I’ve been avoiding telling my own story.
For several days I was writing a blog post about how we needed more honest personal story, more sex and gender in our conversations. Then I noticed I wasn’t telling my own.
Telling is unfamiliar because I’ve been very close-mouthed about great chunks of my own story, forever. Though much easier, it’s still difficult to talk about my early childhood and the pervasive experience of abandonment that persists from it. Hard to be fully with it and breathe and claim it, like the simple human thing it is. Hard to stay compassionate to self when I subtly re-abandon myself to go out into the world in search of belonging. Because that depth feels from the inside as not normal and I’ve feared no one else could understand, I try and pretend it’s not there.
There’s something delicious in all of this though. The experience of not-belonging, so deep has it been, has made me very sensitive to it in my environment. I have an acute appreciation for other people’s sense of abandonment or belonging. It’s where I live and breathe. I’m continually drawn to people’s sense of belonging and how it lives in them. My early experience stamped this on my soul.
Often I want to intellectualize about this. Like now, I want to tell you about the gifts. And there are gifts and I’m very happy about them, but I’ll put that off for now. In fact, living in my intellect has been my relative safety and in recent years, I became a sort of lay scientist of belonging. (I wrote my book, Evolutionary YOU in the voice of that lay scientist and it’s probably the best description and celebration of how we belong or don’t. You really should read it.)
In that book I only alluded to my own story though and kept it at arm’s length. It didn’t feel safe to talk about. There were implied family secrets that a child’s sense of loyalty felt must be obeyed.
Part of the story from my childhood, and I’m speaking with a child’s partial understanding here, was that I was a keeper of my mother’s secret. She didn’t love her husband as much as she loved me. And perhaps another man from before. Our bond was built of that secret and it was at the core of me. “Was.” It’s not right to say “is.” Stepping out of that birth caul has been a long process and an incredible gift, the only one I ever wanted. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Everything comes together in the turning of the story. For a lot of my life I missed my father and wanted him to see me but he had his own abandonments. Not trusting women with my heart, I sought out safe companionship with men in men’s groups for personal connection. A long time in them helped me to start getting my attachment needs met because I was well accepted there. I saw and felt and knew that men were good and capable, and loving. They were not evil patriarchs. Even white men. Men are good, in so very many ways.
I edited and wrote for an alternative men’s journal over many years. We hosted numerous conferences for women and men to explore gender too and some of it was deeply experiential and helped me a lot, helped all of us a lot. But the early pattern of abandonment, not being seen into being as a self, reasserted itself in my closest intimate relationships with women, in those love relationships where the early dynamic was rekindled.
I still feel called to support men. For me. The trashing of men and masculinity that’s in the courts, academia and now, in my country, the law, feels like a tremendous and dangerous burden for men, women and children. Part of claiming myself is speaking to that, making room for our gendered and sexual selves in new conversational spaces.
I want to make room for “trauma” too, for the equivalent of my early childhood experience. No individual is immune from “trauma” because trauma is in the race. It doesn’t show it’s scary face to every individual of course but it’s somewhere in virtually every extended family and when it’s in the family, it’s in us too. It’s part of life. We are the products of a difficult experiment: World wars, unloved childhoods, forced migrations, famines and murder weave through the race along with the love and the beauty. All these hard things may be the bewildering face of love anyway.
I want a new conversation that makes room for all of these parts of ourselves. Not safe ivory tower conversations, the forms of which society has created for the very purpose of keeping out the stuff it doesn’t feel it can handle. Not spiritual-only conversations that seek unity and bliss and avoid the rough edges where we really live and breathe. Like sex and gender. Like early trauma. Like later trauma. Like love.
I don’t mean we have to talk about these things, like a project. I mean that it’s good to make them really and truly welcome because when they’re not, and because they’re real for all of us already, we’ll live a guarded life, afraid of them erupting. We’ll be their jailers even as we put on brave faces.
We don’t know how to do this yet. Thank goodness. Because when we think we know how to do it, it probably means we’ll do what we’ve always done to keep the important stuff safely away. We’ll try and manage the divine process.
The good news is, there is a “we,” brothers and sisters that want to do this. There’s also an unnameable evolutionary process at work that many in the “we” have felt. I put my trust in that as quickly as I can. I’ve tried running the universe but, as I’m sure you know if you’ve tried, it was no fun and it didn’t work at all.
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