Learning through love and pain

I got some sleep! Thank the gods of small items that get caught in drawers.

And everyone who was kind to me yesterday. I am so grateful, and learning so much – or rather, relearning things we knew but have almost forgotten. How kindness can clothe us when we are naked.

The place I was in yesterday – triggered to the edge of hysteria, raw in the presence of people who were not raw. I used to live there! I remember.

Coming out of it for me yesterday was the intellectual grounding of my people, saying to me in many subtle and overt ways, that it’s okay that I’m different, okay that I’m human, okay that I’m raw, okay that I’m triggered. Over and over again. The balm of acceptance, like oil poured into the painfully self aware distress of my public hysteria. I am learning so much, less from the conference then from all of you.

What happened when I was raw to that place of screaming? I couldn’t see them as people anymore. They couldn’t see me. I would smile at strangers and their eyes would bounce right past me. Embedded in a culture dominated by the ideas of the somebodies and nobodies, I was a nobody far too heartsick to fight to be a somebody, too sickened by the fight and the process, by the shouting at each other from podiums.

I don’t even feel alive when I sleep indoors every night in my own tiny, beautiful, personal home. Out in my van under the stars I’m far from the gradual dissociating provess of a life seeking comfort. Here in this hotel, temperature controlled to a warmth that makes me eyes feel hot and my lips in the mirror this morning seems dry and slightly swollen, a soft bee stung swelling and a shade of pale skin as if I’ve been sucking out poison from a wound and a little is left in my face. Here I’m far from home.

In an online forum I’m part of, a different group of people are talking about the ways peer work is most effective – and it’s excellent and well thought through and observational and drawn on years of experience. One of their points is that it needs to be processed rather than raw. I speak to that – that my experiences have often been raw rather than processed and that’s the tip of a complex conversation I don’t have time for in this rush rush rushing, that my stuff is often much more processed then others simply because our group mind works that way, and yes, that too raw can be too vulnerable, too full of rage or too under the thumb – telling the stories of the dominant culture back to the dominant culture in a self gratifying process (that those of us outside it often call with pity or frustration or a sense of shame that these are the people representing us -) “tame peer workers”…

I know, I see the problems with that. But I also see the value in this raw process. Something can be lost in the processing. If we don’t start with raw, dense, rich with complex detail, unprocessed as much as possible, honest stories, we lose so much. Maybe that’s why I’m an artist. Truth telling us important to me and my work, and in mental health it’s something I have to fight for because they prefer “tame artists” too.

I get the need for a relationship and not a screaming argument. I get the need for processing to make our stories bearable to hear and to tell. I understand that we need to speak in the language of the people we are trying to speak to, if we want to be heard. But… But…

I’m not talking to astrophysicists. How can you be telling me that mental health workers cannot hear me when I am speaking in the language of raw, unprocessed pain and truth? How can you be telling me that they cannot bear the intensity of honest and deeply wounded humans? I hear you and I believe you and you are only putting in words what I have already seen and felt but…

This is the problem!

It’s not just something to notice and work around, it’s the heart of everything that is wrong. If I can’t speak in the language of unprocessed pain and have a mental health worker hear me and understand me and be able to bear that language and rawness, what the hell are they doing in the field of mental health?

So my tribe, you are keeping me sane. You are holding me while I scream and dig the traps and lethal ideas out of my head, and then hold me while I bleed and sob and reassure me that, this too, is human and okay. It’s how people look when we are far from home. There’s nothing wrong with me. I am an ex-cult member back in the cult, trying to hold a space for my new tribe. Trying very badly, messily, crumbling. Not well able to use the ways this culture gives respect or signals importance or the things they require for a basic sense of dignity and inclusion. I’m not very good at it.

I’m sitting here, in the front row of a session at the moment, wearing a silver velvet dress and my strong boots. Trying to find a way to not be like them but be accepted by then, to tolerate the pain in me of being among them but not become so overwhelmed with pain that I can’t see them as human anymore either – that I give up on them and all their world, leave it to the pain soaked stereotypes of emptiness, not hear anymore each individual voice with all its richness and brilliance and loss but hear only the roar of the whole culture, see only the ways that they harm and none of the ways they heal, find no value in them but run home and say with agony and bewilderment and rage “they are not human, like us”. I think of the indigenous people seeing the first white people, seeing ghosts in the mists. It’s just as difficult for me to see them as human as it is for them to see me as human.

So, I sit at a mental health conference and think of all we have learned. The knowledge I am so passionate about, the neuro psychs, the brain biologists, the people learning how to help stroke victims heal, the social scientists unpicking power and the subtleties of abuse in our most intimate and most impersonal relationships. It’s all so important and so valuable. Every thing we know about the world and ourselves is so valuable, there’s not a single tiny piece of information we don’t need. Every bit of it is essential and relates to a complex whole.

But right back down at the coal face of one human to another, of how do we connect with people in pain, how do we hear when people speak with the language of agony and broken hearted rage, how do we be human with one another, see and be seen… All the wisdom of our brilliant, disconnected, scientific culture is totally useless if we don’t know how to love each other.

So, thanks for standing with me. I’m learning a great deal. You make this possible, you learn with me, I learn with you and from you. Language connects us, culture connects us. You help me bridge the gaps, help me stay human. I hope I do the same for you.

Nameste, gratitude, blessings, prayers, and love.

I appreciate hearing from you

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