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softening of the sap

I’m going to make up some of the piece for effect.  Sometimes, the metaphor unfolds from the writing but this one I’ve sort of planned out.  I use symbols and images to feel more real–to create something I can’t just vent over the phone while staring at refrigerated biscuits in the store after work.  Symbols and images creating the here-but-away glazed effect of the internet where one’s soul is felt in tiny comment bubbles but the vulnerability of immediate physical proximately can be easily avoided.  Instead of what I could say easily in person (and no one likes raw truths in person) I say elaborately through words, details, pictures, creations that ebb in and out of my control.  In these spaces I feel safe. In these spaces I am in the moment. There is one heartbeat, there is another—no need to coregulate.

_______

My dog once got tree sap on the tuft of fur located on his back, towards the tail.  That spot where dogs love to be scratched and will saunter underneath two blue jean tree trunks to feel the finger-branches of their owners.  One paw up, another paw up, tongue dangling from mouth, breath heaving.  A rhythmic ritual caught short on this day as the sticky, nostalgic smelling sap wraps around my fingers with black wires of fur and deformed pine needles.  I examine the spot now a cow lick of small chunks of tree bark, shiny in the light of the kitchen.  I thought about the hike where this had happened and how hikes sometimes start to look the same not because of being jaded or well-adventured but because the breath remains the same.  The steps, just like the dogs, back and forth in rhythm and ritual.  But the sap—this sap.  It was stuck.  It was hard.  It was amassed in a dark forest, off a path, a break in the flow.

I got stuck about 3 years ago.  There were moments when the sap would loosen, when I could start to work on the problem, but then in the dark forest I would find more resin.  I would stop looking up and become so focused on one thing that my back too became sap covered.  Tree-glue painful to pick off my own skin and oozing from trees in suspension, like a still shot of puss from a wound.  I had career hopped then which always come with a new creation of meaning, a way to make sense of purpose out of current circumstances.  With each move from mountain town to mountain town I would lose confidence, I would become painfully aware of my own personality—able to be friendly one moment, withdrawn the next.  The sap would harden and crystallize.  I felt frozen.  I felt trapped.  I felt suffocated.  There was one winter when we cut down Christmas trees and I found one for my own home.  I hosted a Christmas party.  The sap was soft then, the heat of friendship had loosened the sap.

Our neighbors gave us a Christmas tree this year and it looks much like the one I had cut down a few years ago.  I took it down yesterday and put it in my truck and a little fish thought swam through my head—I’ve already been here.  I’ve done this.  I’ve cut a small tree and let it dry up and scratch around in the jumper cables and bottles of oil in the dark belly of the truck topper.  I wondered how long the tree would stay this time and remembered a few years ago riding in the back after dumping the tree, noticing yellow pine needles feeling them stick in my legs as I smiled and watched the boy I had a crush on.  Softening of the sap.  Like teenagers that day in our laughter and I wonder when I will tear down dirt roads again in my truck hardly noticing sap as I chase waterfalls and peaks.  This Christmas brought its own patch of sap—a new problem that brought old problems, a folding of time in which I felt smashed in the middle.

Because of time, because of my tendency to never give up—the sap came out of the dogs fur.  We got a hairdryer and the look on the dogs face said I was an evil torturer.  I was ready to ban bacon from his world, outlaw walks, throw all the balls into the sea.  I wonder if I get this same look too when someone is trying to help me through something really painful.    The dog had worked for the clump of sap, I had worked for my pervasive depression and abusive interpersonal relationships.  Don’t take it away so soon.  I live like a preserved mosquito within this resin–I can’t annoy you here.  The dog yelped when the sap finally became soft enough, olive oil was massaged through his fur and lots of pets and kisses followed.  Then a bath.  This time he looked a little more forgiving—he knew now I was helping him.  I feel my heart starting to soften in the soapy warm water, things are melting, the crust of a loaf of bread has been cut into revealing the stretchy puffiness below.  I am moving through, with, and into this depression.  I am moving through, with, and into this light.

 

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” — Madeleine L’Engle

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a boy’s values

I had a dream last night–I was so hurt and frustrated in the dream taking my conscious feelings into subconscious dream world. I have been in Colorado a year and one day now and it’s been a year of much karmic growth and soul turmoil. My ideas of people have been challenged this year more than any other year and I’ve indavertantly pushed lots of folks out of my life to try and please one person. Last week, I started spinning out and got in a few text wars and its always the same sentiment, “Shut up about him. You are so selfish.” Cheeks red, heart racing I try to stay vulnerable but feel the callous words rise and hiss out of my mouth.

I think I am selfish and I think that’s a choice I have made. I’ve always been frightened to have children because I don’t want to repeat trans generational patterns that I uncovered in my family and marriage counseling class. I think children have an excellent way of curing any selfish tendencies. Especially in women. That child is a part of a woman’s body for months and then apart of a woman’s life for years. I take so much time sitting and thinking on my couch, laying in my bed and thinking, thinking at work. Sometimes distracted, my world is small. It’s hard for me to engage in friendships because I get bored easily, I don’t give away trust readily.

Yesterday I went to go see waterfalls and found myself nostalgic and missing last summer when I passionately kissed the man I thought I might love underneath a waterfall. The trails, the rain, the snow, the town I live in–all memories of a person and time that defied me. We stood in Wal-Mart to shop for a camping trip where I refused to apologize. He had grabbed some reusable bags from the back of his car and a boat part came bouncing out. He immediately began to lecture me on how I need to take care of his stuff. But–you dropped it. But–I don’t know your equipment. I never stay in the car or his life for more than a few days at a time and have no idea what is packed where.

“I hate your flaws, and if you don’t tell me right now that you do, too, we are done.” Ahh constant threats of abandonment triggering childhood fears and I play along and find myself wanting to be berated as I squeeze ice cubes out of a tray and watch a few dissolve in the sink. Maybe I can let it all melt away. The first panic attack happened when he brought me around his friends. Even now, as I’m ready to understand what happened I’m self-conscious because all around me are so sick of it. I am, too. But, this has become my life. I wanted to try so hard to maintain a relationship that it became my sole focus. And I want to heal. After the tightening in my chest I made the comment “your last relationship only lasted because of your stupid Christian dogma.” How does one shift their values? How does one lose faith and gain peace?

Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. These are the teachings that he had brought to Colorado and walked away from in 2012. I, too, had lost my faith but it was back in 1998 when I was so, so mad at God. It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve returned to these teachings and let these values mesh with what I learned in courses on feminism, multicultural studies, being around environmentalists, philosophers, people who see the human connection outside of the tethers of religion. I couldn’t figure out why he would treat me the way he did. Sometimes, I would go along with all of it seeing him as a strong hero in my life–my only friend who I could talk about my deep ideas with. But, it was manifested as manipulation and as I was made fun of for a trauma response I felt helpless.

Religious doctrine contains many texts and teachings that encourage domination over women. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and “forgive and forget.” To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to “discipline” their wives and their children all for the “good of the family.” Christian history is filled with examples of church leaders justifying abuse of women by men. Church fathers like Martin Luther unapologetically described their own physical violence towards their wives (http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/vaw-rolereligion.pdf)

I’ve tried to make sense and find validation through friendships but the sentiment is always “well you keep going back to him.” Yes, I do have lots of fault in the unraveling and I’ve become this nasty, negative person suspicious of anyone that exhibits passive aggressive behaviors or talks to me in a way that triggers all the insults that have been lodged at me. I have this basic belief that folks are good, that they can move toward change. I read scholarly articles on mental health and abuse and had a shift last week in which I uncover in Bancroft’s writings that abuse is not a problem of psychology but of values and beliefs. And while not overtly said each fight came back to me–I’m the problem, I’m lacking humility, my thinking and reality are altered. These are all true within the context of the relationship. I know I’m risking a lot by trying to project my views of goodness and purity onto a world that is neither all the time.

Lots of domestic violence treatment programs last up to two years. It takes so much time to shift values and beliefs. I still cling to some of my outdated beliefs perhaps surreptitiously pushed into my head as Fox News played almost constantly in my childhood home. I start to google how to change ones values and it goes back to the awareness of values in the first place. I remember a car ride in which I stopped an insult in process and asked “Why do you think its okay to say that?” It stopped the meanness in the moment but was then brought up again later after peer consultation about how its okay for women to call men <insert name here> but men don’t have the same privilege. What I took away is that as long as the peers support the subordinance of women–its okay in the belief system.

I’m planting a garden today and took a run yesterday musing on how I would plant and then I saw some deer in a yard munching on grass and suddenly realized they might eat my garden. I have little shade so the little seedlings may get sunburnt. I feel that this first experiment might clarify my values. I anticipate a successful garden but don’t want to fall apart at its failure. I’ve decided to keep the whole thing as organic as possible and wonder how hard that might be. I will layer the mulch using the “lasagna garden” technique but wonder if I ought mix up the soil instead. So many fine details pass through my mind that I start to slow down to walk as I’m running to process all the factors. This garden is a process over years, over time, to hone awareness of my own growth process. I’ve made the choice to walk away from a man whose values I don’t admire and grow what I can instead.

Do people change? Yes–they do. It’s hard work that takes practice everyday and changing a core belief can change identity. You are no less of a person if you don’t raft all the rivers, climb all the mountains, bike all the downhills, ski all the slopes, earn all your turns. But folks sure do think less of you when you are self-centered, paranoid, indecisive, a complete loadie hidden beneath the fallacy of legal disassociation. I’m apprehensive to have written again on the subject but it gives me freedom to redefine my blame. Our values are very different. Living in the same culture we’ve clung to different ideas. I embrace my faults because I’ve come to understand that integration means letting myself acknowledge dark and light in my personality. Carl Rogers has taught me only when I fully accept myself in this present moment can I move toward change. I’m not sure if I’ve already said all these things, and I very deeply want off the merry-go-round. Until then, I will love, apologize, redefine, and make sure my beliefs create the peace I crave in my life.

“As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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the other way around

I walked away from her because she was too busy finding faults in me while I was too busy overlooking hers.  Constant negativity, blogging, arguing.  I remember the day I met her in South Fork.  I was running late, I’m on my own time really, like snow I come and go.  I picked up a hitchhiker because I’ve got the view that my heart is as big as a man-made reservoir in the desert, over-fished and filled with swimming teenagers.  I remember when I was a gangly teenager busy worshipping and preaching on the pulpit singing the promises of eternal life.  I still feel those steel beams that framed out my tall body and supported how I would treat women for years to come.

She got out of the car right away and didn’t make eye contact but started to pet the hitchhikers dog right away.  Dogs seemed to like her but I can’t help but want to pour out the words “dogs are ignorant, that’s how you fool them”  and now I know she fooled me.  I had read part of her blog and she had mentioned she has a past with addictions.  I was fascinated having just ended my 10 plus year relationship with a nice southern girl who sometimes drank too much, embarrassed me at parties “I’m just being myself” she would say but I was very focused on her behaviors that affected my image.  That self she created started to unravel as we saw other people and I made my theories of polyamory.  We reserved the right to love many people at once, to have so many princes and princesses to give all the love we had.

That love unraveling, this new girl finally looked up at me with big soft brown eyes but they just reminded me of my southern girl.  They both had the same personality type but I seemed to like this INFJ better than my ENFJ.  She was rare.  A new addition to my life of collected people, collected ideas, pieces of a puzzle of understanding put together in a way only I can see.  She stepped over to her trunk and grabbed some beers.  I felt a little shiver of surprise as I unpack my own thoughts on addiction.  Why can’t you just stop? Why can’t you just work harder?  I’ve always known myself to get what I want, to quit what I can.  A tinge of frustration crosses my furrowed brow when I think about the addiction of my ex-wife.  Cut off like flask of brown cheap whiskey from the hands of an old, trembling cowboy.  I still needed her to steady myself.

And here was this woman–she talked so fast and quiet I felt myself nodding and smiling half the time to carry on the conversation.  She had so much to say.  We drove up to a campsite and the hosts bumbled up on a golf cart and I kicked in the charm and grabbed on to the sweater string of my southern accent, unraveling a story about not knowing there was a fee in this area, and then asking questions about the weather, whatever cordial human conventions I have learned and studied over the years.  And she hopped right in, grabbing the threads of manipulation right along with me turning the thin cords into reigns of a chariot of lies with horses I would hear clomping into my life so many more times.  I was glad to have someone to hike with, glad for the distraction, I had no real intentions of real or genuine love.  I was already courting another woman in Texas.  I was carrying on with polyamory.  She fascinated me initially–a bit negative a bit intense but those wild, wild, horses didn’t scare me.  I would tame her.

She always harped on me for calling her a bitch.  I am soft-spoken, gentle, supportive.  I love the language of feelings and I openly share my insecurities, my fears, my emotional injuries.  My words are sprinkled with my thoughts of developing closeness, working out our issues and facing up to hard things about myself.  But, I don’t need therapy.  I’m not weak like that.  I don’t want to pay money–I’ve learned a lot in my life and I’m certain I know more than any shrink.  I feel like she made it her business to hurt my feelings constantly like a summer hail storm that just won’t stop, tearing the flaps of the tent of my heart beating down on the poles of my existence.  She was forever saying unfair and insensitive remarks.  Like how I stayed in my marriage because of Christianity or that my friends were ski-bums.  I love my friends and I love my ex wife.  They do what I need them to do.  She, she treated me with profound cruelty blaming me as if I was some kind of abuser.  You just can’t control me–that’s the thing.

She sometimes gave sincere apologies and would accept responsibility for being anxious.  Mentally ill.  Negative.  Explosive.  Always yelling.   I’ve learned her language though, that pop-psychology and I knew what she needed to let go.  Why can women call us assholes but I can’t call her a retarded bitch?  She really was, sometimes.  Seemed to lose her mind when I was just trying to help her understand.  I would tell her how the world works as she cooked, as she showered.  I just know about the world a little more.  I’ve gone through so much, I’ve achieved so many goals.  I grew her burden of guilt because so many things really were her fault.  She picked me apart showing me my rough edges that I kept rough on purpose.  I can threaten and intimidate to save my view of the world.  There are facts, there is science and I will not exist in the grey thunderstorm of her theories.  I found the trailhead of her self-destruction and went up, up not looking down at the swatch of destruction I left behind or her wounded at the bottom of the hill.

I’m against the macho men, so I couldn’t be abusive.  As long as I use a lot of psychobabble, no one is going to believe that I am mistreating her.  As long as I post memes about my innocence and find other mentally ill women to mentally and sexually validate me–I’m not in the wrong.  She said its not a good idea to dismantle the defense mechanisms of a client if they are working.  Well, hers weren’t working, nothing about her really worked.  I pointed that out.  I can control her by analyzing how her mind and emotions work, and what her issues are from childhood.  I don’t know much about her dad but I imagine her dead daddy issues kept her leaving with her push-pull like a carnival ride blasting classic rock and smelling of corn dogs and smokes.  I can get inside her head whether she wants me there or not.  Its important to be inside her head to dissect her irrational thoughts.  I am a critical thinker.  She just believes in horoscopes and energy. Nothing in the world is more important than my feelings.  She should be grateful to me for not being like those other men.

I am not like those other men.  I’ve done so many amazing things.  How can you limit it to one: Climbing the active Arenal volcano in La Fortuna Costa Rica. Snorkeling the blue hole in Belize on a multi day dive boat trip. Mountain biking the Leadville Mountain Biking Marathon in 10 hours and 13 minutes. Skiing 65mph and hucking big fast jumps at Wolf Creek Ski Area on my first season learning. Inflatable kayaking the exploratory run of the Weminuche Creek with less than 5 days on a ducky ever. Rowing a 14′ Custom Cataraft down the Class IV Piedra river, upper and lower box, with less than 5 days of rowing experience.  Don’t you see how special I am?  I’m an outdoor geek. I love boating, biking, camping, traveling, and techy stuff. I like tweaking stuff to be better than intended.   Just like I tried to tweak her.  I was just trying to make her better–she was not yet my equal.  When store-bought stuff often doesn’t fit me or my needs I love the challenge and reward of tackling and overcoming these issues by building my own custom solutions. I love pushing my equipment and my body toward their limits and analyzing the results later, usually over a beer and a bowl.

She wouldn’t let me push her to be a better version of herself.  I’m self-taught.  I can see through her six years of college.  I know more than her with just my associates in Welding/Fabrication at community college.  I don’t need professors or boards to tell me how very brilliant I really am.  I can see through her counseling license.  I’m just smarter.  Just better.  Her soft voice–just manipulation.  And so as she penned another letter to me about how much I had changed her life–I scoffed.  Words mean nothing and actions are everything and watching her shaking and wide eyed just made me laugh.  Negative bitch.  Creating her own drama exploding everywhere like a bloated bird eating any morsel of rice that validated her crazy behaviors.  I knocked on her door for twenty minutes because I am a caring man.  I went to her job to get her fired because I really care about the kids of Pagosa.  She should have apologized to all my friends for pointing out alcoholism, dangerous behaviors, mental illness, domestic violence charges, child developmental delays.   She needs to look at herself.  I never was, and I never will be, the problem.

 

“Immodest creature, you do not want a woman who will accept your faults, you want the one who pretends you are faultless – one who will caress the hand that strikes her and kiss the lips that lie to her.”

― George Sand, The Intimate Journal

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lint on the lens

Sometimes, lessons aren’t learned until the mistake is repeated over and over like a cup of morning coffee–bitter yet soothing at the same time. I went back to the same situation that has caused me so much confusion this past nine months. I justify that I want to be loved, want to be held, want someone to run with through the trails of life. I want to be challenged and supported. I want to be heard and I want to listen. Drawn in once again through social media, “Why you blogging my shit, why won’t you say hello at the grocery store? You can at least be civil.” Seeing him sends my heart right up to my throat where my words are suffocated and my chest collapses as my rib cage and my backbone disappear.

We ran around 15 miles in the short lived four day attempt at normalcy. Parked at town hall we made promises I knew I couldn’t keep. I wrote letters filled with lies to keep the pain around one more day–self harming of the soul. He wanted to warm up for a run and I suggested a mile approach to a hill. We started off and I could hear his feet clomping in Chacos wearing my too short running trunks and a long sleeve shirt smelling of strong sweat and cinnamon. Breath pumping out the lungs and legs tired for the first half mile then feeling my flow as the steps sync into three per breath–my sweet spot. That flow was not shared, the sweetness lost and later I was called out for not being an expert, award winning runner who has never completed an ultra. Always less than.

The demands began the third day where he was frustrated with friends, frustrated with me. I imagine going back to someone who you painted to your friends as a villain would cause discord. The same thing was happening in my life as I avoided my friends and sister too scared that I was wading in toxic sludge. The sludge became thicker and thicker as I was told to apologize for threatening to report child abuse. I wasn’t even entirely sure when this threat occurred outside of naming my observations of developmental delays, selling drugs, alcoholism. Who am I, anyway. I’ve made these mistakes but without children forever frightened to fail as a mother and acutely aware of my own faults at potential parenting having this deficiency used against me in the bitter fights.

There’s always moments that I cling to, when he cried and said he wants help to stop being an abuser. When he apologized and expressed shame for being a narc. But, this came back to him. He was sorry about what he had done to himself and his image as someone who tells on people, unconcerned about the effects of going to my employer and how that might play out in my concerted efforts toward professionalism. I’m towing a thin line, must remain at my best, must be the mandatory reporter, and slowly realize how very much he puts me at risk. At risk to be hurt by him. At risk to get caught up in the drugs and boozing. Smiling and trying to show interest and support of a booze infused river trip. Giving a judgmental glance when another party story is recounted.  Shame, confusion, disappointment.

Get out. Get out. Get out. My heart would beat quickly to these words when the fights ensued about my failure to grovel on my knees to make his life easier. Fights about how knocking on the door for twenty minutes shows care and concern and is completely reasonable and prudent. Fights about missing running, missing my writing group, driving 25 minutes to stare out the back deck at Pagosa Peak asking the mountains to tell me where is my mind in all this. I was too hurt to forgive, too eager to point out how prior acts were emotionally dismissive. Then, I’m attacked for being inadequate, unable to act in a submissive manner. “You know, I just realized we are not equals. You can discipline your body but you can’t discipline your mind.” I’ve got degrees like coats hanging in the closet with other accomplishments that mean nothing in this world. And I feel ridiculous clinging to my past goals.

“You are such a negative bitch. I can’t stand you.” This time the word bitch meant nothing to me. Just another rage fest where projection would be the trip leader rowing down a whitewater river with pour overs, strainers, all kinds of obstacles with potential for danger. I become the bearer of uncomfortable, embarrassing, and annoying emotions. I need to apologize for being negative as I’m told I’m not equal to others. I’m a horrible runner when I crush the hill I’ve been running for weeks. I’m weak in my mind when I’ve achieved a masters–like 8% of the population. There is truth and confusion in everything that it said. I start using manipulative tactics and digs to recover myself and then I question my body, my mind, my heart. I see clearly that I’m wanted for control, to augment something that is missing–compassion, empathy, regret?  And I see clearly how I react in error projecting my own shortcomings–I don’t know much about rivers.  I don’t know much about being in a marriage.  I have my own struggles deep in my heart that were put on blast.  Always a good way to invoke change.

I trace my fingers on collarbones and hip bones. I take in a big whiff of sweat and the subtle smell of wind rubbing shoulders and calves. I came back for this. I came back for vulnerable tears and talks of the future with gardens, rivers, trails, supporting me in my PhD, supporting him in his education. I’ve done wrong by reflecting the behaviors–blaming missing my run on another, refusing to apologize and admit faults, using sharp jabs and questioning every thought and act. I watch my friendships improve, I watch my job performance improve, I watch my trailrunning improve, I watch my yoga following grow. But I can’t seem to get this right. I can’t seem to change in the moment when I’m scared, frustrated, lost in love. And so he left. And so this is a blessing.  I can use my anger as fire to cleanse my own hard stuff.  I can use my negativity to become critical and engaged and I can use my body and mind to climb out of that hole like a crab from a bucket.  And the claws of that other crab can no longer reach me. I am free.

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you–as will happen to any abused woman from time to time–he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men