In Which I Break My Own Rule…

Given the admittedly volatile nature of the internet, I have a rule that I have tried to keep – whether in my blog or on various social media.  That rule is that I will NOT discuss politics.  I have so many friends from so many different and varied paths in life and respect them all and the diversity they bring to my life.  Even when I disagree with them, I pretty much just let it go.  They have every right to their opinion as I do.  And I respect them enough to remember that every experience a person goes through molds and shapes them into who they are today.  I can’t say that if I had lived their life, I wouldn’t view the world around me the same way.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments from a lot of sources over Marriage Equality.  And I just can’t take it anymore.  So if you want to know what I think..read on – and pay attention because I’m only going to say this once!  If you’d be just as happy not knowing… here’s a cute picture of a kitten to squee over:  adorable kittens in 3..2..1…

I’ve heard two main arguments against Marriage Equality:

1.  “But it oppresses my religious rights because the Bible and my ‘insert religious leader’ told me all the gays are evil!”

2. “Marriage is ONLY for procreation.”

Ok, so lets go with the second argument first shall we?  Marriage is not solely for the purposes of procreation.  If it were, then couples where one or both parties are infertile (due to age, medical condition, result of injury, happenstance of genetics, whatever the cause) would not be granted a marriage license.  Also, couples who have exceeded the age of being able to reproduce (or lost the ability to any number of causes) would see their marriages dissolved immediately.  We don’t do that.  So can we please finally leave this argument in the dust of it’s hollow grave?

Now onto the questionably trickier argument.  Allowing LGBTQI individuals the right to a civil(LEGAL) marriage, is NOT going to oppress your religious freedoms.  No one is going to force any church or religious entity to perform or even recognize such a marriage.  After all, there are plenty of religions that already DO perform such unions happily – no one has to force those who don’t want to, to do so.

There is not a single “holy book” that has come handed intact directly from the hands of whatever Diety that you choose to worship that has not passed through the hands of hundreds and even thousands of very human, very fallible, human beings!  By that very progress – got news for you, it’s flawed!  There are mistakes.  Anything produced by human hands will have them.  It’s a fact of life.

But the fact remains, that even if there WERE such a miraculous book, the point is moot.  You see in the USA we have this lovely document called the Constitution of the United States of America.  The first 10 amendments to this document are called the Bill of Rights.  The First Amendment ratified in 1791 reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For anyone that needs a refresher – this means that there is no official religion of the United States of America.  We allow the free exercise of every religion with none held above another.  That means that EVERY religion – whether it is yours or not, whether you agree with it or not – is allowed to be practiced without interference.  That means that if your religion doesn’t perform gay marriages – guess what?  That’s OK!  BUT… it also means that if another church, of another religion down the road DOES – guess what?  That’s also OK!

Marriage Equality is not a battle to force churches to perform gay marriages.  Really, folks, it’s not.  It’s about a civil, legal, document that allows two people to enter into a contract to spend the rest of their lives together – that gives rights of survivorship to the one who outlives the other, grants the rights and abilities to visit each other in the hospital and make decisions for each other.

Marriage is not a SOLELY religious rite.  It isn’t!  If it were, then Athiests would not be allowed to marry.  And guess what folks – they do!

The LGBTQI community that is asking for Marriage Equality doesn’t want to storm your church.  They want to be granted the same rights and responsibilities under the recognition of the government of the land separate from the control of any one specific religion.  That’s it.

And for those who may see me in church and feel conflicted about what I’ve said here… I’d like to remind you of a few things that might help you work your way around it:

The 11th Article of Faith states:  We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

(in other words – you don’t get to claim that what you believe has more legal rights than what anyone else believes – no matter how differently they believe)

The 12th Article of Faith states: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(Please see the First Amendment of the US Constitution contained in the Bill of Rights – the US has no official state religion – all religions are granted equal rights to practice – LDS and Pagan and Muslim and even Pastafarian!)

The 9th Article of Faith states: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

(never make the mistake of thinking  you know absolutely everything there is to know about everything – I can promise you, if you do, you’ll be wrong)

D&C 134:9 states: We do not believe it just to  mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

(Please don’t forget in your passion to see your beliefs put into law, that in doing so you may step on the rights and beliefs of your neighbors who do not believe as you do.  Religious law and Civil laws should remain separate.)

So the next time you consider the arguments about Marriage Equality, I challenge you to view the issues with compassion.  Compassion for those who simply want to protect a love that means more to them than life itself.  Ultimately folks, it’s about love.  Not religion.  Just… LOVE.

My body is amazing.

This woman’s body isn’t the only thing that is amazing.  Her courage, her voice, her strength, her intellect…just HER.

Reblogging from Villainy Loveless…

My body is amazing..

Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

Fight or Flight….Which Shall It Be…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know about most of you, but I take comfort in my daily routines. I don’t cling to them. I can change around the order in which I do things – or even skip some things for a day here or there. But most of the things that are my “daily’s” are things that help me feel more calm and balanced and ready to take on the world – regardless of what my current challenges are. Lately though, I’ve been avoiding them. Massively. And the kicker of it is – I don’t fully know why.

I started my routine about a year or so ago. It grew as new elements got added in until it reached the form it has today – that I’m currently avoiding in it’s near entirety. It would start with some affirmations, proceed to writing three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness type of journaling. The pages were for many purposes. To give me a safe place to vent, to help me be more aware and tuned in to my inner thoughtscape, to help me learn to turn off my inner editor to aid in the other types of writing that I do. And at the end of my day, I would list the things I was grateful for, for that day in one journal, and in another, I’d place an image of something/someone I was grateful for, and roughly three reasons that image invoked feelings of gratitude that day. Those were the nuts and bolts of my routine.

Interspersed in all this was also lots of reading: leisure reading, slush pile reading, beta reading, and self-help and/or spiritual reading. (add in there research for writing topics or other tasks as needed). Then add in trying to make progress on or finish various WIP’s (works – in – progress)  – novels and short stories. And of course, a loving wife to look after (if you know my wife, you know that alone is a full time job with never a dull moment!), furkids to take care of, and the sacred inner circle that I connect with daily. Sprinkle liberally with friends, any attempts at a social life, the more love letters monthly campaign, and various other fun/interesting/stressful challenges that life sees fit to throw my way.

It sounds like a lot, when listed out like this – but it was something that I handled without a second thought. But of late – I’m avoiding it. I’m paying a price for this avoidance. My headspace is less well behaved, my sleep is not as restful, I’m more moody. I know returning to my routine would solve the greater majority of it all. And yet…and, yet… I don’t.

So, what changed? Nothing, and everything. I got hit with an emotional curveball that skyrocketed my stress levels. I caught the latest version of the plague, that had me unconscious more often than not, and led to a lapse in my routine. I got over the plague, but never got back to my routine. Not really. A day here or there, but not the steady daily work that had so marked my last year. A year that was filled with the most growth, the most challenges, and was the most remarkable year I’ve lived yet. Filled with blessings and turns in the road I’d never have anticipated in my wildest daydreams or what-if’s. So why did I stop?

About the best I can figure it out is this. I got scared and I got tired. The final stress curveball that hit me, was the straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s made me scared to hope. Scared to count my blessings for fear that it’ll make it easier to steal them away from me. And as for facing myself in the pages? I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Because what I’d have to face is pain and raw and fear. After facing pain and raw and fear for a year, I’m tired. Even knowing all the growth and good that‘s come from it, hasn’t been enough to make me go back. The raw has been too large. The fear has been to entrenched. The pain has been both too old and too new all at the same time. I’ve even avoided this blog – which I’d been doing better about updating on a regular basis.

I have been forcing myself to face and deal with the curveball – with all the new knowledge and wisdom and strength the past year has given me. But it’s taken everything I’ve had and left me feeling like a husk each time. Only to start the process over again a few days later. And I’ve been afraid to look in the mirror that pages provide. Afraid I’d find all that I thought I’d learned about myself were just so many pretty lies. Afraid I’d find the old wreck of a girl I used to be. That I’d only watch myself deteriorate back to that lost little girl. If I didn’t look, then maybe it wouldn’t happen. I could keep up the facade of “ok”, the lie of “fine.”

But I’m not ok, and I’m not fine. I’m scared and scarred. I’m trying to protect myself and yet at the same time lay down my sword and shield. Never before has my old motto of “hope for the best, expect the worst” been more true or harder to bear. I’m scared to hope, and even more scared of what the worst could be. And while I know that this time things are different in very profound ways, memories are wicked and cruel beasts that will cut you to the quick at your most vulnerable and unexpected moments. I know that I’m not alone, that friends, loved ones, and that sacred inner circle are all around me – if I but reach out. And yet….and, yet….my hands are tied.

Others can listen and support and cheer me on, but ultimately only I can walk this road. For good or bad, in some very real ways I have to go through this alone. While it’s nice to know that others think I’m capable. That they believe I’m stronger than I was, and that I’ve “got this.” I don’t have their same confidence. I want to. I’m trying to live up to the vision they have of who I am…and clinging to it, when I can’t see myself at all.

You’d be surprised how often I can’t. I’ve avoided the mirror, scared I’d look and find no one there at all. Worse than a reflection of all the worst that’s in me, I’d find no reflection at all. I haven’t dared hope to see a reflection of the good – to see the reflection those who care about me have assured me is really there. Afraid to find the confirmation that I’ve just had them all fooled all along. And with the confirmation all the good in my life would evaporate along with the reflection until nothing remained in the mirror at all.

But I can’t keep it up. Something’s gotta give. And the truth of it is, I can’t bear to go back to the black pit of depression and all that it brings with it. I’ve never really counted myself a coward, and I’m not going to start now. So foolish at may feel to take the risk of seeing hopes dashed, I’m taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, swallowing hard and believing in the hope and faith and love and good that those I love and trust have told me is there.

Tomorrow I go back to my routine, and face what pains are waiting for me. I’ll patch and bandage my cuts and bruises, and return to fight the good fight. I’ve avoided and avoided and gotten nowhere. Let the blows fall where they may. Better battered and bruised and true – authentic and alive – than to return to being little more than a wisp of a ghost, vanishing in the morning’s light. I’m going to avoid avoiding. Sew up these last few stitches, pick back up my sword and shield, and then, dear friends, once more into the breach. Pray for me?

The Emperor(Empress) Has no….Skin?!

Vulnerability.  There it is.  A word that can, at it’s very utterance, strike terror into the hearts of thousands of adult, teens, preteens and maybe even some kids.  But why?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  We’re taught that being vulnerable is synonymous with being weak.  That it means you’re a push over, or alone, or easily trampled.  And yes, it can be these things, when misused.  However, vulnerability – when wisely and judiciously applied – can be a source of great strength and insurmountable power.

Yes, yes, I see you over there in the corner raising an eyebrow and saying ‘yeah, right!’  Let me explain how I’ve come to this…remembrance, you might call it…and the effect I’ve seen as I’ve applied it in my life.

When I was a child, I would often forget to wear my skin.  What do I mean by this?  Well, I was transparent.  I wasn’t just the emperor who forgot to wear his clothes, proudly strutting through town.  No, I was the kid that forgot that you weren’t supposed to let people see your heart, or maybe even your soul.  That didn’t know, instinctively – as so many seem to, that there is a price to loving people.  That never thought of protecting themselves first, but rather of how they could help whoever was around them (even if I didn’t like them).  I really didn’t see the reason for wearing a skin, though through many painful lessons, I did learn some reasons.  Even for seeking out the thickest skin it was possible to achieve.

You could say I went from walking around skinless, to being wrapped in my own version of blubber.  To insulate me from all the pain and heartache and cruelty I saw around me.  And for a very long time, I stayed that way.  It seemed the safest.  Rather to experience life a little dulled through senses that couldn’t quite fully penetrate out of my cocoon of safety, than to risk the sharp prick of unkindness or the stab of betrayal.  Better to be numb, than to feel.  Better to be a zombie, than to risk the “slings and arrows” of being alive.  Better to be the cause of my pain, myself, before others could even try to hurt me.

What’s that?  You say that’s messed up?  You’re right.  It is.  But for many on many years, it’s precisely how I lived.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any friends, or that I was completely isolated, locked in an attic somewhere.  Of course I wasn’t.  I had friends – but I kept them at arms length.  Some of them knew this and were fine with it.  Some tried to get closer – and I’d mentally yelp and run and hide in my safe corner.  The patient ones recognized something in me worth sticking around and seeing if – with enough love and no pressure – I might, like some skittish animal, eventually crawl out of my deep dark whole and let them near.  For those folks, I am and will always be, eternally grateful.  Their patience was tried time and again, and it couldn’t have been easy.  But it worked.  In spurts and starts, it worked.

One of the last painful lessons I’d learned caused me to insulate myself to the point of being near agoraphobic.  It wasn’t the most painful lesson, but it was on the heels of it.  It was the proverbial straw you might say, that caused me to just give up – or give in.  Give in to fear, give up my power.  I secluded myself in my home.  I didn’t want to see anyone, I barely would answer emails or talk to people even via chat.  I wanted nothing to do with people anymore.  My faith in people on a whole was completely obliterated.  I loved and trusted my dear wife – but I was even starting to push her away.  So slowly, that she didn’t realize I was doing it – but I did.  And my very old nemesis of depression and anorexia and self-harming not only came back to visit, but moved in and set up home in my mind again.

Now, mind you,  I am many many thing – but a fool is not one of them.  I didn’t wear my depression on my sleeve.  I ate as little as possible and only when I knew I was being watched, and since I couldn’t completely starve myself, I starved other appetites as well.  I wouldn’t allow myself to do the things that brought me joy, for example. And all my self-harming activities were such that however much pain I might inflict – there were no tell tale marks to give me away.  Allowing any of it to be seen, to be known, would mean letting someone in.  And that was dangerous.  That was painful.  That was the last thing I wanted.  It was also the only thing I really wanted – if I’d allowed myself to admit it.  It hurts to be that alone.  Especially when even you aren’t a safe place for yourself.

Eventually things spiraled down until I hit bottom.  I was heading back to bed one night after a whopping two hours awake for the day and I thought “everyone would just be better off if I never woke up.”  In that moment, I knew just how bad I’d let things get.  I hadn’t had a suicidal thought since I’d recovered from my attempts when I was 17.  But I still remembered clearly enough the slippery slope from thought to action.  I was terrified.  I didn’t truly want to die, yet…but I knew if I didn’t change something drastically and fast – it was only a matter of time.

I can honestly say at that point, I wasn’t sure any more if I believed in God or a higher power anymore.  If I believed in anything at all, any more.  But I was desperate, in a way only those who have faced that kind of darkness can know.  Desperate enough to pray, even if I didn’t know if it would do any good.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I lit a candle alone in a quiet room, and I prayed – begged – any God that might exist, the universe, any higher power that might be inclined to look on me with sympathy, for help.  For guidance, to find my way, to find me, to find the joy I used to feel, to find a way back to being alive again.  That was two years ago – this month.  Though I couldn’t tell you right down to the day.

Slowly, oh so very slowly, I started to come back up the other side.  I’d found a forum online within days of my appeal that led me to a group of very kind hearted people from around the world – who allowed me to simply be.  They didn’t know me from Eve.  They let me question – everything.  They let me be authentic, for maybe the first time in I couldn’t tell you how long.  Anything that I was exploring, questioning, trying to figure out – they withheld any judgments and were amazingly supportive.  But they were also safe.  None of them were local, none of them knew me, none of them could – in any real and tangible way – hurt me.  Still, it was a start.

Slowly I began to peek out just a little, began to feel – just a little.  I can’t say I began to trust, but I did begin to be just a bit less afraid.  Nine months later, that little bit of fledgling courage would start being put to the test.

Having grasped onto that forum like the life line it was, forcing myself to interact with others and look for anything that might help me be ME again, I took small risks and reinforced a small sense that maybe, just maybe, it might be ok.  About this time, my life went through another upheaval – as life will.  While I didn’t land down in the pit again, I was shaken up pretty good.

You see, I didn’t think I had any worth.  I didn’t have any value.  I believed that I deserved every bad thing that ever came my way, but none of the good.  I thought my very audacity of existing, something to be punished with extreme prejudice, and apologized for.  That any act of reaching out was being a burden – rather than a way to share joy.  This time though, instead of withdrawing and seeking solace in sleep and solitude, I did the thing that is hardest for me to do.  I reached out.

You remember those very patient few I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, they were still there.  They may not have known how deep a whole they were waiting for me to crawl out of, but they were still there, bless them.  And when I did reach out, even tentatively, I was received with sympathetic ears, commiseration, and from some – enveloped in bear hugs before I could know what was happening to me!   Some bear hugs were real, some metaphorical, but they were all very strong and not a little overwhelming.  I am forever grateful to them, family and friends, for being there – even when I didn’t know how badly I needed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t divulging the secrets of the universe, or ever the secrets of my heart – not yet.  I was however, willing to take the risk of making a connection – to another person, to another heart – if only very timidly.  It was another, more important, start.

The year forward from that has been very possibly one of the most profound, if not THE most profound year yet, of my entire life.  I have been challenged on every front, on a daily – if not at times hourly – basis, to live my life with courage.  To shed the layers and layers of skin.  To endure newly exposed nerves to the air of life, without shrinking back.    To live authentically, to live in truth – whatever my definition of that may be (it’s different for everyone), to BE.

To be open.  To be honest.  To be brave.  To be emotional.  To be daring.  To dream.  To pursue those dreams.  To open my heart.  To open my soul.  To connect.  To be VULNERABLE.

Ah-hah!  You thought I forgot didn’t you?  Nope.  To be vulnerable.  Let’s take a closer look at that word.  It’s synonyms are: exposed, open, sensitive, subject (to), susceptible.    So to make one’s self vulnerable to another person, is to make yourself open, sensitive, exposed, susceptible and even sometimes subject to that other person.  Is this a wholly bad thing?  No.  Without vulnerability, we can never be truly close to another person or really know them.  Is it without risk?  NEVER.  Is it worth the risk?  Always.

Yes, being vulnerable, willingly and knowingly to another person is always a risk.  You do give that person power to hurt you.  But you also give that person the ability to love you, and to be vulnerable to you as well.  It means trust.  It means love.  It means respect and honesty.  And it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do – even as it is simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying thing you ever do.

By being vulnerable to those that love and support you, you gain not only their love and support, but your own strength and self-confidence has a safe place to grow and expand.  By taking the calculated risk of making yourself vulnerable to a stranger, you can gain a life long friend.  By taking the bigger risk of walking and talking your truth, and going out into the world skinless – but not blind – you not only gain the strength and power to be found in a life lived authentically, but you can lend that same strength to others fighting similar battles and who think they are alone.

By being vulnerable to some very special people in my life, I’m no longer not only not suicidal, I’m actually hungry and enjoying meals with those I love rather than trying to starve myself as punishment for existing.  I’m even winning the battle on not self-harming.

Even those not cursed to be English Majors as I was, oft know the line from Meditation XVII by John Donne “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  A more complete though lesser recognized version of that same quote reads thus:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“No man is an island.” No one is alone.  I thought I was and I was so very wrong.  I’m not alone.  Neither are you.  Isn’t that something worth being vulnerable for?

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