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I Demand Freedom: A Dream in 3 Parts

Part 1: The Dream

A complicated house. People everywhere, an open bar that I’m desperately trying to avoid, chaos, nudity. I just want to be alone. I am lost. (I have variations of this dream frequently. I’m always trying to get to my room so I can be alone. I’m lost, always lost. The dream ends every time before I ever achieve my goal.) I make it to the top floor of the house. It’s a single room, large and round, littered with junk and trash. There is a jacuzzi tub that’s on, but not being used. And T is there. The ex-boyfriend. The meth addict. The rapist. My rapist. I am terrified. I am frozen. I am angry–until I see that he is holding a hairbrush. (I always used to tell him that I wanted to brush his hair. He has beautiful hair. It’s down to his waist, curly, and blond at the ends. It’s always in his face, and he runs his hands through it constantly, but to no avail. It was messy and wild, just like him, just like “us.” It would have been beautiful if he’d let me brush it with a bristle brush and give it body and volume. My hair is too short to brush, so I have no idea where my old bristle brush is. I haven’t used it since I was in high school. I never did get to brush his hair.) So in the dream, I soften. I love him in the dream. We are together again, we are at peace, we are a couple, we are in love. I take the brush from him and begin to brush his hair. I cannot see his face. I cannot make eye contact. His hair comes out in chunks in my hands.

Interlude:

In the days after the rape, I was achy. I carried myself around like a shattered doll, afraid to go anywhere, afraid to stop functioning. My life was already falling apart. Failing classes, missing work, and the emptiness in my heart after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend. (God, she was happy. What was I? Surely not broken beyond belief. Surely…)

At the AA clubhouse, I alluded to the crime that had been committed against my body. I cried on the porch a lot. “Nick” told me I should pray for my rapist, and I bristled. He said I would feel better. I told him that was bullshit. Maybe I just wasn’t willing to “go to any lengths.” Maybe I wasn’t ready.

Part 2: The Dream (con’t)

[Nick seems like he must stand about eight feet high. He has a voice like Morgan Freeman, and dreadlocks that are probably longer than I am tall. He always describes himself as, “A grateful alcoholic,” He has an “attitude of gratitude.” 

He doesn’t understand.]

As I brush T’s hair in my dream, the hairbrush seems to weigh a hundred pounds. I persevere. His hair continues to fall out in my hands, and it obscures his face. As I try to sweep it out of his eyes, he darkens; his hair thickens in my hands, and I am face to face with Nick. He is eye-level with me in the dream, his massive height gone, leaving him all hound dog eyes and somber face. I bring a single dreadlock around from his back and arrange it so that it rests on his chest. No words are exchanged, but some of the knots in my stomach come undone and are as smooth and straight as the dreadlock that rests in my hand.

Part 3: Mi Sheberach (A Prayer for Healing)

“May the source of strength–”
Please, God, give me strength to go on. Give me strength to say this prayer. Please, God, soften my heart. Take away this anger. Please, God, make me less prickly. I ask You to make me the soft hair of my dream, not the spiky brush itself. Help me to walk in love.

“Who blessed the ones before us–”
Dear God, thank You for my family. Please bless my father and mother. Thank You for my brother and his hidden kindnesses. For as much as they get under my skin, I need them there in my veins, raging through the body and keeping me tethered.

“Help us find the courage–”
Please, God, give me strength to pray this prayer. For, I don’t want to say it. I am afraid. I am selfish. I am small. I am imperfect. I am Yours. Is it okay to acknowledge these thoughts? Did some man break me all that time ago? Did You create me to be broken–or to be pushed to the breaking point and to rise as surely as the fertile moon? (Someday, my belly will be as swollen as the moon hanging low in the night sky. Someday, my body will wax and wane with a greater purpose. Someday, someday, someday…) God, grant me the serenity to accept this thing I wish I could change, to make peace with the crime scene that is the body You left in my care. Have I failed in some way, or have You failed me? I am sorry, God. I am so, so sorry.

“To make our lives a blessing–”
God, please let it be Your will that T may recover from his addiction. Please mend his body, his mind, and his soul. Please grant him a r’fuach shleimach, a complete healing. Please let him find peace.

“And let us say: Amen.”

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Completely Terrified

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I have a mild obsession with Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform. I usually just browse it in between classes and sometimes in lieu of doing homework to look at art and pretty girls. I have an extension on my browser that prevents me from seeing any posts that glorify self-harm, eating disorders, etc., and from seeing any NSFW posts.

As I was scrolling today, I came across this post, and it gave me pause. At first, it seemed like the kind of thing I could relate to. But I realized, it’s something only the old Katherine can relate to. Today, I am proud to say that I am not completely terrified of being who I am for the rest of my life. I am okay with who I am. I don’t love every facet of myself, but I’m working on my character defects, and I know that in time, I will have a better handle on them.

Today, I visited a friend from AA in the hospital. Hospitals make me nervous, and she asked me to bring her a coffee from Starbucks, even though you’re not allowed to bring food into the hospital. (Her nurse had said it was okay for her to have coffee, but assumed I was bringing it from the hospital cafeteria.) I was anxious, but I handled a situation that would have baffled me in the past with ease and grace. God gave me the opportunity to do a mitzvah today by visiting my friend when she’s not feeling well and bringing her coffee. It was a small act, but one that made a difference, and one that I am proud of myself for doing.

As I progress through the Twelve Steps, I am becoming more and more comfortable with the person I am. It feels good to take care of myself and make good choices. I don’t feel like I constantly have to make excuses for my behavior, apologize for who and how I am, and I don’t ruminate on how much I hate myself anymore. In fact, I don’t even feel like I hate myself these days. The huge pit of self-loathing I used to harbor is being replaced with something softer and lighter. It feels pretty okay to be me all of a sudden.

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A God of My Own Understanding

I recently started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working the Twelve Steps. What an experience it has been. I’ve learned so much about addiction in all its forms. I’ve gained friends of all ages and all walks of life, and most importantly, I’ve formed a strong connection with my Higher Power, who I call God.

Addiction is a funny thing. I’m not even twenty-one, so if I wanted to get drunk, I’d have to rely on older friends to supply me with alcohol. For a while, my friends were happy to get me drunk, but soon they noticed that my medicine doesn’t work very well with alcohol in my system. My best friend Colette said that the fact that my desire for alcohol seemed more like a need than a want was worrisome. When she and her boyfriend were drinking around me, all I could think about was how badly I wanted “just one sip,” which always turned into as much as I could possibly drink. Pretty soon, my friends didn’t bring alcohol around me, and Christin, the girl I was dating when I was drinking the most, often asked me to stop drinking, or at least slow down.

So, even though I haven’t been day-drinking for years and years like many of the old-timers at AA used to do before they got sober, I certainly have “the disease of more.” Besides, as they say in AA, “It’s not the drinkin’, it’s the thinkin’.” The way I think about alcohol (and sometimes other substances or activities) is certainly a problem.

But, there is a solution. AA provides, “A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope,” with each other to share a common solution to a common problem. You never know what you’re going to get at an AA meeting. AA is a spiritual (but not religious) program, so a lot of the meetings focus on God and other spiritual matters.

Yesterday, I had an absolutely horrible day. A very long time ago, I met an extremely drunk girl at a gay club. She told me that “lesbian drama is too real, baby girl,” and I’ve recently discovered that she is right, even if the drama is all in my head. (If you don’t know what lesbian drama is, watch a few episodes of The L Word, and you’ll get an idea.) I had been around people who were drinking a drink I used to love, and I was “romancing the drink,” thinking about how nice it would be to sit at the table with the rest of my friends and casually sip a mimosa. However, every time I think about how nice that would be, I have to remember that I never “casually sipped” my drinks. I slammed them down and got a refill as soon as possible. By the time my friends were buzzed and tipsy, I was falling-down-drunk.

So, instead of trying to rustle up some booze, I went to the AA clubhouse and sat through a meeting, surrounded by friends and strangers who, in some small way, understood what I was going through. I bring a journal with me that I write in during meetings. Sometimes, I write down good quotes from speakers and readings, but a lot of times, I write down my personal thoughts and feelings while I listen to what’s being said at the meetings.

My journal entry at quickly devolved into, “I hate myself, and I don’t want to be here anymore,” and by the end of the meeting, I was crying. I said the Lord’s Prayer, and then completely melted down when my friend “Mack” asked me if I was okay. Mack is a big, rough-and-tumble, Italian guy who’s probably been smoking since birth, and sounds like he’s made out of sandpaper. He said, “Aww, Katherine, baby, don’t cry,” and handed me off to a woman who talked me down and hugged me.

I stayed at the clubhouse after the meeting and talked to another friend. We just sat around complaining about how hard relationships are. When I got home, yet another friend from AA called me, and we talked for about half an hour about our concepts of God.

This friend, “Connor,” describes himself as a “recovering Catholic,” who has defected to Eastern religions, but is interested in Judaism. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who has a strong faith in God, whoever that God may be to them. One of the amazing things about AA is that unlike organized religion, there’s no right answer for who God is. I told Connor, “My God is not perfect. She makes mistakes just like me. She’s learning and growing all the time.” I’ve never articulated that idea before, and it felt good to say it out loud.

I actually got that idea from a footnote in my siddur. The siddurim my synagogue uses are full of rabbinic notes and ideas, as well as traditional prayers and modern interpretations of the ancient liturgy. During a service a few weeks ago, I saw a footnote that said something along the lines of, “Instead of a perfect God, what if there is a growing God, a growing universe, and we’re all learning together along the way?” This idea resonated with me. Believing that God is a work in progress just like myself helps me practice forgiveness. Instead of wondering why an all-powerful, perfect God would let something horrible and life-altering happen to me as a child, wondering what I did to deserve such a terrible punishment, and why God would abandon me like I thought She did, I can accept that God made a mistake in my life, that for a moment, I fell through the cracks. I was not abandoned. I was not being punished. I was never, not for a moment, unloved by God.

The first step of the Twelve Steps is, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable,” and Step Two is, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s easy to admit that your life is unmanageable. I was getting home past my curfew, trying to hide my intoxication from my parents, stealing alcohol from Christin, Colette, and her boyfriend, Trevor, and backing out of prior commitments because I was either too drunk or too hungover to function. It was obvious that I was a slave to my impulsiveness and penchant for bad decisions.

But giving up that control to a “Power greater than ourselves,” isn’t as easy. I want to have control of my life. I want to be responsible for my decisions. And in a lot of ways I am. It’s my decision to act in accordance with my understanding of God’s will. God and I are a team, working together to keep my life on track, to keep me sober and happy, and to do mitzvot.

I recently changed my major (again), and I’m now studying elementary education. As part of my class credit for my Introduction to Teaching class, I had to observe for fifteen hours in a classroom. I observed in a kindergarten classroom at my synagogue’s elementary school. It was such an amazing experience. I formed a relationship with every single child in the class, and I came to love every single one of them.

I also got a job teaching Religious School on Sundays at my synagogue. I have a class of five-and-six-year-olds, who are the strangest little humans I have ever encountered. I love them all dearly, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of Judaism with young people.

Being around those kids gives me motivation to stay sober, to make good choices, and to take care of myself. I want to be an example of what a good Jew, responsible person, and good role model is for my students. I don’t ever want those kids–especially the little girls–in my classes to grow up thinking it’s okay to do the things I have done. I pray that those little girls will walk in love, value and treasure themselves, and respect themselves and their bodies. I pray that those little boys will grow up to be gentle souls, who walk in kindness and understanding.

Now that I have a little bit of time in AA, I’ve gained a genuine understanding of who my Higher Power is to me, and how She acts in my life. Maybe God isn’t for everyone. But I believe that God made everyone in Her divine image, that She loves all of Her creations, and that my faith in Her is going to carry me down the road to happy destiny.

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Daily Mitzvot

I learned about mitzvot at a very young age. A mitzvah (plural: mitzvot) is Hebrew for “good deed,” or “commandment,” as in, God commands His people to perform good deeds throughout their lives. When I was a child, I did mitzvot by bringing tzedakah (charity) to Sunday school. When I got older and had my bat mitzvah, I was required to do a mitzvah project to commemorate my formal transition into Jewish adulthood. I chose to raise money for a local homeless shelter by selling handmade bracelets. My parents did their best to instill charity and kindness in me, so that I would grow up to be a good person–a mensch, like my grandpa.

I can evaluate my mental health by many factors, some simple some not. Am I self-harming? Am I eating? How are my relationships? How am I doing in work and school? Most importantly, how is my relationship with God? For a few years when my depression was at its worst, I gave up on God. I thought I had outsmarted religion and prided myself on being an intelligent atheist.

As I progressed through the ups and downs of recovery, my faith waxed and waned. On some Shabbats, I was on the bema as the guest cantorial soloist; other nights, I swore there was no God, and even if there was, He surely hated me. Just  before I left for treatment, my faith took a huge blow.

After I was sexually assaulted, I turned to the synagogue for support. I met the rabbi in his office and told him what had happened. I could never have anticipated his response. He told me that I’d made a mistake, that my assailant behaved “caringly” towards me, and joked about it inevitably happening again. Too shocked to stand up for myself, I listened quietly as my faith in God disappeared. At the Creek, spirituality was a big part of treatment, whether it was finding Good Orderly Direction at a 12-Step meeting, one of Cori’s spirituality groups, or the weekly outings to church (or shul in my case). I grappled with my ideas of God, and still do.

A common theme I noticed in the 12-Step meetings I attended while at the Creek was service–helping yourself by helping others. At first, it seemed like a backwards notion. How could I possibly be useful to anyone else when I was falling apart? However, as I listened to recovering addicts and alcoholics, formerly broken people like myself, talk about how helping others had helped them, I started to understand. God wants me to do mitzvot. I am not here simply to take up space and write sad poems. God gifted me with a beautiful life–no, perhaps this life is not a gift, but merely a loan. Perhaps it is my duty to repay God for the time He has given me with service, with mitzvot.

Today, I was driving home from my last day of photography class, feeling rather glum about my sudden surplus of free time when I saw a man standing on the street corner with a sign that read, “Three kids, one newborn. Need diapers and formula.” I pulled into a parking lot and approached him. He explained to me that he was struggling to feed his family and any help would be appreciated. I offered to drive him to the nearby Publix where I work and buy him whatever he needed. He got in my car, and I turned up the AC and gave him a bottle of water; he’d been outside in the heat for too long.

When we got to Publix, we filled his cart with baby essentials and some groceries. He thanked me over and over as I paid for his groceries, earing me some strange looks from my coworkers, but I didn’t care. I drove him a few blocks back to where he was meeting his wife and kids and we said goodbye. I will probably never see him again, and that’s okay. I’m happy that I was able to help someone. As we were saying goodbye, I said something rather out of character for me. Without thinking, I blurted, “God bless you.” The man grinned and said, “I know He loves me.” He said it with such conviction, that I’m starting to believe again.