Dads & Their Sons: A Micro Look Into Parkland, March for Our Lives, & Toxic Masculinity

I had two profoundly opposite experiences watching white dads and their white sons last week.  They both stuck with me; for in both the healthy and the unhealthy there are lessons to learn.

One father told me about how his son befriended a boy at swimming practice who is going through a rough time.  I could tell that he was touched by his son’s emotional sensitivity that tears welled up in his eyes in the middle of the library.  He didn’t apologize that he was crying.  He was proud, and he was glad that his son, learning to work through his own limitations, sees situations where others need to feel accepted and included.

Another father interrupted my lesson with his son, in order to place a brand new MacBook Pro in front of him, and said to me, “This is here, just in case he needs a little more motivation.”  His son got a huge smile on his face, and immediately said, “Can we finish our lesson early today?” to which my immediate response was, “No.”

These situations happened less than 24 hours apart and both captured my attention.  I asked myself,

“What are these boys learning from their fathers about what it means to be a man?”

“What are these boys learning about their emotional life, their friendships, their perseverance, their limitations, and their need to fail?”

“How much space is given to these boys to question, to explore, to figure out who they are?  How much space is given to them to disagree with their parents and see the world differently?”

“What are these boys learning about how to treat women, especially women in authority?”

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I read this article, speaking to gun laws, mental health treatment–and also the privilege of white cisgender men, and the trajectory of violence that is accepted in our culture.

I resonated deeply with this article, because although I do carry strong stances on both gun control and mental health availability and treatment–I do see white boys who are coddled and see deep ruts of entitlement.  I see a lack of resilience and perseverance in challenges; a lack of responsibility in comparison to their female peers across race.

I’m learning to name what I see even in early elementary boys; and to show up in a way that challenges them to notice and name their emotions, to try and articulate how “negative” emotions show up in the body, to give mindfulness tools to being present, even amidst unwelcome emotions or difficulty.  I encourage their natural interests and innate gifting; which often presents itself as artistic, which, depending on their background and home life, they have already internalized as “too gay.”

While I’m learning how to describe power dynamics to young white boys, I do say things like, “You don’t have to become a businessman like your dad.”  “You can give space for other people to make the rules.”  “You can embrace who you really are, even if that looks different than what your family expects.”  I teach about the power of limitation, and the beautiful lessons that our weakness give us, if we are willing to learn.  I share personal stories about how I wish I was able to ask for help confidently at a younger age.  How our goal should not be to become independent, but interdependent and in accountable relationships in which we are known and loved.

Now this doesn’t make sense yet, to some of my students.  And at the same time, students are teaching us right now.  Naomi Wadler is not letting her age limit her influence.  She sees the disparities in the world and she is saying, “Enough!”  She knows that women of color are marginalized, having to fight to heard, and more often that not being dismissed and ignored.  When this is reality, aren’t we doing a disservice to the young white cisgender boys when we continue to perpetuate their illusion–and yet if we white people are honest, one that we helped to create?

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These two dads have very different comfort levels with failure and struggle-and are instilling different values and lessons into their sons.  I’ve watched this dynamic from afar for a year now.  Of course, neither of them are perfect; none of us are.

And yet, it takes a village, and I’m learning to engage in these relationships more effectively, with more courage and strength.  To say what needs to be said.  To push my students in love, and talk about why being able to linger with difficult emotions is so important.  To teach them about process–and not just conquering and progress.  To go against culture and teach them about waiting and delayed gratification, and that everyone doesn’t exist just to serve them.  To still relay that they are valuable, and yet need not always be the center of attention. To celebrate their successes and yet let them know that the lessons that they carry with them, are not just to climb the corporate ladder.

March has been a long month to be a a teacher and a tutor.  I come into Holy Week tired, in need of rest.  Yet as I watched the videos of Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, D’Angelo McDade and more I know that I too have my role.

We are all connected.  I continue to learn more and more about how me being white has estranged me from my ancestors, rituals and meaning.  It’s clouded the way I see the world.  White supremacy, lodged in my body is a piece of what makes me tentative and ashamed.  Yet, as I keep waking up to this reality, I must help my white students see a bigger picture of the world, connect with people who are not like them, and celebrate the beautiful difference that exists in this world.

May the truth continue to make us all free.

 

 

Photo by Jose Alonso on Unsplash

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Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

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Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Embracing Aloneness

For Lent this year, I gave up conformity.  I didn’t really know how this would play out.  All that kept coming out of my therapy sessions was that I’ve spent my life conforming–and I was exhausted, and done.  I needed to be done to reclaim my health & my worth.

One particular moment has kept coming to my mind off and on for the last month.  I was 8 years old, and I was in my room, probably writing at my desk.  My dad comes to ask me if I wanted to run at the State Track Championship, and I said no, even though I had just won all my races at a pretty big meet.

It was my last big intuitive moment I remember as a kid.  I knew that competitions made me anxious; I didn’t really like them.  I loved running and I loved practice, but I could do without the competition.

I said no, because I knew that I wanted time.  Time to be free.  Time to be a kid. Time to play outside in the woods, barefoot.  Time to take walks and look at the stars.  Time to shoot baskets.  Time to write.  Time to jump on the trampoline. Time to run around with my dog.

I was a kid who needed spacious time.  I was a kid who needed time alone.  Just because.  Because I was worthy of that space.  Because I needed spaciousness to be my best self.  Because I always really resonated with that kind of silence and solitude.

The next year, I said yes to my dad’s request.  I decided to become a very competitive runner.  I attended the National Championships at age 9 for the long jump, and missed a National Medal by a 1/4 inch.  At age 10, I won a National Medal in the long jump down in Orlando.  These things weren’t bad in and of themselves. I made good friends.  I got to see different parts of the State and the country.  However, I did suppress the creative, intuitive part of myself.  I became overly responsible, dedicated, hard-working—all to achieve this dream of returning to the National Track Championships year after year.  For all of this, I received a lot of affirmation.

I didn’t play outside as much in the summer heat, because I had to reserve my energy for practice later that day.  I ate in particular ways and at particular times because of my practice schedule.  I was only 9 years old.

I didn’t know what was happening as a kid, but I do now.  That part of me that was shy and dream-like thrived in solitude.  I needed that precious time to imagine, to have no agenda, to just get lost in whatever I wanted to.  I liked being with others (or bossing my sister around!), but I also liked being alone.

I’m reclaiming this aloneness now.  I crave it, and I need it.  Being alone in silence gives me great refreshment & joy, and up until recently, I’ve buried that part of me.

Why?

I didn’t believe that I was worth it.  There are sneaky lies that creep up, both within myself, and the cultural structures around–that state in a myriad of ways that time for yourself is a selfish act.  That to invest in my own healing and self-care is isolationist and arrogant.

Especially as a woman.

For as a compassionate, intutive-empath, others knew that I was loyal.  That I would show up.  That I was true to my word.  That compassion though was not extended as much to myself, as I extended it to others.  And it became overbearing and exhausting.  But I didn’t know who I would be if I said no.

Because the thing is–my compassion and intuition are strong strengths of mine–and they are beautiful.  And they need to be balanced out with my strength and my boundary-setting.

I have given my own energy, way past what most people were giving in situations.  I have also taken on others’ energy as my own, for most of my life.

These last months of solitude for me have been about claiming my story, my version.  Not the version that someone else is telling.

It’s been about seeing the acts of caring for myself, as incredibly generous both towards myself and everyone around me.  See-we really are connected!

Me healing from my trauma in EMDR, is healing for everyone else that I come into contact with.

You see, I am healing for me–which of course affects everything.

I see clearly now, that to call self-care a selfish act is to believe that I am separate from everyone else when I take time for myself.  This simply isn’t true.

I may just be able to see myself and everyone else more clearly, when I ground myself in the present moment and let go.

Five Years of Friendship

Five years ago, I met this dear friend of mine.  It just so happened that she was in my interview group, when she was interviewing for the Memphis Teacher Residency.

She got in, and was assigned to spend her residency year at my school.  Then I quit my position right before school started, and she ended up teaching in my classroom (and she wasn’t very happy with me!)

We watched Big 10 basketball together while living in the South, while everyone else was concerned with Ole Miss & Alabama.

When I got very sick, and left Memphis for Indy, I didn’t really think that we would stay in touch.  But we did–and oh, our friendship has been both the best & the hardest thing.

We’ve traveled a lot of hard ground together–more than most friends do in a lifetime.  At times, I’ve been overwhelmed with the grief of it all.  At other times, I rest in my gratitude for a loyal and committed friend who knows me so well.  Of course it’s both/and.

Last night was simply a “Thanks for being my friend” kinda night. At. Ted’s Montana Grill.  Taking occasional glimpses at March Madness scores here and there.

Yet, 2018 is a big year for both us–for different reasons.  Yet, we both still get to be a witness to it all-the good and the bad, our back-and-forth illnesses, new jobs, graduations, baptisms, a book being written, new friendships being made, my confirmation into the Episcopal Church (more on this later!)

It’s been a privilege to be a witness to healing-both mine & Chelsea’s over the last several years.  We are both better, for having been committed friends.

 

Gratitude

I attended a Wednesday morning Eucharist service at my church last week.  I took deep breaths and opened the Book of Common Prayer, and listened to the Scriptures being read, and I turned to the elderly women sitting by me during the Passing of the Peace.

One woman shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said,

“You have the prettiest smile.  Thanks for making my day.”

I sat back down in my seat, breathed even more deeply, my thighs resting more heavily.  Immediately, I thought of writing my blog post about just wanting my smile to return.  I wasn’t faking it.  It was a real smile; and it was lighter.  Healing is happening and I am smiling.

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As I sat with my spiritual director last month, and we spoke briefly about Lent.  We spoke about how hard, how tiring the last 5 years have been.  How it’s been a long Lent.  How my hope is that in this Lent, that more and more healing will emerge.  And she just sat with me in my hope.

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I just attended a Silent Retreat in Omaha with the Gravity Center.  50 of us meditated together, did yoga together, ate meals silently together.  And when we could finally talk, one woman asked me my name, and then said, “I’m so glad I know your name now.  Alyssa-the one with the most effortless, beautiful smile.”

Happy tears welled up in my eyes, as others were giving voice to the profound amount of healing that has happened these last four months.

As others ask about the retreat, I’m saying, “I keep moving more and more deeply into the process of letting go.  And a by-product of letting go is joy.”

The last night of the retreat, we all sat silently in the chapel and were led through a lovingkindness meditation.

We repeated the mantra:

May I be well.

May I have love.

May I find peace in this life.

And then we repeated this mantra for our loved ones & for our enemies.

May you be well.

May you have love.

May you find peace in this life.

As a group claiming various or no faith tradition, we were opening ourselves up to Love, so we could love.  And it was beautiful.

EMDR & bell hooks

 

Since October, I’ve been in therapy, targeting specific traumatic memories through the use of EMDR.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.  For 45 minutes, once I’ve brought up a memory with a charged emotion attached, I let my eyes go back and across a light bar that moves at a comfortable pace from the left to the right.  After about 20-30 seconds, it stops, and I report what I thought, felt, or saw in my mind.

At first it seemed haphazard and chaotic–it’s because it was.  Any traumatic event doesn’t lodge in the body in a way that feels coherent.  It’s an entangling of memories, of thoughts and feelings left unsaid, of events that rewired my neural pathways in the brain.

It’s been an empowering process for me to work through unresolved grief, to understand my own patterns that were underneath my own consciousness, to find my voice again, and not feel like a victim.  It’s been an empowering process to see my gifts, to see my beliefs change, and even to see my shortcomings and accept them for the teachers that they are.

It’s been the driver behind my creativity beginning to emerge much more powerfully in my life.  It’s a big part of me being able to write more-and to trust my own voice and creative process.

Yet, EMDR is a tool that exposes everything.  Nothing can be hidden.

I have to face the frightened teenager in the doctor’s office who feels like she can’t win, who feels like she says too little & is dismissed or says too much and is a hypochondriac.

I have to face the girl who starts to edit her story so she doesn’t continue to be humiliated.

I have to face the girl who begins to doubt herself–and who wonders if she’s really crazy, since most professionals think she is.

I have to face the girl who starts to believe incorrect narratives about her life imposed on her by those in authority-because she’s so exhausted from trying to tell the truth.

I have to face the girl and young adult who is resentful, because she has stuffed her own truth into her body.  She has so much to say, and yet is so scared to say it.  And this is the source of so much of her chronic illness.

I learned the rules of our white-heteronormative-patriarchal-Western society.  I would not be heard unless a man in authority believed that I had the right to be heard.  Even when I saw female doctors (which were few and far between), they still acted from a patriarchal perspective, because they benefitted from the medical establishment, and didn’t see the need to examine their own beliefs.

After working with a female endocrinologist in college for 3 years, she started to increase her body-shaming language with me.  The blame just kept getting heaped onto me: “If only you would work out 6 times a week instead of 5…if only you would lose 2 more pounds, then your fatigue would go away.”

I wanted to say, “How many times per week do you work out?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Could it be that you have no idea how to help me, and you see me as a challenge and a threat?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Stop treating me  like a problem case, where you feel like you have to assert your dominance as a doctor to be deemed as credible” but I kept quiet.

While I didn’t have words for the institutional forces at play, at the time, I knew that something was very wrong.   I knew that I was being treated differently because I was a young female. I knew that I was an easy scapegoat for built-up frustration. I knew that making me question my own body, my own symptoms, my own memory & perception was the only way to make them still feel dominant over me.

Now I know this to be gaslighting, a very effective form of manipulation that quickly increases self-doubt and self-questioning.

Through the work of EMDR, I’ve been able to take my story back into my own hands, away from those who taught me to question myself because my disease couldn’t be “proven.” I now have the chance to see my bravery, my strength, my perseverance that seemed to elude me when I just felt like a burden or the problem.  I finally get to see myself as the hero of my own story-with great successes and many faults, like every other human being.

I’ve been able to see how my perseverance has been found in my commitment to my own self-care, to setting boundaries, to trying new things when everything seems to fall apart.  In my perseverance, I’ve seen an openness to new people, new ideas, new writers.  I’ve felt a strong sense of self emerge, originating in the greatest place of energy in the sacral chakra.

Being able to spend time alone, as a woman, and truly enjoy my own company has been the greatest gift of my own perseverance.  And it’s intimidating to many–but I’m learning not to apologize for this.  I’m not forsaking community to nurture myself.

Last week I read feminism is for everybody by bell hooks.  Such a lovely, thought-provoking read about intersectional feminism.  In the introduction she writes,

Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction.  Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.  Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism.  But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all ‘created equal.'”

Self-actualization must necessarily include the work of the individual in community.  In in the process of taking responsibility for my own life, so that I show up in community differently.  So that I’m more flexible, and willing to learn, and yet not doubting my own significance or story.

I’m thankful for the people in my life who remind me of my significance and worth, through words and actions–and remind me that I don’t have to prove it to anyone.  I’m thankful for those who help me to see my own assumptions, and who encourage me to imagine another way-a way forward with more inclusion and joy.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Congratulations!

Last week, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor.  I have these appointments 3-4 times per year to gauge my progress and continue to tweak my treatment plan to best serve me and my healing.

The nurse leads me into the room and asks me what my dominant symptoms are to tell the doctor, before he comes in to meet with me.  I smiled as I told her, “I don’t have any dominant symptoms.  I’m feeling really good.”

She smiled back at me, took her time to really look at me, and replied, “That’s so good to hear.”

The doctor and I talked about my most recent lab results, how I’ve responded the last several months to new medicines, new IV’s, and adding in new foods.  We talked about how this summer with the high humidity should be different than last year, and yet I told him that I feel like I can tell how much difference these medicines have made by the time summer hits.

The entire 1/2 hour conversation was mostly about how I’m feeling–not what my test results say.  And as we were talking, this calmness came over me.  I was having a collaborative conversation with my doctor, where we were talking about my “subjective” feelings and they were validated over a number on a lab.  We talked about how I can adjust some medicines based on how I feel, because I know how to honor and listen to my body.

As I was leaving the room to go wait for the doctor’s notes in the lobby, he said, “Congratulations!”

The images that flooded my mind as he said that were of the dozens, even hundreds of people who have been a part of this healing journey with me.  From friends & family, to healing professionals, to strangers–it truly does take a village.

And, I have worked really hard.  Sometimes I shy away from saying that because I’ve been conditioned to feel like that’s arrogant.  But it’s not.

And sometimes guilt sets in because I am a young privileged white woman with access to resources that many people cannot even fathom.

Yet, I’m learning to sit with those feelings and just observe them.  And still say, “I’m healing & I’m worth it.”  And I have persevered and persevered and persevered.  And I deserve to feel good.

Hearing “congratulations!” from my doctor at first felt a little out of place. But then I paused, took a deep breath, and let the impact of his words sink in.

When he first saw me, I was on the brink of quitting my job.  I had just been sexually assaulted by a doctor.  I was exhausted and barely making it.  He has seen me through unemployment and multiple moves and black mold exposure and starting my own business.

So “congratulations!” meant “You’re making it!” but not only that, “You’re beginning to thrive!”

And he’s right.  I’ve not only gone through a lot of external changes, but I’ve done a lot of inner work–and the combination of a lot of hard work over the last several years–is a greater level of health and wellness.

I’m grateful for how my inner and outer work has changed my life, for my people who have journeyed with me, for simple encouragements that stop me in my tracks, cause me to take a deep breath and smile.

 

Photo courtesy of Serge Estege on Unsplash