I’ve taken on this task to dig deep. I’m writing with a shovel.
I don’t know where this will take me. I know this is not a singular journey. The more I write, the more I hear similar stories from people like you.
I didn’t choose this path. It chose me.
To say, it chose me implies I did not consciously or willfully consent. Have you had this experience?
Being shown something that you can’t un-see or un-hear? When you can’t un-see or un-hear something, it keeps knocking. At a certain point, there is no choice but to say yes, you have my attention, the door is open.
Your body quivers.
In the past I’ve taken other measures. Distraction, numbing and Netflix’s. Measures that have allowed me to get by in the ordinary business of living. Getting by does not cut it. It keeps us on the edge of wholehearted aliveness. Life can be so relentless in calling our attention to what lingers unresolved. When directives come through in dreams, conversations, news flashes, posts, documentaries and direct requests — it’s not a coincident — you have to do something — for me, it’s writing!
Even my mother is showing up to say, I want you to write about this. Three times already, which is odd given she died seven years ago.
When the aperture opens, you can’t push it closed. More pours out. As more is revealed, it’s as if a readiness is cultivating itself for a task. A task that you are not free to not take part in.
I invite you to travel with me if you choose to. Note that some of these stories include trauma. I encourage you to read this when you are feeling well resourced. It’s taken me a long time to come to a resourced place to share these stories. These are meant to support reclaiming your power.
At the base, I share resources that specifically served me in boosting courage, kindness and connection. You are welcome to share in the comments. I want to hear your story.
Am I ready? Is anyone ever ready for an unmapped journey? Is it listening to the clues along the way that prepare us for the next step? Is it trusting that each step informs the next?
As Zen shows us, sometimes we have to go backward in order to move forward. I am going to take you back to the beginning. First, as a mother, I need to make sure both you and I have plenty of snacks to nourish us along the way. Feel free to pack your favorites.
Snack #1: Your is your story, own it. No one can take your story from you. It is yours to craft in any way you like. Let yourself be uncensored. Your wounds become wisdom.
Snack #2: Your vulnerability is your super power. Sweet tenderness begins with you and grounds you in your feet.
Snack #3: We can’t change the past. We can contribute to a more kind, caring and beautiful future. This is certain. Nothing else.
Snack #4: Give yourself permission to fall off course. Remember that you can always ask for help and let someone hold a flashlight with you in dark places.
Snack #5: Practice brave acts of self-love. This snack takes up the most space by giving you space to not compare, not perfect, not critique, not other, not go it alone. Not buy into the voices that say you do not have what it takes.
SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER
Really! Wait a minute. I didn’t know this is possible. Today, I have to ask, do I know what this means? Have I tried? Let’s go back to our earliest imprints about truth and power. As a young girl in a male dominant patriarchal system, I believed that boys and girls have different roles assigned to them at birth. This repeatedly demonstrates itself in sports, math and religious roles. The role of the Godhead is most closely linked to a male priest that has power over the congregation. The behaviors of boys/men are centered, sanctioned, practically perfect. In my early years, no one ever questions the rules of religion that are written for men and by men. Neither does anyone ask how I, as a female feel or think about this. As a consequence, I am not given informed consent to rules I am subject to agree with based strictly on the gender I am assigned at birth. I learn to not develop critical thinking, or to give voice to my thoughts and feelings.
It never occurs to me that I can challenge the status quo.
Spoiler Alert: When you give voice to your thoughts and feelings, you develop critical thinking = empowerment.
I can learn to speak truth to power. Imagine this revelatory idea for life to continue living on earth today. I do not need to deny, suppress or act out my desires and discontent behind closed doors. Ouch.
ATTRACTION TO THE SACRED
From as young as I remember I have an attraction to the sacred. I was indoctrinated into the Catholic Church as an innocent little baby with the first sacrament of baptism. By the way, there are seven sacraments. Number seven is called ordination and for men not women. More of this later on our journey.
I was too little to remember being submerged in holy water or to register if anything changed. I do remember a photograph of me as a baby cradled in the arms of my parents who were joined in sacred matrimony. This is proof that they were lovingly together at one time with blessings to procreate. I am a product of procreation that is the subject of a series of objectifications due to my female gender. I do not consent to this. It’s encoded in patriarchal law.
My passion for the holy led me to follow my grandmother to mass many mornings. She lives nearby I study her patterns. I am six, my first communion is approaching. I ache to participate in the mass and receive the Eucharist, the body of Christ.
MY FIRST SECRET
I want to become an altar boy. I find myself reciting this over and over again but not loud enough for anyone to hear. Is that the voice that speaks truth to power but is silenced at a very early age? Is it accompanied by flashes of embarrassment for wanting something that the rules tell you, you cannot have? I did not serve in the mass. What do I do instead? I make sure I jump on any opportunity to please, appease and do good in the eyes of my teachers and the Oblates of St. Francis. I am desperate for worthiness.
At this time my father’s tendency toward alcohol escalates. I still hear his raging voice at 3 in the morning; Camille where is my supper? When she is no longer there to bang, he seeks out other bodies for his pain.
When my father finds me, I believe it is my fault. I think I can make it better through good deeds and more silence. I assign myself penance. When this doesn’t change anything, I become scrupulous. I’m looking for love and belonging in all the wrong places.
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. ~ Brene’ Brown
UNTOLD SECRETS CREATE A DISTORTION IN HOW WE PERCEIVE OURSELVES
The more secrets we accumulate this distortion grows rapidly and exponentially, like a tsunami. It is a two-sided affliction. On one side, it is passionately trying to prove itself, puffing up like an exotic peacock. On the other side, it is burying itself in a gloomy pit of remorse and denial. I am aware of this at an early age and it scares the bejesus out of me. It shows up in a bathroom ritual I perform before I cook meals for the oblates of St. Francis in exchange for private Catholic school education. I borrow the shortest vestment out of the closet, put it on, stand in front of the full-length mirror; I’m ready for ascension. I pray and cross myself repeatedly waiting to be safely drawn into heavenly realms. As I get older, unruly tendencies show up unannounced at pubs and nightclubs, terrifying me when I wake up in a snow bank with frozen feet, or on a yacht to Tahiti, with no recollection of how I get there.
Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment. ~ Brene’ Brown
My mother was quiet or perhaps she was cautious until she had a beer or two. Suddenly the voice inside of her is on loud speaker. I listen, curious as to what my so-called introverted mother has to say.
My mom is not a big drinker. She is what is referred to as a light weight. We have an in-house joke. One beer, hello Camille, two beers, wow Camille, three beers, no Camille. Inebriated, she is unrecognizable.
Here it is again. When you hear something, you can’t un-hear it. She bawls about three things. Her crooked nose. Hank losing all our money to booze and race horses. Her failing allegiance to the Catholic faith. The last one fascinates me the most. I lean in. In her day-to-day life she is an awesome mother, fantastic friend, athlete, and a respectful weekend Church goer. When my Dad isn’t coming home at night, she goes to confession often. I can’t imagine why. She is the kind of person that invites strangers into the house for a home cooked meal. She oozes with kindness. We adore her. I learn she is pleading her case. It goes something like this, “Fr. Clancy, Hank isn’t paying the bills. We’re still having babies. I need help. What am I to do?”
Is this her way of speaking truth to power? She is asking for permission to practice birth control. His reply, “My child, the good Lord will provide.” He blesses her with a random penance of Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s. Tears of hopelessness pour out of my endearing mom. I listen, watch and wonder as confusion accumulates in the psychic of my maternal lineage. Honestly, she anguishes over this for years. I am with her when she dies. On her death bed she is asking similar questions, doubting religion and eventually arriving to peace within herself.
When I turn fourteen, a radical shift happens. I can hear it under her breath. Fuck it! She quits the Church, leaves my father and bails on all of us.
I am not prepared for this. I am not given informed consent. Do I blame her? As a fourteen-year-old girl left to attend to her younger siblings with a raging alcoholic on the loose. Yes. As a recovering adult rewriting my story. No.
What were her choices? She tried the church. She modeled compassion as an antidote for excessive alcohol consumption with wholesome home cooked meals. This came in handy as by this time my siblings are actively following my father’s footsteps. Fortunately for me, I have a sixth sense and seem to show up just in time for the next crisis. My mom instills within me a sort of survival caregiving ethic. I am good at cooking, household chores, securing bail, and driving without a license to the hospital before someone bleeds to death.
I don’t remember how long my mother is gone. It feels like an infinity.
While mom is doing what she needs to do to clear her head of my father, I make sure my siblings eat well. Even if this means creeping into my father’s room and taking money out of his pockets to buy groceries.
This is a period in my traumatic memory where the door is squeaking open a crack. Just enough for some light to get in. It’s not a pretty scene. It’s brutal.
I finish preparing the last supper I will ever serve to the oblates of St. Francis. It is a warm spring day. The last day of classes before summer vacation. The following year I am a senior. I will not return to the Catholic school nor will I tell anyone what I do not consent to on this day until many years later.
I am waiting for my bus ride home. I don’t know if I miss my bus. I am pulled into a black car with shaded windows. I’m told I am a good Catholic girl. My screams are muffled. I blur to blackout.
I am weighted down. I struggle to pull myself together near the empty benches at the side of our high school football field. I hear tires squealing in the distance. It’s daylight but my vision is fuzzy, obscure. My legs are sweaty, trembling. I am sick. I scuffle to navigate some semblance of a walk. I am weak yet determined to find my way home before dark. … Mom is looking out the front door window. She is home. Does she recognize me? The curtain closes. She is gone. I make my way up to my bedroom. I do not feel privacy. I hobble to my older sisters’ vacant room and slip under their double bed. This is a familiar hiding place.
A loud voice storms through my head, “If you dare to tell anyone, you will go straight to hell. I will find you.” Now this voice is throbbing through my body.
I sob. I don’t say.
Not being able to say makes it extremely uncomfortable to live in my own skin.
To be continued…
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Ted Talk: Getting Comfortable with being Uncomfortable. Luvvie Ajayi Jones isn’t afraid to speak her mind or to be the one dissenting voice in a crowd, and neither should you. “Your silence serves no one,” says the writer, activist and self-proclaimed professional troublemaker. In this bright, uplifting talk, Ajayi Jones shares three questions to ask yourself if you’re teetering on the edge of speaking up or quieting down — and encourages all of us to get a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Ted Talk: The Danger of Silence with Clint Smith. “We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.