[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

19 June 2010

Another Loose Cannon Gone Bipolar

I created the sound of madness
wrote the book on pain
somehow I’m still here to explain

Sound of Madness

I’m starting in the middle of the story tonight. It’s not a literary device I’m choosing to employ, it’s just the easiest way for me to get started, and tonight getting started is what it’s all about because writing is often my salvation. Tonight I’m all about salvation.

When the shaman and I locked horns, to the point of my being put on leave, it was over my behavior, behavior I see as rooted in the fact of being bipolar. He argued choice. I argued chemistry. I've been under-medicated for several months due, he believes, to poor choices; I argue that the poor choices were due to my being unaware I was under medicated. Whatever. My brain chemistry is off kilter, has been off kilter. What this looks like to others is me overindulging in vices, withdrawing from family and friends, and struggling to cope in general. What this looks like to the shaman is me not following orders. In other words: I have a bad attitude and am unwilling to change, or even be motivated toward change.

A bad egg fated to rot rather than hatch. Willfully rot.

To be bipolar is tantamount to being a slacker on welfare, and by that I mean that those around us are driven to distraction with what looks like a willful refusal to straighten up and fly right. Again with the chicken/egg metaphor, I know, but the fact is that with bipolar disorders it’s never clear. Is the situation causing your mood or is it your mood that is causing you to reinterpret the situation? It can be nearly impossible to tell. So here I am, someone who matriculated magna cum laude from her graduate program, a scholar who walked away with the plum graduate prize, and for awhile, a successful editor and writing coach, but now I know exactly how the juvenile delinquent feels; there’s no winning for losing. Like I said, a bad egg.

In retrospect, which has the staggering clarity of the larger perspective, I believe I was misdiagnosed when a major depressive episode laid me out after grad school. Oh, I had a major clinical depression all right, that much is inarguable, but from today’s perspective I’d have to say that my all-consuming, at-one-with-the-wallpaper-and-the-furniture experience was the hallmark of a bipolar depression, a very ugly and until recently a very misunderstood state of mind and body.

My state of complete incapacity, accompanied with my fierce focus on making sure I got the right treatment if it killed me -- for surely not getting the proper treatment would kill me, and by my own hand at that -- this is what led to my being misdiagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I know that schizophrenia can easily be considered a much heavier cross to bear, but I must disagree. I have a cousin who carries that cross. We all know that meds are everything for him. And we all know that what he does when improperly medicated is about brain chemistry, not attitude. But forget all that because I didn’t grow up in that, the sane, part of the family. A person with a borderline personality is one considered, by diagnosis, to be a person with no regard for anyone’s welfare but her own. Worse. Traditionally it has been considered by the mental health community to be an untreatable condition.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a life sentence. And it is your fault, all of it, bad egg that you are.

At the time of my diagnosis, there was one treatment for BPD, experimental, and it was practiced in Portland, Oregon, my home town. My family and friends went to the clinic’s intro-to-your fucked-up-loved-one and came back saying, That’s you! They were genuinely relieved. I knew in the deepest part of myself that this was not, in fact, the name of my trouble, but I wanted to get well so I sucked it up and accepted the unacceptable.

Here’s the best part. The treatment for BPD is a behavioral program completely free of the coddling of emotions. It focuses on the patient learning to control her emotional state so that she might also control the actions that are the outgrowth of those emotions run amok. Conversely, the hallmark of a bipolar disorder is behavior that is not only uncontrolled but uncontrollable. Let me put it another way. Once I received the proper diagnosis and treatment, my new catch phrase became “Better living through chemistry.” It was that obvious.

Upon being properly medicated for cyclothymia, which I like to call Bipolar Lite, I saw behaviors that I had struggled with lifelong all but disappear overnight. Overnight. I took a pill and suddenly I could deal with the previously undealable. The mood swings slowed down to a little tick tock at the center and the chaos abated. I quit having what psychiatrists “suicidal ideation”; I knew the feelings weren’t real, but they felt real. Imagine that going away with a pill. Now imagine this: the actions of my harpy of a drunken mother suddenly made perfect sense to me. Now that is what I call clarity.

The worst part about being bipolar, in my experience, is BEING BIPOLAR. The life bipolar is a fucked up existence that requires constant re-evaluation and adjustments to maintain a delicate balance, and even then, balance is lost over and over and over. I’m all about meds. I take my meds like daily communion. But this year, just this month as a matter of fact, I learned that I can be properly medicated and still have an episode. How fucked up is that? Well, okay, I used to be on seizure meds and still got seizures, so... never mind. I get it. It’s just that clinical depression, even the black-hole-sun, death-star variety (with which I am intimately acquainted) is easier to medicate; when the meds work, they work. Bipolar Spectrum Disorder, which is the brand new shiny term for what used to be called manic depression, is a cycling disorder; just when you think you have a handle on your symptoms, the situation changes. And so do your symptoms. Without notice. Suddenly, what used to be fine is not fine. It’s a lot like being the crazy person you were before getting the proper treatment. I’m still getting the hang of it.

Enter the shaman.

You remember the shaman, right? That’s where this rant started. I came to the shaman by way of my osteopath. For over a decade, my osteopath and I have been working on undoing the tangle of a lifetime’s worth of chronic pain. From her perspective, I had finally come to a point of wellness, but something, “some energetic glitch” as she called it, was telling my body I was not well. She’s learning healing techniques from the shaman and so she asked if I would be willing to see him. Fast forward eight months. The shaman is angry with me because.... oh, let’s just skip the details. At this point it’s a he said, she said. So why do I care so much that the shaman is angry with me?

Before I answer that question, let me say this. Mistakes get made. Incorrect diagnoses will be given and incorrect treatments will be prescribed. It is inevitable. Neuroscience is still a young field, especially in the science of so-called mental illness. (I argue that “mental” illness is just as physical as diabetes or heart disease; it’s all chemistry. But that’s just me.) What is known about migraines, memory, and mental illness today is huge as compared to what was known ten or twenty years ago. I have spent my entire adult life gamely slogging through mistakes and missteps with my doctors, and I have respect for the fact that we are all learning our way through this brain chemistry stuff together, but... Forgive me. I’m unable to write this next part without rancor, so I’m going to let a couple of Ph.D.'s say it for me:

The most heartbreaking mistakes come when patients get blamed for failing to get better.*

I have been that patient. Only in my experience, the moment I start to be blamed for not getting better is actually directly after the moment our doctor/patient relationship has reached its zenith and it is time for me to find a doctor with greater skill. So far, my assessment of this shift has been accurate, and I have been well served following my judgment. My assessment: the shaman is angry because I am failing to get better on his terms. It’s the same brand of anger I heard from my first behavioral therapist, the one practicing the “cure” for my mistaken borderline personality diagnosis. Both of them have yelled at me these very words: “I’m not here to do it your way.”

I get it. I have not done everything the shaman told me to do. In addition, I have refused to let go of some of my less-than-stellar habits. But this, I argue, is not because I am willful. It is because I can take only so much stress and only so much change before I unravel. I know this; it did not require a diagnosis for me to know this about myself. I used to think this was a failure of character -- it certainly looks like it -- but what I’m coming to understand as I learn better living through chemistry is this: I am bipolar. Bipolar symptoms are stress-related. When my brain chemistry is balanced, I am balanced, but add stress and things shift. I have, just like my undiagnosed but undoubtedly bipolar mother, habits and coping mechanism that I developed long before my diagnosis. Bad habits. Bad coping mechanisms. However, unlike my mother, I did not settle into self-medicating with alcohol, sex, and pills. I began the search for wellness at sixteen. By virtue of a few key decisions, an education, and some decent breaks, I have avoided my mother’s hell, mostly -- a huge accomplishment -- and more importantly, I have avoided imposing my hell on children. Some days that is enough. Other days, that is everything.

So, do I want to live a life that’s better than that simple summation?
Is a pig’s ass pork?

You didn’t see that coming, did you? But here it is, the question that everything comes down to: chicken or pig? In a meal of ham and eggs the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. This is how committed I am to getting well. At ten I knew something was very wrong. At fourteen I knew I was in the kind of trouble I couldn’t get out of by myself. At sixteen I paid for a psychiatrist with my own money. I paid my way through college and grad school and when I was done, I got myself to the kind of doctors that could help me with my botched biology and neurology. I am nothing if not committed.

Here’s my problem. In his zeal to get me to snap out of my complacency, the shaman missed my bipolar spin out. He is also a master level therapist, so you’d think the shaman would have noticed, but my psychiatrist didn’t notice either. How could he? I didn’t know to report the symptoms I was having. Why? Well, the shaman assigned my experiences to “energetic shifts” -- as did I -- and I was experiencing a shit load of shifts. But there was more, and until now I didn’t know some of these things could be symptoms of my bipolar condition. I now have new list of additional signals that, like the idiot lights in my car, I ignore at my peril. I mean, Fuck me! I haven’t been this wrong on this many fronts since I was a teenager.

When I was a teenager I lived with my aunt, my mother’s sister. I knew that living with my parents would be the death of me (again, by my own hand) and so I moved to where someone would be watching, someone to reel me in when I got too far up a certain creek without a paddle. My aunt was a great disciplinarian. Firm. Fair. Fun. She was perfect for my much needed teenage rebellion; I could count on her the way a trapeze artist can count on the net. That is, until my uncle moved back in and took over the discipline. At a critical juncture in my young life, he missed the opportunity to see into my heart and instead focused on one night’s out of control behavior. His response was to give me what I call “the sweat off my balls” speech. I don’t remember a single word of it, just the start of that sentence: “And I wouldn’t give the sweat off my balls...” My uncle gave me much worse than the sweat off his balls. He gave me enough rope to hang myself when I didn’t need any more rope. What I needed was the net.

Like the shaman, my uncle was sending a message. I got the message, though it wasn’t the one he thought he was sending, and it scared me, which is what he wanted, but it didn’t scare me straight; it scared me deaf. And so did the shaman’s anger. Now the shaman will tell you that he is fighting for me and he’s waiting for me to fight for myself. He doesn’t know that I am already fighting for myself. This fight in me, this fight for the person I know I am and against the person I am (again!) being wrongly seen as being, this got me suspended, put on leave. It got me the shaman singing the lead in this damn song:

Yeah, I get it, you’re an outcast, always under attack, always coming in last, bringing up the past. No one owes you anything. I think you need a shotgun blast, a kick in the ass....

All my life, I have fought the effects of botched brain chemistry, the side-effects of medication, and the roadblocks of bad habits. And chronic pain, just for good measure. I object to brain chemistry being called mental illness, but there it is. And I sure as hell object to brain chemistry being called a bad habit. More than anything else, however, I object to the idea that when I argue for a clear vision of the human being that I am -- so that I might surrender to change -- I must be accused of arguing for my limitations.


That line of stars? That’s a stand-in for the look on my face and sound of my voice, both wordless with frustration. I have come so far. I have unravelled and repaired so much. I want to tackle and take down this last “little glitch,” I do. I do not want to be bound by my limitations. They are there, yes, both my neurology and my biology are anything but standard, but it is workable. Here’s the thing. For the last several days, as I have returned to write and rewrite, think and rethink and rethink, whether I played Shinedown’s song or not, this is the only line I’ve heard:

When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
When you gonna wake up and F I G H T ...
for yourself.

I’m just not sure which direction to throw the punch.

* Break the Bipolar Cycle: A Day-by-Day Guide to Living with Bipolar Disorder, by Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., and Xavier Amador, Ph.D. (p 36)

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

16 June 2010

White, straight, married. Educated.

These are my credentials. And I use them.

Education allows me to speak with authority, and it’s not because of the letters after my name. I can think and speak with authority because that’s what an education teaches you to do. That I was married for longer than anyone I know who isn’t over 70 also gives me cred. Clearly I know how to make things work. It doesn’t hurt that I’m still young enough for my words to count with more than just the over-the-hill set. That I am straight is something beyond my control, but I know such things are the norm, the assumption, and I use that to my advantage. Why? Because I can. For the eight years before my husband and I married, while we cohabited, we used the gender neutral term partner, as in “my partner and I just picked out a kitten.” It was purposeful. I wanted to make people think. I wanted them to have to consider who I was, who I might be; to ask, rather than assume, if they wanted to know personal information. It should go without saying, then, that a good many of our friends are gay, lesbian, or transgender, but I would have done it regardless. I use my straight status as a personal protest against bigotry. Because I can. In the HIV-ravaged ‘80s and ‘90s, that was particularly important.

White. That is the best credential of them all. It is also the best weapon; nobody sees it coming. With the current unrest -- and outrageous rhetoric -- about immigrants, my white skin lets me say... damn near anything. In the ‘90s, when my friend Jose, a Nicaraguan immigrant with a strong accent, was treated poorly by clerks or wait staff, I had something to say about it. Subtle, but perfectly clear. If someone wanted to take me on, I had my Uncle Joe, born and raised in Puerto Rica. Two of my cousins have brown skin so dark they could pass for black. Of course all of my family members are citizens under the law, so such cred only goes so far. But now I get to pull out the big guns. Grace and William Bertocchini, my great grandparents, both Italian immigrants.

What no one but the family knows, and then probably only those of us who have seen the birth certificate, is that one of our forebearers is listed as “white” and the other is listed as “dark.” Which is code for "too brown to pass but not yet negro..."? Who knows. Clearly that’s a standard that was - and now is no longer. Except that it is. Just not on birth certificates. It is enough that my blond-haired, blue-eyed grandfather was considered white while his wife, with dark hair, eyes, and skin, was not; but there’s more. They came to the US without papers, at least Grandma did. Grandpa died before the opportunity to learn his citizen status ever came up. Grandma was brought here by two church ladies as an indentured servant. They paid her passage. Once in the New World, she owed them labor. Honestly, I am not making this up. That means she came here to do work that other Americans would not do or were unwilling to do for the pay offered. It also meant that Grandma earned her freedom the old fashioned way: by the sweat of her brow; purchasing it with years of her life in service. And now here am I, the first great grandchild and proud bearer of academic letters after my name. Imagine.

Those of you who are regular readers of My Zero BDay Blog know that I am all about full disclosure in the service of speaking what usually goes unspoken. Many cannot speak their truth - and the range of reasons is staggering - but I can speak, and so I do. Like I said, credentials will get you everywhere. I have spoken here about my days caring for my friend Jose as he died from complications due to AIDS and I have spoken here about the fact that I am bipolar. Today, I am here to speak about domestic violence.

That was kind of a long lead in, wasn’t it?

The fact is, I was preparing a very different blog for today, and yesterday, and over the weekend. And I will post it, just soon as it stops eating me alive. It’ll happen. In the mean time, I’m posting someone else’s blog. Sort of. You’ll have the link because her blog is beautiful and courageous. What I have for you here is...

My response to “Breaking the Silence” written by H.C. PALMQUIST

Dear H.C. PALMQUIST, I'm going to write my response before I scroll through your reader comments, because if I read that first, the images in my head will submerge and be lost to consciousness. I have no doubt you know what I mean.

Like you, I met my man at twenty and, like you, I was just grateful to have someone love me. David, I’m going to call him David, was a dozen years older and therefore, in my eyes, wiser. The subtle game of emotional push pull not only sucked me in, but so activated my childhood wounds that I quickly fell into the role of very unbalanced girl to his very patient man; he was my savior.

It was easy to isolate me. My family relationships weren’t healthy and I had no friends to speak of, except a best friend who was busy playing mother superior to my recalcitrant child. Moreover, I was so damaged that I could not honor my own response to feeling isolated and controlled, except to struggle with my partner, which was perfect because feeling crazy was my set point. My childhood, which included sexual abuse in conjunction with being raised by a Jekyll and Hyde drunk, had made me an expert at walking barefoot on broken glass and making it look like I was dancing Swan Lake. I was tailor made for an abusive man.

At the start, David’s abuse was so subtle that I didn’t see how I was being groomed to be the crazy (and battered) woman to his wise Zen master persona. Before I left, however, he had beaten and controlled me in all the obvious ways; I wasn’t clueless. Like you, I responded by taking us to counseling where I was told that flowers weren’t a real apology for a beating, but I wasn’t buying it. We got engaged. I was so invested in things being fine - being fixable - I didn’t see, until long after I left him, that David was both a drunk and a sexually violent man. For abused women the truth submerges, and all that remains is the glassy surface of a perfect lake. That’s all we want.

Here’s the lucky part, just before my 23rd birthday, I walked away from David and into the arms of the man who married me, a man whom my family adores to this day, even though we’ve been divorced for years. In retrospect, my husband was both very good to me and also a “healthier” more socially acceptable version of abuse, but that’s another story, and I’m not here to cast blame.

My wake up call with David, I kid you not, was a soap opera. In a single scene I saw that, no matter how angry they get, a man and a woman simply do not resort to the kind of behavior I was being subjected to. I still shake my head when I remember that.

Here’s the real corker. Upon meeting my fiance, my abusive alcoholic mother immediately saw through him. Of course she did; takes one to know one. But I could not hear her words. Her own behavior had so damaged me that I could not see the love she also had for me, nor believe her concerns for my welfare, which were genuine. Whatever doubts I was harboring at that early point in my relationship with David, I dismissed them in that moment. Like you said to Jason: The problem with a handbook [or a warning from family] is that every woman thinks it won’t happen to her.

Thank you for everything you have shared in this blog. I am SO proud of you. Not only did you pull yourself out of an insidious and lengthy cycle of abuse, but you took the risk of telling your story in a public forum. There is no greater courage.

I also have a special, personal, thank you to say. Reading this entry in your blog brought me the clarity I needed to finish my own. I’ve been struggling for far too long with the latest piece, and now I know why. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.

aka Sins of the Eldest Daughter

PS - I have decided to post my response to your blog (with a link to you) as preamble to the post I am currently writing. I hope you don’t mind. Truly. Like you, I have taken my struggle to a public forum as a way of encouraging understanding for and conversation about difficult topics. Again, my thanks for your courage and your willingness to speak out. May your new life open to you with the sweet beauty of a budding flower.

Dear readers of My Zero BDay Blog. The next time I post, it will be the blog I just referred to - Another Loose Cannon Gone Bipolar - and I hope to have finished it before the end of the week. Until then, may all your hours bring you the surprise of possibility and all your days end with the satisfaction of having acted on those new possibilities. ~Dina

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

07 June 2010

The Shape of My Heart

Dear Sweet Readers,

You have no idea how happy I am to be saying those words again. Well, perhaps you do. I have received tweets and blips and emails saying that you love reading MyZeroBDayBlog, that you miss me, that you wonder what the shaman was thinking when he told me not to blog, that perhaps I’d feel better if I just wrote again. Indeed I will. And I’m pretty sure that the happy dance I did over blogging again could be seen from space. I am THAT happy to be here.

Having said that, I present to you the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago, a blog I had wished to post for Memorial Day but couldn’t. How did this happen when I was officially not blogging? Well, the shaman decided that writing was good and so I was given the green light to blog, just as long as I emailed them to him instead of posting. As a compromise, it seemed good enough. Better than not writing at all, right?

The Shape of My Heart (lyrics)
Thursday 20 May 2010

Tonight I found myself thinking of #MilitaryMonday, the day when we post onto Twitter our support of those serving in the military. I always celebrate #MilitaryMonday by posting music on BLIP.fm. It goes to my Twitter page where I have many followers who serve or are in support of those who serve our country. Earlier on Blip, I was playing Sting’s “The Shape of My Heart,” sending it out to DJs in thanks for supporting me. My support of those in uniform and the support I have received as a writer not writing, those two conflated. Because the hour grows late, I will skip any attempt at explanation for that. Just let me say that the lyrics of “The Shape of My Heart” say much of what is in my heart tonight about the shape of why I write. I don’t write for money or respect or even readers, though I love knowing that you are out there. No, I write as a meditation. I write “to find the answer, the sacred geometry of chance, the hidden law of a probable outcome... [as] a dance.” That my words bring pleasure to you, that they may also bring you a measure of relief or recognition, this is a privilege I enjoy, but it’s not why I write.

If I said that I write because I love you, dear sweet readers, you might wonder at my sincerity and the shaman might think that something is wrong, imagining that I have lost myself in the need to be validated by others. But that’s not the shape of my heart.

Back to #MilitaryMonday. The reason I post music for our troops isn’t just that I married a Marine; in three tours, he saw no combat, though he had the once-in-lifetime experience of evacuating refuges from VietNam. It isn’t just that my father was in Special Forces for three grueling tours of duty; I didn’t grow up with him, though he later shared with me the details he could share with no one else. And it’s not because I have a friend serving in Afghanistan, though he defuses bombs for a living and has just been deployed to the China sea where North Korea is flexing its muscles. No, I post music for #MilitaryMonday because I know death. I have known, since the age of three, the gut-wrenching loss that comes with the death of a loved one and I know the loss of loved ones who die long before their time. I know the loss of someone who dies in your arms. I know the feeling of loss compounded by loss compounded by loss compounded by loss; AIDS brought that to me. But mostly I post music for our troops because I know the exhaustion of fighting what others consider to be a hopeless, perhaps even useless, cause.

Those of you who are regular readers know my memoir of love and death, The Movie Lovers, which describes my friendship with and eventual care-taking of Jose Sequeira as he died from complications of AIDS. But despite this experience, despite many losses in my life, I do not know the loss that the man I now call my best friend has known. Before the time of AIDS, he and a friend from his hey day in the gay bars started listing their tricks, a game of one-upmanship. For those not in the know, a gay man’s “tricks” aren’t johns but one-night stands, the mecca of gay sex before the blight of HIV. My friend and his friend stopped when they got to a hundred, no point in gilding the lily, right? After my friend lost his partner to AIDS -- which is how we met, in a grief group for survivors -- he and his friend did a reprise list, this time of the men they knew who had died. Again they chose to quit when the number reached one hundred. Through this friend, I now know the experience of death that is of so great a proportion that all sense of perspective is lost.

This is why I play music for our men and women in uniform. This is why I write. The shape of my heart demands it.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

06 June 2010

"Zero": My Zero BDay Blog Resumes

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Tonight I’m courting the perfection of nihilism, which is just another way of saying that I’m playing Smashing Pumpkins as I write this, exercising the right of the artist to draw, paint, write, sing, or dance what it is we see in front of our eyes, what we see inside our own heads, in our dreams, in our nightmares, in yours. As artists we come here to engage with the fullness of life and the emptiness, the hope and the despair, the heaven on earth, the hell on earth, and the confusion in between. It’s what we do. Most of you know that I’m on a spiritual trajectory, working with a shaman. I have both spiritually focused friends and friends who are drug addicts. I have friends in the full range between. I have said it to each of them, I am saying it to you, and perhaps I should consider saying it to the shaman as well, my raison d’etre:

I came here for the full meal deal; nirvana or nihilism, it’s all a human state of mind. My job as an artist is to reflect that.

Last time I was here, dear sweet readers, I was taking my leave of you. I had been ordered by the shaman to cease and desist my blogging, and while it was painful choice, I did sign on with this man to create healing and change in my life, so cease I did. Those who have been reading this blog or my Twitter stream (@SinsoftheEldest) know that I have likened my work with the shaman to boot camp. Well, today I broke ranks.

Intoxicated with the madness
I’m in love with my sadness

I’m pretty sure that’s what the shaman believes of me, hence Smashing Pumpkins.

I don’t have permission to post this blog. What I do have is an understanding: if I choose to do those things I’ve been directed not to do, then I’m on my own. Now before y’all go and react to that (and first of all, thank you; I love that you are fierce about my well-being), let me tell you this. I am on leave. Normally one does not get leave from boot camp, military or shamanic, but my work with the shaman has been a struggle as of late, a tug of war. His solution: a month’s leave. And so, suddenly, here I am. On my own. Doing what has been forbidden.

Wanna go for a ride?

I know that readers come to Sins of the Eldest Daughter to taste of the forbidden fruit, whatever’s on the menu, and y’all have been steady in both your support of me and in your desire that I kick the shaman to the curb and write already. But I am committed to the work I began, the spiritual work, and I have no intention of quitting. I also know that in the shaman’s eyes, I am recalcitrant, a truant student who is absent even when I am present; a victim addicted to the drama of my own story. And maybe I am. My student/teacher agreement with this man is that I will submit to his will as a way of learning how I unwittingly submit to everyone’s will, whether I intend to or not. It is a tough lesson and one I very much need to learn.

The problem? I am also committed to my way of doing things, by which I mean I am committed to being the person I came into this world to be, something apparently only I can see for this attitude has been the bane of my life. I regularly find myself student to a master -- whether counselor, professor, or coach -- a role I sign on for in order to learn what I do not know, but while I desire the new skill I’m learning and need that skill to get to where I want to go, I also need to be who I am. Struggle ensues.

I did not win the struggle with my shaman today. Like any child, which is what I am in this situation, I do not in fact want to win. Winning out over a parent when one is still undeveloped is to find oneself without guidance or safety. There is no greater fear for a child. The struggle for control, self control, by which I mean control over one’s being and one’s choices, is too often a losing battle because it is waged upon the wrong field. This battle is not with others but with oneself, one’s habits, indulgences, vices, and it is a battle I have lost my whole life. I struggle with others; I lose myself.

This is what the shaman is trying to teach me, and he is teaching me as a drill sergeant teaches a Marine. This method has one rule. Do as you are told or be punished. As behavior modification goes, this is very effective. Just not with me. And I am not afraid to say so, punishment or no.

To the shaman, my arguments are those of one who is willful, one who cannot get where she wants to go, who is at loggerheads with life, and yet who continues to expect to do things as she has always done them. As he rightly points out, this is the definition of insanity. For my part, I know I am arguing for understanding. I also know it is not possible, this understanding, until I have proven that I can do both what is expected of me and what I wish to do. Scratch that. I do not wish to do anything. I am driven to do it, as a fish is driven upstream to the waters of its birth. There is no arguing with this instinct. And so I have argued with the shaman.

I never let on that I was on a sinking ship.
I never let on....

I grew up having to hide everything that was important to me. I grew up not being allowed to feel pain or fear or need. I survived by refusing to yield. On the outside, I submitted. The inside was another matter.

The problem, as the shaman sees it, is that I remain steadfast in my refusal to yield. I can submit, which is to say I bow to that which is unavoidable, giving in to the authority, power, or desires of another -- I have done this my whole life -- but I cannot yield. This behavior has its roots in an abusive childhood. I have overcome the childhood, the anger, the belief that I can be hurt but cannot cause hurt, and my need to regard my mother -- or anyone -- as toxic or bad or wrong. Such pejorative points of view do not serve me. But being stubborn has.

Today I told the shaman I knew the expected answers to his questions and that I would acquiesce because that is our agreement, but whenever he named the problem with my thinking, I had to disagree. Let me put this another way. Throughout childhood, I was told by my mother I had brown eyes. One day I looked into the mirror and discovered that my eyes are green. They are green like the forest: dark, with a smoldering brown at the center. Today, all I heard the shaman telling me was that my green eyes are brown. Struggle ensued. Then, mid argument, he let go.

There can be no tug of war if you are the only one holding the rope.

Immediately, I felt a rush of freedom. It wasn’t the I win! brand of freedom. It was just freedom.

Now some of you may be thinking that the shaman has given up, that he is deserting or punishing me. And some of you may be chuckling as you imagine him giving me just enough rope with which to hang myself (and undoubtedly, you are parents), but that’s not what I see. From my perspective, I have been given the gift of control. All of my relationships have been dominant/submissive relationships, with me in the submissive role (Jose being the exception, the only exception, so is it any wonder I wrote a book about our friendship?). I have struggled, I have cried, I have blamed and raged, and even attempted suicide, all in pursuit of having control over my life.

Let me say that again. All of my relationships have been dominant/submissive, with me in the submissive role. Today, when the shaman announced that for the period of a month I would be on my own recognizance, I received something I have never experienced. A person in a position of dominance over me chose not to dominate.

My experience of freedom today was not the freedom of the self-possessed -- I have a long way to go to be the sole person in charge of myself -- but it IS freedom. For the first time, my chosen jailer swung open the door. I did not have to charge the gate nor chew off my own leg to escape the trap. So, what do I do? I come here, the land of the forbidden. I pull up Smashing Pumpkins on YouTube and play “Zero.” Zero for MyZeroBDayBlog resumed. Zero for these lyrics:

My reflection, dirty mirror. There’s no connection to myself.

Those are the shaman’s worst expectations of how this could turn out for me, I know it. He undoubtedly has a set of best expectations as well, but those aren’t so clear. So I am playing Zero and writing my blog and singing, “Save your prayers for when we’re really gonna need ‘em.” I am not a saint. I am not a sinner. I’m someone who came here for the full meal deal. And I’m not settling for anything less.

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