I Don’t Belong Here

I am not like them, don’t take me wrong, I have my own issues, I have skeletons, ghosts and regrets, and I am over 25 years sober, I wore out my drinking ticket early on. More so than alcohol I really enjoyed drugs, illicit; I self-medicated for years. Then somewhere along the way I had to decide whether living was something I was game for. I had lived through physical and emotional and verbal abuse, I had my share of sexual abuse too and I even called some commercial rooftops and bridges my home for a while. That has all changed, I am sober, emotionally stable, well let’s face it stability is something of a moody little…well, you understand, it comes and goes, and I think that is applicable to everyone. But I think my stable days are far more prevalent than those days when I just can’t seem to make sense of how or why I feel a certain way.

But as I sit here in the back of the room, I feel guilty, I feel like I shouldn’t be sitting hear listening to them talk, listening to their feelings, to their honesty, to their admissions. Because I am not like them, I don’t have an eating disorder, I don’t think I ever have. I don’t understand what it’s like to break down over a snack, over eating something that should sustain my life, to not wanting to consume enough calories to satisfy my body’s needs. I don’t get why it’s so hard to stop eating, or to want to force myself to throw up afterwards. It’s not logical. I can listen to them and hear why they do the things they do but I have not experienced it and can’t put myself in their shoes, and as guilty as I feel being in the room with them, I also feel blessed.

When I quit using alcohol and drugs, I knew I could survive because I was no longer doing something that might kill me outright, I didn’t need the drink or drug to live. But with these people the very thing that is supposed to give them life, the very thing that is meant to provide them sustenance so that they may live is something they are deathly afraid of, just the thought of having a snack can trigger a panic attack sending them into a downward spiral leading to dark places, places where they question their very self-worth and depression envelopes them so much so that it blocks out all light, where the very argument for living is a losing battle.

Eating disorders have so many facets and classifications to them, it is difficult to follow for someone whom has never experienced it. There is anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, restrictive food intake disorder and binge eating. Then there is Other Specified Feeding or Eating disorder and Unspecified Feeding or Eating disorder.  The only thing that I can share with these people is the catalyst trauma, for me dealing with my sexual abuse meant doing drugs to mask or hide the pain for a while, for someone with an eating disorder they may quit eating, absorbing the hunger pangs caused by not eating, seeking comfort in the hollow, empty feeling. Or they may seek that pain of over eating and then maybe the dizziness and pain of retching to rid themselves of the food they just consumed. For some there is a seemingly innate desire to rid their diets of everything not deemed healthy to a point where they are so anxiety ridden it affects their relationships with anyone around them, that the very thought of any form of fats or carbs is enough to stress them into a frenzy.

I get those feelings, maybe not the triggers, and maybe not always the behavior but I know what it’s like to struggle, to not see light through your own anxious shadows, or to not have a dream of the future, that the simple idea of living causes me great anxiety. Some people are starving themselves to death, committing agonizingly slow suicide by disallowing themselves much needed nourishment. I have found myself not allowing me to be happy, to do things that I know I might enjoy because some of my buddies never got the chance to do those things and lost their lives somewhere in the desert, face down in the hot sand. Sometimes its difficult not to hold it against people for enjoying themselves knowing that they can do so because my friends sacrificed everything in the name of their freedom to live.

I think the more I sit and listen, the more I hear their stories the more I realize we have more in common than possibly either of us realize. The catalyst may be different, the means of self-medicating may be different and so may the trauma and the forms that each of our sicknesses, disorders take on. I see the sadness and the pain in their eyes, I can hear the struggle and the disparity in their voices, when they speak it’s evident their throats are straining as they wrap their own arms around their knees brought up tight against their chests. They are afraid, they are desperate, and it seems there is no one their to help them. They could be standing deep inside of a crowd of people, hundreds even and still feel absolutely and utterly alone, as though no one can see them, as though no one might ever miss them.

It is devastating to be in the room with them, I want to hold them, I want to allow them to feel safe and loved and valued. I want to help them but I don’t know how, sometimes I feel like I barely made it out alive and still some days I catch a glimpse of my shadow, its cold, dark presence looming behind me, waiting for me to fall and then it can cover me, sucking the warmth from my body and stealing my will to live. Maybe that’s meant to be, maybe it’ll always be there just waiting, waiting for me to refuse to pick up the spoon or stand up and declare power over it, like the devil, just waiting for me to give in and collapse.

When I supported my wife in starting this journey, this non profit to help all those affected by eating disorders I knew I was in over my head, but I didn’t think it would affect me in the ways it has. I know what it was like to be one of the million homeless in this country, standing curbside, having not eaten, not being able to think clearly because I haven’t slept for days and watch as people flow out from the theater and throw their popcorn and half filled fountain soda’s into the trash, not being seen by them, living in the proverbial shadows as if I was wearing the cloak of invisibility. These people are there too, marginalized by society, shamed because they are overweight or ignored by fear because their lack of weight makes people uncomfortable. I admire these people, they are soldiers, the act of fighting natures programming is no small affair. They are dreamers and lovers who can’t love themselves and some of them are barely keeping their own heads above water, their feet burdened with anxiety and shame and guilt and fear and their grip on the world secured only by their fingertips, watching as people walk by over head not seeing them, not helping them.

I feel for them, I get angry at what I determine to be the only option for many, a clinically sterile treatment center that exists only to refeed them and kick them back out, with no skills, with no hope, seemingly knowing they’ll be back again soon with their insurance companies in tow. There must be a better way, no one ever talks about anything other than their shortcomings, than their poor choices and hurting others. What about their strength, what about their desires, what about their dreams and what about empowering them to live life despite everything? There are plenty of people ready and willing to tell them all about all the bad they have done, about their expectations of failure, there doesn’t seem to be enough people ready and excited to help them live out their dreams and find their passions,  these are beautiful people, smart, strong, people whom just need a hand, one to pull them out of that frigid water and into the sunlight, to give them a chance and listen to their songs. I want to be one of those people, we all should be those people. I used to think I didn’t belong here, but this is right where I belong, I need these people because they can show me what it means to fight, I need to hear their voices, it gives me strength, strength I want to use to fight for them, because put simply, as a woman who means the very world to me once said, “They are worth it, we all are worth it”.

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The Pain in His Eyes

I could see it in his eyes, there was a deep seeded pain there, one that was planted under fire, when the world had gone dark and thoughts of home and green grass and Sunday dinner had faded from faint memories to fantasy.

His hands were calloused and so was his gaze. If he looked at you it was circumstantial, he wasn’t really focused on you but something far off in the distance behind you. There was a darkness shrouding him, he seemed uncomfortable in his skin, like a tag on a shirt that wouldn’t stop itching your neck, something bothered him, something that continued to hurt and wouldn’t go away.

Sometimes as we talked, he would disappear, I don’t mean from sight, physically, but he would drift off, into the shadows of a place only he understands, a place the hurt welcomes him, comforts him. It’s a place he has grown to feel more comfortable than in the lighter places where people expect things from him, where they want to know what it’s like and how he feels.

What would you know, how could he explain? You stand there wanting him to speak, wanting to punish him for things he’s done, as though he hasn’t been punished enough.

Just when you think you understand him, he says something that makes no sense and you laugh, and he laughs, and you both stand there looking at each other like you’ve lost your way and don’t know where to go. In that silence you can feel his anxiety, it’s palpable, it’s tainted with shame and mistrust.

So, as you stand there, the silence quickly becomes awkward, uncomfortable, and as you peer out of the corner of your eyes at him his gaze has turned downward, his scarred and tangled fingers move against each other, rubbing, searching for something in his hands and he closes his eyes tightly. For a moment you can almost hear the wretched screams inside his head.

You want to touch him, hold him, comfort him, but you can’t hold a reflection, that’s when you clear away the fog and realize its you in the mirror you’ve been talking to, and it scares you.

You attempt to take a deep breath and then get dressed, and think about those fantasies, thoughts of home, green grass and Sunday dinners.

Caden

Her laughter is genuine, not faked or pretentious. It echoes throughout the hospital room, bouncing off the sterile walls and tiled floor.  I imagine she would too if not for the IV or the wires and cords hanging from her as if to hold her down.

Her hair is matted and stuck to the side of her temples, shaved just above her brow, despite this a smile stretches across her young tender face when I see her, she pulls the thin hospital blanket up over her chest, sorta snuggles in a little, her small sock feet tapping against each other out the other end of the blanket.

A brain tumor they said. I suppose it explains a few things in her overly whimsical behavior. My mind races to understand the misfortune, which resonates in the pained faces of her parents and her older sister. She is my niece, she is funny, she is smart, she is beautiful and she is struggling for control against a dark and looming force, one that threatens to rob her of her, of her strength and that light in her eye that shines and sparkles like an early morning sun on the ripples of a lake.

It is unfair, it is unfortunate and it is hurtful to all those around her as well, it is a war only she can fight, from the inside. The rest of us can only attempt to comfort her and do what we can from behind enemy lines. We can see only the fragments of the pain through the growing darkness in her eyes.

That was twelve months ago, the doctors did what they could with what they knew, and now the beast is back, it showed itself in the scans of her brain, in sterile black and white images, new growth where it had once been erased, echoes of the pain felt the first time run through our minds and seem to pierce through the walls of our hearts as we try to reel in the madness and portray a strong front against the uninvited beast.

And as she smiles her unpretentious smile, we fear the thoughts running through her delicate mind, wanting to hold snugly her small, young frame to protect it, to protect her, to ward off the darkness from her heart, from her undeserved burden.

Her Broken Cocoon

The sun, try as it may couldn’t get through the clouds on Saturday morning, so she lay in bed, tucked under the covers, pulled up to her ear and tried to dream of warmer, sunnier days but the imagery was washed away by the pelting rain hitting the windows’ at the foot of her bed. The past week was dreary to say the least, no sun and too many clouds.

Leaving the house meant getting wet; normally this isn’t a huge issue, but day after day with no direct sunlight, no reprieve from the cold, barrage of precipitation makes it difficult to swallow. So she lay under her comforter attempting to fill her mind with thoughts of anything but negativity and her reach for any sort of respite was met with frustration and a growing darkness.

Eventually she slid from her broken cocoon, opened the shades and watched as rain drops rolled down the glass like unending tears.  Against the heaviness she tried to breathe in deeply but her lungs felt shallow. She stripped the bed and attempted to push back the impending sadness.

She opened the bedroom door and the house felt empty, lonely and quiet, the floors cold and walls a little too close. Even a glass of water couldn’t rinse away the feelings of melancholy.

She brushed her teeth and searched her reflection in the mirror for comfort but in her dark eyes she saw only gloom. She brushed her hair and even that felt annoying, she was losing the battle, the weight of so many things began to bury her from the floor up, impeding her step, slowing her climb from this wretched valley no light seemed to reach. And her only companions, hiding in the shadows beside her are all the things that scare her, that threaten her well-being, her strength and the warmth of her soul.

Now with her sight skewed, the fog of depression manipulating all around her, making it difficult to see a way out, she swallows hard, reaches in and pulls out from behind her a rope, a heavy, old rope and throws it as far as she can. Hoping for someone to see it, to pull back and find her before its too late. Before her tears make it too difficult to hang on and she loses her grip.

***

If you are in need of help, if you suffer from eating disorders, there is help out there. One of those places is Living Proof Minnesota at http://www.livingproofmn.com

Falling Away

For years he walked against the wind, struggled against life’s gales, fighting for each step. He would turn his head from side to side straining to draw breath at times as he shielded his face from the stinging reach of his mistakes, and when the wind turned to a lesser breeze he’d look skyward for a light to show him the way, but all he found was reflections of shame.

He would sit down then, hunker in and wait for the storm to pass. Then when it did and he could stand and see around him all he saw was nothing, he couldn’t see into the future and he couldn’t see into his past, all there was, was nothing. He failed, failed to progress, failed to attain, he failed to be anything but present.

Like so many the present is unaccounted for, they wander between what came before and what happens next. Never knowing their fate, always looking for the solid, steady ground below their feet, which always seems to be there…until it isn’t.

When that moment comes and it always does, you have choices to make; you can surrender and fall away or reach out desperately and grab hold of the very edge and hang on. Then you fight, you fight with everything that’s left, you fight and claw and battle against gravity. You pull and struggle, and you as your fingers bleed and become cold and frozen and the feeling in your legs dissipates quickly you get angry and you spit as you cry out for a chance, just a little opportunity to show you have something left to give.

When you dig deep enough and you find that small flame buried somewhere in your soul you suck it in, and use it and crawl from that hole and roll over onto your back, exhausted, and weep. For you just learned that there is fight in you yet, that there is something worth saving and you love it and caress it and as you lay there contemplating the present, you realize that the clouds that kept your world dark and empty have begun to thin. You see blue sky and know there is something in your future if only you strive to put it there, there is something and you will find it.

The bitter Taste of Struggle

Why is it that a certain segment of society, and I am not pigeon holing a certain group, sex, race or religion, in fact this segment of society seems to emanate from all aspects of our community, and that said, why do these people insist on transposing their beliefs and ideas onto me? It seems there is always someone whom apparently knows better than I what is appropriate for…well me, what I ought to enjoy more and what I should do with my life. These people exist at my place of employment, at the coffee house I stop at and even within my own family.

The choices I make for myself are based on what I enjoy, what I like or appreciate and what I want out of my life. How can anyone else but me judge whether or not my choices are right for me. If those choices hurt no one, and directly engage no one but those involved in my choices voluntarily, how can those choices not be supported, celebrated or appreciated by the one I love?

But it happens, I make a choice based on my interests and my search for love, I am supported by the one I choose to be with, I am cared for by that person, I am free to express myself freely and openly without judgment, I fear not exposing my ugly sides and my scars and my skeletons for I am celebrated because of exactly who I am, and accepted without boundary for all that makes me, me. And even that said, judgment rears its vile, contemptuous head to go out of its way in order to lecture me, to share with me its disapproval and then go on to punish me when they struggle to understand the decisions and choices I have made, they don’t reach out and ask, inquire as to the motivations that drive my decisions, they don’t seek out insight, but rather seem to have an innate need to project their intolerances upon me. And for those not brave enough to do so, they hide; they disappear, fading away into the shade of the thorny bramble.

So I struggle, with great effort to comprehend the loss, I have gained so much, so much beauty and unrestrained love, freedom to be all of me and spend my days going on great adventures. And I want to share that with those who’ve always seemed to grapple with who I am, to show them how elated I have become but it falls on deaf ears and guarded hearts, why is it so difficult to accept the loss of things that make me sad, to turn away and face the sun and walk from the darkness that tries so hard to envelope me and hold me down under the weight of its condemnatory shadow?

 

 

Peace

I am told that everyone at some point will experience peace, but in what context? It isn’t simply a hand gesture flashed in passing by some young hippie wannabe, or a sign drawn on a park wall, or the faded letters of an old bumper sticker telling me to give it a chance. What is it, what does it look like and do we all deserve it?

I believe that we all ought to experience resolve and serenity, I also believe peace is subjective and that most people have no idea what they claim to be wishing for when they proclaim it. I think maybe they want everyone to just get along but that’s just a slight breeze carried by a sauntering wind. It has never been experienced on a global level nor will it. We as a people would have to be void of conflict, but that would mean we would all be apathetic.

No one can be at peace with themselves in true fashion, we are beings of conflict, with our own emotions, our own subconscious and within the world around us, and we want something but are told by others we should want something else. We came into the world in conflict, our lungs struggling to breathe, our minds trying to make sense of it and we will all go out that same way.

My mother was, is a hippie, I was born prior to the original Woodstock concert and went to it with my mother as a small child, she ran away from my father leaving my younger sister behind. We wandered around the East coast, and then travelled to California before making our way back to Minnesota at some point, well, my mother made it back, dropped me off on a foster farm somewhere in Maryland on her way.

I believed so strongly in peace, and that everyone deserved it whatever it meant, whatever it was I wanted it. I grew up with relatives and on abusive foster farms, and wondering where I belonged, eventually I ended up sleeping under bridges to escape an abusive step father. I saw things around the world as volatile, it appeared that the world was falling apart; I was falling apart and had no structure to hang onto. So I joined the Army, I decided that if I could do one thing it would be to give someone else some peace, some rest, some safety, then maybe I would deserve it.

I saw things overseas that made me ill, I was part of a force that was sent into conflict to protect those whom could not protect themselves. That’s what being a soldier is all about, freedom and peace do not come free, there is, has and always will be conflict, and there will always be those whom cannot be a party to fighting others in hopes of bringing some resolve, some peace to the world. And there are those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for it, for them. Neither one is better than the other, but both are absolutely necessary.

And in the end there is always a price to pay, that price for a soldier is emotional serenity, innocence, peace. Anyone who has a grandparent or parent who grew up in the forties and fifties can see that loss in their grandparent’s eyes, in the wounds on the inner side of their wrists, in the far off gaze grandpa has during those family reunions. Today you can see it in the hardened, cold stare from the young men and women who’ve made that trip to the edge and brought a piece of it back with them, locked somewhere deep inside that dark place they keep it. Maybe there is a day after all that they will experience peace, maybe that day will come like a stranger in the shadows at night, maybe then they will all be able to cash it in for a seat on that train. Maybe then they can rest in peace.

“71”

I tore open the envelope addressed to me from my ex wife and pulled a note from it, it read; “Tracy, when you went to war in South West Asia you sent this and asked me to keep it safe until you get back, I kept it safe on my key chain for the last twenty six years, I thought you might want it back.” In the envelope there was a small, round, brass tag with the number “71” stamped on it. It was the tag from my gas mask.

In 1990 I sat huddled in a corner of a partially destroyed underground parking garage in the dark, I was dressed in my chemical gear and mask, I hated breathing through it, I hated being in it, I hated the sweat that poured down my back as we waited for the all clear sign. We didn’t know that most of the Scud missiles that Saddam had sent to us were empty of or had very little chemicals in them, but we knew he had used chemicals in the past so we weren’t taking any chances. And the missiles were large enough to cause a lot of damage on their own. As I sat there having just gotten in country, peering out through the sand covered lenses of my mask, I thought about faith and I thought about my girlfriend.

Old dust and sand hovered in the air thickly, my lungs struggled to fill and I sat, waiting, tapping the small, round brass tag on the case on my hip for my gas mask, as if to signal to myself that I was still in control. This would be a regular occurrence while we remained in the staging area near Khobar Village, it happened while we were sleeping, and while we stood in line for breakfast…well, powdered eggs and stale toast. This was in 1990, long before there was a permanent U.S. or coalition forces base of any kind in Saudi Arabia, no Burger King, no imbedded media and no celphones, hell they hadn’t even been invented yet. But there was the good ‘ol U.S. mail, we would send out letters to home, but getting mail from home was a disaster, I got letters that had been sent to me in the first few days of my tour from my family as I was leaving the country nine months later.

That night, as I lay staring out at the sky over the desert, I thought about times I sat on the front steps of my girlfriend’s parents house, in the cool Minnesota nights, the smell of fresh cut grass, staring up at the stars and holding hands and the smell of her hair as she lay her head on my shoulder. That was the safest I’d ever felt, back then I always felt safe in her arms, in the stare from her cool blue eyes. But things change, I changed. And when I returned home part of me didn’t, it remained there, buried in the hot, flea ridden, oil saturated, blood stained sand. Any innocence that survived my childhood was laid to rest there and despite that I wasn’t about to let go of the only thing I knew to be safe in my world.

It would be a quarter of a century later, almost twenty five years of struggling to make things work, to build a family and trying to be a husband and father my wife and children might be proud of. How many times I’d wished I was back in that filthy desert, not because I liked it, not because I felt safe there, not because I didn’t want to be with my kids or my wife but because I understood it there, I knew how to operate there, there was a sense of control amongst utter chaos that gets burned to a part of a soldier somewhere deep inside him. It’s sort of like sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool, looking up at the surface of the water knowing that you can only hold your breath for so long, that if you opened your mouth you might drown, that maybe when the hurt and the burning in your lungs grows too intense you might be too far from the surface to survive, but it’s that burning in your lungs, that sharp pain in the back of your head as the oxygen de-pleats that you senselessly crave, it’s like a long lost brother, a part of you that makes some sort of wickedly perverted sense. So you close your eyes and feel it, absorb it, caress it.

Conflicted

The sun beats in through the window from outside his car and burns the skin on the back of his neck, but it feels good. He squints to keep the light from piercing his eyes as he drives south along the river.

It’s been far too long since the heat of the sun caused him to perspire; it’s been bitter cold almost as long as he can remember and now the black leather wrapped steering wheel threatens to singe his palms if he moves his hands from ten and two.

There is a part of him, buried somewhere deep inside, hidden away, something that’s been there all along and though it doesn’t show itself he knows it’s there because there are echoes of its presence. That something makes him long for the bitter cold, in spite of his desire to pull his car to the side of the road and get out, and allow the full strength of the sun’s rays to wash over his self.

It’s that bitter cold that stung his cheeks when he faced it, that crept up under his skin like a shadow and stole away any heat stashed there. So why then does he want for it, why is it that he dreams of the chill that used to slide up under his pant leg like a thief?

It’s the warmth of the sun he knows he needs, it’s the gleaming off the pavement before him that makes his chest swell with excitement making him search for it, reach for it and throw his face skyward with arms outstretched inviting it in.

Yet he feels foolish, how can it last, it’s only a fantasy, he can count on the cold to be there mostly, he doesn’t question its presence, its bite, its bitter presence. So he leans his head against the window and feels the heat from the sun pour in over his forehead, he feels a drop of perspiration roll down in front of his ear and listens as it falls to the floor and soak in to the carpet at his feet.

He closes his eyes and swears to himself for feeling conflicted.