Identity

“It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done; I love you for who you are.” Kaela said that to me when I was on my way back home from a funeral in Chicago – from revisiting my old life there. It was quite probably the single most freeing thing anyone could have ever said to me. She loves me for who I am. But who am I?

For twenty nine years, I’ve felt like a non person. I didn’t really identify as anything. I didn’t really have big dreams, goals, and aspirations. I rarely have strong opinions about anything. I didn’t have a solid definition. I was without an identity. Even as a Christian, you have your “identity in Christ,” but what on Earth does that even mean?! It does hold some meaning, but it doesn’t help much; you still have to figure yourself out.

To identify as something may seem inconsequential, but it’s really important because it shapes the effect you have on the world around you, and it solidifies the world within you. It changes the way people see you.

I read that the Cleveland Indians are phasing out the image of Chief Wahoo. There is, of course, heated debate over this. Fans of the baseball team cling to this image as the beloved face that they’ve worn for over a hundred years. They claim that it pays honorable tribute to the first Native American to play major league baseball, Louis Sockalexis of the Penobscot Tribe. The Penobscot peoples rage that Chief Wahoo is a caricature that mocks their people and promotes racism against them. Identity and image matters. This is so heated because both groups of people know that identity is important. By the way, there have been many people – including the Penobscot Tribe and the Sockalexis family – officially protesting the use of Chief Wahoo annually since 1973; this is not new, and it isn’t a hip bandwagon for this crybaby generation.

After twenty seven years of wanting one, I finally buzzed my hair and got a mohawk. It’s great; I wish I’d done it much sooner. But the most amazing thing about it is how weird it… isn’t. It feels free. It feels fitting. I feel like I look in the mirror and I finally recognize myself. But it isn’t the haircut. I mean, it *is* the haircut, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s the fact that I’m finally able to accept and embrace what was already there within me. I’m finally able to freely be myself, whomever I am, and embrace it without fear. It took me nearly thirty years, but I finally have an identity.

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Two Zones and Loneliness

The Friendzone:

Caveat: I realize that the “friendzone” can happen to anyone. But since I’ve only ever heard it used by guys talking about girls, that’s the perspective I’m going to focus on. Feel free to mentally adjust it accordingly.

The concept of the friendzone is more complex than I initially thought it was. I thought that it was simply the belief that if you’re thought of as someone’s friend, then there’s no way ever, never, not in this lifetime or any other that you’ll ever be more than that. “Nice guys finish last.” “Girls only date bad boys.” (I can’t really wrap my head around this because it’s all so laughably untrue.) And it would seem that this sometimes truly is what people mean when they talk about being friendzoned.

But apparently, there are at least two other levels of being in the friendzone that I had never previously known. There’s the notion that you’ll be your friend’s everything – except their boyfriend. You’ll be asked to be all the things that a boyfriend would usually be – their handyman, heavy lifter, top shelf fetcher, coat fetcher, ride, cigarettes lighter, and mechanic negotiator. (Honestly, I can’t really wrap my head around this one either because as someone who gladly bends over backwards for my friends, I don’t know why anyone would NOT want to do these things for their friends. But I can see how it can get obnoxious.)

And then there’s the third layer in which you’re used for all of those things, plus sex. You’re their boyfriend in every single way, but without the title. You’re friends with benefits. (This one baffles me from so many angles that I’m dizzy from just thinking about it.)

Whether I understand or appreciate the friendzone is irrelevant here; the real point is that the friendzone happens; the friendzone is stinking lonely. And that is something that I can really wrap my head around. I get loneliness. And I see that the friendzone is lonely.

The Girlfriendzone (or Boyfriendzone. But let’s focus on girlfriendzone for the sake of simplicity):

I recently read this thing (shared from… Twitter? Reddit? I don’t remember, which is part of why I can’t seem to find it now.) that was a message to “nice guys” written from the perspective of a single lesbian. She recounts her seemingly endless stream of guys who would be very nice to her and be awesome friends all the way up until the moment they realized that they were never going to have a chance at sleeping with her – at which point, they would inevitably bail. She then meets her best friend – a straight girl with whom she falls in love. But she decides to stand by her despite having no “chance” because, “She was the best friend I’d ever had. I was the best friend she had ever had,” and something about not wanting to destroy that just because she doesn’t want to be her girlfriend. The homerun hitting line is, “So before you complain about being friendzoned, Mr. ‘Nice’ Guy, remember this: you girlfriendzoned her first.” I have a close friend in real life (a few of them, actually) who has a very hard time making friends (male OR female), despite being an incredible human being. This is because her “friends” keep wanting more than friendship. So she ends up being alone a good chunk of the time. That’s the thing about being girlfriendzoned so much: it’s lonely.

Loneliness:

What I get out of all of this is that it turns out that people don’t like feeling used. They don’t like feeling unappreciated or manipulated. People don’t like being taken advantage of.

I know that you, dear reader, are thinking of your answer to this problem. But that isn’t my goal for today. Today, all I’m saying is that I see a swarm of lonely people among the crowds, and it’s a crying shame – especially since it totally doesn’t have to be that way.

Dear PTSD Cat

Dear PTSD Cat,

I understand.

You had a full life before your time here in our Haven. I don’t know where you come from, what you’ve seen, or been through. But I see the way you flinch when I move in certain ways, the way you run from certain items. I don’t know why you are the way you are, but I understand (or I think I understand) the way you feel.

It took you a long time to trust us, but I see how much you’ve relaxed since you first came here to Stablehaven. You trust us now, and for that I’m glad. I’m glad that you came here to us instead of gone somewhere else. Others may not have been so understanding of your hesitation. Others may not have been so patient. I cringe to think how you may have been treated in other homes. I’m glad that you can know this peace. I’m glad to see you home.

Emotions Without Feelings

Arielle recently told me that as an adult, I’m more honest with myself about how I feel. That was weeks ago now, but it’s still ringing in my ears. She was so right.
When I was a kid (I don’t know how old, but at least six), I remember whining to my mom about being bored.
In hindsight, I wasn’t bored at all – I was misinterpreting pain. I really meant that I was hurting inside and I had confused it for boredom.
The truth is, I was not very good at truly feeling my feelings, though I was still heavily affected by them.
This became especially confusing in my adolescence, when I started to become more aware of the concept of falsehood. I would laugh at jokes, I would often cry, I would lash out against injustice, and I was maddeningly jealous (look guys, I admit it, OK?!). There was a part of me that scoffed at my behavior for being so melodramatic because I didn’t actually feel that way…did I? No, I didn’t. I didn’t feel anything at all. Sometimes I would strongly feel rage, depression, and/or passion, but even those I wasn’t very honest with myself about feeling. I would often question myself – why act this way? Am I lying by acting like this? Is it a farce? At the end of the day, it hardly mattered anyway because I couldn’t NOT act that way, even if I tried.
What I didn’t understand was that whether I could sense them or not, I still did, in fact, feel every kind of complex emotion. I was just no good at recognizing them or using them properly.
Having emotions without feeling them was like being washed over by a strong wave that you couldn’t see or feel and was the same temperature as your body. You’re just suddenly being tossed around and you can’t breathe. You may or may not know why. You can’t see what’s pushing you, but you can’t help moving around. And in any case, you’d better figure it out and learn to swim with this unseen current or you’ll be subject to it until you die – which will probably be pretty soon, unless you learn to swim.
I was affected by them, whether I could feel them or not.

I can still be like that sometimes, but now that I’ve learned that:
A) There’s no shame in how you feel; feelings are OK – and not just OK for other people.
B) Honesty really is the best policy.
C) Dealing with it is best. Deal with it. Now. (Brushing it aside is NOT dealing with it.)
I am much more calm.

Now that I’ve gotten those things down and learned what different emotions feel like (which still often takes much concentration), I can allow myself to feel emotions freely. This, in turn, allows room for actual stillness, actual peace to reside in the largest chambers of my being.

I Went On A Date!

Forgive me, please, I’m just a teensy bit excited. My husband took off the first half of his workday and shipped the kids out of the house so that he could whisk me away on a date this past Wednesday morning. What’s that? Wednesday morning seems an odd time for a date, you say? Why yes, it does seem rather odd, doesn’t it? He chose that time because he had something very specific in mind.

He took me to the University for a concert. This may not seem like an especially nice date to you – and indeed, we ourselves had initially considered it to be “a little nothing of a date,” since it was only two hours (including travel time), at the local university, in the middle of the day, AND FREE – but I assure you that it turned out to be a rather fancy date with world class musicians! These musicians, to be exact:

http://www.dorianwindquintet.org

This was far more than even we ourselves expected! It was nothing short of a marvelous time.

You can find online lists and lists of cheap/free date ideas. Most of the suggestions revolve around good weather and public parks – skating, fishing, hiking – and they always have at least one suggestion of thrift store window shopping (which ARE fun dates, btw. They just aren’t what I’m writing about right now), but I never see them suggest checking out programs at local schools. I think schools and universities are a great suggestion because:

1: Local universities almost always have something going on – art displays in the forms of crafts, performance arts, theater shows, or music shows. Not to mention sports games.

2: Admission is always extremely inexpensive, if not free.

3: Nearly every town is close to SOME kind of university. Even po dunk Ashtabula is right near a branch of Kent State and has a pretty decent Arts Center: http://ashtabulaartscenter.org

4: Academic facilities are very nice and usually have a pretty upscale atmosphere – yet, they’re also full of students. So basically, you could have a very classy date (again, for free!), or a more casual one and either would fit just fine. The “feel” is up to you!

A Pocket Full Of Cat Food

Absolutely every single thing we do has consequences. Absolutely everything. I’m certain that we don’t even know the vast majority of what those consequences are.

I discovered that I have a pocket full of cat food. Slipping and falling down down the stairs was an unintentional consequence of trying to feed the cats. By proxy, getting cat food in my pocket was also an unintentional consequence of trying to feed the cats.

I participated in a simple campaign to raise awareness of the prevalence of rape culture. I expected to face some consequences for it, but those consequences – which was a mixed bag of both good and bad, by the way – were significantly heavier handed than I ever expected.

If you find a butterfly trapped in a spiderweb, you could take compassion on it and choose to set it free. But if you do so, the spider will either starve or catch another butterfly to kill and eat – one that would have otherwise lived. You weren’t trying to starve the spider or to make another butterfly die, but the truth is: someone has to die. Unintentional consequences. (This example is not original with me. It was an example and thought explored in an episode of Trigun)

In certain lighting, it can become easy to look at mankind as a blight on this existence – we consume and expand and insist on thriving. Someone had once said that this is because mankind has successfully removed himself from the food chain – he cannot be destroyed by nature, and therefore he builds and builds until the weight of his building crushes everything around him. This got me thinking about the plights of other species, thinking about why they aren’t the blight that mankind can be. I thought about chimpanzees, to give myself a specific example to consider. They don’t have a whole lot in the way of natural predators, but they do have competition with each other. Why? For scarcity of food. If their family gets too large, then there isn’t enough food and they’ll starve. If they bump into neighboring families, they fight for the right to territories – for the right to eat. All of nature is this way; all creatures struggle and suffer. My point is this: life is struggle and pain. Life is meant to be struggle and pain. This is the nature of Adam’s curse; he didn’t just cause the fall of mankind – he caused the fall of existence. Unintentional consequences. By seeking out comfort beyond just survival, by removing ourselves from the struggles of nature (or attempting to), we have become a burden to the earth. Also unintentional consequences.

Am I saying that we shouldn’t try to survive and keep warm, dry, and fed? That we shouldn’t try to cure diseases? Not at all. I’m simply saying that absolutely everything we do has consequences that extend far beyond our imaginations. We can become outraged over a football player’s political stance, or set ablaze with passion for another, or passion for a cause. But all of these things – good and bad – have an entire string of consequences that can never be fully understood, but are always worth considering. This is one reason why it’s so important to listen earnestly when you come across an opponent – they may see something that you don’t.

This is also why, as Christians, it is so crucial to be deeply in touch with the Holy Spirit, not simply knowing what the Bible says, but also listening carefully to the Holy Spirit that’s been given to us. He is the one who sees the web in its entirety and understands – fully understands – our place in it. It isn’t enough to simply know what the Bible says; we have to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis. It is, after all, so very easy to plod along, being guided by our passions, when our passions very often sever us from what is right. The positive flip side to this is that God – with whom we get to connect directly – is also an infinite resource: https://rollforrevival.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/entangle-your-gold-mine-part-1/

Healing Feelings

“You’re more honest about your feelings now than you were back then. You’re more authentic now,” she told me. I never really thought about the fact that I was trying to lie about my feelings back then. That got me thinking and remembering: how did I feel then? I was so enraged, writhing in pain, and manically wild. “Wound tight” is a term that comes to mind. That’s a little odd, considering that “authentic” is one of the most common descriptors placed on me by others now, along with terms like: peaceful, calm, easygoing, transparent, and level headed. Those were the things that I wanted to be back then, but wasn’t. I didn’t want to feel rage, jealousy, or even passion (Oh God, that passion. Can you imagine how different things would have been if I had just allowed myself to honestly feel through that passion?! How much easier life would have been?! What a useful tool that would have been?! Instead I was like a sailor roughly coursing my way through a wild, rocky sea, refusing to use the sonar to see the rocks because “I’m tough enough to beat this!” Foolish). So I pretended to not feel them, and instead tried – unsuccessfully – to behave how I thought I *should* behave. Obviously, this caused a certain amount turbulence – which I also pretended either wasn’t there or was someone else’s fault.

Now I allow myself to feel freely and am more honest with myself about my feelings (though my behavior is often quite reserved. What? Did you think this all meant I trust just anybody – that I trust YOU?! HA! I’m more honest with myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m wholly honest with everyone, but I do still keep my cards close to my chest.). Even if it’s totally irrational, I may tell someone, “I know that there isn’t any good reason, but it’s how I feel, nonetheless.” I’m finally allowed to truly deal with myself and my circumstances. I’m no longer spinning these tires by trying to hold back a train. Rather, I get the train to stop by helping it get to its destination. It’s because I allow myself to feel more honestly that I’m so much healthier.

It’s an odd thing. By allowing myself to be what I didn’t want to be, I became what I craved in the first place.