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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

completely-terrified

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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Gratitude

Ever since I started experiencing psychotic symptoms, I’ve had a really hard time with religion. Going to temple is just inviting the voices in, and prayer only stirs them up and gets them screaming at me. I don’t even know how to start a conversation with God. I thought God hates me, or even that God isn’t real. I’d basically given up on having any kind of spirituality in my life, which was a big deal, considering I previously wanted to become a cantor. I was recently hospitalized because I was suicidal and having flashbacks to a traumatic childhood event. While I was in the hospital, I had an illuminating conversation with the hospital chaplain. After talking to him, I felt lighter. The chaplain, Tony, told me that God must love me because God made me, and She doesn’t make garbage. God loves Her creations, and God can be whoever I want her to be, so I decided that God is a woman. If God loves me, then She has to understand how devastating it was to be hurt by men. I love women so much more deeply than I could ever love a man; I connect to them; I understand them; I laugh with them; I ache with them. I am sure that God, that my God, is a woman, and She loves me.

As a child of God, I have no right to hate Her creations. If I can love my own creations– my photos and my writing– then I have to be able to love the person that God made me. So that’s it. After a lifetime of hating myself, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to love myself. It’s hard, and it’s weird, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m managing. I am learning not to tear myself down, but to build myself up– or at least keep my head above water. I am loved from all around. My parents love and support me no matter what I do. My elementary school classmates have stuck with me through my very first hospitalization to college; I don’t think they would have done that if I was the bad, worthless friend I thought myself to be. My English professor from last semester stopped me at work to tell me I’m a spectacular writer. I doubt he was doing that just to be nice. I have my friends from GSA who I always have fun with. And of course, there’s Christin, who pours so much love into our relationship that it’s almost impossible to believe I’m not everything she says I am.

I’m learning that it’s painful to love someone who doesn’t love herself, and I don’t want to put people through that pain anymore.

 

I’m finally gaining insight into all the nights I spent crying in my mom’s arms telling her I would do anything to see my collarbones again. She would tell me that I was beautiful as I was, and I’d argue with her because I hated myself so much I couldn’t understand how anyone could see any goodness at all in me. I have learned firsthand that you can’t plant self-love in someone else. That’s why it’s called SELF-love– it has to come from inside. Christin has inspired me to make a change in myself. If she can treat me as caringly and lovingly as she does, then I’m going to return the favor to myself because I am worth that much. I no longer say mean things to myself. I don’t tolerate it. I’ve gained enough confidence and self-respect not to let anyone else talk to me the way I talk to myself, and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and continue to treat myself like trash. I am a good person. I am smart. I am valuable. I am kind. And yes, I am beautiful.

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetHappiness is not getting on the scale and seeing that you’ve lost weight. Happiness was what I experienced today. I went out to brunch with Christin, and we walked on the beach where we tried to feed stale matzah to the birds. On the drive home, we held hands in the car, and I felt truly present in the moment. We had the windows down, and I wasn’t obsessing over my hair getting messed up or my makeup running. Why would I have wanted to think about that when I could have focused on the beautiful girl sitting next to me laughing at my passenger seat dancing and holding my hand? I was grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful that God brought so many wonderful people into my life, and grateful to be in love.

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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.  

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Letters to God

My experiences at college are comparable to day and night. In the daylight, I was studious, intelligent, reserved, and sensible. I never skipped class; I always budgeted time to do my homework; I kept my dorm clean; I was on good terms with my roommate. I might have had a cigarette (or ten–let’s be real, I chain-smoked.) during the day. I probably consumed more caffeine than calories between breakfast time and dinnertime, but overall, I was on my best behavior.

Nights were a different story. After dark, I had a tendency to wander campus alone and barefoot, a cigarette between my lips and plenty more in my pocket, dizzy with hunger and dehydration. I had a favorite swing where I would sit and listen to music, letting my depression overtake me. Under cover of darkness, no one could see how red my  eyes were after my friends and I got high. We would smoke outside and then amble through campus, jumping and skipping like children. It was nighttime when Jake and I laid in a hammock, arms around each other, inhaling each other’s pot breath as we exchanged kisses. We saw a shooting star. It was a good night. The next time we got high we smoked with a stranger, and it was not so good.

Sexual assault is not easy to talk about. It was not easy to experience. It has not been easy to work through in treatment. Instead of blaming my assailant, I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have been on drugs. I should have known better than to get high with a virtual stranger. I should have listened to Jake and my other friends who were telling me I’d had enough. I should have picked up on how he was touching me before we were alone. In the days after the assault, a constant chorus of, “My fault… my fault… my fault… my…” played in my head. It made sense: I had been irresponsible and careless by taking drugs, therefore the assault was punishment for my behavior. Just as God warned Lot and his family not to look back, my parents, teachers, and society had warned me not to take drugs; and just as Lot’s wife disobeyed God’s instructions and was turned into a pillar of salt, I disobeyed what I had been taught and was punished. So I thought.

It was this kind of black-and-white thinking that led me to bang my head into a tree out of frustration just a few days ago. I felt like my world was crumbling and falling apart because I had realized that I can’t keep blaming myself for other people’s actions forever. I had been crying on and off all day, wrestling with my ideas of God and what it means to be Jewish. By blaming myself for the assault, I had the world neatly explained and organized. I believed that a sort of karmic justice permeated the universe, punishing the bad and rewarding the good. As I beat my forehead against the tree, I did not experience clarity. Sobbing, I sank to the ground and wiped a trickle of blood away from my eyes. Nothing made sense. If the assault wasn’t my fault, then I wasn’t being punished. If it wasn’t a punishment, then how could I explain it?

As one of my friends from treatment reminded me, God gave us all free will. I had a choice about how to handle my emotions as I walked through the woods crying. God didn’t make me bang my head into that tree, and God didn’t make that boy assault me. We chose to do what we did. I believe that God feels my pain and wants me to turn to Him–not self-harm–for comfort.

It is hard for me to let go of my karmic fantasy. I wish the world were as simple as rewards and punishment, and when I think about the fact that the world is random, chaotic, and dangerous, I get scared. I thought I could beat the fear out of my psyche if I just hit my head hard enough. Today, I choose to appreciate the mysterious ways God works instead. It is hard for me to have faith. In my disorder, I turned away from God for a few years, labeling myself as an atheist, and ignoring any spiritual connection. As I made progress in my recovery, I returned to synagogue and felt close to God through music. Still, I am trying to trust. I am too small to see the awesome and wondrous pattern that runs through the universe. The world is intricate and in constant motion; each individual is like a single spot of paint in an impressionistic painting. When I look around, I see no pattern, only chaos. I simply have to trust that God is a master artist who can see the whole design.