A Cry for Justice

“Don’t you speak over my voice!
I will return from the shadows.” –Aurora

This blood-stained land has not known justice in centuries.

When I look to my own future, I feel both powerless and as if all hope is lost.

How can I hope for a place to rest my head, children from my womb, shelter from the elements, and food to keep me alive?

I suffer with all of humanity, and I know that my voice and my pain are but whispers in a whirlwind.

I am not protected from violence when innocent people are killed mercilessly by police. I am not protected from exploitation when it is the very thing that is rewarded. I am not free in a country that has colonized, killed, and still fences in and impoverishes its original inhabitants.

I hesitate to speak on any particular issue, for they are all of equal importance.

As trees scream when they fall and flowers longingly look for bees that are growing ever rarer, so children raise their voices to beg that they might not also fall victim to a system that devalues life.

Where are words in the impulsive web of miscommunication, and for how long should I hold my breath in the name of diplomacy?

The bitten tongue of the powerless becomes the bleeding mouth of the dead, and still wealth is hoarded with callousness.

When I was a very young child, I wished to join in the suffering of the most unfortunate. Allow me to be tortured, I begged a god I no longer believe in, in the place of those who are victimized. Allow me to take their place, I will take it all, so that they might suffer no longer.

These prayers proved as lifeless as the innocents around the world who are punished for living on a planet rich with black gold, too precious to tap without destroying her.

As I descend into the shadows of myself, I try desperately to find remedies, but hope dwindles as the void envelops me. I wonder if I will ever return, or if my descent has any end, crushing me in blackness darker than any light can reach.

Yet others in the same unjust world close their eyes, as if the darkness can be shut out and pretended away. I face the darkness and know it, but even the absence of fear is no promise of victory. Is my refusal to dissociate at all superior to who I once was, the girl who forced a smile to manipulate her own mind?

The curse of understanding is a double-edged sword. One glistening blade says that which is known cannot be again unknown, unless by the soul-insult of self-deception. The other slices with the truth of the ever-expanding unknown.

These things I knew at a young age as well, and I knew that if I lived by the sword, I would also die by it.

It cuts slowly, and I wish it would bring me the release of death, while mourning the death of other innocents. What good is it to mourn for myself, when justice has not touched so many others?

To muster the strength to cry out and hope to be heard is a fallacy.

The Pity Accusation

“When I was poor and complained about inequality they said I was bitter; now that I’m rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want to talk about inequality.” –Russell Brand

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of backlash for being so open about my struggles with illness and income.

I’m in the process of writing a quite lengthy post, with over 100 footnotes of research on why I am not alone in this. But in the meantime, I want to respond to the people who see me as a willfully lazy complainer.

I could go on for pages upon pages of anecdotes and explanations. How when I’m afraid every day of losing my job, all stability is temporary – and why lack of job security isn’t something I can control. How I dropped out of college immediately when I realized my parents hadn’t filed their taxes, leaving me in needless and unplanned debt. How every solution I’m presented with is one I’ve already thought of and tried.

Going back to school? Countless applications and meeting with advisors revealed that no grants would be awarded, and education isn’t free.

Applying for loans? Done it. I can get a few hundred dollars at a time, and I am very good about paying them off quickly. In fact I regularly pawn our (outdated and nearly worthless) electronics to get through a few days of necessities.

Moving in with someone to help us get on our feet? Did that. It only wasted time and left us stranded, because the patience of the rich wears thin when faced with the reality of illness and limited opportunities.

Many friends have offered to get me involved in their pyramid scheme and commission-based jobs, and when I explain that I can’t afford to gamble, they throw up their hands, saying “I tried to help, but you’ve turned down my solution.”

No number of anecdotes is going to convince people not to judge me. My own sister called me “pitiful instead of powerful,” and I’ve had countless friends say that I’m too negative, I’m not getting better fast enough for them, and I just want to have a dramatic pity party for myself.

This is what it looks like to break the cultural taboo surrounding common issues.

My situation is truly not much different than that of most Americans living below the poverty line. Whether the circumstances surround displacement, loss of family members, illness or disability, or just the plain old lack of opportunity in this economy, the results are the same.

I want to make this abundantly clear: I am not living under the assumption that my life is particularly more difficult than that of most other people. I know I have access to clean water and the internet, and millions don’t. I know that my childhood can easily be found mild by comparison with what others have endured. I know that I have much to be grateful for.

But I also recognize that everyone who wants me to shut up about inequality and injustice is going to be disappointed.

For anyone else who is struggling: you are not alone. You don’t have to be grateful that it’s not worse. You are not obligated to be in contact with toxic people just because they are less toxic than others. You are also not required to live in shame over what you cannot control.

And no list of advice from people who are lucky – nothing more and nothing less than lucky – will solve your own personal situation.

Perhaps I will eventually be more stable. Perhaps I will someday be able to live without the need for charity. Perhaps my hard work will produce different results than it has so far. Even if these things happen, I hope that it will not stifle my passion for the many people who don’t get lucky.

Because the system of the modern world, if it does not change, will always leave more and more people in constant anxiety and struggle for a basic quality of life.

The so-called American Dream is a myth, and the few people who make the leap from poverty to wealth are the exceptions, not the rule.

In his 2004 book A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright paraphrased John Steinbeck saying, “In America…the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

I refuse to pretend that things are different than they are.

I refuse to dissociate through my everyday experiences, acting like business as usual in this society is acceptable.

I refuse to believe that keeping a roof over my head and nutrition in my body should be this difficult.

And I know that it is this difficult. I’m not exaggerating or ignoring the obvious jackpot of whatever get-rich-quick scheme or piece of perfect advice that will solve everything.

I’ve found that people who are healthy think that they’ve done something to deserve it. The same goes for people who are wealthy. Even if they don’t say it in so many words. The judgment and avoidance, because I am failing to meet the impossible standards placed upon me, are very real.

I refuse to be the perfect victim I’m expected to be. I will say exactly how wrong things are, and how to change them, and work to change them.

The accusation that I am just being negative and living in self-pity is not one I take personally. It is simply the reaction of a culture that is shocked at the idea of being open and outspoken about finances, mental illness, and a very broken medical system.

Nothing will change if the taboo is not broken, if the victims of a totally unjust society remain silent.

My power is in speaking up.

Obviously, I’m going to.

Further reading

Elephant and Mouse: A Fairy Tale by R.L. Stollar

On Being a Perfect Victim

The Diversity of Human Thought: A Project

My wonderful man is fascinated with psychology, and often collects books on the nature of the human mind, along with neurology. Recently he put a project together called “The Diversity of Human Thought,” in which he sends people the same set of questions to demonstrate how different people see the same scenarios. They range from the simple and silly to thought-provoking, and he has finally allowed me to put a link to his first questionnaire on my blog. Click here to read it, and feel free to send him a message on his Tumblog if you’re interested in this kind of thing and would like to be a part of the next questionnaire!

Recovering from Devotion

أَنِ اغْدُوا عَلَىٰ حَرْثِكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَارِمِينَ

“Go early and rush to your orchards and crops if you wish to gather all their harvest and plentiful fruits.” -al-Qalam 68:22

“She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.” –Proverbs 31:13-15

Almost three years ago, the wonderful Jennifer Mathieu gave me the honor of her time for an interview. When her book Devoted was released, I was a newly agnostic apostate. I distrusted dogma of any kind. Anyone who claimed to have answers and solutions was automatically someone who I thought would hurt me. I have still not recovered from the shock and grief and inability to function that indicate a traumatic childhood. Jennifer took researched and got to know some people who grew up in the same world I did, and delicately told a story about what it would be like to escape.

I want to look back on what I’ve learned in the years since I’ve been out in the world, experiencing its injustices for myself.

Anyone who has been educating themselves on the United States drug criminalization¹ is likely familiar with the cocaine rat testing of the 1970s. As told in the book Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, lab rats were presented with two options: regular water or coke-laced water. The rats inevitably chose the coke-laced water until they overdosed. However, the rats were alone, with nothing else to do. So they redid the tests with things that would give the rats a good quality of life – plenty of space to run and play, companions, and toys. When the rats had a larger cage, they were content. These experiments have helped to enlighten us on the true nature of addiction. The rats in the fancier cage chose not to use the drugs because they didn’t need them to cope with existence.

(Okay, we haven’t gotten far enough into neuroscience to read minds yet, and we aren’t able to conclude whether rodents get existential. I digress.)

I always wondered, aren’t the rats just technically being pampered into accepting their imprisonment? As long as they’re fed and entertained, they just accept the cage and don’t need intoxication, right?

I’m skeptical. Because the more I understand what I once saw as the “outside world,” the more I see through the common tactics of people who lust after power. The same tricks I saw religious leaders and so-called patriarchs pull to gain mass followings are the same ones I’m seeing in politicians now. Yet for some reason I’m expected to believe that voting makes a difference, when I know exactly how this system works. I’ve seen it before. It’s just on a bigger scale.

Even if they’re trying to pacify me with entertainment and consumerism, I can still see the bars of the cage. I know I still can’t leave. I know I’m just a rat in a lab. I know my life is expendable.

I’m just a cog in the machine.

Now that we’ve set up some context, I can begin. The interview was published on the same day that Devoted was released, on June 2, 2015. I opened it by saying that I felt like living with my parents was playing an unwinnable game.

I still feel like I’m playing an unwinnable game. Every day I feel like I owe people money that I don’t have, and have no way of getting. The cost of living is so ridiculously high, that it’s hard to have the appetite for another meal of dollar store food. I’m ready for a revolution, because I can rattle the bars of this cage, and I refuse to be pacified.

Several therapists have suggested that I try to think more positively, and that’s been proven to just be bad science.² Jennifer and I discussed how large families like mine often “exuded happiness,” as she aptly put it, and how it was required that we smile at all times. I forced happiness and dissociation for years, tightening my grip on my Christianity hardest in my early adulthood, trying to prove to myself that I could believe in this thing that had failed me intellectually and spiritually.

Cages, coping, dissociation, devotion. My life as a stay-at-home daughter was a misery I could not accept as real. The days passed in blurs of exhaustion, herding children, working, trying to be a good student. I believed that I had to be happy, and I believed that this was what I wanted out of life, because there was no other way to be. Any other lifestyle – hindering god’s plan for your family with birth control, not being married, or being anything but cishet – was a sin to even entertain idle thoughts about.

Once while I was listening to the car radio, I heard a preacher giving a sermon about worship. He said that when it seems like something is too big to handle, we should just exalt god until we realize how small our problems are compared to him.

Terrible advice, I know now. Of course belittling your own emotions and blaming yourself for feeling them, and then distracting yourself with worshiping a deity so narcissistic he wants you to see only him and nothing else, is like a malignant tumor in the brain. It is well documented that abusers use gaslighting to make their victims believe that everything is fine, and they are happy, even if that happiness must be conjured from empty reserves of emotional energy.

But at the time, I took that advice to heart, and I know every person who is still trapped in that world does the same. I used to listen to a song that opened with the lines, “Take the biggest thing that’s got you down, and stand it up right next to god. Anyone can see who’s bigger now.”

As long as I, and my problems, could be made to seem small and insignificant compared to an ethereal presence of infinite proportions, I could survive.

I was devoted, like Rachel is in the book. I believed that the source of my strength was being pleasing to God, and that meant immersing myself in theology and scripture, a personal study in addition to my other duties. My intentions were pure. I wanted to love god with all my heart. I prayed constantly, always controlling my wandering thoughts.

Recovering from that level of devotion is a terrifying thing.

It is like being a frog, one who was nearly boiled alive when trusting a pot that started out as cold water, learning to swim in safe water again. What habits, rituals, controlled thinking, and relationship navigational skills still linger from the only upbringing I ever knew? How can I trust any level of dedication, interest, focus, or curiosity after being so hurt by belief?

In exploring other religions and having many mind-elevating experiences over the past few years, I have found no creed that doesn’t have the same fundamental flaws as all the others. Manifestation is just supplication with another name. The same can be said for positive thinking and delighting in the lord. Pop music is scripture, and scripture is contradictory. I find the patterns of humanity dizzying – we long for free will, yet we think someone or something is going to save us from that which we cannot control.

I recognize that recent scientific findings support rituals like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other forms of intuition-affirming self-care. However, I cannot help but observe the prevalence of the placebo effect alongside confirmation bias and the Dunning-Kruger effect. Humans have brains that have evolved to assume that we are right, that what we believe matters, and we’ll filter information to confirm our beliefs, and we’ll think that we have a better understanding of things than others.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny what I have observed of the cosmic, the paranormal, and the psychic. So I tread very lightly and carefully, keeping my eyes wide open, knowing that my devotion is sacred yet free. The demons I was warned about are more vile than what lie in the Christian imagination, and the god I was supposed to love was a cruel jailer.

I know a lot of people who have abandoned faith completely. There are also many who have found another religion to devote themselves to. Ironically, the path of forsaking worship or ritual is an untrodden one.

It feels hypocritical of me to light candles and draw quarters on each full moon and new moon, and I doubt that it has any real influence that pervades reality. The calm I sense and the results I record are far too subjective, and the possible explanations too bizarre for isolated and consistent lab tests. I doubt myself doubly because I called myself a hypocrite when I was a Christian trying to go through endless dissonance to defend my faith, too.

Relating to the divine doesn’t have to be about minimizing my own experience, though. It can be about expression – laments and dreams and happiness deserve time set aside to be reflected upon. Gratitude and complexity. Grief and nihilism. Nightmares and visions. If it takes marking my calendar and lighting some incense to honor my human experience, limited as it might be, then I will endure the pain and ecstasy of this life.

There should be no suffering for the sake of devotion. Rather, to be alive is itself to suffer. We each choose every day whether we’ll close our eyes to reality, or if we’d rather be devoted than aware.

In my recovery, I honor my own experience instead of living in denial and suppression of it.

¹Recommended reading on the subject: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

²Just a few sources for this include Newsweek, Forbes, and Ideapod.