Women’s Liberation

I’ve met a number of smart, talented, successful women who, despite all they’ve done in life and all the obstacles they’ve overcome, nevertheless doubt themselves or, worse, dislike themselves. It breaks my heart to see these women discounting their accomplishments, denying their own power, or worrying they aren’t pretty or thin enough.

I don’t have a solution to this problem. I don’t pretend to know how it feels to be a woman living in a patriarchal society like mine. I’m not implying that women need my validation. And, to put it crudely, I’m not looking to score points with women in the hopes of “getting laid.”

I simply want to say to these women: I see you, I respect you, I’m rooting for you.

An Other-Fulfilling Prophecy

After just two months of going it alone, I’ve decided to return to therapy at my old clinic. I might have to wait six to eight weeks for a spot, so I’m glad I called and got my name on a list.

Not long after my last session with my former therapist, who left for a new job, I started feeling down and disconnected. Questions arose. Should I tough it out and manage my symptoms on my own? Should I go back to my old clinic or choose a different one closer to home? My mind went into hyper-obsessive mode. Knowing that I couldn’t make a “wrong” decision, I nevertheless struggled to make the “right” decision.

Perhaps I should’ve listened to Jean Baudrillard, who writes in Cool Memories V:

One cannot reasonably trust in the will, that rational strategy that works only one time in ten. One has, rather, to clear the decks around a decision, leave it hanging, then let oneself slide into it, as though being sucked in, with no thought for causes and effects. To be willed by the decision itself; in a sense, to give in to it. The decision then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (66)

From Baudrillard’s mystical perspective, my decision to return to therapy made itself for me ahead of time. It called me, seduced me. I simply had to give in to it.

The moment I told my former therapist I wanted to take time off from treatment, I knew in the back of my mind I’d be a client again somewhere soon. Two months later, here I am confirming what I suspected all along: I still need help for my depression and anxiety, and probably will for the rest of my life.

Therapy, of course, doesn’t benefit me alone. In treatment I can seek a happier, healthier me, or any me yet to be. I can challenge my impulse to isolate when I’m depressed, thus creating more opportunities to build new friendships and share my gift of writing with the world.

A socially conscious philosopher, Jacques Derrida writes in For What Tomorrow, “My decision is and ought to be the decision of the Other in me, a ‘passive’ decision, a decision of the Other that does not exonerate me from responsibility” (53).

Synthesizing Baudrillard’s and Derrida’s novel approaches, I see that my decision to return to therapy has already become an Other-fulfilling prophecy.

Double Vision

Below is the introduction to my 2018 book, Double Meaning.

Being Human

This is a brief introduction to a short book. I would’ve written more, but I strained my eyes searching for inspiration.

Three chapters follow this introduction. They contain revised posts (originally written between September 2016 and August 2018) from my blog, Sharp Left Turns.

To maintain flow, I made every word count. No throwaway lines or bloated paragraphs. Still, being human, I’ve made mistakes. Please forgive me for retaining here or there unnecessary words. Or adding dashes—sometimes mid-sentence—to impress you.

Double Reading

We can read “double meaning” two ways. First, “double” as an adjective. Second, “double” as a verb. A statement of purpose: I doubled meanings in Double Meaning to undermine Meaning itself—to fight the (t)error of systematic reason and question (my own) authority. This wasn’t a license to peddle nonsense. I wrote a book full of non-answers in which I tried very hard to make certain words mean something profound.

Vulnerable Position

This book puts me in a vulnerable position.

I wrote in my first book, The Intimacy of Communication, about enduring years of physical and psychological abuse, but I didn’t reveal the whole truth.

I’m ready now to share that I was sexually abused as a child. I’ve hesitated for years to share my story outside of therapy, but the #MeToo movement inspired me to come forward.

Without minimizing the experience of female survivors, I can say that male survivors of sexual trauma who tell their stories risk looking weak in the eyes of other men—and women.

We’re taught that a real man protects himself, defends his manhood, and hides his insecurities. There’s no hiding, though, from this fact: according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of every ten rape victims is male.

Loving Touch

Sexual abuse is a violation of touch. Adults abused as children often fear intimacy, which adds to their suffering. Survivors—compared to people without a history of trauma—need more touch in their lives.

I was blessed in high school to fall in love with a smart, caring, beautiful girl named Jenny. She provided the loving touch I needed in a moment of crisis.

I remember our walks together in the summer of 1995—the scent of her perfume on my shirt after a long hug goodnight.

In the midst of a winter I feared would never end, I found within Jenny an invincible summer I’ll never forget.

The Otherness of Me

My favorite thinker, Jean Baudrillard, writes in Cool Memories V: “There is reason to be jealous at being seen by others from the outside and having only that distorting mirror of oneself that is self-knowledge.”

I recognize myself in Baudrillard’s description of “that distorting mirror.” Despite the love and support of family and friends, I struggle to show myself compassion. I beat myself up for minor mistakes, discount my accomplishments, and blame myself for being abused.

Healing hurts. I can’t move on without acknowledging the shadow within me—the Otherness of me that, long before the birth of Consciousness, sprang from Nothingness to be me.

Dark fantasies, violent dreams, death wishes: I’m incomplete without my shadow, imperfect without my flaws, unoriginal without my sins.

The Spirit of Mystery

The search for meaning ends when we think we know ourselves, when everything is crystal clear, when every word speaks (only) for itself.

To keep the spirit of mystery alive, I need my shadow to mislead me, my double to deceive me. If I ever found myself, how could I go on living?

Blank Sage

“When you gaze for a long time into an abyss,” Nietzsche proclaims in Beyond Good and Evil, “the abyss also gazes into you.”

When I stare too long at a blank page, the blank page stares back at me.

I had an outline for this book, a series of visions and re-visions, but the book wrote itself with little help from me.

I’m nothing more than a blank sage.

Post-Traumatic Yes

Post-trauma, my body lost its sense of direction. I’m working in therapy to reconnect with my body, to feel what I feel without judgement.

Post-trauma, my soul lost Direction. I’m learning to identify and verbalize my values—lofty goals I’ve pursued in Double Meaning.

After years of saying no to life, I see this book as the start of my post-traumatic yes.

Going forward, I must accept that I will remain conflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being a deep (over)thinker.

Going forward, I must accept that I will remain afflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being human.

Insight: a glimpse into the mirror of one’s shadow inducing double vision.

I Want To Hold Your Hand

I remember navigating the perilous parking lots of Randhurst Mall with my father as a child. He’d sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles whenever cars got too close, a gentle reminder to hold his hand. I trusted him because he was a certified crossing guard in grammar school, “an expert in pedestrian safety and playground traffic control,” as he told it.

I also remember my father teaching me how to drive in the parking lot of our favorite restaurant, The Prime Minister, before the lunch crowd arrived. I had plenty to learn. A few minutes into my first lesson, the car stalled because I wasn’t giving it enough gas.

Of course, hazards aren’t confined to parking lots. Life is full of obstacles both visible and invisible. Sometimes we block our own paths to freedom. We overeat, drink too much, abuse drugs. Unhealthy coping strategies compound our pain.

I remember watching my father slowly kill himself with cigarettes—two packs of Pall Mall or Chesterfield per day. I begged him to stop. He said he would. He never did.

Our house smelled musty all the time because he refused to smoke outside. Our living room drapes turned yellow. There were burn holes on the carpet in front of his favorite chair.

My mother and I suffered breathing problems and sinus infections. When I showed up smelling like smoke at the doctor’s office one day, a concerned nurse told me to quit while I was still young. Embarrassed, I told her I never smoked, but my father did. She said I was basically smoking too, just by living with him.

When my father sang that Beatles song in the Randhurst parking lot, he was already thinking about his next cigarette. Thirty minutes into every movie we saw, he left the theater for a drag. Thirty minutes later, he left again. On the way home, I had to explain everything he missed.

The steering wheel of his Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was so sticky I had to wash my hands when we got home. After my first lesson, I asked if I should empty the car’s ashtray because it was so full. He told me to wait until the ashes cooled.

My father smoked for fifty-five years. I was alive during the final twenty-five. His powerlessness to quit led me to question how much control I really have in my life.

The last time my father rode in a car, my mother was driving us to the hospital. I sat next to him in the backseat, holding his hand as he struggled to breathe. When we entered the emergency room, I asked a security guard for a wheelchair.

“I think I have emphysema,” my father told a nurse. He died twelve hours later.

I loved my father dearly, and still do. I just wish I could’ve saved him from himself.

A Work In Progress

I said goodbye recently to my therapist before she left for her new job. I know she’ll continue transforming lives, including her own. I’m taking a break from therapy now to clear my mind. I can resume treatment with someone else whenever I like.

Childhood trauma, I’ve learned in therapy, has altered my relationship to time. It’s been hard as an adult to maintain a coherent personal narrative, an uninterrupted story of my life. As a creative writer, however, I’m free to fill in the blanks and disconnect the “not’s”—those self-defeating thoughts telling me I’m broken, useless, and lost.

My imagination is a powerful tool of persistence. Showing myself compassion in reverse, I write a story, in present tense, about consoling my past self as he struggles to survive. In the same story, I write about consoling my future self as he continues his recovery, thanking him in advance for being gentle with me now and encouraging me to stay alive.

Whether I’m prewriting, writing, or rewriting, my life story remains a work in progress.

The Joy Of Temporary Body-Loss

There’s no distinction anymore between my thinking and my writing. I think as I write and write as I think.

Sometimes I think-write so hard I lose touch with my body—but not with my mind, which feels nothing but emptiness inside.

I can’t remain detached forever. Longing for connection, my mind and body at some point reunite.

If I ever publish a (meta)physical blog about the joy of temporary body-loss, I’ll mention, perhaps in the last line, that think-writing, as an intense (non)exercise, prompts me to interact with my non-body from time to time, at least in my mind.