the lesson or the silver lining. If I had to suffer through something so scarring then I better damn well learn something.

     Several times during Roxane Gay's "Hunger" I found myself in tears. I was empathetic to her story though I feel my trauma was so much less than hers. I know trauma isn't comparative because they are personal events, but I still feel mine is less. Her story lead me to look at how much a person can achieve after such a damaging event. She says she is still healing herself in her 40's. I'm still healing myself as well. She is helping us all heal. She is making us visible. She is standing at the front of the line giving a voice to those of us who have been quiet too long.

     If you need help, someone is there at the National Sexual Assault Hotline

     Thank you for reading. Be kind to each other. Write. Read books. Share your story.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Come to the Light, Carol Anne

Aleathia says:

     After my vacation in August I returned to work. Back in the ER for the 13th year. To say the least, it has become monotonous save the time I get to teach new nurses how to work in the ER. On my vacation, I enjoyed doing yoga and meditation daily, writing and sewing, and various other creative endeavors. My life has been about self-care and this journey to do something more meaningful.

Image result for real ER scenes

     Going back to work in the ER felt like a prison sentence. I'm good at what I do and it isn't like the work doesn't have an element of excitement, but it is also very taxing emotionally to be "on" 12 hours a day, so I applied for a new job at Planned Parenthood. In my 20's, this organization saved my life when they found pre-cancer of the cervix and I was able to have surgery to remove it before it spread. At the time, I was working two minimum wage jobs with no insurance and had put off going to the doctor for five years until my boyfriend at the time, dragged me down there because he was tired of seeing me in pain. I had been looking for a way to repay this debt for 20 years.

     There had been several coincidental signs that pushed me toward applying at PP. I set about inquiring about financial things to see if I could even afford to make a change. I would have lost a substantial amount of money, but what I thought I would gain was time everyday to do yoga and meditation, daily writing time, a chance to participate in local things on weekends, holidays off, less driving and shorter shifts. This was all appealing. The only thing I thought I'd miss was my writer's group on Thursdays because I would have to work late in Hornell that night.

     I sent a resume and was emailed in an hour to set up a phone interview the next day. By the next week, I had a face to face interview. This interview changed my life.

     Let me set some background. I have been a Buddhist since 1997. I have been a nurse since 2004. Both of these things lend to the betterment of human kind. They are in service of uplifting life and having compassionate care for other human beings. These are distinct choices I have made in my life. I did not go in blind to this interview about the nature of abortion at the clinic. But I have long been a firm believer in women having the choice over their own bodies. Who am I to stand in the way of that based on my own belief systems? No one. I thought that I could handle such practices with all the death and tragedy I have seen in the ER in my lifetime. I said I could handle it, but there were a few things said in the interview that sat with me funny.

     I would have been responsible for things I could not have lived with in the termination of a fetus at 24 weeks. I'm not going to get into details because this post isn't about abortion, it's about choice and realization of limits. One of the interviewers said that helping women through that particular procedure was "rewarding." Excuse me? I don't know. Maybe the writer in me frowned at that word choice, but it jarred me and I couldn't get it out of my head. But they also asked me what I liked about my current job and I talked about this role I have as a Preceptor of new nurses and students. One of the other women asked me why I would leave that? I didn't have a great answer.

Here is what I learned:

Though I am tired of the daily grind in the ER, it is still important work. WE SAVE a team.

The stress of being on point all day is less heavy than the stress of knowing you'd taken lives instead of saved them.

I have a moral limit to the things that I am willing to do professionally. My heart is bigger and more tender than I give it credit for.

If I need to, I can live on less, but I don't need to.

I can make my life more simple by not running away from my responsibilities.

I could not have lived without my writer's group. They have given me back my love of writing. They teach me things both as a writer and as a human being. They are my friends. They are a second family.

I am a lucky and blessed woman.

I have an amazing boss who let me spread my wings towards a dream I thought I had and didn't try to stop me or make me feel bad. And when I found it wasn't the dream I had thought, she welcomed me back into the fold, knowing, someday there would be another dream.

This whole process was extremely emotional for me, but sometimes we need to take bold leaps to get a good look at the place we were just standing in. Sometimes we can see our nose in spite of our face.

Thanks for reading. Be kind to each other.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Unapologetic Inquiry #2: The Comparison

Aleathia says:

Can you recall an occasion when you compared yourself to someone? How did the comparison impact your self-esteem and self-confidence? How did it impact your ideas about the other person?

     I have to admit that I snickered when I read this question. I can’t remember when I started comparing myself to others, but I know I was very young. I compared myself to every woman I met, especially if I found them attractive physically or mentally. Each time I was in the room with someone I felt was the prettiest girl in the room, I would start down a head to toe comparison list. Each line on that list I’d find myself inadequate. To be honest, I thought I was never pretty enough, smart enough, or interesting enough to be in the same room as them.

Image result for image of a woman fighting herself in a mirror
(Image by Laura Callaghan. I do not own this image.)

     As I got older, I knew I had some desirable qualities and I could manifest understanding of them, but only if I wasn’t in the presence of other women. I didn’t have any confidence about my gifts and abilities. I was always overweight and I narrowly believed this excluded me from being truly loved and desired. It caused me to have bulimia in high school and though after high school I did not partake in that practice exactly, it did give me an aversion to dieting. Restrictions were never safe and threw me into an obsessive nature. A year ago I tried to “just watch calories” and my child told me to stop because he couldn’t stand the person I was when I counted calories.

     Sadly, the woman across from me became an enemy of the state with her beauty and talents which I didn’t think I measured up to. I have spent a lifetime without very many close female friends and these relationships require a significant amount of energy from me. I have to fight myself to be nice and kind and not think the other woman is out to get me. It sounds insane and on some level, it is. I’m sure these reactions developed out of my relationship with my mother, but that is another story for another time, I’m sure.

Thanks for reading. Be kind to each other.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Body Is Not An Apology: Unapologetic Inquiry #1

Aleathia says:

     Here I am again, random, as always with a topic that falls from out of the blue. I’ve had a week off from work and instead of going places like originally planned, I stayed home. This was no lazy week off. I have been cleaning out my house of the remnants of my toxic boyfriend. I have been cleaning out my soul. Personally, I am still reeling from the Philadelphia trip and it is hard for me to shake the feeling that even when I thought I was being still enough to unpack my lifelong luggage, I was still running. I am definitely afraid of the ugly I will find and have to claim with a flag of my country. No one wants ugly.

     I took the rare Sunday off to take my son to the Ithaca Market. When I had weekends off we would go all the time. It was a nice little trip to share coffee and a pastry, conversation, and sometimes a walk. We’d soak up the sights and smells of an open air market and feel good about life for a little while. Our usual bakery wasn’t there and it gave me a little panic because things would not be “like they always are”. I scoured the market three times for them each time hoping they would appear until Kai pointed out that a place we passed three times had perfectly beautiful pastry. This meant I had to step out of my comfort and try something new. I’m not opposed to this concept at all because I love new things, but I had been testing my mettle all week and looked forward to the comfort of sameness. The pastry was delightful. The time was not spoiled.

     We went to the Commons and walked around. It was hot and we were overdressed with the hope of fall. We were sweaty and getting cranky. We stopped in the DeWitt Mall because Kai wanted to go to the guitar shop. He is dropping chorus this year in favor of guitar lessons. He wanted an instruction booklet to help him along at home. I picked up one for my Ukulele that sits sad and underplayed. I took a cue from his playbook. I need to dust off my life and make time for all things. We stopped in the Buffalo Street Books. I don’t go there often and I’m not sure why. It’s a very lovely shop. I also have been trying to not buy too many books since I have shelves of unread wonders already.

     A book immediately caught my eye: “The Body is Not An Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. It’s colorful and flashy but something in me made me tiptoe to reach it from the top shelf. I opened it and saw things in myself that made me cringe and I put it back on the shelf. I walked around looking at other things. I found a pencil sharpener for my specific pencils I found in Philadelphia. I found a poetry book. And then, I was standing in front of this book again with a feeling of dread and panic. Then I was at the register buying it.

     In the quiet of my house, I read the prologue and sobbed. Do you know that kind of sorrow that is mixed with the realization that you have been so cruel to yourself for a lifetime? Yes, it was that sort of sobbing. I recognized myself. I had forgotten what I looked like underneath the shame.

     I’m in chapter one and Sonya professes that she is not going to fix my problems with self-esteem or self-assurance, but she is waking me up to myself. She calls it radical self-love and maybe this is what I need after 40 years of putting myself down, hiding who I am, being something for someone else, harboring abuses not meant for me, and being quiet when inside there was screaming. There are “Unapologetic Inquiry” bubbles in this book. Questions to be answered honestly without worry of shame. Normally, I would keep such things to myself, but I feel like this process needs a wider opening. My average post gets 30-40 visits. That is wide enough. So without further ado, here is Unapologetic Inquiry #1:

“We all live in multiple intersections of identity. What are your intersections? How do your multiple identities affect each other?”

     I am a middle aged white woman, divorced, and single. I am a product of childhood trauma. I am a mother of a transgender son. I am an emergency room nurse, an artist, a writer, and a Buddhist. I do all these things living with a thyroid and an ovarian condition, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and adult onset ADD.

     The childhood trauma informs all my other identity intersections. It was the base of my life. It was how I learned to do everything. It steered me to choose a career that is filled with trauma everyday from strangers. These traumas change the way I look at the world as an artist and a writer. These traumas give me something to meditate over. The combination of my health issues help me with my self shame for being overweight. There are wheels that spin so fast I can’t get off without feeling like it will send me into a depression, so, I stay on the wheel. The childhood trauma made me strong and allowed me to stay alive and achieve, but it made me go about it in the wrong way. I have achieved goals without letting people in my life, without sharing the best parts of me because I don’t trust them to not break them and walk away.


      In the last month, I have started to see how these intersections behave with each other and this might be the key to recovery if I can be brave enough to keep looking. I am not going to profess that I will be any less random on this blog, but my hope is to share these Unapologetic Inquiries in case you can’t find the book or you don’t have access to it. Ask yourself the same questions and see what comes up. I’m tired of living in a world that is defined by others who don’t know me or care about me, and who think I should look, act, feel like something that pleases them. I’m not sure how many years I have left in the world, but I would like to know at least some of the time I staked claim to them.

Thanks for reading. This was a long one. Be Kind. Love each other.


Friday, August 2, 2019

I'm No Architect, or How I Looked Myself in the Mirror and Cried

Aleathia says:

     This week I returned from the Trans Wellness Conference in Philadelphia. My first inclination was to write a blog about the happenings there, and this may still happen. There is some great information to share and thoughts about Philadelphia in general. Since drifting back to this sleepy town I live in, I've had time to decompress the city from my bones and try to get back to "normal" living, but the emotions that were dredged up during the trip continue to haunt me.

     Tuesday, I awoke with the distinct need to do yoga and meditate. I'd done neither of these things in a long while, at least not with great intention. Afterwards, I got dressed and gathered some books to stroll and read on Market Street. One of the books I chose was Molly Bashaw's poetry collection "The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It." There were a few lines in the poem "Who Will Remember What This Looked Like From Above?" that staggered me into falling down a rabbit hole:

Had she ever, on a Sunday afternoon after the matinee, I wonder, run with the antique dealer up this hill and looked down, too?/And were they standing underneath the same tree?/ Did they kiss, or did he whisper to her earring first, words that made her soften in her dress?

     My rabbit hole started by asking myself questions like "Is this the sensation I've hoped for all my life and does it happen in real, consistent relationships? Is this reserved for chance happenings and literature, but is always unexpected?" From there I thought about the Tarot Card spreads I had been doing each month that were filled with signs of love. There has been none in sight, or at least none that I have let myself see.

     This is a barrier of my own doing most of the time. Individuals are not generally attracted to someone who is not comfortable in their own skin and this has been my state of being for most of my life. Ply me with alcohol and you would never know that part of me existed, but in my natural state, you get an armored version of me. I have always been curious as to how to legitimately shed this wall I've built around me. I have seen therapists. I have done self-help books. I have meditated. The barrier has remained stronger than the bullets I throw at it.

     How does this have anything to do with the Trans Wellness Conference? I knew you were wondering. I did say it was a rabbit hole. My first workshop on the first day of the conference was in the general track and it was about how bullying affects transgender kids at home and at school. What I didn't expect from this workshop was for them to review the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. I had read this years ago after watching a TED talk on the subject. I cried then and I cried again in front of all these people. It was how I started my weekend. My ACE score is 8 out of 10. I am a product of childhood trauma, this is a fact. I have lived with it, meaning I generally stuff it way down where no one can see it and move on with life. But have I really moved on? On the outside, I look successful. I have an amazing job, a nice house, comfortable living, and a few wonderful friends. I have the means to be creative and travel. What I don't have is the capability to have a meaningful, lasting relationship.

     The conference was like watching the barn I built around the armor, burn to the ground in the face of the poverty and oppression I saw on the streets, observed gender phobia, the re-emergence of childhood trauma, and the notion of my CIS, white privilege. I took in all the information from these workshops and felt it change how I looked at gender and healthcare. For a few days I understood what it was like to be a minority in both race and gender. The conference was 95% transgender/LGBTQ people and professionals. I strangely felt like I didn't belong or even, that I was an enemy spy. It's possible my writer's imagination gets away from me at times.

     I felt out of my body almost the entire trip. I cried several times to strangers, sometimes in the bathroom, and sometimes with myself in a corner. I felt existent and non-existent at the same time. I'm not sure if this is what is meant by "living in the moment," but it was frightening. I don't do well with the loss of control on any level. I felt raw and exposed and I longed for the comfort of my small town despite not feeling like I belonged there either. At home, I at least know the streets and recognize faces, which provide some comfort.

     In the past, I have been to many cities: New York City, Ottawa, Toronto, Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix, Kansas City and so on. I have never felt afraid like I did walking down the street in Philadelphia. It was unnerving. I have worked in the ER for over 10 years. Not much phases me, but I was literally shaking afraid. I was overcome with the sense that I didn't belong anywhere in the world. I knew then that something had to change. There were a lot of things to face, so many things that had never seen the light.

     Once home, I felt the need to deep clean everything in the house in order to deal with my personal chaos. This isn't the answer, but what I saw while cleaning is that I let things go and called it being "too busy." In the past, I used food to build my armor and decided a few years ago that it would be the quickest way to kill myself adding to obesity and a family history of diabetes. So instead of dealing with the problem that caused the armor in the first place, I threw myself in to "projects" which ranged from sewing and fabric art to writing a novel. Add about 50 more side projects to fill up the spaces in between and you have my life. If I keep busy and keep moving, I never have to stop and take a true stock of my pain and suffering. I am intelligent and I know this isn't the way, but it is what I do.

     What I have robbed myself of are the most important things: sitting still, meditation, yoga, blogging, reading, and honesty. Avoiding all of these things keep me from making friends and falling in love because I am unwilling to let go and open up. This is what childhood trauma does to you. It makes you trust no one. It makes you a builder of armors. It makes you lonely. It makes you never able to ask for help because of what you might owe in return.

     The Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference showed me that I need to be alive. I need to peel back the layers and trust that someone will love me for who I am, not what I look like. It showed me that I am lovable, kind, smart, and funny. It showed me a passion for social justice I didn't know lived in me. I have a lot of work to do at age 46. I have to stop telling myself soft lies and believing them. It's time.

     As always, thank you for taking the time to read. My only hope in sharing these things is to let you know that if you've suffered in these ways, you aren't alone. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as islands with contained damage. It is what keeps us apart as a society. The human condition is a shared thing. We all have a part in it and a responsibility to stand up, speak up, and be heard. The world is constantly changing and if we want to survive, we have to change with it. Have an amazing day. Do something nice for someone without the need for return.


Friday, June 21, 2019

30 in 30 Week 2: Changes to Come/Waking Up Elsewhere

Aleathia says:

It's been a busy week, but I'm still making the deadline. Enjoy a short story and a photo. Thanks for reading.

Photo: Changes to Come:

Story: Waking Up Elsewhere:


      Darla’s head pounded and her vision was occluded by thick, congealing blood from a gash in her forehead. Her eyelashes stuck together, leaving her blind. The more she woke up, the more she realized her predicament.
      A sullied rag was pulled tightly across her mouth leaving her impotent in her attempts to call for help. Who am I screaming for? Darla had no idea where she was or how she got there. She quieted her body and listened. The sound of steel wheels against the rail, with its rhythmic thumping, could be felt as much as it was heard. Rain splattered against a tin roof and she could smell stale, moldy earth mixed with the iron from her own blood.
      She attempted moving her arms and legs, but both were bound tight. The rope cut into the tender flesh of her inner wrists causing them to burn with pain each time she moved. Darla knew she had to get out of there, wherever there was. The last thing she remembered was walking through Page Park to get to Sarah’s house. They were supposed to go out for drinks. Sarah was perpetually late and since the night was beautiful, Darla had decided to walk the short distance to save time. 
      Now, she was here.
      It became harder and harder to breathe with her mouth gagged. Her nose was half crusted over with blood blocking one nasal passage and her belly pushed into the hard dirt. Every inhale lifted her body off the ground slightly and the gravity of her weight expelled the air too quickly. She grew increasingly tired with each breath. Darla worked in a rocking motion to get her body tipped onto its side, but was careful not to go too far. She was trying to avoid the turtle on its shell problem. She’d never get up from that post.
      Once on her side, she used her elbow and her core to get upright onto her knees. Darla nearly cried from excitement. In that position, if she leaned backwards, she could feel the rope beneath her fingers used to confine her ankles. There was something glorious about the knots as she touched them. She concentrated and worked with numbing digits. Just as she got the first ligature untied, she heard a man’s voice:
      “Now where in the hell do you think you’re going?”

Aleathia Drehmer 2019