Everyplace. And Noplace.

The day I almost died probably wasn’t the first. We spend our entire lives almost dying in the hundreds of mundane decisions we make every single day.

Go here, not there.

Do this, not that.

One destination or decision over the other is really all it takes. The only difference on that particular day, is that I actually saw it coming.

The story I’m about to tell, is about souls and spirits and miracles and magic and premonitions and the afterlife and everything else I know almost nothing about. Depending on your upbringing, biases, filters, and beliefs, your opinions here may be strong. That’s ok. I’d still love for anyone who’s willing, to feel free to come along. That being said, there are a few things that I need to make perfectly clear up front.

I don’t need permission.

I don’t need validation.

I’m not ashamed.

I’m not deranged.

I’m not psychic.

I’m not being “attacked my Satan” or “led astray by The Enemy”.

I have nothing to justify.

I have nothing to debate.

I want to know what I know, and feel what I feelwhich means the experiences I’m about to share don’t belong to religion, or to anti-religion, or to any belief factory in between. After thirty five years of loaning them out to all of the above, I’m simply claiming them as my own.

When I was growing up, the Bible was a book of hidden landmines that only the extra saved knew how to navigate. One wrong step could blow you straight into hellbut if you were extra-lucky, then the extra-saved, would share their super special secrets with you.

The Extra-Saved could talk extensively about the rules, but when it came to the supernatural, they were the last people you wanted to ask. On paper, we believed in The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In action (or inaction) we treated Holy Spirit like that unhinged relative who chews their nails and burps at the table that you hope doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving.

Because spirits are ghosts.

And ghosts are Satanic.

An invisible God was fine. So was a Savior who died, and rose from the dead. But a Ghost or a Spirit, even a Holy one I guess, was clearly the line in sand.

Outward displays of worship (like love and joy) were frowned upon as well. They weren’t controllable, or qualitative, and couldn’t be put in the weekly bulletin as proof of our success. “Three more baptisms already this month! Only 7 more to go to reach our goal!”, as if our souls were Target Red Cards, and they were aiming for that corporate bonus. Every now and then, when a stray emotion wandered through after hearing a favorite song or verse, I’d feel a flutter in my chest, or a sense of hope from deep inside. I learned early on what to do: pretend it was the holy jalapenos from my nachos the night before, and keep that spirit stuff where it belonged. With the “crazy” churches. Who weren’t extra-saved and special. The ones who held their hands in the air and their faces towards the sky like a child begging for attention. Adoration unashamed. The thought of it made me shudder.

Until the day I almost died, the most supernatural experiences I’d ever had, were getting gifts in December from a fat, voyeuristic stranger who could apparently see through walls, or finding a quarter from a magic fairy, when I lost a tooth. So imagine what it would be like, to wake up one morning with a terrible premonition, that you knew was going to come true. And from that moment on, it’s like a doorway opened up, to a place you couldn’t possibly understand. And in that place, you knew things you shouldn’t know, and felt things you shouldn’t feel, and did things you shouldn’t do.

Like talk to people who are dead.

When I first started writing this blog, I made a promise to myself: I either write it real, or not at all. No filtering for a certain audience. No branding or labeling a thought, feeling or experience, to fit an ideology, religion, or belief. No pretending to know or understand, what I will never know or understand. At least not until this life has passed, and maybe not even then.

That being said, I’m a Jesus Girl. Not a particularly well behaved one. Or the kind that most other Christians accept, apart from a patronizing pat on the head. I don’t do sects, or memberships, or affirmations, or affiliations, or prayer on-demand, or food-for-your-soul ministries, or dogmas, or committees, or casserole baking, or ladies class, or group sharing of any kind, and listening to Joel Osteen radio for all of eternity, is my ultimate idea of hell. But a Jesus Girl is still who I am. I get it though. Claiming to belong, without being bagged, boxed and branded has a way of making people mad. But that kind of belongingwhere we filter thoughts, feelings, and experiences, to look like we fit inis the exact kind of belonging that I never want again.

My favorite bakery downtown has a punch card. Collect 12 heart shaped holes, and you get one piece of cake free, as in “Yay you! You’re a cake eating superstar. Just a few more to go, before you and your insulin resistance win a free trip to Diabetes!”

I handed the cute Millennial in the blue apron and the fully tattooed arm, my almost-full card, for the second time that week.

That’s when I heard it. The metal punch, clicking through the card stock. It was a sticky click, where she had to turn her wrist and wiggle it a bit to coax a slow, reluctant release. It sounded just like the metal click on the crumpled paper card I used to carry to the fields, on those early summer mornings when I went strawberry picking as a kid. Except those cards weren’t a pristine blue and pink with cupcakes and ribbons on the front. They were smeared greasy red and brown with berries, warm bologna, and mud. And instead of a free piece of cake, the hole that was left, meant a Band-Aid tin full of dollar bills at the end of each picking season. If you saved your dollars, that is. I usually spent mine as quick as I  earned them, for Lemon Heads down at Sam’s Drug Store, or on an Orange Crush in a cold glass bottle that sweated cool drops of forehead heaven, or on a red, white and blue rocket-sicle, that always melted before I could eat it. One year though, I saved every single penny, and bought a lavender velour jacket to match the Shawn Cassidy bell bottoms that I got for Christmas the year before. His child bride face and Palomino hair covered the bottom left leg, from the knee clear down to the hem.

At the start of each season, it took me a week or so of distraction to remember that there was no lemon candy, or melty popsicles, or pastel velour until ripe berries actually made it into the flat. And that didn’t happen if you sat in your row and ate them. Or if you army-crawled between the rows and peeked your head up just long enough to pelt your friends in the back with the rotten ones. Or if you took an entire handful and smooshed them in each others hair, yelling “strawberry shampoo!!!” while hurdling over flats and maybe landing in one or two.

I can still see the field boss, with her work gnarled hands and a choppy Scandi accent, pointing to me with my red stained face and berry filled hair, and yelling at my sister.

“Christy! You gonna have to do someth’in ’bout your ‘lil sister!”

I used to wonder what that “someth’in” could be. And from the look of despair in her well-behaved blue eyes, so did my poor big sister.

It doesn’t take much, does it?  A sound. A smell. A slightly familiar object. To transport us back to a long forgotten time and place, that feels so right now, we think we can reach out and grab it, if we only tried hard enough. In that one sticky click of metal through paper, I could smell the wet, muggy warmth rising off of the fields as the sun came up over the trees. And I could feel the hot summer sun, baking my back as I picked (or ate) my way up rows of fat red and ruffly green. Standing at that bakery counter, absently pulling a loose strand of hair, I was almost surprised to look down to find clean adult fingers with manicured nails, instead of the chubby stained nubs of a child, sliding globs of mud and berries from her head.

The entire month of March, with it’s slow blooming trees, both bitter and sweet, and the feel of warm, wet days, that end in cool, dusky evenings, release a gauntlet of memories for me.

When I tried to write this story back in March, I couldn’t follow through. It felt too intimate. Too invasive. Like a close talking uncle on his fourth glass of sherry, who leans so far into your face, you can feel his breath across your cheek. It left me recoiled in my chair, thinking of polite ways to leave. So I shoved in April and May as a buffer, like that empty seat in the theater, to keep a shoulder, or a leg, or heaven forbid a hand, from accidentally touching someone else. But even that wasn’t enough, because here come the tears again. The super concentrated kind, like those cardboard cans of frozen juice, they sell five for five dollars at Fred Meyer. Just add water, or the truth, and you’ll end up with a whole lot more.

There are parts of this story that I’ve told out loud, many times before. Then there are some parts, that until recently, I’ve never even said to myself. I’ve learned that telling a story, and feeling a story, aren’t the same thing at all. Feeling it out loud, as I am right now, is like waiting for the trap door to open on one of those free fall water slides, with words like Death and Insanity in their names. Even though you know you’ll probably be ok, there’s still that lingering doubt in the back of your mind as you smile and wave goodbye.

Then WHOOSH.

You’re at the mercy of gravity until you reach the end.

-March 6, 1983-

Chores. My older sister and I were fighting over chores. I was 14, and she was 17, and for as long as I can remember, we fought over chores. Mostly because she did hers, and I didn’t do mine. Or at least not all of them, which meant that most of the time, she did mine and hers both.

“Christy! You gonna have to do someth’in ’bout your ‘lil sister!”

The usual, not-nice words were exchanged. I don’t remember exactly which ones, but I know they weren’t nice, because we weren’t nice to each other in general. Some of it was normal, but the majority of it was not. I like to believe that the love was there, but a relationship would never be possible. Not all parents want their kids to be friends

I was leaving for a church swimming party that morning. Not with my own church. My church was over an hour away in “the city”, although it wasn’t a city church at all. It was a suburb church. But since we lived in “the country”, anything not in the country, was the “the city”. Where we were going, was a town in-between, that wasn’t the suburbs, or the city, but it was a bigger town than ours and had an indoor swim park and a pizza parlor.

The argument over chores came to an abrupt end when I heard the dog barking out front, and I knew a car was headed up our long wooded driveway.  I grabbed my bag to run outside, but then right as I opened the door, an overwhelming urge to hug my sister and apologize kept my hand paused on the knob.

Apologies didn’t happen in our family. Not for real at least. Especially not the hugging kind. And definitely not between my sister and I. We’d had an unsaid agreement for as long as I could remember, to touch each other as little as possible. We shared a bed when we were younger, with two Yorkies and a pile of dolls, and the nightly ritual went something like this: “G’night. Love you. Don’t forget to say your prayers………AND DON’T TOUCH ME.”

I practically had to chase her down for a hug and an apology that morning. “Love you…..and uh…..sorry” is about all I got out before she wrinkled her face and pushed me away like she’d just smelled something foul. Not that I blamed her. Huggy and sorry isn’t who we were. But in that moment, I desperately needed it to be us, to soothe the ominous sense of knowing that something terrible was coming our way.

As I ran out to the waiting car, and crawled over the front seat and into the back, the second part of that same premonition came barreling in out of nowhere.

“Wear a seat belt” it said.

“It won’t matter” came the response.

We were country kids in the early 80’s and as far as we were concerned, seat belts were for weaklings and whiners who couldn’t brace themselves on the dashboard, like normal people did. I ran my finger across the shiny silver buckle that was lying in the seat, but didn’t clip it in. There was an empty glass bottle on the floor and a curling iron in the back window. I grabbed them both and shoved them up under my seat, so when the car rolled later, they wouldn’t hit me in the head. That wouldn’t matter either, as it turned out.

Why this supernatural frequency opened up to me, is something I may never understand. Unless chronic fear was a spiritual gift, I had nothing special to speak of. I was just an emotionally constipated church kid, who worshiped eye shadow and flavored lip gloss and thought a lot about feathering her hair. But like the prints on my fingers, or the color of my eyes, it’s become a part of me now. I can’t explain how, but I knew what I knew, to the tips of my rainbow striped toe socks: something awful was coming our way, and we couldn’t have stopped it if we had tried.

We drove to the neighboring town, while I waited for IT.  We swam, while I waited for IT. We ate pizza while I waited for IT. Then we laughed and joked on the way home, while I still, waited for IT.

Our older teenage driver was so good. Heartbreakingly good. She kept both hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road, even with the distraction of three middle school girls who couldn’t sit still in her car. She was no different than the rest of usthere was nothing she could have done to avoid what happened next.

About half way home, the three of us girls fell asleep—almost instantly it seemed. One minute, my friend L was waving her hands and telling a story while bouncing up and down in the front seat, and the next thing I remember is waking up with clammy hands, a racing heart, and a desperate need to escape. The third and final act of the premonition had arrived, and I had never felt so much fear in my life.

I pulled myself up between the two front seats, with an arm over the back of each. I listened for noises. A bump, or a rattle, but the air was calm and quiet. The radio was on low, and I heard that song by Nazareth, Hair of the Dog, begin to play on KGON.

“Heartbreaker. Soul shaker. I’ve been told about you…..”

I stayed perfectly still, like a fly on a window, with the shadow of a swatter hovering over it. Then we headed into a straight stretch, gaining just enough speed to pass the person in front of usand our car began to shake and weave.

“Make it stop!” I remember begging. But I didn’t mean the shaking. I meant the IT, that had been gathering strength all day.

“I can’t….” I heard her say with her arms locked on the wheel as we drifted towards the ditch. Then there were bumps, and a fence, and we were headed straight into a field.

“This is it?” I remember thinking, with a momentary flood of relief, that we were landing out in the grass. Then we lifted off the ground like a plane rolling down the tarmac, and we were flying through the air.

Even when a car rolls multiple times (they put ours at around 6, end over end) the worst of it is over in 30 seconds or less. But time as we know it, isn’t the same, when Death decides to show up. It’s like a hidden doorway opens to a secret roomthat’s neither Here, in this world, or There, on the other sideand seconds and hours feel exactly the same.

The first thing I remember, is the sound of metal grinding on pavement as we flipped back towards the road. Then there was the crack of my skull on every roll, that hurt so bad I could barely even feel it. The firework show behind my tightly closed eyes looked just like Disneyland at nightand I knew if I hit my head one more time, that Death would be taking me away.

Then a sliver of light began to open in the distance, like a mouth full of braces, yawning in the dark. As the light became wider and began swirling with color, I felt a deep, ancient pull that I had known forever, like the tides must know the moon. Some dark fuzzy figures like a Rorschasch Inkblot, began hovering off to my right. Not good. Not bad. Just detached workers, with no authority of their own, waiting for permission to start their workas if spiritual housekeeping, can’t clean your room, until the Do Not Disturb sign is gone from your soul. 

Then a Voice who felt the way lightening looks, filled the entire room.

“It’s ok, Alyssa, this is supposed to be happening,” was all it said, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

“Can you please get me out?” I immediately asked “I’m going to die if I hit my head one more time.”  The next thing I knew, I broke through something solid, and away from The Room and The Voice. I saw the pavement spiraling towards me as I flew through the air and the car rolled away in the distance. I was still fully conscious when I landed face down, in the muggy wetness of that old country road.

I’ve spent my entire my life, wondering who Lightening Voice was, but up until recently, I’ve never bothered to ask. Religion would give me it’s opinion, then Anti-Religion would give me theirs, but neither of them would know the truth. Then one day, not long ago, I got brave and asked God itself.  “It was The Whisper in your ear, who’s been with you all along,” was the answer I received. In my heart I know it was Holy Spirit, although now I just call it The Whisper.

The first thing I did after landing in the road, was to take inventory of my bits and pieces. Besides one hanging pinkie, my hands and arms were still there, which was a surprisingly positive start. Patches of hair were missing and my body felt sticky and wet, but I could see, and crawl, and I assumed I wasn’t dead, which I was still finding hard to believe. I laid down in the road, with my cheek on the pavement, afraid to move in the eerie quiet. Then I heard the windshield wipers scraping over broken glass, and Hair of The Dog was still on the radio, blaring at full volume now.

“Now you’re messing with a…..Son of a Bitch!”.

I still hate that song, more than I can say.

The details of what came next, aren’t completely mine to tell, but at the very least, I need to say this: my friend L, with her jokes and her stories and her effortless charisma, died when the rest of us didn’t. I’ve rewritten that last sentence over and over, using Oprah-eque phrases like “crossed over the veil”, or “stepped into the light”, to try to spruce it up a bit. It’s a compulsion I guess, to give the ugly truth a new suit and tie, and hope no one sees it for the mangy rat it is.

There were no cell phones back then. No Trauma System to alert. No Life Flight to swoop in.  No Level I Trauma Hospitals with teams of nurses and surgeons waiting for us at the ER door. So my friend N and I sat by the road in the dark, with cloth diapers held tightly to our heads. Then the volunteer ambulance full of friends and relatives, bandaged us, and consoled us, and kept us safe, until we reached the community hospital, almost an hour away.

In the beginning, before help arrived, my friend N and I had gone to search for L. We were worried that the car was going blow up, like it always did in the movies. The man from the car that we tried to pass, had already found her first. “Don’t come down here!” he begged, with his arms open wide and waving back and forth, like he was trying to herd confused ducklings. But there was no amount of pleading that could have kept us awayshe was our friend, and we weren’t going to leave her.

When we finally found her, each of us grabbed a hand, but then we both stopped pulling in unison. With her perfectly feathered hair, and that smile on her face, we thought it best to leave her “sleeping” until help came.

Even later on, as we saw shaking heads and the  blanket that was reverently put over her, we still believed our friend was “sleeping”, and would wake up when she was ready. Then sometime in the night, between stitches and x-rays and being left behind curtains under bright florescent lights, we got the news that our friend was gone. I didn’t learn the truth of what had happened to L, until that following summer when I overheard an EMT telling a friend about what she had seen. She said the beautiful vision, that both N and I saw, had never existed at all.

So how did two separate sets of eyes see the very same image of peace and joy, shining from the inside out? This is what I believe: we were given the gift of seeing our friend as she was from the moment she died, safely on the other side. And it was an act of mercy, from a God who cared, who created a memory that we could both live with. Even after 18 years as a medic, that vision has never changed.

So if your God is so caring, then why isn’t everyone protected like that?

And why did your friend die in the first place?

And why are some babies sick and starving while others are healthy and fat.

And why…….????

How’s this for an answer: I don’t have one.

What I do know is that in 6 rolls of a car on pavement, my world was divided into two realities.

In one, I ate Doritos and Pop Tarts at sleepovers my friends, and I would have sold my soul to watch MTV. I also had a blue satin jacket that wasn’t soaked in blood, and children didn’t die.

It the second one, I was left with visions and voices from a place I didn’t understand. Dreams became night terrors. Fears became phobias. Rage became outbursts. Anxiety became self-destruction, compulsion, and recklessness. And guilt for surviving fed that old time religion, of shame for being alive at all.

No one did counseling back in the 80’s. It was half-heartedly offered, but even if I would have wanted it, I knew the right answer was an indignant “no way”.  Counseling was for weak people. For crazy people. For people who weren’t Extra Saved. Not that I didn’t talk about it. I talked about it incessantly. Exhaustively. To friends. To family. To complete strangers. Even more in my later teens, when I found the comfort of a boozy oblivion.

The best part about being hammered, was being able to talk about ghosts and spirits, and a Lightening Voice in a Secret Room, and how sad I was all of the time without ever having to feel a thing. As an added bonus, everyone else was wasted too, and they wouldn’t remember anything you said. Talking didn’t mean feeling, so for the longest time, a drunken ramble in the middle of the night was as real as this story ever was. And by never being able to feel it out loud, it became an alcohol soaked network of risky compulsions, that tried to destroy me in a different way. I know I wasn’t the only one.

I still grieve for the kids, who walked single file down the steps of our school, past the playground, and the baseball field, to the church. We said goodbye to our innocence and to our childhood friend, and then marched back to class to take a spelling test.

I still grieve for the boys in the pew behind me, with tears streaming down their faces. It was the first time I had seen any of them cry.

I still grieve for the families, so paralyzed with pain, that they never knew what to say. And I hurt just as much for all of the kids, who mistook their silence for blame.

I still grieve for the siblings, who lost their sister. I didn’t know how to tell them I was sorry.

I still grieve for the parents who lost their child. I hope they know how much we all loved her.

I still grieve for the friend, who’s name we stopped saying, to protect all of the hearts that were broken. But pretending she didn’t die, hurt worse in the end, because it felt more like forgetting she lived.

L came to visit me a couple of years ago. Dead people still do that sometimes.  I was sitting in the parking lot of my daughter’s school on a miserable, rainy evening. As I stared at the trees, checking off a laundry list of failures, I felt a familiar tingle down the back of my neck.  The Room was open, and L stepped through as if we did this all of the time, instead of it being the first time in thirty some years.

“I’m sorry……” I said, starting to cry. I didn’t even know what for. For living when she died? For everything we had done without her? Like drinking hot chocolate on sleep overs with the mini marshmallow she loved. Or buying dresses for homecoming and prom. Or graduating from High School, and picking careers and spouses and homes and curtains and baby names….

“Stop”, she said, in an older sister voice, that sounded nothing like the girl I used to know.  “You’re spending so much time on the things that don’t matter, you’re missing out on the ones that do. Like your daughter’s game, that you should be at right now—you’re already 10 minutes late you know.”

I looked at the clock. It was 10 minutes past 6. I gave her a watery thanks and dried my face on my sleeve. My friend Denise says when Souls are on other side, that God gives them jobs to doI like to think that maybe L’s job is me. As I ran towards the school, I heard a sigh of relief rush through the trees, that “‘lil sister“, heard the message loud and clear.

In her newest book, called Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown describes “the wilderness” as the metaphoric wild place, where we all must go to feel what we feel, and know what we know, and tell the truth about who we are. Even if no one validates us. Or believes us. Or agrees with us. Or wants to hear what we’re saying at all.

“Belonging is being accepted for you who you are” she writes. “Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else. If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

We all want to belong. We need it, crave it, feel like we’ll die without it. We want our stories and our experiences to fit into everyone else’s boxes, as proof that we’re normal and ok. But unless we live in our own truth first, we lose the sacred parts that make us unique, in our insatiable desire to fit in.

In an interview in the early 70’s, Maya Angelou once said this: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place. You belong every place. And no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Everyplace. And no place. Being a part of it all, with the courage to stand alone. For the first time in 35 years, I know exactly where this story belongs.

The Itty Bitty, Big Things.

If a page in Open Office could be ripped out of my computer and tossed in the corner, you wouldn’t be able to see my floor right now. That’s how many times I’ve started this post.

And stopped.

And started again.

This is what happens when an agoraphobic story, desperately wants to be heard, but still isn’t convinced that it’s safe to walk out into the world. No matter how times you dress it up pretty and have it almost coaxed to the door, it may just as easily turn back around, and spend the evening on the couch, with a stale bag of Fritos instead.

So here’s the thing. Not only do I love stories. I need stories. Even if they never make it outside of my head, they’re my long walk on a stormy beach. They’re my wander through a sun-dappled forest. They’re my Prozac. My Zantac. My Xanax. They’re my prayers for peace and understanding: my arms lifted in gratitude for everything I don’t deserve, but I still, miraculously have; and they’re the unbreakable thread that binds my heart, to the entire rest of the world.

Tell them, and I will listen. Listen, and I will tell them. Put me in an uncomfortable position, and I’ll make stuff up that I probably shouldn’t say out loud. Like when I’m flying. I spend the entire time, with my face buried in a book, blasting 70’s classics or 80’s hair bands through my ear buds as loud as my neighbors can stand it. Then the book and the music, merge into one, and become a story of my own.  On my way to Chicago last Fall, entire scenes from Outlander fell victim.  Like the one where Claire leaves Jamie in the 17th century at Craig Na Dun. In my vodka spiked version, just as she slips back into 1945, the rocks morph into jumbo versions of those fake stone speakers that they’ve hidden all over Disneyland, like the ones that blast banjo music while you’re having your spine re-arranged on Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster. Then The Scorpions lyrics “Always Somewhere…….Miss you where I’ve been…..I’ll be back, to love you again….” roll into the Scottish countryside as Jamie runs back to fight the battle of Culloden. In red leather pants. And a long auburn perm. With an electric guitar raised in the air. And the battle cry “Je Suit Prest!”. In a voice that sounds exactly like Klaus, as he closed their last set to a sweaty, screaming, half naked crowd in 1989, at Monsters of Rock in Candlestick Park. (Which is an entirely different story on it’s own).

On another flight, a few weeks later, I birthed a Helen Redy /”I Am Woman”/50 Shades of Grey, mutant story-child, that came out looking like a Jim Carrey/Vera-De-Milo/Buffed, Beautiful and Bitch’in version of Anastasia. It talked like me, but with a baritone Vera lisp—and bent Christian’s pinkie back the minute he tried to spank her, and told him if he ever tried it again, she’d rip it off and pin him to the wall, like a bug in a science project, with his fancy leather riding crop. To which he immediately replied “I’m so very sorry. I respect your boundary. Can I buy you a Greek Island in apology?” Then Me/She/We tap our bucky front tooth in thought, and say “No thanks, but a new pair of Manolos would be nice.

“Size 9. Extra Wide. Bunions. You understand.”

Then he looks at us like that’s the hottest thing he’s ever heard, and donates a few million dollars to the Malala Foundation. The End.

In these situation, keeping myself completely distracted until the last bit of turbulence has finally rolled through, is the only goal. Along with making sure that those tiny Matchbox wheels, that have no business supporting the weight of an entire plane, don’t pop off the moment we land, or get ground to smoking nubs before catapulting us end over end.

Yes. Telling stories helps me cope. But these particular ones, and this type of coping have nothing to do with why I’m here.

Which means I’m stalling.

I use stories to do that too.

* * *

It’s been an entire week since I wrote that first part. I’ve caught myself on the verge of Googling “How do I write this damn story?” twice now. Not that it would do me any good. I never find my damn keys that way either. It’s the reason I can go months between posts. It’s not easy to sit in the bug-crawly discomfort of a stage-frighted story, let alone set it free, to run amok, outside the safety of my own person.

As a last resort, I asked Siri.

What am I afraid of ?!?” I half yelled into my phone, because sometimes it feels good to yell at something that can’t yell back.

Interesting question, Alyssa” she said in her superior, un-bothered way, and then sent me to an online game, where the pictures you choose, reveal your unconscious fears.

The first time around I got Fear of Death. Not a big revelation. I’m afraid of those creepy clown, pop up music boxes for the very same reason. Knowing the demented clown is coming out of the box, isn’t nearly as scary as not knowing when the demented clown is coming out of the box. So I took it again, and got  Fear of Failure.

WA-wa. Disappointed face.

I was hoping for something new.  They may as well have told me that I’m afraid of palm sized spiders. Or of accidentally swallowing that placenta-wad, that lurks in the bottom of my Kombucha.

But as I kept scrolling down, it was the obligatory pep talk at the end of the game, that suddenly caught my attention: Many of our greatest fears are unconscious beliefs, attached to untold stories, that may or may not be true. Tell the story. Challenge the meaning. Overcome the fear.

Which weirdly enough, leads me right back here, to the story that wants to be told. About a little girl. And a lost dog. Stuck way back in the recesses of a grown adult’s unconscious mind, creating shadows, and monsters, and limitations, and fears, for no other reason, than she didn’t know it was there.

And of course it’s afraid to come out.

It’s about a little girl.

And a lost dog.

And in the broad scope of childhood trauma, it ranks slightly above falling off the Merry-Go-Round or a badly stubbed toe. Yet here it is, calling daily, with the persistence of a telemarketer who won’t piss off, using every trick it knows to keep you on the phone. “But wait! That’s not all! For just $9.99, your Social Security Number, and the name of your first pet, we’ll include a free set of nose hair clippers!”

Which may be the entire point: Maybe it’s not the bigness, or the smallness of an event that defines the trauma. Maybe it’s defined by the person experiencing it, and their ability to know what they know, and feel what they feel, and to store what they know and feel in a place that they can find it, and name it, and make sense of it. Because when we’re not allowed to know it and feel it, our emotions, and beliefs, get warped and twisted and stuck where we can’t reach them; and before we even realize it, we’ve become a living, breathing legacy, to things that no longer exist.

*ITTY BITTY*

Bitty was my first child. The eat-you-up-adorable Yorkie runt, who was dropped into my world as I held her pregnant mom in my lap. One minute I was watching Donny and Marie, completely conflicted as to whether I was A Lil’ Bit Country, or A Lil’ Bit Rock n’ Roll, and the next minute, I was a new mom, to a blind, grunting ball of black fur and slime. I immediately named her Itty Bitty. Bitty for short. After she opened her eyes and weaned from her mom, she and I were inseparable. She slept with me, rode my horse with me, and shared Shwanz ice cream, straight from the tub, and a jumbo sized Sugar Daddy, as we watched Adam 12 and Emergency 911, under an orange and brown crochet afghan after school. She was Team Johnny too.

Then one day, I came home from school, and Bitty was gone. So were her brother and sister, that we’d named Fat Boy and Fat Girl, because they looked like black and tan sausages, with thick, grub-like tails, that wiggled non-stop. I knew they’d be going to new homes soon, because most of our puppies did, but not my Bitty. I was her Forever Person, and she was my Forever Dog.

No one knew what happened.

Maybe they ran out the door before anyone knew they were gone. 

Maybe they’re lost in the woods.

Maybe an owl or an Eagle carried them off.

Maybe they were picked up off the road.

Don’t get your hopes up looking. You’ll probably never see her again.

To a frantic little girl who had just lost her child, all of those possibilities brought unimaginable grief. Every day after school, I walked up and down our old country road, or combed the woods, calling her name. I slept with a picture of the two of us; her on my chest, me with a candy cane in my mouth, while she pulled it from the other end. I saw her in my dreams, hiding under a wet, mossy, rotted log, shivering in the rain.

And crying.

Always crying.

For me.

Her mom.

After not finding a trace of her, on the road, or in the woods, or from the people I showed her picture to at the drug store, or at the market, I knew I would never see her again. The ache in my chest kept me up at night, and when I did go to sleep, that deep feeling of  infinite loss, even followed me there. I didn’t speak of her again.

A few months back, I was driving my daughter home from soccer, when we saw a dog in the middle of the road with a massive head and paws and an awkward puppy body. He ran sideways, weaving in and out of traffic, tongue hanging out of his mouth, completely oblivious to the danger he was in. I did a U-Turn in the road and followed him down a side street.

We whistled.

We clapped.

We called down the road in those high pitched, Good-Dog voices, that only pet owners know how to use.

He ignored it all, eventually disappearing  into the maze of the neighborhood, and we didn’t see him again.

“If I ever lost Riley, I’d never get over it” said Annika, after we were on our way home again.

Riley is our rescue terrier. Although he’s older than us in dog years, he’s still the baby of the family. My husband is his person, but Annika is a close second. He sleeps on. Or by. But mostly on. Her bed every night. She says she knows what he’s feeling by the twitch of his feet, or the crumple of his ears, and we absolutely believe her.

“Have you ever lost a dog?” She wanted to know.

Thoughts of Bitty, were stashed so far down in my Bank of Things Remembered, they had almost disappeared, so my first response was to say “No”; followed by an ancient ache in my chest—and a painfully reluctant “Yes”.

Then I told her the story of Bitty,  with so much detail, color, and emotion, that I actually surprised myself.

She was quiet for awhile, biting her cheek, and glancing out the window, before finally turning to say, “You know you call me Bitty, right? Don’t you think that’s weird?”

Well, of course I knew I called her Bitty. It’s the name I gave her the moment she was laid on my chest, right after she was born. I just didn’t know it had anything to do with my little lost childhood dog. And yes, I suddenly thought it was weird.

If it was a matter of just being weird, I could have stopped right there. Weird and I go way back, and we get along just fine. But it was more than that. What I hadn’t realized, until that very moment, is that a 40 year old story of fear, loss, and grief, had been showing up for an encore performance, in a fully grown woman’s life.

From the time my kids were born, I’ve had a paralyzing fear of losing them. Like on a playground. Or in the store. Or in their own bedroom. I wish I was kidding about that last one, but at least the other two I know are normal. Most parents worry about losing their kids in public. Especially when they’re little. Then as they grow, and learn, and have the ability to protect themselves, and make safe-ish decisions, we as parents, begin to let those fears go.

Unless you were me.

If you were me, you had two teenagers, and still felt inexplicably panicked when they left for school, or walked to a friend’s house, or were in a public rest room for more than 5 minutes. Then in nothing flat, you could escalate from, “Wonder what’s taking so long…” to a vision of lying awake at night, knowing you’d never see them again, completely consumed with unimaginable grief, without ever stopping to consider, the far more likely possibilities in between.

Like hair gel.

Or lip gloss.

Or Snapchat.

Just that day, as I’d been watching Annika play soccer, I found myself searching for her repeatedly. If I didn’t see her familiar run, or the one brown ponytail, in a sea of brown ponytails, that I somehow knew was hers, my hands felt sweaty, and my guts felt jello-y, and my vision felt tunnel-y, and it only went away when I spotted her again. Those feelings had become so familiar, I’d never stopped to question their sanity. They just were.

Except now, I was doing more than question.

That ache in my chest, with it’s nose in the corner for all of these years, was suddenly free from time-out. It was just as painful as I remembered; and for the first time in my adult life, I saw how powerfully present, that decades old story had been.

The ultra-simplified, not-a-professional-so-do-your-own-research-or-get-your-own-therapist, lay-person version, of how this happens, has been explained to me like this: The Conscious part of my brain, that should have been saying logical things like “Of course she’s still on the field. She’s the height of a grown woman, not a teeny, tiny, purse puppy that can disappear without a trace, the minute your head is turned”, was completely oblivious to the story being told by the much deeper, Unconscious part of my brain. This part has no concept of time and place, or even a language of it’s own to say “Pssst! All is well. That terror you’re feeling right now, happened 40 years ago. Relax and Google crock pot meals like everyone else is doing“. Since it can’t tell the difference between what happened then, and what’s happening now,  familiar stimuli (like searching for your “lost” child), can cause us to think, feel and experience it, in the same jello-y guts, and tunnel-y vision way. As miserable as that is, the Unconscious brain doesn’t give two hoots about how it makes us feel, because it’s primary job is not to make us happy. It’s first job is ensuring our survival, so it stores events, feelings, emotions and beliefs in a way that it registers as “safe”—even if it keeps us attached to a painful story, in a clearly dysfunctional way.

This is how the memory of Bitty became trapped in a maze of sadness, loss and grief; a repressed sorrow, that was being told and re-told through an invasive, irrational fear. And blocking it’s path to awareness, was a single question, that created so much shame and despair, I’ve spent a lifetime shush-ing it down: “How do 3 expensive dogs, disappear in one day, without anyone knowing where they went?” Even as a little girl, I didn’t believe that no one knew. But by never admitting that I questioned the story, even to myself, I buried the painful possibility, that the god-like people who I trusted the most, may have sold my dog with the other two—which  kept the reconciliation of that loss, out of my reach as well.

Our pain hates to be shush-ed. It’s like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. “It won’t be ignored!”; and one way or another, it will have it’s say—in either a fully accessible, agreed upon story—Past with Present, Conscious with Unconscious, no boiling bunnies or jacked up hair. Or as an anxious, obnoxious mom, counting heads like Rain Man by the side of the field, or pacing outside of the men’s bathroom and calling “Are you done yet, sweetie?”, to her mortified teenage son.

Every now and then, when I’m at the doctor’s office, and they see that I’m a retired paramedic, they’ll say some version of “Wow. You did that job? I wouldn’t want to do that job. Have you ever needed therapy for all of the bad stuff you must have seen? Here, go pee in this cup”.

Then I respond with some version of “Nope. I’ve needed therapy for everything else, just not that. Do you want a fill job, or just a splash?”.

They look at me out of the corner of their eye, like I’m in some sort of denial or have a trailer full of bodies in my back yard; which sometimes makes me wonder, as I’m shifting in discomfort on that crunchy tissue landing strip, in my gaping floral gown, if I should come up with something else.

“Well, it’s been a struggle, but I do try my best”.

Then we could nod to each other knowingly, with a face that’s appropriately sad, and it would all make perfect sense. But the truth of it is, I don’t struggle. Not because I’m in denial, but because of the exact opposite, I think. Anything sad or mad or painful or gross from the years I spent as a medic, sit in a small, accessible box, on a fully conscious shelf, which means those thoughts, feelings, emotions and beliefs, don’t need to stomp their feet for attention, or get unruly, and misbehave, to be heard. Not the way Bitty did.

When my kids were little, I had a solid reputation as a Grizzly Mom, who most  didn’t cross more than once. I did what I knew was right, and didn’t apologize for standing my ground. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unless it shows up where it’s not invited.

And it did.

More often than I wanted to admit.

I used to catch people rolling their eyes, or hear them whisper behind their hands—”It must be her job, poor thing……”. Like I had a terminal illness that I wasn’t aware of, and no one wanted to break the news. Being a medic would have been an easy excuse, if I was ever inclined to make one. I do admit, I was way more cautious than most other parents, for pretty obvious reasons. But when rational concern, turned into scary monsters that I couldn’t explain, I knew it wasn’t “my job—I simply had nothing else to call it at the time.

In all of the years I spent doing what many would call a traumatic job, I only carry a handful of calls with me, and even fewer names and faces. Not because they didn’t matter, but because they did; and one way or another, they were laid to rest instead of being left to wander, like homeless ghosts in the door wells of my mind. Do you know what I do carry with me though? The way the ambulance smells in different weather; like oil, metal and pavement when it’s hot, and like a big, un-bathed rodent when it’s wet. And the weight of our block radio, as it hung from my peeling leather belt. And the grid of the city, like a GPS tattoo, etched into my brain. And the cloudy scratched plastic, blurring the buttons on the Lifepack, like a kid’s candy fingerprints. And the clunky laptop, pulling on my shoulder, as I lift it to write a chart. And the smell of 7-11 Nachos after being stuck for twelve hours, under the drivers seat. And the taste of a lukewarm Venti coffee, with chunky swirls of Half and Half, floating on the top. And the way my waffle bottom boots squeak when they’re wet, across the shiny ER floor. And the early years of Fail-Safe, blaring in our ears, when we took a corner over 40 miles per hour. And the bare dangling wires, when my angry lead ripped it off the wall, and threw it out the window. And the laughter of my favorite partners. Or which ones snore. Or who would only eat a one kind of Pad Thai, from one single booth down at Saturday Market. And who would eat anything, from a withered carrot found rolling on the cab floor, to a day old McRib, left in their work bag overnight. And the pure fun of driving code 3, especially when it’s dark. But there are no pop up surprises. No painful stories left unresolved. Nothing forgotten that should be remembered. Nothing remembered that I should forget. Which is my best explanation, for why a big traumatic job, left a much smaller imprint, than my black and tan Yorkie runt.

The events in our lives are funny that way. Whether we know it or not, they’re constantly weaving a fabric. When we can feel what we feel, and know what we know, the threads become part of a strong, resilient whole. But the ones we snip back, (or that are snipped back for us through shame, guilt or fear), are fragile, and weak and eventually leave a hole. The hole that’s left, becomes the untold stories that live on and on, through our destructive thoughts and behaviors, our liming fears and beliefs, our unexplained anger and control issues, our self-sabotage, addictions and relationship failures—and so much more. Like a highly anxious mom, who doesn’t know she believes, that her two beloved children are destined to disappear, like her beloved childhood dog.

I’ve always said that I became a medic because it’s fun. You learn real quick (like after you’re slapped down on your first ambulance ride-along), to never say “because I like to help people”.  But it’s ok to say it’s fun. And for more reasons that I have room to explain, it really was fun. But on a deeper, and yes, unconscious level, I know it gave a voice to some very different stories, that I also couldn’t tell out loud. Like chaos. And abandonment. And betrayal. And unimaginable loss. And being taught to believe that I was a disgusting, worthless, un-savable worm who was hated by God. And a crippling fear of death (For obvious reasons. Like burning in hell forever.Duh.)

If fear, anxiety, worthlessness, and visions of being flung into the pit of hell by a laughing, vengeful, god-monster was the disease, being a medic was the cure. When I entered that realm, I felt indescribable peace and calm, because when other people were depending on me, fear and anxiety lost their power. There were tools. There was a plan. There was a way to control the chaos that usually seemed to work; and when it didn’t, I knew, that the dying aspect of living, was completely out of my hands. I hadn’t caused it, or created it. I was only there to help.  And someday do something so heroic, that god would forget that he hated me. And hopefully pay my penance for being a disgusting, worthless, un-savable worm.

I ended my career, never feeling like I succeeded in that, but the one thing I did understand: in allowing me to tell my story in a way that my soul understood, it’s my patients who really saved me, instead of the other way around.

You know that saying, “When the past comes calling, don’t answer it. It has nothing new to say”? Well I think it’s exactly the opposite. When the past comes calling ANSWER THE DAMN THING. And then invite it over for coffee; and ask it to tell you everything it knows; and then tell it everything you know; and then keep inviting it over until the conversation becomes so incredibly boring, it doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.

Because here’s the thing. Dealing with our past isn’t like removing a tumor, where the bad part is cut away, and the good part gets to stay. The good and the bad are fully intertwined, and in shunning our past to escape the bad, we lose the rest of our lives as well. In knowing what we know (even if that means shaking your fist at no one, and screaming into the air “You sold my eff-ing dog?!?), and feeling what we feel (even if it means ancient tears, streaming down your face, that you haven’t tasted in 40 years); we not only preserve the fabric, but we create new fibers of meaning and belief, that weave in and out, through time and repetition, to eventually mend that hole.

“Letting go” doesn’t mean spinning around an ice castle, singing a Disney song. If we really want to let something go, we have to pick it up, first. That means facing our stories, grabbing them tight, holding them close, listening to what they’re saying, over and over, like a child who’s afraid of the dark, until we fully understand; and then, and only then, can we truly set them down. Feelings from our past, don’t go away, just because they don’t make sense in our present lives. Neither do the holes from the stories we’ve left untold. We may call it choice, or destiny, or being cursed, or “this is how I’ve always been” or “I don’t know why I feel like this but…”, or “how do these same things keep happening?”, when the truth of the matter is, it may just be an Itty Bitty story, that’s so desperate to be heard, it does whatever it thinks it has to do, to simply be invited in.

That Time My Daughter Was Gay.

Before I even start, I need to say a few things up front.

1- I have my daughter’s permission to tell this story.

2- This is not an attempt to be an authority on something I know nothing about, like being gay. Or having a child that’s gay. The only thing I can be an authority on, are my own experiences, and realizations, and flaws, and regrets. Of the last two especially, I have more than I can count.

3- When I first started this blog, the Go Daddy Saint who helped me set everything up, asked me what my “brand” would be. I had no idea how to answer that, because I’m not a brand. I’m a person. And while brands are used to sell inanimate objects like vacuums, and razors, real people don’t come factory produced and sealed in a plastic bubble. They’re growing and learning and becoming. Or at least they should should be. And real stories—the ones that change our lives, or perspective, or who we are inside—can’t be tweaked and twisted for a label, or leave us feeling obligated to nip it here or tuck it there, like a tragically botched facelift, to fit the box we’ve created for ourselves. I’ve spent my entire life doing that. Living up to a tragically botched label. And it’s nothing but a lie. My experiences, and the beliefs I have surrounding them, don’t come from a pretty packaged box with a description of what to expect inside. (“Deeply flawed Christian mother who avoids groups, hates Kool-aid, and cusses as much as she prays. No guarantees. And absolutely no returns”.) They’re dug from the dirt. They’re The Whisper in my ear when I’m ready to give up. They’re the sores on my knees, after dropping in anguish to the middle of my bathroom floor. So at any given time, they may fit, or contradict, any or all of the different aspects of this journey I’ve set out on To Become. Which is the long way of saying: don’t let a single story or experience get you too invested in the parts of yourself that you may be expecting me to reflect back. Especially when it comes to faith, and God, and the 7.4 billion other humans, with their own thoughts and beliefs and realities and experiences that we all share this planet with. Because I reserve the right to live this life with all of the awe and wonder it deserves—and to change accordingly with every new shred of truth that I’m lucky enough to find. And I reserve the right to believe whatever I feel is right, and still say I’m a Christian. And I reserve the right to speak out against anything I choose to, and to love, and support, and stand up for people like me, and not like me, and yes, still say I’m a Christian. I’m just saying that up front, to save anyone the trouble of writing me a message, that includes the phrase “How can you call yourself a Christian and still……”. Let me give the only answer to that question that I ever will: Don’t worry about it. Me. My story. How I express it. Who I love and support. What I believe. Do not affect you, so don’t let it make you a victim of something you’re not. And on The Road To Becoming, I’ve thankfully learned, that another person’s rejection, or even acceptance, of my relationship with God, has no real power either.

So back to the story. Or maybe I should say stories, because when I really think about it, it isn’t just one. It’s four that collided into one, and they changed my life forever. I’ll call them Bloody Sunday, The Dream, The Decision and The Dog.

BLOODY SUNDAY: One Sunday night about 7 years ago, I came home late, and went in to kiss my daughter Annika goodnight. She was fast asleep in what looked to be an over-sized hoodie that had been pulled tight around her face and neck. Which was odd—but then again, she’d spent the evening home with her dad and brother, so who knew what they’d all been up to. As I came a little closer, I saw a band of white sticking up from her collar. When I gave it a pull, a big wad of gauze came out, covered in large amounts of blood.

“OMG! OMG! WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT HAPPENED? OMG WHAT HAPPENED?!?!?”

Yep. That was the Shit-Together-In-Crisis response from a seasoned Paramedic.

“I cut myself” she said in voice that was calm. Too calm. Creepy calm. Slither down your down your back and wiggle in your toes calm.

“Like on accident….?” I nodded, cuing her to say yes.

She stared me straight in the eyes, and shook her head no.

I wrapped her in a blanket and headed to the car, stopping just long enough to yell at my husband, who I’m not sure ever woke up. Not that I really wanted him to, because even though, unlike me, his Shit-Together medic response extends to our kids and their blood, I’m a lot faster, and I didn’t want to wait for him to get dressed.

The 10 minute drive to the hospital was spent priming her for what would come next. “They’re all really nice……..and they’ll make your cuts better. Then they’ll ask you some very important questions, and I need you to tell them the truth, no matter what.”

Even if it’s something your parents have done.

Please don’t let it be something your parents have done.

The rest of the night was a slow/fast blur. They stitched two deep gashes in her neck, that she insisted she did with a pair of nail clippers, (Wth…..nail clippers?!?), “because she just wanted to know what it felt like”. We left 3 hours later with wound care instructions and the name of a child psychologist, who after two months of weekly visits, came no closer to solving the mystery than any of the rest of us had. Although she did send us home with an ADD test (that we immediately threw away), and a pop-up tent “sanctuary” that filled Annika’s entire room, and a baby teething ring, “to chew on in times of distress”.

I may have used both of them myself.

THE DREAM: A few months later, after picking ourselves, and our lives, and every aspect of our kid’s environment apart, like the last bits of KFC from it’s crispy fried bone, we were still no closer to finding the answers we needed to move on. Prior to Bloody Sunday, there had been some intense family upheaval that we thought may be responsible, if for no other reason that we were desperate for a Scapegoat.

We were in the process of being shunned by our friends and family after leaving my childhood church for a new one. Nothing about our situation was unfamiliar: Step 1.) Grown adults attempt autonomy. Step 2.) As punishment, love and acceptance are withdrawn by The Herd. Step 3.) After punishment, grown adults attempting autonomy are expected to run back, fall on their knees renouncing their sin, and beg for forgiveness.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. It was the same game I’d watched being played, over and over, my entire life; the only thing that ever changed were the names and the remote control faces.

And now me.

Because I wasn’t running back. And there was no way, in this life or the next, that I was groveling for my autonomy to anyone. Or accepting punishment for doing what normal adults, with jobs, and a marriage, and a well cared for family, have earned the right to do: live the lives they were given, instead of allowing other people to live it for them. I was already prepared to do whatever it took, to raise my family on my own terms—with or without The Herd—because if we couldn’t have the freedom and respect we deserved along side of them, than we would learn to go on without them. What I didn’t anticipate, was the emotional toll that separating from the only life I had ever known, would have on me, my marriage, and my children. I went from thinking I knew everything, to being positive I knew nothing.  Up until then, my thoughts and beliefs had been manufactured for me, and I was trained to recite them, like a secret password, whispered at the door of an exclusive club. And not just any exclusive club. The MOST exclusive club. Full of the only people that God could ever love. So there I was, like an actor without a script. A Minion without a Villain. With no idea where their voice ended and my voice began. And I was probably going to hell.

Then came the morning that Annika sat down for breakfast, and told us about her dream: “Me and Selena Gomez got married, and Justin Bieber sang Baby at our wedding. You and Daddy said you loved me so much—but some people got really mad” And when I say “some people” she actually named names. The usual suspects, who always had something demeaning or negative to say about us, or our house, or our parenting, or our monstrous children who just needed a good beating to get em’ right with God. She wanted to know why people would be mad at a wedding when they’re supposed to be happy. She had no idea, at least not consciously, that the church we went to, and the people we had spent our lives with, simply didn’t do gay.  Not in a Westboro Baptist way, with signs and protests and lispy, inbred sneers. That would make them look mean. They didn’t do gay in a much nicer way than that. They may not demean anyone to their face, but if you were gay, and shook their hand in a business transaction, the minute you left, they’d look at their Club Christian Co-Workers and wipe their hand on their leg with an “Ick”. Apparently gay money was fine, as long as they didn’t have to touch someone gay to get it. The unsaid agreement within the church, was a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell kind of thing, as if saying the word gay out loud, would make them appear out of nowhere like Voldemort. So were we the kind of people who stood in judgement, while some poor kid with their head bowed in shame, read an I’m-Sorry-I-Kissed-A-Girl-and-I-Liked-It letter in front of the entire congregation? No. Which I’m truly thankful for. The I’m-Sorry-I-Fell-On-A-Penis letters were bad enough as it was. And did we send children off for a soul saving summer at Camp Pray the Gay Away? No. We didn’t do that either. In fact, as far as I knew, no one in our sect ever was gay. All of that good, pure living of extra-marital sex, porn, divorce, addictions, gossip, and groping little girls must have bred it all right out of us. Although there were several people we knew who “never wanted to get married”, but adopted some kids that they raised with their “best friend”; or who moved in with their college basketball coach, and “never got around” to moving out; or who owned a house with their “roommate” of 20 years, and took yearly vacations to their timeshare at Atlantis.

After several months of reaching, and searching for any bit of probable cause that would force a 7 year old to hack her own neck open, The Dream was exactly what I’d been waiting for. So I put 2 + 2 together and came up with “My Daughter Must Be Gay”, figuring she heard the tones of disapproval, like only kids and dogs can do, and in her distress, she’d taken it out on herself; it seemed perfectly logical at the time.

I spent the rest of the day looking for ways to support her, without making it into a big weird deal.

Which means I made it into a big weird deal.

I pulled up famous gay people on the internet and forced awkward segues into bizarre conversations about how funny, or inspiring, or successful they were. (So speaking of the weather, have you ever heard of Ellen? I hear she loves dogs, just like you!)

If God was being merciful that day, he would have struck me dead right then.

Later that night at dinner, I asked the kids what kind of person they’d like to marry (“It could be a boy OR a girl you know!”).

They both stared at me blankly. Then Anders told me about the new Transformer he wanted, and Annika asked what was for dessert.

After they went to bed, I told my husband about the sign I was planning to make, for the next Pride Parade, of course.  “Christian mom who will F**CK ANYONE UP, who messes with my gay kid!”. Not that I’d ever been to a Pride Parade. Or knew when the next one was coming. Or if it was even normal for super triggered people to carry insanely aggressive, over-the-top signs, with claws and teeth coming out of them.

He said he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but that he did wonder, if I may be taking things a little too far.

The obvious answer was yes. But here’s what was really burning me, from deep inside, all the way out: until the minute I thought my own child was at risk, I knew I had never taken it far enough. I had sat back and allowed disrespectful,  dehumanizing behavior without ever speaking up. I stayed safely in the middle. Too quiet. Too docile. Protecting my position in my social group, above the rights of other people. Protecting the ministry I ran. Protecting my own ass. Now here I was, with a possibly gay daughter, and there was no way I was going to pretend that the slowly emerging levels of freedom, equality and safety, were a real reflection of society as a whole. Nor would they be, without a continued fight, for a long time to come. I also knew that any advances that had been made, on behalf of my possibly gay daughter, and my future daughter-in-law, and the children they may someday have, would be no thanks to me, and my no good, no help, ass saving self. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed, and I wanted to fall on my knees in thankfulness, to those who had spent their lives, risking far more than I ever had, by standing up for her in my place. From that moment on, I vowed never to be passive, or quiet, or let fear and selfish interests stand in the way of another person’s right to safety and equality again. Because even if my child wasn’t gay, someone else’s was, and now they were my child too.

THE DECISION: So here’s the thing about being shunned by friends and family for leaving their church. As I’ve said before, in other posts, it’s not the same as being disowned. Compared to being shunned, disowned is an act of mercy, because it’s one big jab through the heart, instead of a long, miserable death by a thousand little poisonous cuts. Most people don’t admit they’re shunning. In fact, if they’re ever actually confronted, they claim that they’re not, because they know it makes them look like jerks. So here’s what happens instead. They don’t stop inviting you to birthdays and holidays and social functions. In fact, you may find yourself invited even more. But it isn’t because you’re loved or accepted. It’s so they can sit at table with you, and turn their heads away when you speak. Or so they can yell at your children and treat them like feral little monsters if they so much as breathe in the wrong direction. Or so they can give each other beautiful gifts and make a big deal out of each one, while your kids get clothes that are 4 sizes too small, and a baby rattle that’s “just perfect!” for a 5 years old. Or so they can plan trips and laugh at inside jokes that you’ve been purposefully left out of. Or so they can bring up controversial topics on religion or politics, and demean the “sinful”, “disgusting”, “trash” (like you) who are dumb enough to believe the way you do.

For several months before The Dream, I’d been on the verge of doing something drastic. It’s a last resort measure called going No Contact, and it means cutting off all interaction with abusive people and their environment. Not because I wanted to. Even if you’re treated like garbage, when it’s all you’ve ever known, no one wants to. But something in me finally understood, that this cycle of behavior, had been growing and thriving long before I was born, and with or without me, it was going to continue, long after I was gone. Gay child or not, it didn’t really matter, because if it wasn’t about being gay, they would have made it about something else: Politics. Religion. Who you marry. Where you live. What brand of toilet paper you use. Turkey over ham at Christmas. Their need for other people to be bad, so they could feel good, was a problem far bigger than me; and like any real addiction we use to plug the empty holes in our lives, there was no rational conversation or magical solution, to talk them out of their next fix. The only behavior I could control was my own. And if I really did have a gay child, I knew that staying in that environment, would set her up for a lifetime of hiding or being shunned: never fully accepted, with the cross of self-loathing hung around her neck, forced to apologize for being born, “an abomination”, “a disappointment” and “broken”.

It was all sounding strangely familiar—and over my dead, cold, infidel body, was I letting anyone feed their Narcissism, on my innocent little girl. 

I had to let them go.

THE DOG: Five years later, my then 12 year old daughter, who so far was not gay, and in love with Edward the Vampire and Twilight, came downstairs for school, and dropped a bomb that left me stunned.

“You know when I cut my neck open?”

Um. Ya. I remember it well.

“Well it wasn’t me, it was Riley (our anxiety ridden rescue Terrier). I was forcing him to hug me like you kept telling me not to, and his teeth got caught in my neck. I was afraid you’d get rid of him, so I said I did it to myself. Can I please sleep with my door closed again, now?”

Her older brother had apparently known for years, but until they were sure the dog was safe, neither one of them was going to tell us the truth. As she went on to explain it more, she said she yanked his head when he bit her, and it tore two gashes, instead of leaving more recognizable bite marks. But just to make sure we believed her, she used the nail clippers, to disguise it some more. As extreme as it sounds, they loved their dog, and what they feared was actually real. Had we known it at the time, there was no way we could have kept him, after vampiring a little kid’s neck.

“But all of those years…..” I couldn’t even finish the sentence, as memory after memory of sitting up all hours, listening outside of her door, and visits to the therapist, and late night soul searching, and forced, awkward talks, clicked like an old toy Viewmaster through my mind.

There’s a term used by Tolkien, to describe the good story, that comes from the bad story. He called it The Eucatastrophe. It literally means, The Good (Eu) Tragedy: a sudden turn in an impossibly bad situation, that leaves us breathless with surprise, to find something beautiful on the other side. Sometimes its a found attribute, like loyalty or courage. Other times its an arrow, that either points us to our Hero’s Journey, or puts us on a path to a much needed change. It’s different than a happy ending, because just like real life stories, Tolkien didn’t believe that a fairy tale ever ends—it keeps moving forward, To Become something else, after catching a sacred glimpse of the truth.

So what’s the good story in the bad story here? I got out. Even under the threat of hell, and damnation and no more lemon meringue pie at Christmas. And I changed. Not because of my abilities—I didn’t have anything special to speak of—but because I was offered the choice to be different, and I showed up long enough to say yes.  And I experienced Grace. Not the kind where Angels sing and all is well with the world, forever and ever amen. The kind that hauls you on her back and dumps you in Time Out, so you can sit and think about how you’ve been acting for awhile. And I broke the cycle. For my kids. And my kid’s kids. And for a sick and suffering world that desperately needs to hold each other, and rock each other, and beg each other for forgiveness.

Please forgive me.

I saw a quote the other day, that said “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in, can hope to escape.” It may seem strange to think of desperation as a positive, but it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. Knowing who we are, isn’t the same as being who we are–and when Dog showed up as God, and lit the path to peace and freedom, The Knowing, and The Being, moved closer to becoming one.

Teeth Cleaning. Truth Telling. And a Bowl of Cold Gray Mush.




“I’m so sorry” yawned the super sweet hygienist who was digging on my teeth. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night. I have a dear, DEAR friend who insists on keeping me up. I mean, I LOVE HER TO DEATH, but she knocks on my door at almost midnight, several times a week, even though she knows I get up early for work.”

“Hath you athked her to thtop?” I drooled, trying not to disturb that pointy hook thing that I was starting to worry would end up buried in my brain.

“Yes” she punctuated with another quick scrape, “But for some reason, I end up feeling guilty. She really has done SO MANY NICE THINGS FOR ME, and I’m sure….no, I’m POSITIVE, because she’s THE GREATEST PERSON EVER, that when I tell her I need to sleep, and she reminds me of all that she’s given to me and done for me, she’s NOT TRYING TO MAKE ME FEEL BAD. Sometimes she says that I must not want to be her friend—AND OF COURSE I DO—but she’s starting to affect my work, and my health, and no matter how nicely I ask her to stop, I feel like I’m being mean.

At this point I’d had it. Not with the pirate claw, chipping at my teeth, BUT WITH THE STORY—not the one she’s saying out loud, but THE ONE SHE WASN’T, about the clearly abusive person—IN THE BOLD TYPED WORDS, that were the opposite of the truth.

How did I know? Because I had been there myself, in the Upside Down, Good-Means-Bad/Bad-Means-Good, Find-Muckery, of the Greatest-Ever, Done-So-Many-Nice-Things-For-Me, Malignant Narcissist “friend”. And once you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s pretty hard to miss in someone else.

So let’s pause right there to allow two key words to soak in: 

MALIGNANT 1.) Tending to be severe and become progressively worse 2.) can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

NARCISSIST: One who has an inflated sense of their own importance, an insatiable need for power, control and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

Just what we all want burrowing into our soft spots, right? And if you think that sounds fun, when the stage is set, and their players are cued for action, the story of your life becomes “Absolute Hell on Earth”.

You know how germs that have mutated past normal medications are called Superbugs? Well Malignant Narcissists are resistant like that too, except they’re resistance is to the way that normal people (the kind who don’t get off on hurting others) function in society. They’re more than a typical, self serving Narcissist, (who also hurts other people without remorse, to get their needs met). They’re a predatory Super-Narcissist, and because causing people pain  IS their need, asking them to stop any harmful behavior, is  met with mental, physical and social consequences that are so well masked with fakey, falsey goodness, people on the outside may never see it for the abuse it is.

The minute my mouth was empty, I sat up, wiped my face and asked her one simple question: “So what do you think would happen, if you quit coming to the door?”

There was a long sigh as she (thankfully) put her gum harpoon down, and said what may have been the first honest assessment of her twisted situation out loud.

“I know this will sound really weird (it didn’t), but I think she’s trying to push me to a breaking point (she is), so she can use it to make me look crazy (she will). She’s always setting up these impossible situations, where no matter how awful she acts, you look like the bad guy, and she either looks like the hero who saved the day, or the victim who everyone feels sorry for. If  I stop answering the door, she’ll make me look like the jerk. She’s literally in charge of everything: our friends, our families, Ladies Bible Class, Baby Showers, Women’s Ministries. She even takes our pastor on vacation. People practically worship her, but none of them know what it’s like when she doesn’t get what she wants. An entirely different person shows up….and that one is downright mean.”

That’s what I thought. Because no fully mature, middle aged, professional woman, tells a total stranger this kind of bizarre story (especially when they should be gagging them with that strawberry sand polish, and buffing their teeth to a glossy finish) unless the absolute misery of living your life under ownership, has finally outweighed the risks of telling the truth. And when it gets to that point. Even a drooling patient will do.

So who are these Super-Malicious, Super-Malevolent, Super-Bug people?

Malignant Narcissists (or what I call Super-Narcs) are pathological predators who get a sick satisfaction from other people’s fear, pain, humiliation and misery. You know how Cookie Monster says “Nom! Nom! Nom!” with his big googly eyes, bugged out in joy as he uncontrollably shoves cookies in his face? That’s what a Super-Narc does, except their cookie of choice is someone else’s suffering. 

It’s not so different from the fix a serial killer gets when they have complete control over their victim. The empty hole in their soul is temporarily filled with a godlike feeling of the power over another human being. Super-Narcs have just figured out another way to get it—minus all of that unpleasant jail time.

And look. If you think these people show up with horns and a pitchfork, you’re wrong. They show up with a rent check when you’re running short; or a job offer; or jumper cables when you’re stuck; or a great deal on a house; or with a super elite, VIP party invitation; or with a sunny day out on their boat; or as a nurse during your health crisis; or with a paid vacation; or with a door that’s open and a shoulder to cry on; or with a freezer full of casseroles when your kid is sick or your spouse breaks their leg. But unlike normal people, who do nice things because they’re actually nice, Narcs only do “nice” things to benefit themselves. They’re like a computer, always on, scanning the crowd, searching for an in, on the hunt for a useful tool, mimicking empathy and compassion in a shockingly real way, to look like your dream come true. Until the mask eventually falls off, and the Super-Narc Nightmare begins.

Showing up under the pretense of goodness and kindness, benefits them in several powerful ways:

1.) It lowers our defenses, while giving them a front row seat to our lives. This is where they do their best Market Research. That’s right. Just like advertisers do. They collect an arsenal of information to manipulate emotions and behaviors, or magnify our biggest wants, needs, fears, failures, and vulnerabilities, so they can market themselves as the solution to our problem. Either that, or they feed us a constant supply of subtle cues and warnings, of what will happen if they’re not given what they want. 

2.) It gives them the power to turn relationships into weapons. Using the information they’re given, they create an intricate web of relationships where everything we hold sacred, hinges on the approval of a group that is owned and controlled by them. Once that happens, they have the power to give and take, or punish and reward. If we’re on their side, (i.e making excuses for their bad behavior, and giving them the power, control, money, adoration, or status they demand), we get rewarded. Sometimes it’s with a share of their spoils, but most of the time, it’s by not being targeted–which for most people, is really all they want. But the minute they sense that one of their Ego Suppliers isn’t loyal, they make themselves the victim, accuse the defector of being the abuser, and turn the rest of the group against them—often damaging kids, marriages, neighbors, jobs, school relationships, church status, social standing, or anything else we hold dear. Simply put, they use emotional blackmail to keep us in a constant state of fear, confusion and denial, which is why otherwise good people, will stand by and say nothing, while abusers do what they do best: lie, destroy and manipulate, to get their needs met.

3.) It creates a high level of anxiety when they switch back and forth from generous and helpful, to cruel and abusive. Which is really the whole point. People who are anxious and confused don’t make good decisions. They also question their own instincts, which keeps them from trusting their inner voice, that in all likelihood, has been pissed off for awhile. Mine used to rant when I was vacuuming and scrubbing toilets. It took me awhile to realize that it was more than just the fumes from my Clorox Clean.

4.) It’s gives them entertainment. When you’re an empty, sadistic psycho, People Puppets are fun.

5.) It leaves you feeling beholding and indebted, and a lot less likely to tell the truth. Not that anyone would believe you if you did. Look how “kind”, “loving” and “giving” they’ve been! You should really should be ashamed of yourself.

Ummm. No. You shouldn’t.

And since I’m not ashamed either, lets talk about some pretty common behaviors, that you may be convinced are a figment of your toilet cleaning imagination too.

1.)  Never-ending Drama: Wherever a Narc goes, their three best friends, Misery, Discord and Chaos will always be there too. If Narcs have a Super Power, poisoning relationships is it. They plant covert seeds of mistrust, anger and hatred; pitting friend against friend, church member against church member, family against family, co-worker against co-worker, and without even realizing it, they all become actors in a shitty, low budget drama, that was written, and directed, by a truly malevolent person. Then guess who they all go running to, to be “the voice of reason” or “the calm in the storm”. That’s right. The Narc who created it in the first place. And with a hand to their chest, and a fake tear in their eye, they’ll say “It really hurts my heart, when you all can’t get along.”  

2.) Never-ending Gossip—under the guise or real concern: “Just between you and me, I hope their marriage lasts….she doesn’t really seem to love him.”; “Her husband gives me the creeps…we really should watch him around their daughter.”; “Let’s just pray that God makes them better parents…..those poor messed up kids”; “Being an alcoholic must be such a burden….but at least he’s finally fighting it” (as they relentlessly push the booze).

3.) Picking and Grinning: They choose certain kids and adults within the group, to be the “Bad Guys”. They make these people the butt of their “super funny jokes”, and encourage the rest of the herd to make fun of them, randomly ostracize them, or pick them apart when they’re emotional vulnerable, afraid or weak.

Not that I have any examples or anything.

I mean really. I’m just pulling these out of nowhere.

-So how about a grown woman who encourages a table full of  kids, to kick and hit a 3 year old and a 6 year old, and tell them that “no one likes them”—as she stands by and smirks when they’re forced to eat on the floor.

-Or maybe a grown man, who pulls a little boy’s pants down in public, and encourages an entire group of adults to shame and embarrass him. Then when his mom gets upset, he calls her a “freak” who “can’t take a joke”.

-Or what about the guy who leaves a bunch of little kids bloody and crying after tossing them at high speed on a boat; and then he and his wife blame the kids for getting hurt, and ridicule the parents who are angry. 

By the way, when it comes to them and their family, you’d better treat them like gold. Especially their kids. Unless, of course, they’re the disposable ones–like the “annoying” step kids, or the “thankless” foster kids, or the adopted kids who aren’t in a constant state of Savior Worship, or their “underachieving disappointment” kids who haven’t figured out that their only purpose for being born, is to be an extension of the Narc, and support their delusions of superiority.

4.) Innies and Outies: They purposefully invite one or more “Outsiders” to gatherings so there’s someone for them to low-key shame, ridicule, ignore, and ultimately feel like a superior “Insider” to. And here’s a little side note: if you ever have the feeling that you’ve been invited as an Outsider. You have. Instincts never lie. In fact, the Super-Narc has been picking you apart and priming her audience for days. My advice? Cancel at the last minute, so they don’t have time to invite an alternate. Of course, the lowest person on their group’s Psycho Pole will end up being the substitute. But that’s not your problem. They have choices too.

5.) Musical Friends: A revolving door of friends is created as “Unusable” people are run out of the group, to make way for better behaved Supply to come in. Because see, people are not people. They’re tools, that either give them what they want, or are thrown away without conscience or thought. People become “Unusable” in several different ways. A.) They don’t have enough toys, money or status to supply the Narc’s vacuous need for power, adoration and superiority, B.) They don’t give them enough personal information to allow themselves to be controlled or manipulated, C.) They don’t give them emotional reactions that can used against them in some way D.) They don’t follow the herd, or take commands, E.) They don’t buy the Narc’s bullshit. Seeing them for who they are, is a one way ticket out.

6.) Destruction of Sacred Relationships: Sacred relationships are especially attractive to a Malignant Narc, because nothing gives them more pleasure, or a greater feeling of godlike power, than destroying the relationship between a husband and wife or a parent and a child.

One of the ways they do this, is by forming an inappropriately close bond with a spouse, child or parent, or by making themselves indispensable in some way. They may encourage us to take that new job and offer to watch your kids for free. Then the next thing we know, we’re dependent on them financially–while they’ve become our kid’s second mom, or an influential third party in our suddenly crumbling marriage.

Another way they do this, is with a constant, low frequency negativity towards the people we love most.

Many years ago, one of my closest friends (Loose term. No real meaning) stood in my dining room and gestured towards my rambunctious 3 year old son.

“How do you even STAND him?” she asked, with fake empathy and a sneer disguised as a smile. Then she stared at me expectantly like an open mouthed Dementor hungrily searching for a soul, as if I should immediately nod in agreement and tear him apart myself. “Ya! The little jerk. And what was up with all of that morning sickness. I’ll never eat Jello salad again thanks to him….”

In different ways, and to varying degrees, she trashed all of the kids in our group.  But here again, is that extra element of evil that sets a Super-Narc apart: she not only wanted us to dislike each other’s children, she wanted us to dislike OUR OWN children. It’s all about the rush of power and ownership; and having the ability to control something so against nature, like separating families—especially a husband from a wife, or a parent from their child—floods them with euphoria like a vein full of Happy Juice, to a jonesing Malevolence Addict. AHHHHHHH……..

8.) Feeling Great Pleasure, from Bad Fortune: Super-Narcs are highly jealous, and downright sadistic, so witnessing or creating another person’s failure or misfortune, lights their pleasure centers up like a Disco Ball. Unless of course, they can take credit for our good fortune themselves (“I’m so glad I could get them that house. With their income, it never would have happened without my influence“). If that’s the case, they’ll pimp our accomplishments all day long.

And here’s a creepy little extra: You may have noticed that the people within those groups start to look strangely alike. They buy the same clothes, or furniture, or purses, or cars, or cameras, or dogs. That’s because anything that isn’t the Narc’s idea is targeted as “cheap”, “stupid” or “inferior”. But anything that is exactly the same the Narc’s, is “rewarded” (by not being targeted) since the brilliance of it all can be credited back to them.

9.) Nice Try Loser, But You Still Suck: Nothing you do will ever be quite good enough. Did you buy them an expensive present? Throw them a party? Take them on a trip? Do them a favor? (Like repeatedly answering your door at midnight, even though you wake up early to buff and floss teeth?) No matter what, they’ll always make you feel like you’ve let them down: (“Thanks for having the party. I was throwing up all night. But I’m sure it wasn’t your fault”; “Oh look. Another pair of earrings. Did you see the beautiful pair that Nicole bought for me? She really does know me so well?”.) Watching their friends jump through higher and higher hoops, or run each other over to compete for status, or perform for love and acceptance, is another source of Super-Narc power, control and superiority. Every now and then, they may let us think we’ve finally nailed it. But be warned: it won’t last. They give just enough “Reward” to keep us coming back for more, so they can watch us fail again.

10.) Bullying Children. If anything is a Hallmark of evil, this is it. And as I’ve said before, Malignant Narcs are known for it. Because remember the formula: Pain+Misery+Vulnerability = Nom! Nom! Nom! Nark-y Pleasure Snack. 

It’s not like they do it outright. They’re way smarter than that. There’s usually an eye roll here. A snide comment or comparison there. Along with a “funny” (aka humiliating) story, with a “laugh” (aka disgusted sigh), at the end. (“Macy stayed the night, and peed her pants. Again. Shouldn’t she be potty trained by now? We sure do love that kid though. Even with her behavior problems and all.”) And all the while, every child is being covertly painted with a lifelong label: Stupid. Annoying. Bad. Delayed. Ugly. Fat—with escalating cues, that urge the entire group from kids to adults, to shame and humiliate them on command.

Here’s what’s even nastier: A Super-Narc goes to great lengths to make themselves appear to love and protect children. They’ll often foster, or adopt, or babysit, or teach, or coach, or volunteer, because it gives them unlimited access to their favorite ego snack. It’s important to remember that any “good” they show up front, is the opposite of who they are. A dead accurate compass, that points to the darkness inside their heart. 

Ok. Gross. But how does anyone normal fall for this?

It’s actually easier than you may think.

Believe it or not, Narcissists are a dime a dozen. They exist in varying degrees, in every group and organization, from families, to churches, to schools, to charities to governments. So what causes some people to be a gourmet meal, while other people look like a stale bag of chips? From what I’ve learned so far, although I still have a long way to go, a primary reason is this: depending on the role we were given as a child, and the type of environment we grew up in, many of our brains are wired, to be the perfect Supply for a Narc. Some of those environments include (but are definitely not limited to): A.) Being raised with sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or with a highly manipulative Narcissistic family member. B.) Being raised in a cult-like family, or religion, (or both) that controls their member’s minds, bodies, spirits and souls. These environments teach us to fear authority, to find our sole identity in the approval of others, and that basic boundaries (like saying no to abusers) are selfish, sinful and wrong.

From as far back as I can remember, that’s exactly how I’d been trained: to make wanna-be elitists, feel powerful and superior; to deny or normalize their bad behavior so that they never had to admit they were wrong; and to be an obedient, submissive enabler so that abusive people, could do heinous things, under the guise of benevolence, altruism and good. 

We don’t repeat this cycle in our friendships because it brought us so much joy the first time around. We do it because the brain sees the chaos, dysfunction and misery of serving a Narc as “normal”. We know how it works. We get the commands. We instinctually follow their cues. And because the primitive part of our brain equates anything “normal” to “safe and survivable”, we subconsciously seek them out.

And here’s what’s even scarier. They seek us out too.

Wow. Just….Yuck. I feel like I need a shower. And I’m starting to  think I may have one. Is there any way to get rid of it if I do?

Yes. But it will hurt. They’ll make sure of it. 

There are several ways to skin this mangy, feral cat. My approach is only one, but here’s what I did first: Once the dots started connecting, I read every book and online article I could find about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Not just the Super-Narcs. All of them. Then, I took a brutally honest look at my groups and relationships—everything from schools and churches, to family and friends—and no matter how painful it was, I mentally circled all of the Narcs I could find. Kind of like a Where’s Waldo of my life, except instead of finding a gangly guy in a striped sweater and glasses, I detailed every source of chaos, misery, meanness, anxiety and dysfunction. And sadly, since up until that point, I had been a highly trained, lifelong provider of Narc Supply, there were a lot.

I mean, A LOT, a lot.

Next I played detective, and studied their actions, and my reactions, in all sorts of situations, and quickly learned exactly what was motivating them; because understanding what they want, is the best way to know how we’re feeding them.

Then I stopped. And started the long, painful, process of learning personal boundaries, and untangling them from my life.

One. Rotten. Root. At. A. Time.

I’ll save the specifics for another post, because there really was a different approach for each type of Narc, depending on the group and situation. But there is one, incredibly effective, universal tactic that I used for every single one. I call it going “Cold Gray Mush”. And for a lifelong feeder, it was also one of the hardest.

Since Narcs are Emotional Hoovers, it means changing your reactions from being a gourmet meal, to being as completely unappetizing as possible. And what’s less appealing than Cold Gray Mush? So here’s how it works. No matter what they say to try to get a reaction or response, and no matter how many speeches you’ve practiced in your head to finally let them have it. Give them nothing.

Not your anger.

Not your defensiveness.

Not your passive aggression.

Not your anxiety.

Not your fake friendliness.

And definitely not your honest thoughts or feelings.

Give the least amount of reaction, expression, or emotion you can, and get out of there. It may take some practice, but trust me on this. It’s worth every bit of effort, because once you know what a Super-Narc is, and how they’re fed, your real goal is to do more than stop attracting them. You actually want to repel them.

Going Cold Gray Mush, is the best Narc DEET I’ve ever had the pleasure to use.  

It’s not easy. Or painless. But just remember that nothing will ever be worse than having your life run by a Sociopath. And ya. A good family therapist who’s educated in NPD, is a good idea too. 

Just so there are no surprises, here’s a small sample of what you can expect, when you replace the Steak and Lobster of Reaction and Emotion, with a bowl of Cold Gray Mush:

-They’ll Smear your reputation: by calling you crazy. Or Mentally ill. Or saying you’re on drugs, or dishonest, or a sex offender. Pretty much anything to tarnish you and your character. Let them. Like my 17 year old son always says. “If people believe the first, worst thing about us, then we don’t want them in our lives anyway”. One of the best byproducts of a first hand education in dealing with Noxious People? Wicked smart kids.

-They’ll Project: by accusing you of everything they themselves have done. Shaming other people, for the traits that they despise in themselves is Narc 101. Put up your Wonder Woman bracelets and deflect it right back. Then walk away, Badass and Free like the absolute Super Hero you are.

-They’ll Threaten: usually covert—and again—often targeting your family. “I sure hope your kids have fun while they’re away at camp. You know I’m very close with the director—and their counselor is my best friend’s son .” Don’t underestimate anything directed at your kids. Again. They love to hurt children, and a super effective, covert way of doing that, is by starting rumors about them, labeling them as “creepy” or “weird”, setting them up in lose/lose situations, or by manipulating their reactions and emotions. Even if it means missing something fun, keep your kids away until they’re fully educated, and know how read these situations well enough to avoid the traps and protect themselves. 

-They’ll send out the attack dogs: Spinning a sob story about how “mean”, “thankless” and “disrespectful” you’ve been. Anyone who believes them will call you, or text you, or email you to tell you how disappointed they are in your shocking behavior. Someone may even show up to your house, to pray the insanity, the demons, and the F-word out of your unforgiving Satan possessed heart. No matter who they are, don’t acknowledge or respond to a single one of them. If they’re defending a Super-Narc, they’re under the same ownership you once were–and the very worst thing you can do, is allow them to pull you back in.

-They’ll blast anything private you’ve shared, out into the Universe: And I do mean anything, from where you hide your box of naughty toys should you die in a fiery plane crash, to your weird crush on the blue Wiggle. I say beat them to it. Write your own blog and be shameless about what you share: Top shelf of my closet. On the left. And whatever. He was hot.

-Narcissistic RAGE: Ok, I’m not trying to be a jerk, but this one can be kind of funny. Especially once you’re free and they realize their power is gone. In a Narc’s mind, everything in the world revolves around them, so they still have this bizarre expectation, that their Past Possessions will serve them on command, no matter how much time has gone by. 

Awhile back, I ran into a Ghost of Super-Narc Past who I hadn’t seen in years. If you live in the same area, it’s eventually going to happen. I raised my hand in a base level of polite acknowledgement, and went about my day. It never occurred to me to talk, or interact, because at this point in my life, when it comes to Emotional Vampires, “Closed For Service” is the only sign hanging on my door.

The next thing I knew, she walked up behind me, grabbed my arm and I found myself staring into that narrow eyed, glittery “smile” that was typically used as a warning. Except it wasn’t a warning at all. Not to me at least.

In a Narc’s wet dream, I would have done one of two things: A.) Yanked my arm back yelling outraged obscenities, so she could accuse me of being “psycho”, or “abusive”, or both, B.) Snapped into my old role to serve her with awkward conversation, exaggerated reactions and an endless stream of information. 

I did neither.

I simply stared.

With zero expression until she dropped my arm in confusion and walked away. But it didn’t end there. Right as I as leaving the store, the Vesuvius of Narcissistic Rage finally blew as she came at me again—lips a-flapping, eyes-a-glitter, saying anything she could think of to force some kind of reaction. 

Which was nothing. Cold Gray Mush.

At this point, her rage was so out of control, she actually rammed me with her cart (which I have to say was probably an accident—but nonetheless—Shit Completely Lost.) The entire thing ended with her snarling her way out of the store, as she glared at me over her shoulder, yelling bizarre things about my husband.

Then I bought a Latte. The End.

The moral of the Cold Mush story? When the actors refuse the role, The Play Write becomes The Played, and is left to their drama all alone.  

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to the nice clean tooth lady, with the Super-Narc pounding at her door. Having a mouth full of steel and foam, I didn’t get to tell her everything I wanted to, although I did nod a lot, and say “Urh hur” as she picked and polished and told the same strange, twisted stories, that only someone who has been there would believe.

I know this post is long. It may be my longest one yet. So thanks to anyone who took the time to follow it all the way through. There’s so much more to tell than a single story can express. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent most of my life on a chain, and I’m free for the first time ever, to finally tell the truth. I wish I could do it all now. Right this minute. Just scoop it up and fling it into the world like a turd being tossed from a litter box, in hopes that everything squishy, stinky and nasty, will transform into something else. Like hope. And healing. And validation. And encouragement. And the words “Me too!”, “You’re not alone!” and “I believe you!”.

The entire time I’ve been writing, a Henry Fielding quote has been running through my mind. “It is much easier to make good men wise, than to make bad men good”. At the end of the day, it isn’t our job to make Parasitic People “good”. Our job is to change ourselves. Because this kind of Darkness doesn’t just walk into our lives. Somewhere along the line, even if it’s on a unconscious level, we either accept it, encourage it, or invite it in. I know I did. With my arm held high waving a Christmas list of enabling behaviors, practically begging them to “Please pick me!”. As hard as that is to admit, I also know that the Road to Wisdom, can be long and winding, filled with Detours of Denial—and from here on out, the path I choose is straight and sure, paved with the Courage to Live in the Truth.

 

 

 

Finding Peace and Understanding, in the Gross, Spongy Center of Life.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that was kind of about the B word (Bigotry) and kind of about the R word (Racism), and then sort of about some other things that weren’t doing me a bit of good to keep carrying around.

So I threw them out.

Into cyberspace.

why? Why? WHY?

Almost 5 posts down The Road To Blog, and I continue to ask myself that same question, right before I close my eyes and press Publish anyway. And I still don’t know the answer to it, any more than I know why I buy a 3 Musketeers and peel the waxy chocolate coating off of that gross, spongy middle part, and throw it away. It’s just a compulsion that brings me peace. Reason enough, I guess. Continue reading Finding Peace and Understanding, in the Gross, Spongy Center of Life.

Sinners, Honkys and Misfits.

I never have loved to run. But for whatever reason, every Spring, I try to convince myself that I do. That’s how I ended up here. Staring from the top of these old concrete stairs, completely out of breath—not only because I’m overweight and out of shape—but because of the staggering flood of memories that have just come rushing back in. Continue reading Sinners, Honkys and Misfits.

It’s More Than Just the Poopy Revenge.

 

 

 

 

The first time I saw The Help, I fell in love with Minny. She was a Truth Telling Nightmare, who fought back, regardless of the risks; and shined a light so bright, that the Doers of Darkness, had nowhere left to hide. And while tale after tale of bravery and heroism had me cheering the whole way through, nothing compared to Bad Ass Minny, taking a dump in a Narcissist’s pie. Continue reading It’s More Than Just the Poopy Revenge.

Dear WordPress. You’re the only one who truly understands me.

img_9886

Dear WordPress,

So here we are again.

You: still waiting patiently.

Me: cursing and crying and digging a hole in the wall in front of my desk with an anxious big toe, as I Write. Erase. Repeat. And then press my fingers into my eyeballs as far as I can without causing permanent blindness, and think “Who even does this?”

Like really. What kind of person feels the burning need to vomit words into space where anyone.

Or no one.

But mostly anyone.

Can read them?

For the last month. Every time I’ve tried to write this post, that’s the only thing that comes out. Continue reading Dear WordPress. You’re the only one who truly understands me.