Here in this Moment

This is part of my restored archives.

When I started blogging, I wrote about being haunted by the words in a song (I still do that all the time). The song is called “More to Life” by Stacie Orrico. It goes like this:

Here in this moment
I’m halfway out the door
On to the next thing
I’m searching for something that’s missing
…I’m always waiting on something other than this,
Why am I feeling like there’s something to miss?

So six years later, I’m happy to report that I don’t open blog posts with Bible verses anymore as often as before, I use ridiculously cringeworthy Christian clichés a bit less, and most importantly, I’ve finally resolved this conflict for myself. At the time, my answer was to pursue what’s eternal, and to realize that it’s pointless to wait around for things to change.

One huge thing has changed, though. I don’t feel the need to be seen anymore.

I feel like we writers and artists are particularly susceptible to the problem of projection, of imaginary friends, of getting caught up in an imaginary interview or improvising an acceptance speech for some award. When I’m alone, I fill my head with thoughts of things that aren’t this moment. I’m halfway out the door, I’m thinking about what’s next – whether it’s an ambition in the distant future or what’s on my to-do list for the next hour.

A few years ago, I wrote about the cutting room floor. What other people see is edited footage, and what people don’t see is the day-to-day, the boring stuff in between, the hours of film covering the floor under the editor’s desk. I came up with that analogy to motivate myself in doing those things that seemed unimportant. Those tasks didn’t feel real because nobody could see me doing them.

I told myself that everything people don’t see me doing is valuable because I’m preparing for what they do see. I worked quietly so people could see the results, not because I enjoyed the work itself. I distracted myself from the tedium with the end goal in mind.

It sucked. I never felt like I had enough time to get to everything I wanted to do. I needed distraction to deal with the drudgery.

Since January, I’ve been meditating and practicing mindfulness regularly. There are a lot of different types of meditation – there’s the kind where you sit still and gently enter the fourth state of consciousness, clearing your head of distractions (there’s an app for that – I’ve been using Headspace). There’s also Transcendental Meditation, which involves a personal secret mantra, apparently. Mindfulness is about taking the meditation-focus into each moment.

I practice mindfulness when I feel and notice everything. I practice with the boring things – I don’t read or listen to music or get on my phone or laptop anymore to distract myself from eating. I just eat, and notice the flavors and the dishes my food is in. Whenever my mind starts to drift toward what’s next, or about anything but being here in this moment, I gently refocus and taste everything.

After practicing this for a while, it occurred to me that I was alone, and that wasn’t a bad thing. All these things I did alone – eating, exercising, writing, reading, thinking, experiencing, feeling – weren’t just things I did begrudgingly, waiting for whatever I was preparing for.

Besides, if I can’t be present in the present, I won’t be present in the future, either. I’ve missed incredible victories and ecstasies because I’m distracted.

Drawing myself into a moment is what redeems the moment. What’s on the editing floor is mine, nobody will ever see it, and I’m okay with that now. I’ll be the person who sees it, and I’m somebody, and the audience of one – myself – is a worthy audience. I’m not splicing film and throwing all the boring stuff on the floor. I’m observing carefully, and cherishing each event as it passes.

My work is better now that I’m paying attention to all of it.

Rethinking Nonviolence: An Interview with Jeriah Bowser

What if the great heroes of nonviolence didn’t totally support nonviolence? What if the widely hailed “successes” of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. were not actually a step forward for oppressed people? What if their nonviolent resistance movements were only effective due to lesser-known violent resistance? What if the people in power want us to think that nonviolence is the only acceptable way to resist oppression?

Jeriah Bowser posits that if we knew the truth about the history of resistance, we’d threaten what he calls Business As Usual. We don’t know the nuanced details of effective resistance because we’ve been fed a narrative that immobilizes us. In his new book, Elements of Resistance: Violence, Nonviolence, and the State, Bowser gives a brief but dense overview of oppressive power, and what it might look like to live in a society without oppressive authority or hierarchy.

After reading the book, I had some questions for Jeriah. I wanted to know about his background and credibility, and what informed his radical notions. He told me about his experiences with oppression and resistance throughout his life as an inmate, a wilderness therapist, and a staff member for a juvenile detention center, and shared his narrative of human origins. Here’s the conversation we had.

Q. Jeriah, you say in your book that we think nonviolence is effective because the State – essentially the people who are in power – want us to think that. You listed Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. and say that they were what the State needed: people who were against really threatening the system. Then you make a case for violent resistance. Can you explain in simple terms why it’s not okay for the State to be violent, but it’s okay for you to be violent?

To start with, the State is not an actual being. It’s a social construct, a legal fiction, it’s something that only exists because we all agree it exists, it’s a cultural entity. So when you say “the State,” what it looks like in reality is one person with an imaginary fictitious power over another person. So, as an example, you could say a judge has fictitious power over someone who broke a law or a policeman has fictitious power over someone who broke a law, or a soldier has fictitious power over someone from another State, etc. So why is it not okay? …My personal belief is oppressive violence of any sort used by anybody against anybody else is destructive, therefore I choose to resist it. Every person needs to, in the moment, whenever they feel like something is happening that is unjust, think, “am I okay with the terms of this relationship? Is this acceptable? Do I agree to give a third of my labor to this entity (aka taxes); do I agree with giving my life to this entity (aka military service or legal execution); do I agree with the terms of this social contract?” And if you’re not, then I would advise you to resist. This also takes place on a personal level, with abusive relationships, families or significant others; if someone is abusing you, violating your boundaries and your well-being, you have to ask, “Do I accept the terms of this?” And if you do, then keep accepting it. If one day you decide that you don’t, then you can stop accepting those terms, hopefully. That’s what I mean by resistance.

Q. One of the most interesting things you talked about in the book is “Privileged Pacifism.” For me – especially with a lot of the issues lately in the news, I’ve seen people saying “violence is never the answer” –

Can I pause you right there? So whenever I hear that, I always insert the word “sanctioned” into that sentence. Because what people who are saying that are actually saying is “unsanctioned violence is never the answer.” Only sanctioned violence is acceptable, and by “sanctioned,” I mean “declared acceptable by the State or by power.” So when a cop murders a black teenager, that’s okay because that’s sanctioned. What’s not okay is unsanctioned violence. So whenever you hear the phrase “oh, violence is never the answer,” always insert the word: “unsanctioned violence is never the answer” in front of that, and that will help make a lot of sense in deconstructing power.

Q. Do you think power should ever exist?

There’s this concept that Noam Chomsky talks a lot about: power having to justify itself, and I’ve found that to be super helpful. What that means is that any rule or any power structure can be challenged at any time, by anybody, for any reason. So what this looks like practically is my very first wilderness therapy job that I had many years ago. My field manager told me that any rule that we had there, if a kid asked why we did it and I couldn’t explain it, then that rule didn’t need to be there. If I can’t explain why, then it’s rule just for rule’s sake. In Christianese it’s called legalism, and I created my own term for it – Hierarchal Personality Disorder: people who depend on rules and laws just because they’re rules and laws. For every rule, and I let my clients know this every week, I’ll be like, “If there’s a rule that you don’t understand, let me know. Talk to me about it. None of these rules are here just for rules.” And the kids will do that, they’ll be like, “Why do we…why does a guy have to be in front when we’re out mountain biking?” You know, I’ll explain why. For safety, for monitoring, because we have a first-aid kit on us, there’s always a reason. And they’re like, “Oh, okay, I get that, that makes sense.” They understand that I’m using my power – which I do have, I’m not going to deny – I’m using my power to enhance their experience and to help them, and at any point they can question and challenge that. There’s no rules that exist just to contain them. All the rules that I have make sense to them and they embrace, and they get.

Q. It sounds like you work with dealing with oppression on a personal level, rather than a macro approach to overthrow the government. Do you think that’s more effective in freeing people?

Yeah. All anyone has is what’s in front of them, and the people in front of them. I mean, writing and ideas and philosophy is fun, but ultimately change happens on an individual, personal level. I don’t know of any revolution that happened from a book being written. But at the same time, I see my two worlds as incredibly and intimately linked and interrelated. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book – my years spent in the mental health industry, working with people who have been severely abused. My experience working in that industry merged with my growing political awareness and social awareness. I was seeing a lot of things that connected, like how the same exact dynamics apply whether abuse is happening on an interpersonal level or a geopolitical level.

When I’m at work, I’m teaching my clients how to draw boundaries, how to keep themselves safe, how to assertively communicate, how to draw boundaries in relationships and step out of an abusive relationship. In my own life, I’m starting to do that with the State and with agents of the State, and I’m doing the same exact thing politically that I’m teaching my clients to do personally. So I try to use a lot of language from the field, language that I’ve learned in the books when talking politically, trying to merge the two worlds, because ultimately I do think it’s the same concepts, the same dynamics at play. Someone who can learn to draw boundaries and resist on a personal level is going to be better at resisting on a macro level.

Q. If I want to minimize violence in my own life, what are some keys to finding the least violent and most effective methods?

There came a time when I realized my pacifism was doing more harm than actively engaging was. There were moments of cognitive dissonance where I had to deal with the fact that my pacifism was ineffective and even complicit, and my immediate desire to remain nonviolent was creating and perpetuating more violence. I have a deep desire to heal, to do no harm, and to live in the most nonviolent and best way possible, which means that I must be violent sometimes. I honestly think the biggest thing people can do is learning to connect with other people, and learn to see others as sacred beings instead of objects, whether they be oppressors or victims. I really do think the most merciful and compassionate thing you can do for an abuser is to hold them accountable for their violence. That can look like a million different things – it doesn’t necessarily mean kicking the shit out of them, but it could be. Once you see somebody, once you’re able to look at the world around you and recognize the people in your life as people; once you’re able to not connect with them and see their hurt and their pain and what’s going on for them, I think you’re naturally – I guess I can say for myself that I’m naturally driven to try to help, heal, and connect with them. That in itself is what drove me on this quest in my life to write this book and try to educate others and talk to people about this.

Q. That really resonates with me, but I think there are a lot of people who ask, “Why can’t the State do that?”

‘Cause that’s not its job. The role of the State is to enforce private property and hierarchy. The State exists to reify those two concepts. That is its primary function, that is the reason that the State exists. Both of those concepts are built on inequality and oppression.

Q. Why do you think so many people live under the impression that the State exists to promote justice and freedom?

One, because that’s all they’ve ever been taught, and two, because they need to believe that in order to validate their own existence. Not believing that is a super scary thing, and you have to question pretty much everything you’ve ever been taught, and everything you’ve ever been told. And quite honestly it’s easy to believe that, it’s simple. It’s a very simple way to view the world and it doesn’t require a lot of work or challenging or action, really. It absolves you of responsibility. As long as you pay taxes and vote, and do what you’re told, you’ll have a nice, easy life with a home and retirement and garage door opener and all that. But yeah, ultimately the State’s job is to do the exact opposite, and as long as we continue allowing the State to do its job, it will continue to do its job, and it will continue doing its job no matter what, but it’s fun to resist.

Q. Do you think that humans can exist without separating into leaders and followers?

Of course! 98% of our existence has been just that. I mean, thousands of indigenous communities today exist in that way. Our culture – and by “our culture” I mean the culture of civilization – is one out of perhaps hundreds of thousands of human cultures, and if you extend that into non-human cultures, it’s hundreds of thousands if not millions, and ours is the only culture out of these hundreds of thousands of cultures that exists in this way. And we’ve only been doing this for one to two percent of our history. This way of being is an incredibly anomaly…and this isn’t even radical anthropology, this is anthropology 101.

Q. Do you have any other thoughts to add?

Another idea I’ve been playing with lately is the difference between rhetoric and action. I have several acquaintances – I should say former acquaintances – who are pretty ignorant, straight up racist assholes who in a lot of ways are actually resisting State oppression in a lot more ways than I am due to the fact that they don’t pay taxes, and they don’t participate in any State activities. As ironic and as cringe-worthy as it is, I am actually contributing to racism more than these pretty racist people because they, for their own reasons very different from mine, choose not to participate in taxes or consumerism, and I do participate, obviously as little as I can, but I haven’t gotten to the place where I can free myself from purchasing things or paying taxes, so where’s the line? Does it really matter if you say stupid asshole-ish things if you’re actually contributing less? I remember there was this really good interview in the wake of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, where this reporter was interviewing Derek Jensen, asking about whether he supports the use of violence in furthering ideas, and Jensen responded with an incredibly brilliant retort, he said, “Actually, you’ve killed way more people than Ted Kaczynski has, because you’ve been paying taxes for the past 10 years, and he hasn’t.”

I don’t care what you call yourself, as long as you’re actually not participating. I don’t care if you’re the most radically educated person in the world, if you’re contributing your life and your resources and your time to systems of oppression, does it really matter?

Bare Feet on Broken Ground

Archive restoration note: in this post I referred to God as “Infinite One,” but I no longer believe in a higher power or intelligent design. -Cynthia, July 2018

Today when I stepped outside, I felt the words, “Take off your shoes and make this ground holy.”

I grinned and thought, “It’s been so long, Infinite One!”

And then I walked down the road and back, being ever present and creative and mindful of the music and the ground I walked on.

I thought as I walked, perhaps those who go barefoot are more present with the earth, and they feel pain on rough ground, especially paved roads, because the earth is in pain. Then I wondered if we feel the pain of others when we are in pain, when we get close. Shoes protect our feet from getting up close and intimate with the energy of the earth. We shield ourselves from the positive energy we could gain. We also do it to keep the pain out. We don’t want to feel the broken glass we’ve carelessly littered upon her surface, we don’t want to taste the way gravel and tar is too tightly packed for her to breathe.

Perhaps it is the same with each other – when we are in pain, we are feeling the pain of another. We inflict pain because we are in pain. The earth is only communicating what she knows, she’s simply trying to tell us to stop hurting her, but we wrap up our feet and so we can’t hear her cries.

Maybe nothing is silent. It’s just all speaking a different language, and we need to reach out beyond our senses, beyond habit. Ask your intuition what it knows. Feel with your bare feet. Listen to what the earth is telling you.

Anyone who hurts me is in pain. Some of them tell me it’s my fault, when it isn’t. I know they are in pain, and I recognize it, but I do not accept their pain and pass it on. I do the same with the earth. I did not throw that bottle there, I cannot uproot the roads. But I can be there with her, and feel with her, and notice what others do not.

Paying attention is what leads to change. I will not numb myself to her messages.

It only hurts to feel her skin because someone else hardened her surface – like an abused child, she does what she was taught. She doesn’t blame me, she’s sorry, she begs me not to get close because she’s ugly and ruined now – and I say no, Earth, you’re beautiful. I don’t mind the rough surfaces. I want to know you, even with the bruises and brokenness, and I want for you to get better.

So I bare my feet.

Purity Culture and My Sexuality

Re-upload note July 2018: I originally pissed my family off by coming out as a Christian ally to gays and lesbians, notwithstanding the education I had yet to receive on the fully inclusive LGBTAIQP community. Within a year, I realized that I was bisexual, and had suppressed and minimized any feelings I had toward femme and nonbinary people, in addition to the attraction to masculine expression I was expected to have. This is my coming out post, finally online again after 2 years thanks to the archive restoration project, originally uploaded on April 17, 2015.  

I know that it’s a secret,
And that I gotta keep it,
But I want the lights on
Yeah, I want the lights on
And I don’t want to run away anymore
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on
What would they say, what would they do?
Would it be trouble if they knew?” –Meiko

I had my heart broken twice before I realized I’d been in love. That might sound like an exaggeration or melodrama, but it’s actually possible thanks to the wonders of purity culture.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read books like Sarah Mally’s Before You Meet Prince Charming, Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, and Debi Pearl’s Preparing to be a Help Meet.

They kept me strong in my dedication to never think about sex, or to think about members of the opposite sex. I had my obsessions and celebrity crushes, but if the image of seeing someone naked ever entered my mind, I’d fight it out with quoting the Bible.

I knew I would only ever give my heart to one person – the man I would marry. He must show interest in me; women don’t initiate. The concept of mutual consent, mutual interest, was never introduced. If he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, it was a meaningless feeling, and feelings were worthless. I needed to control my very thoughts, so I could give my whole heart to my husband, along with my first kiss. Just toeing the line of saving sex for marriage was too low a standard for me.

Blame doesn’t fall on any one person for how I controlled my thoughts. It was a personal choice, something that was very important to me. The people around me reinforced the notion that I was doing the right thing. Some people were better at the game of self-thought-policing than I was, and they made me feel like I could never be good enough. Some people saw me as unapproachable because I was so sincere. Every failure looked like rebellion and felt like despair.

Surely I didn’t love my best friend when I started college. He didn’t love me, so I told myself to “guard my heart” and push away all emotions of attachment. At the same time, our late-night conversations kept me going through my darkest depression and most intense stress. I finally told him that I needed space to figure out why the sight of his name gave me such indecipherable pain.

It would take me months to unlearn what purity culture had taught me to do: conceal all desire, even from yourself.

So it was that I fell in love with a man, and didn’t realize what had happened until afterward. I just assumed I was straight because I was attracted to men. It never occurred to me that I might make the same mistake twice, equally blinded to my desires toward a girl.

It was similar – I had a crush on her, but didn’t know it. She once kissed another girl in front of me, and I desperately wanted to kiss her. Even that feeling was not enough to make me think I wasn’t totally straight. I figured I was just curious, having never been kissed. Giving gifts is something I rarely do and often feels like an obligatory chore, but I gave her thoughtful things that I knew she’d like.

When we had a fight that ended our friendship, I was devastated. Another friend asked if I’d been in love with her. I said no, of course I wasn’t.

A few months later I got an email, and was instantly interested – this person, who hadn’t revealed their gender or identity, matched me intellectually. I assumed the sender was male, and entertained thoughts of meeting, and we exchanged lengthy emails.

The person who wrote these intelligent, complex, and beautiful emails revealed that she was a girl, and I realized it made no difference to me.

I started asking my friends questions – you don’t see both the male and female body as equally attractive? I’d assumed that everyone appreciated the aesthetic differences between the genders.

In the world I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: straight, and broken. Nobody was born gay, the church and chapel services insisted. The idea of other identities on a spectrum was far outside our reality. The idea of romantic and sexual relationships other than marriage was blanketly labeled as “sin.”

Of course I’d think I was straight. If I could close off my feelings for men, I could certainly close off my feelings for women. It was only after I started to learn what attraction felt like, that I knew I liked girls. I always had liked girls. I just didn’t know that my experience was any different from anyone else’s, because we never talked about our feelings. We never defined our terms.

Humans are beautiful to me – whether they’re male, female, or non-binary.

You could call me sapiosexual, in that I love people for their intelligence, and my level of attraction depends on how smart and interesting the other person is. Many sapiosexuals, though, don’t find the human body sexually attractive, and I do. It’s also accurate to call me pansexual, because I’m open to dating non-binary or trans people, in addition to the binary genders. For me, the title I’ve chosen is bisexual.

I’m bisexual. There, I’ve come out, now you know.

To the Imperfect Ones

“I thought the reason I wasn’t happy, why I didn’t fit in, was because there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t doing it right, I wasn’t trying hard enough.”

I’ve heard it from so many people. They looked like rebels and misfits at the time.

This one’s for you, rebels and misfits. The people who tried and couldn’t make it work. You have my admiration.

To the kids who dressed rebelliously while I was wearing long dresses: I admire you. To the kids who talked back and got smacked, while I murmured false prayers to fit in: you were the heroes.

To the ones who couldn’t hold back, no matter how much their mothers told them to smile. It didn’t work because you saw the truth, somewhere beneath the mask.

To the ones who kept getting angry, no matter how much they told us to be quiet, no matter how much they said your feelings don’t matter, your feelings are wrong. While I learned to let each injustice pass like my mother taught me, you were still using your fists.

To everyone who’s ever stood up to a pastor, who kept practicing an instrument when they said you’d never make it, who took scissors or dye to your own hair.

I want to say I’m sorry. In conforming, I kept you on the sidelines. They made me feel like you deserved it – after all, you were disobedient. You weren’t perfectly subservient.

None of us were perfect. That’s how it was set up – a system that pushes you down can’t let anyone feelsuccessful. Then they’d lose their power. Part of the game was that none of us could make it, and we’d feel like our constant failure was our own fault.

I fit in. On so many levels, I played the game. I felt incapable, and my journals are filled with confessions of inadequacy, a desire to perform better each day. That smile I wore, the children I rocked, the meals I cooked, the house I kept clean, the speeches I performed, the lines I memorized and repeated from our holy book of choice, it took so much work. The result was that people thought I was unapproachable and fake. Because I was. I lied to myself and thought I was genuine, because that’s all I was taught to do.

I learned it well, but the game was impossible to win. It’s a game of indentured servitude, a method that keeps the goal just beyond reach. Some of us tried harder than others. I wish I hadn’t.

When you tell me what it was like for you, you say you felt like it was your own fault, too: the rebellion, the refusal to follow and submit.

It wasn’t a fault. It was truth. It was what you couldn’t hide. What felt like breakage, what felt like failure, was you succeeding at what the rest of us couldn’t manage. Thank you for suffering the manifestation of that truth you saw.

Thank you for being the outcasts when the rest of us were scared. Thank you for your black clothes and thick makeup, for the stolen kisses in a world where we weren’t supposed to kiss until we were married. Thank you for eloping, or for demonstrating that love has no limits, regardless of gender and sexuality.

Your rebellion didn’t always manifest in obvious ways, but when you felt what you did, you were strong. You knew something was wrong, despite the lies and the false smiles. I’m proud of you, and not because I was ahead, but because I felt pride in knowing someone had broken ranks, someone had crossed the line, someone had proven that it was possible.

I know it wasn’t easy for you. I know it didn’t feel brave. I know that I, along with everyone else who conformed, made you feel alone. I’m sorry for that.

I’m so glad that in doing what you did – doing only what felt right – you gave me hope to combat the disapproval I showed you. Your freedom made me envious alongside the disgust I mimicked from our leaders.

You taught me through your own shaky defiance that it was okay to lose the foundation I thought I had.

Compassion as a Prerequisite to Questioning

I used to really hate emotion. I didn’t think it was logical to trust your feelings. What do your emotions know? They’re just a distraction or an obstacle to doing the reasonable thing.

As it turns out, intuition is ridiculously helpful. Our subconscious awareness is way ahead of our conscious awareness a lot of the time. In many situations, the most logical thing I can do is stop to ask, “Do I feel uneasy or impulsive right now? Why do I feel this way?”

Because our emotions are so informative, it’s illogical to ignore them. They aren’t conclusive, but they are an important element of analysis. Emotions correlate to situations, but they might not specifically identify elements. As Randall Munroe put it, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing, ‘look over there’.”

This is what runs through my head when people criticize my reasoning against the Bible and supporting same-sex marriage.

More than one person said it looked like I felt compassionate toward friends, and thought therefore the Bible must be wrong. Such an argument, they told me, was a slippery slope. Why, if I could accept my gay friends, I could accept anything. There needs to be some standard for truth, and the Bible is that standard, they said.

First of all, that’s not what I did. The compassion made me start asking questions where I’d just accepted what I’d been told. It opened the case, and I started researching and studying. I was motivated to find an answer.

More importantly, though, so what if it started with compassion? Shouldn’t all the things that trouble us warrant digging deeper than what we’ve been told?

The pattern I learned in various churches and Christian groups was this:

Don’t be compassionate. That leads to questioning the way things are.

Don’t question the way things are. Questions lead to seeking out explanations.

Don’t think about our explanations. Then you’ll realize those explanations are flimsy at best, with ulterior motives at worst.

Don’t expose us. Then we’ll lose our power.

In every theological argument, I was deemed too compassionate. I couldn’t understand the way Calvinists shrugged at the thought of people being predestined for hell. I couldn’t see why someone on the other side of the world, having been born into a different culture, should have less of a chance of finding the one-and-only way to heaven. It’s like the leaders of these churches didn’t want me to be compassionate.

No wonder I didn’t trust my emotions. They only got me into trouble.

Yours will, too. Better to shut off your heart and your mind if you don’t like the idea of change.

When Positivity is the Problem

The mask I’m grieving is a forced smile.

This makes therapy difficult, because many of the solutions to depression include focusing on the positive. My counselors have said they’re working with a rare case – usually they work depressed people toward seeing the bright side of life, but I worked my way to depression through positivity.

I was the happy fairy. I smiled when I was alone, to brace myself for things I didn’t want to do. The reason this made me depressed is that I couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance of denial. I thought everything was fine when it wasn’t. I blocked out memories of abuse, and I participated in a cycle of self-blame for everything that went wrong. I couldn’t explain why pain was so attractive to me; it would take years to realize I needed to physically express what I was emotionally suppressing.

People told me I was too optimistic. It was always condescending, though – I was naïve and inexperienced and hadn’t had my heart broken or been jaded enough to the depravity of humanity.

Now I take careful steps, hesitating at every emotional instinct. When I want to get angry or upset, I’m trained to minimize all the negative aspects of the situation, and to talk myself into deferring to the other party.

That’s what it means to be raised in a world without consent: you can’t say “no.” If you do say “no,” you’ll be made to feel like you did something wrong, and it doesn’t matter. You won’t get your way. Children must, after all, be trained to submit and obey; otherwise they’ll be unruly.

The solution, then, was to talk myself into it. It cannot be changed. When I learned the prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” it carried with it the implication, “…and nothing can be changed.”

Be positive, see the good side, be optimistic. Force yourself to see it for what it is not. Lie to yourself.

Except for the annoying side effects of depression brought on by dissonance and self-harm brought on by a need for an outlet, it worked. I believed things were okay, and this helped me to get by. What scares me is that I didn’t even leave – I was forced out. I wonder if I ever would have left if my dad didn’t snap that one time, making me realize what always took place behind the mask.

Positivity was the problem, but I’m still being told that I’m either too optimistic or too focused on the negative.

I’m learning not to force my emotions anymore. Sometimes happy moments surprise me, and I don’t seize the moment to take notes on it; I just let it happen. Sometimes I have rough days where I can’t stop crying and feeling the urge to relapse again. I don’t overanalyze or try to adjust my course; that’s what I did before.

Natural emotion is difficult to learn when it’s never been fostered. Apathy is not an option, and going into disconnected limbo between emotions doesn’t work, either. Though my own brain has betrayed me before, I still have to live with it, damaged by the bad habit of over-optimism.

So I stumble forward, working with what I know now. I haven’t lost my reasoning, and I certainly don’t aim to use my own emotional stability as an appeal to pity.

When positivity was the problem, all the well-meaning advice people offer makes me shudder. It’s more complicated than learning to smile. I’ve done that; it didn’t work.

Sometimes getting better means trying again.

Grieving the Mask

This post was originally uploaded on March 3, 2015. It is part of the restored archives.

I wait for the opportunity to get away, and I step out into the moonlight. The metal gate is covered in frost, and it stings my hands as I climb over it, firmly planting my feet so I don’t slip. I dodge snowdrifts and hay bales, and let overwhelm take me.

“I want it all back! Just for a moment!” I yell into the night sky, startling the horses and cows.

“I want the innocence! I want to see my children’s faces! Lie to me and tell me it’s not over.”

Tears come, and I hesitate. I remember my mother’s threats: stop crying or I’ll give you something real to cry about, holding a spoon or a stick or a cutting board. I knew how to catch my breath and stop crying. It was harder to cease while she was swatting me, adding another measure of pain to fight past and control myself.

I couldn’t cry for years. Now there’s relief in telling myself it’s okay. Nobody will threaten to hurt me for hurting.

I’m crying because I miss the family that did this to me. I miss the good times, building tree forts and playing in the creek, sledding on our makeshift jumps in winter, sleeping on the trampoline in the summer.

Don’t be angry, mom said, go make a list of all the things that make you happy until you feel better. Lie to yourself.

I wish someone would lie to me like she did, and tell me I don’t have to wonder where I’m going to live and how I’ll make enough money to live there. Explaining to strangers that no, moving back in with my parents is not an option.

I miss the misery hidden behind my fake smile.

I miss the mask.

It’s still there, it taunts me: you can have it back, my father whispers, holding out the picture that’s worth a thousand lies, all you have to do is force a smile and say you love us. Never question, never complain, never criticize.

Like some drug, my mask – my doll face – offers what I once was. I’m not just grieving that my father and my mother are dead to me. I’m not just grieving that my children will be grown before I’ll see them again.

“Lie to me!” I cry out again. “Tell me they’ll forgive me, that they’ll understand what I had to do. Tell me they’ll remember me.”

The barn cat likes to be scratched, but not to be held. The horses don’t want to be ridden. I am like them, which is why I outgrew the mask. I can’t have it back. It doesn’t fit anymore. Besides, the piece of art I fashioned for my face has no room for these tears.

I must be alive, because I still feel pain.

I’m not just grieving them. I’m grieving me. I’m grieving who I thought I was. I’m grieving the face I wore, the mask that took so much maintenance.

With expression, comes absolution.

With release, comes peace.

With grief, comes relief.

I don’t have to hold back or pretend anymore.

How I Got Burned Out On Current Events and Politics by Age 19

Trigger warnings: current events and politics

“By voting, you are complying. You are complying to a preexisting system. I think we need real significant change, and that real change won’t come if enough people are complying. While you see voting as expressing yourself, I see it as compliance with the system.” -Russell Brand, who explains not voting in this interview

I first appeared on television when I was four years old. It was the mad cow disease scare of 1996, and my dad took me to a Burger King for lunch. The local Fox channel filmed me, a cute blonde child, grinning and saying, “I love cheeseboogers!”

It was the first time that the media used me to promote corporate irresponsibility, passed off as news. It wasn’t the last. This is a brief timeline of things that led to my disenfranchisement with current events and politics.

Whenever I tell people who are generally older than me that I’m disenfranchised with politics, I mostly get a “you’ll understand when you’re older” response. It says I’m inexperienced, I couldn’t possibly have been involved or informed at such a young age.

But I was involved. At five, I knew what abortion was and I was vehemently pro-life. At nine, I listened to my dad reading graphic stories about Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers and oppressive regime. At twelve, I imagined myself getting arrested for attempting to bring water to Terri Schiavo, and when a 10-year-old did just that, I decided I wanted to get arrested for doing something right. I also campaigned for various senators and congressmen, and they admired me because I was young and focused.

I was twelve when I was riding in the car with my mom, and we were listening to Michael Savage on the radio. It was October 2004, and Savage listed fifty issues that neither Bush nor Kerry had bothered to talk about, among them homeschooling.

“Mom, I can’t tell if he’s a republican or a democrat, because he’s criticizing both sides. What is he?” I asked.

Mom replied, “He’s an Independent.”

I decided then that I wanted to be an Independent – someone who talked about what the main people ignored.

My business experience helped me learn about economics and competitive marketplaces. I could fill an order, package and ship it, and discuss details with a customer when I was ten. Discussing international currency and the simple logic behind supply and demand was a natural next step. My limited information was slanted, though. As a kid, I devoured World Magazine’s “News Current,” which was for kids.

Then there was high school debate competition, where our judging pool was made up almost entirely of homeschooling conservative parents like mine. I debated “both sides” of energy policy, but I didn’t learn about the dangers of frakking until I reached college. I debated “both sides” of illegal immigration, but nobody would dare run a case supporting amnesty and expect to be taken seriously. I debated “both sides” of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, and I learned of the corrupt police state there, never considering that our own police might also commit serious felonies without going to trial. I debated “both sides” of environmental policy, and in every round, both teams made an economic-based case against saving the planet. Even the phrase “saving the planet” was one we laughed at.

At age 16, I read Friedrich Bastiat’s book The Law and Henry David Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience. I started collecting quotations, and that’s one of my healthier addictions that lasts to this day. I realized I was a libertarian, not just an Independent. I wanted limited government, but Thoreau’s point about interdependence lingered with me: nobody can truly make a life in pure loneliness. Basically, even monks import some goods, and even lone island inhabitants once depended on the nurture of others.

When I did research on my own, I sometimes got confused. We had a competitive event called Extemporaneous (“Extemp”) speech, where you got 30 minutes to prepare a 7-minute speech answering a question about current events. You couldn’t use the Internet, so we carried file boxes into the Extemp prep room, filled with hundreds of neatly sorted news articles. Well, MINE were neatly sorted.

Questions included things like “Is Caterpillar going through metamorphosis?” and “Did Justin Bieber tarnish the Anne Frank guestbook?”

Those are some Extemp questions I wrote for a tournament after I graduated. They’ve stopped asking me to write Extemp questions.

What confused me was that I knew my judges supported Israel over Palestine, but when I looked at a map of the Gaza strip, I realized how tiny it was, and wasn’t sure why Israel was so threatened by a bunch of immigrants there. In my senior year, I was ranked the best Extemp speaker in the state, mostly because I chose topics that people weren’t informed about, and I could appeal to empathy instead of bias. I won a tournament with a vague connection between It’s a Wonderful Life and a minor election in Ireland.

As soon as I had access to a broader base on information, I applied what research, communication, logic, and debate had taught me. Opposing same-sex marriage stopped making sense. Opposing environmentalism stopped making sense. Criminalizing drugs and immigration stopped making sense. Each discovery made the ideal government of my libertarian imagination grow smaller and less necessary.

What finally pushed me to anarchy was working undercover for James O’Keefe in 2012. James and I don’t always agree, but I deeply respect him and I’d name him as one of the most effective people in the world today. I wanted to work for James because I’d picked him out during an undercover sting back in 2006, in which he and Lila Rose caught Planned Parenthood supporting race-selective abortions and failing to report rape. He got more national attention for exposing sex-slavery coverups by ACORN with Hannah Giles, and then lost much of his national rapport when he got arrested in New Orleans during an attempt to expose the lies of a politician there.

Other people gather signatures and make small changes within the existing system. James taught me to make corrupt authorities live up to their own book of rules. I followed his work closely, and noticed that he liked G. K. Chesterton, so I tweeted him my favorite Chesterton quotations. He replied and followed me, so I emailed him and asked to work for him. I wasn’t very good at the work – it’s hard to be taken seriously when your hidden camera is somewhere on a denim outfit – but it gave me a chance to observe the differences between democrats and republicans.

The differences were almost nonexistent. Members of both parties demonized each other. Both parties were aging, and it was rare to see someone my own age. The issues were marginally different, but the tactics, underlying motives, and rhetoric were the same. The corruption was the same. I talked to one of my fellow investigative journalists during a project, and we admitted that after working with democrats, we knew there weren’t any solid arguments against legalizing same-sex marriage. I also learned that there was far too much trust for government among democrats, but republicans weren’t as supportive of limited government as I’d thought.

The democrats were only winning during the 2012 election because they made everything feel like a grassroots effort, when it was just clever marketing. I once walked around a living room in Boulder, served homemade cookies, and then held up a phone on speaker so everyone could listen in on an interview with Michelle Obama. It was no different than an ordinary radio broadcast because it wasn’t interactive, but it felt personal and interactive because we were gathered around a phone in a living room.

When I shadowed a congresswoman in the Colorado capitol, and interviewed the Colorado secretary of state, I thought politics was a giant joke. These people looked powerful from the outside because we used powerful terms to describe their jobs. Once I was inside, I saw a bunch of people striding around importantly, carrying papers and having conversations that were as realistically influential as church ladies gossiping (and church ladies can do loads of damage – I use that comparison to give weight, not to dismiss).

The political system was not the answer. Even exposing corruption within it felt redundant. I voted that year with the realization that my vote meant nothing. My ballot existed to make me feel represented without taking the trouble to actually represent me. It was the second and last time I voted.

I couldn’t read the news anymore. I lost interest in politics. I could only read political philosophy that explored the notion of peaceful anarchy – where people lead themselves instead of turning to authorities to tell them what to do. I was burned out after doing more politically active research and work than most people do in their lives, especially those from older generations who defend voting.

Right now, I’m slowly coming back to current events and politics. I’m not interested in using the system for minor changes anymore. I want to overthrow it.

Drinking from the Final Straw

Trigger warnings: alcohol abuse, child abuse, graphic descriptions

“We were addicted to the blueprint
But we threw it in the flames and now we’re never gonna trace it
You, you lied
Ha ha ha ha I was right all along
Good job, good job
You fucked it up…
Now you’re walking on your own
Rain falls down, I’m not answering my phone
I got to phase you out my zone
Hope you realize now that I am never coming home
You were meant to be alone.” –Charli XCX

Many people who were, like me, abused in the Christian-homeschool-patriarchy movement, still maintain at least moderately rocky relationships with their parents. I gave up, in the end, because of the events surrounding how my parents started drinking.

One day near the end of 2013, I visited my parents’ house. Mom was in bed, recovering from her last miscarriage. She’d saved the fetus, named him Ezra Mark, dressed him and taken pictures, and buried him in the backyard. What shocked me the most, though, was that she had a bottle of Jack Daniels on her nightstand.

“Mom, why do you have hard liquor? I’ve never seen alcohol in our house.”

She said something about dealing with the pain. She was referring to both the emotional pain of losing a child, and the physical pain of blood loss. She insisted, though, that she was only taking small amounts of it as a medicinal solution.

I accepted this answer. After all, I drink alcohol sometimes. I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite.

On the 6th of January last year, mom’s sister Debbi died suddenly. She was only 52, and she’d practically raised my mom and her brothers and sisters, because my maternal grandmother was, as previously mentioned, addicted to alcohol. I asked for time off work so that I could travel to Minnesota for my aunt’s funeral.

Mom was losing both a sister and a surrogate mother, and she turned to alcohol with the shock and grief. I’d always taken care of my mom, but she was making me worried. We ordered drinks on the plane. When we got to my paternal grandparents’ house, she asked me to sneak more liquor for her from their cupboard. It didn’t matter what it was – she had no taste preference, it was to numb herself.

Within weeks of our return to Colorado, dad was drinking, too. They had wine regularly, and there was a twelve-pack of beer in the fridge. When I asked about it, mom said that since she couldn’t have kids anymore (a statement I never got full clarification for), it was okay to have alcohol now.

Again, I accepted this. I didn’t accept alcohol for myself until I realized there was space between alcoholics and people who completely abstained. The problem was, mom and dad had never seen someone demonstrate moderate drinking. I assumed that they only drank when I was there, which was once or twice a week.

Once in the spring, we built a bonfire in the backyard and roasted marshmallows. Dad was acting strangely – less mature than the kids. He wanted to burn a whole door, and he threw it on the fire, scattering sparks and making the fire spread and smother. When I told him he was being dangerous, he laughed at me. My brothers and I nervously sat him down and contained the fire ourselves. It would take me months to look back on that night and realize dad had had at least three drinks, and was playing with fire around children.

By the time I started to get suspicious, I realized my parents were showing all the red flags of addiction: denial, minimization, and defensiveness.

Lydia was living with them again, but only kind of. She slept on the floor in the girls’ bedroom for a month, so technically she didn’t have to pay $500 rent. Mom sometimes lamented that Lydia didn’t have a bed to sleep in, but Lydia knew she didn’t mean it. She lived there to be around the kids. I couldn’t take the way I felt suffocated there.

Lydia started counting drinks when she wasn’t busy with work. Dad said to her, “I’m not an alcoholic, I just have a couple of beers in the evening.” Whenever Lydia voiced criticism about the alcohol, dad took her outside and yelled at her – for the first time in her life, he swore at her regularly. My parents weren’t being themselves, and it was getting dangerous.

Dangerous, because if you can’t admit that you’ve had a few drinks, you can’t admit that you need to wait before driving, or stay away from fire. Responsible drinkers keep count and stay accountable. The house felt less and less safe.

The last day went something like this…

I come in the house on a Thursday.
Mom offers me wine.
I turn her down, saying I try not to drink more than once every two weeks.
She looks hurt and suspicious, like I’m putting myself above her.
She adds what would have been my serving to her half-drank glass.
I start counting mentally: that’s two glasses of wine altogether for her, and it’s 5 p.m.
I offer to help with dinner, we talk about work and how my therapy is going.
I give vague, slow answers to her questions.
I watch as she drinks half the glass again, and refills it.
It’s a clever way to lose count.
Meanwhile, dad is outside at the grill.
He’s finished a beer when mom brings him his wine.
When we sit down to eat, mom’s wine glass is full again, and dad is drinking from a non-transparent covered cup.
I wait for him to get up, then I taste his drink. It’s kombucha mixed with wine.
He can’t possibly be drinking for the taste.
It’s 9 p.m. now. They’re both still unfinished with their wine glasses when we do family prayers, bless and kiss the children, and send them to bed.
Dad asks Lydia and me if we want to play a game.
We say no.
Yes, I think you do, he counters.
We really don’t.
But we don’t even know what the game is, he says.
We say it’s obvious that he wants to play a drinking game, and we’re not interested.
He looks dejected and rather disbelieves that we’ve just said no to him.
Before I leave that night, I ask mom: “Do you drink every night?”
She laughs loudly. It’s pretentious and insulted.
“Of course we don’t!”
I turn to my 12-year-old sister and murmur in a lower tone: “Do they drink every night?”
She nods slightly so mom doesn’t see.
The next time I visit, they don’t serve alcoholic beverages.
It’s like they’re trying to prove without words that they don’t drink every night.
It’s too late.

It was early September when Grandma – my dad’s mom, Judy – messaged me to ask how I was doing. I opted for honesty, and told her everything. She used to be an alcoholic, and she’d been a sober AA member for as long as I could remember. She saw what her and her husband’s alcoholism did to her kids. Surely she’d understand that something needed to be done so my parents didn’t hurt her grandkids.

She called me, and I told her what was happening. She said it sounded like alcohol abuse that had gone on for nearly a year, but she conservatively chose not to call it addiction.

She also questioned the validity of my story, because I was only going off hearsay from my siblings and extrapolation. I wasn’t living there and I couldn’t watch my parents all the time, so I couldn’t be sure.

Grandma said she was worried about my parents, since their alcohol use indicated stress.

“But Grandma,” I asked, upset now, “What about the kids? Aren’t you worried about them, too?”

“Well,” she said slowly, “I think you and your sisters have turned out okay. I’m amazed at the resilience I’ve seen in you and your siblings.”

“So you’re more concerned about my parents than about the kids.”

“I’m concerned about my son, and as a parent I want to know why he’s so stressed.”

“Well Grandma, that’s not good enough for me. I’m concerned about my brothers and sisters who are stuck there, and it’s not safe. What am I supposed to do?”

This part of the conversation was well-practiced for her. “I’ve worked with recovering addicts for decades, and we always learn the serenity prayer, do you know it?”

“Yes, I know it. I don’t think it applies here, Grandma.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

I burst into tears, and for the first time in my life, I vented my full anger at an elder in my family. Elders are to be respected, never contradicted. I broke protocol. “No, Grandma! I do not need you to tell me to answer this with prayer and acceptance! That is not what I need right now!”

She was quick to backpedal, rephrasing her words, trying to find some other practiced line that would please me. I realized that my dad had learned his habit of using all the right words from his mother.

Nobody was going to help me or listen. So I blogged about my parents being abusive. Grandma told me she felt like her heart was going to break, and I didn’t respond. If her heart could break and she could still treat my trapped siblings with indifference, I had no reason not to hurt her feelings.

The day before my dad released the podcast responding to my blog post “Melting Memory Masks,” I met with one of my brothers for lunch. He told me the alcohol was gone. Dad had thrown all of it out, saying that if it meant so much to Lydia and me, it wasn’t worth keeping. I asked why dad didn’t say that to me directly. My brother didn’t know.

Alcohol was the breaking point. It’s what made me realize that I had so few allies in my family, and that I needed to get away for myself. That’s what made 2014 different from all the years before it.