On Seeking Safe Haven

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I’ve spent most of my sixty-five years of life looking for a person, doctrine,  or organization that I could build my life around. I started out looking to my parents to fulfill this role. I found early on that I could depend upon my father to provide us with shelter, clothing, food, and the luxuries of upper middle class Anglo life, but that he was largely unavailable emotionally and could not protect me from my abusive older brother. My mother I found I could depend upon to provide me with delicious meals, delightful books, affection, and consolation, except when her alcoholism and borderline personality disorder symptoms turned her manipulative, vindictive, and sexually abusive.

For years I felt torn between the two of them, and my ambivalence took an odd turn.

Mother put pressure on me to choose her over my father, which—let’s be frank—it wasn’t hard to do, given his loud, gritted-teeth complaints, self-isolation, and demands for absolute obedience. But I liked the fact that he was a writer, and I think I sensed his self-loathing, and I identified with him more than I liked to admit at the time. Now in the bedroom they shared, my father slept on the left side of the bed, my mother on the right. So at night I felt torn. If I slept on the left side of my bed, would I be symbolically choosing my father over my mother? If I slept on the right side of my bed, would I be symbolically choosing my mother over my father? So I compromised: I taught myself to sleep flat on my back, a habit I tend to follow to this day.

Once I entered adolescence, I more or less gave up trying to find refuge in my parents’ world and I sought refuge in my private dream world of comic books, science fiction, fantasy, mythology, and chaste fantasies of joining Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men, or being adopted as innocent school mascot by my brother Anthony’s Air Force Academy classmates. When I became aware of my homosexuality, I began fantasizing about finding a Mister Right, the perfect man who, in exchange for my exclusive devotion and access to my body, would console, protect, and give shape and direction to the rest of my life.

The problem was that, owing to incest trauma, I felt sex was dirty—not just homosexuality, but all sex. I got this feeling from my mother. So I decided that I did not want to be sexual at all. After my father’s sudden death in early 1971, I sought out the sexuality-free surrogate family I’d always fantasized about: I became a celibate Fundamentalist Christian for seven years.

The people with whom I worshiped were good people, genuinely trying to live by Jesus’s teachings of love and forgiveness. Although my self-betrayal ate away at me, the love and acceptance they showed me had a healing effect on me. They gave me a refuge from the storm of my life. But in the end I left the church, and Fundamentalism, in large part because I felt I had been putting on an act. Though I was indeed celibate for most of the seven years I was with them, I now know the difference between celibacy, born of lifestyle conviction, and sexual anorexia born of abuse trauma. And I was not the only one who left. Several years ago I discovered that the pastor of the last church I attended had been gay, and had committed suicide because he had not been able to reconcile his faith with his physicality.

All this took place many decades ago. Today, at 65 years old, five feet seven inches tall, and 290 pounds, I am far from healed; I like to joke that I have more issues than National Geographic. But I have a renewed faith in Divine Love, from Whose womb I was born and to Whose womb I shall return, and for Whom my homosexuality is a natural species variation, not a monstrosity or a curse worthy of damnation. And I have been fortunate in meeting numerous fellow travelers, straight, gay, in between, and undecided, whose kindness has consistently reached out to me in dark times.

So if you are tempted to give up who you are to get love, don’t give in to that temptation. Start asking for help, and keep on asking until you start getting it. It can and does get better, but only if you refuse to let your abusers win. •

On Casual Malice

A few days ago an act of casual, impulsive malice on my part caused a possibly irreparable rift between me and a dear, emotionally vulnerable friend. The impulse to hurt this person’s feelings did not come from the Devil; it came from a part of myself that I consistently refuse to acknowledge and give safe voice to, a part of me that some call the Shadow, others the Wounded Child, still others the Beast Within.

ImageAs an abuse and neglect survivor with PTSD, I prefer to think of myself as an abuse victim in recovery, not an abuser. And in general I do not go out of my way to hurt people. But my coping mechanism as a child in an alcoholic incestuous home was to be the Good Boy, which meant shoving under the surface all my unacceptable feelings and thoughts: jealousy of my mother’s preference for my baby brother; rage toward my father for his scary emotional aloofness and abandonment of me to the care of my pedophile mother; loathing of myself for my sensitivity, which my culture termed girlish—and bear in mind that in the gynephobic 1950’s, when I was a child, the worst thing one could say about a boy was that he acted like a girl. So as a child I became a compulsive eater, using sugar to shove my bad feelings down as deep as they would go. Later I became a compulsive self-castigator, criticizing my every thought and move, turning my anger upon myself because I could not feel safe expressing it toward those whom I felt had harmed me.

Needless to say, these tactics did not give me more than transitory relief from the storm inside me. It is a well-known metaphysical principle that if you wish to make a spell or sacred object more powerful, hide it out of sight. This is one of the reasons sacred objects are found buried all over the world, and sacred Paleolithic art, aimed at attracting game to the hunt and fertility to the community, was created in nearly inaccessible caves. Stuffing shadow with food or sex or overwork or gambling or alcohol or heroin or any other numbing substance or activity merely makes that shadow stronger, so that when it resurfaces, it does so with a power impossible to contain completely by an act of will alone.

I’ve done a lot of work with mentors and healers over the years. Through my Twelve Step programs I have opened successive chambers of my heart to Divine Love, and in my art therapy work with the Solace Crisis Intervention Clinic in Santa Fe I have taken major strides toward acknowledging the terror and pain of my inner self. But I can still be blindsided by my shadow, and in the case of my relationship to this dear friend, the unrequited sexual attraction I felt for my friend, my unconscious social and professional competition with my friend, and my growing emotional dependency upon my friend, changed to resentment when—and I am loath to admit this publicly—a series of tragedies in my friend’s family made my friend unavailable to me for much of the summer. So I posted several snarky and suggestive “jokes” on my friend’s webpage, despite the fact that my friend’s family (including a 12 year old niece) would have access to them; and I posted a comment on the webpage of a Meetup group my friend had organized suggesting edits to the website opening page that lessened recognition of my friend’s role as founder in the interest of “helping” the current facilitator of the group to achieve more public recognition (a recognition that worthy has never sought).

ImageIn deep grief and pain over the loss of beloved relatives, my friend—with uncharacteristic verbal and emotional violence—severed relationship with me. My friend had been under so much emotional pressure that finding my posts on the website was too much to bear with equanimity. So I, who hate to think that in me lies the potential to abuse others, have had to face the fact that under the right circumstances, my Shadow can arise and take control, suborning my empathy, muting my memory of shared kindnesses, and unleashing in me my repressed desires for revenge against my childhood caregivers. I have had to face the fact that, while I never intended to devastate my friend, I had intended to punish my friend a little bit for not meeting my infant needs—punish my friend just enough that my friend would pay more attention to me. I underestimated my friend’s emotional alertness and vulnerability.

Did I plan to hurt my friend, as my friend has accused me of doing? No. My posts were action of impulse, and I “forgot” or minimized the possible alienating effects of them as soon as I had made them. Am I responsible for the intensity of my friend’s grief and rage toward me? No. I had underestimated my friend’s vulnerability, and had had no inkling of the possibly far-reaching effects of my actions. But my shots, having been fired, cannot be taken back. They found their target. And the result has been disastrous.

However unintentioned the scope of the wound I have given my friend, and however intermixed with other wounds my friend carries from other betrayals and abuses, I have lost the privilege of our friendship. And I’m sorry. •

Warnings From the Shadow

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Many years ago a client informed me that I had given her an inaccurate psychic reading. The reason, she said, was that a malevolent extraterrestrial had clouded my perceptions, causing the reading to fail.

Even if one believes, as I do, that psychic abilities and a spiritual reality exist, there are a lot of less dramatic reasons why a psychic might screw up a reading. Wanting to please a client too much is usually mine. But I also have a horror of misleading people, so naturally this phone call disturbed me.

What disturbed me even more was my client’s allegation that invisible aliens can control human minds. This has become a popular doctrine in the New Age community worldwide. ET influence has been offered as an explanation for illness, fatigue, accidents, depression, relationship difficulties and prosperity setbacks. Self-proclaimed ET representatives offer community, identity, excitement, peace and spiritual rescue to those willing to embrace the truth of the UFO underground.

All of this is an uncomfortable mirror of things I was taught when I was a Fundamentalist Christian in the seventies. In those days it was Satan and his demons that I was taught to beware rather than manipulative ETs, and the identity offered me was that of membership in the ranks of those saved by grace from the Last Judgment.

Both doctrines offer the same seduction. Both view the world “out there” as essentially malignant, and view the world inside us as invaded by evil. Both doctrines offer me the promise that someone outside myself can heal me, whether it be a Messiah or a “de-corder” removing my “ET implants.” Both doctrines promise to save me from the pain of being merely human by giving me a new, cleaner, more spiritual, higher identity as one of the reborn or one of the starborn. And both doctrines relieve me of the responsibility for facing the rage and sadness rooted in my childhood which, unreleased and unresolved, is the true cause of my dysfunctions.

It’s all reminiscent of what sociologists call millennial fever. We are still in the first years of the new millennium. A thousand years ago in Europe, on the eve of the year 1001 in the Christian calendar, paranoid doctrines increasingly proliferated. In those days, the invisible enemies were considered Jews, heretics, and demons. Jews, it was alleged, went about poisoning wells at night; heretics sought to seduce the theologically uneducated; demons crouched on one’s bed under the moon and tempted the flesh to rebel against the Creator. The world, the preachers back then said, was coming to an end. Evidence for this was the rebelliousness of youth and society’s increasing immorality, ecclesiastic corruption, and the proliferation of war, disease, and natural disaster. Watch the skies, people were told, for the Lord would soon appear in His glory to rescue the world from End Time horrors.

Now it is polluters, feminists, gay people, pro-choicers, immigrant “entitlement-takers”, crack dealers and bad ETs we are taught to fear in the night. Now it is good ETs we are taught to search the sky for. But both doctrines are fueled by the same unconscious, unresolved traumas.

Maybe it’s because I am an incest and PTSD survivor in recovery that I resist so strongly the notion that invisible ETs can take over my mind. But I don’t think so. I stand by the truth that intuition, reason, and emotional experience have proven to me: that it is I who cast the shadows that seem to pursue me.