This is a long one. Trigger warnings: I talk about cult and child abuse, sexual assault (mention only), abusive friendships, miscarriages, oppressed-identity-based violence, the Black Plague (yersinia pestis), the sneaky systemic ableism and victim-blaming engendered by the deliciousness of inspiration porn, giant naked mole rats, homelessness, addiction, being crushed to death as a metaphor, unconscious bias and taking responsibility instead of making excuses, and carrousels. I don’t know, maybe some people are freaked out by the painted horses with their wide huge teeth.
I. Well, Past Kassi, I could always say you didn’t know better, and that no one was harder on you than you, but it isn’t true. You were the child of abusers and of a cult. EVERYONE was harder on you than you. You simply did not have the postgraduate degrees and years of experience and amount of power and privilege and exhaustive breadth of culturally appropriated and New-Age-Borg-colonized and bastardized cultural practices to be as hard on yourself as the entire worldwide battalion of nutjobs that accrued around you like bacteria in a wound. I could say you were young and stupid and thought you knew everything, and you were a product of your upbringing and weren’t exposed to different, but you know you were, if only briefly. I could say that you learned to hold your nose and close your eyes and compromise in order to survive in the sewage that was what you had to endure, isolated from reality.
But I also now know that what builds resilience in the face of abuse is having just one reliable supportive adult, to love you, and I know as I was on my way to becoming me I sorely wanted someone I trusted who could actually explain to me specifically what the hell happened in my life and what made me this way and what the deal was.
Finding out hurts a lot. It makes sense to me that it’s so hard to, not just finding the information but sticking with the pursuit of it when it hurts and leaves me bereft and wondering if anything is or ever was real. Maybe a kid like you couldn’t have handled it, and definitely not all on your own in that cult. But again, I’m not going to make excuses for you. Too many people in your life, if they had a flag, it would just be a rectangular scrawled with a million excuses.
This that I’m writing isn’t everything. And it isn’t even really for you so much as for the you that’s still a part of me, and a way of saying the things I wish I’d been able to say to all the other people who hurt you and will hurt you over the years between you and me.
And for what they’re going to do to you, I at least am sorry. I’m sorry neither I nor anyone else could be there for you, to tell you that you’re okay and they’re mean, that no matter what they say you’re okay and they’re mean. I wish I could tell you that it’s all right here where I am, writing this letter to you, but it isn’t. And I don’t know if it ever will be. But I know more now than I did, and there are some things I want to write down, either to remember, or to purge out of me, so I can stop remembering so hard and so much. Or neither, and just leave a memorial.
II. Well, Dead Dad, you can’t hurt me anymore.
If I believed anything you hypnotized and brainwashed me into thinking anymore I’d believe that you had found a way to come back from the dead to possess first the Administrative Law Judge who stunned everyone helping my case through gross legal negligence and, as my lawyer put it, ‘played doctor’ to invalidate me and my therapists’ years of notes. I’d think that you’re currently possessing the President of the United States, because the way he talks and how he treats people reminds me frighteningly of you, especially if you’d had the money and privilege he’d had. He verbally presses like you in near-constant speechification at people, goes on long paranoiac rants, makes little sense, contradicts himself, and thinks he’s the greatest thing on earth.
III. Well, all the once-‘friends’ I left behind, some of you I dearly wish with all my heart and absent soul (which you violated and damaged) I had never met, some I knew far too long, some I made the mistake of forgiving even though you never changed your behavior, some I wish I’d never opened up to. What I hate most about all you did was you ruined my capacity to trust and love people who deserve more love and friendship and support from me so much more than you ever did or will.
You sucked me dry and it was never enough. You did some of the most horrible things to me, more horrible than even the worst intimate partner violence and even some of the sexual assaults I’ve suffered, because it went on and on and on and on and on and on in plain sight in every detail of how you treated me every single day I knew you whether I was there or not in all the things you did and said with other people, and I didn’t even get the decency of validation or support because it was ‘only’ friendship.
You found ways to trick my defenses, found my buttons and just pushed and held them down. You made me paranoid. You made me misanthropic and cynical. Before you I could get along with just about anyone. Now everyone I see is a potential threat, and the nicer they are to me, the more I see you, all of you, staring out of their eyes, calculating, beckoning me into their web of sin and blood hunger. I treated you the way I wanted to be treated, with love, attention, and respect; empathy, compassion, and humility. You treated me like a toilet, and the reward I got for putting up with your shit was more shit.
And with every breath, whether I complained or not, you condescendingly, patronizingly made sure I believed that the reason you did this was because I deserved it. You never insulted me, never called me any names. You didn’t have to. That was beneath you. Your schemes were so much grander, more satisfying and elaborate. Why lay down a snap-mousetrap when it was so much more creative and thrilling to create a Rube Goldberg machine to squash my will drawing all the friends and people around me into your schemes?
And yet I truly believe it was unpremeditated unconscious manslaughter. You did what felt good to you. What felt good to you was jokes at my expense, contempt, making me the whipping target of the group and laughing at my tears all the while saying, “It was only a joke!”
I finally see the joke. The joke is that you think it is a joke. The joke is that this feels fun and funny to you. The joke is that this is what gets you off in a particular friendship, and you are probably still that way to this day, and keep talking about all those friends who hauled off and ‘went crazy and threw a shoe at your car for no reason.’ The joke is that you don’t treat everyone this way, but you’re too busy thinking about you, you, you to ever notice or own your choices and their consequences. The joke is that you say you never get angry. In the same way the Eiffel Tower never gets to Paris.
When it comes to my writing, or any project or art or sharing of my ideas or talking, I find there is no practice, no development.
If I hold on to an idea too long it dies, like the real-life horror stories of Zahra Aboutalib of Casablanca, Morocco, and Huang Yijung of Huangjiaotan, China, who failed to give birth to their babies and just kept carrying dead fetuses in them for 49 and 27 years respectively. The bodies calcified into what are less than charmingly known as ‘stone babies’ in their mothers’ bodies, causing pain many decades later that eventually drove them to doctors armed with equipment to detect fetuses immured in maternal flesh, having never seen the living sun nor breathed oxygen.
If I try to share and develop an idea or something I’ve made it’s as though I’m carrying a fresh (and live) baby into the Center for Disease Control and ordering, “One of everything, please. Diseases, not vaccines.” The more public I am, the more it’s like I’m touring an undeveloped compromised immune system through the most hot, humid biochemical weapon factories and disease-ridden swamplands.
The internet, for example, reminds me of an issue of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ depicting the era of the Black Plague, yersinia pestis in its oh-so-popular airborne variety, where doors of homes and buildings known to have someone with plague inside bore a brightly painted red ‘X’ on the outside (for the illiterate) and a proclamation in writing (for the not-illiterate) so that no one would go inside even to loot it for food or valuables lest they contract the plague and die. Infection and inevitable excruciating death wasn’t a possibility beyond that door; it was a certainty.
That is what the internet is for artists and survivors of trauma and oppression. It’s not a possibility, it’s a certainty. And the fewer allies and resources (or ‘people’) you have to help you deal with the plague of the human equivalent of Black Death, the more likely you are to be tracked down, cornered, and infected, or slashed to bits—to shift the metaphor to serial killers who know they can get away with it because they certainly have so far and know those whom no one will miss, be it killers of prostitutes, or abusers of the poor and homeless and disabled. And hell, it’s like that off the internet, too. The new person in the group. The homeless person. The disabled person. The obviously damaged and emotionally distressed person everyone will blame if someone hurts them and they get rightfully upset with the suddenly loudly innocent ‘victim’ of their anger.
When people of color or LGBTQIA+ people or Muslims or Jews or immigrants or Native American lands are assaulted and killed and drilled there’s an uprising, there are (and definitely should be!!) movements and hashtags and videos and assemblies and occupations. When the invisibly disabled and poor are assaulted and killed, our benefits cut—which is just as deadly to us but no one has to have blood on their hands and people can actually feel ennobled by their justifications about it, and actually have the frakking gall to tell each other and us this unconscionably-high-death-toll abuse is for our own good—there is a silence that is all the louder in comparison. It’s too big. It’s too ubiquitous and everyday an occurrence. Stepping over bodies in the street—dead or just sleeping? Everyone’s late for a meeting, talking on a mobile phone, minds on the fight with the significant other last night or the friend in hospital.
There’s this sort of fatalism about the suffering of the poor and disabled, ironically invisible because of our crushing, overwhelming numbers. There’s this defensive pointing at things being ostentatiously done for some of the visibly disabled, the pathetic and extremely specific breadcrumbs of programs that are specific to only one kind of disability, accessibility that only serves one particular kind of problem, and at that mostly only temporary and not global or 24/7 by any stretch of the imagination; opportunities and talks that only give amplification to the voice of someone everyone can see is disabled for show and tell.
Are we here to listen to them or stare at their wheelchairs and assistive equipment and bodies like a carnival sideshow disguised as an inspirational talk or moving commencement address and pretend we’re sophisticated and liberal and socially egalitarian? Using our applause of how they look and their story and their message of ‘disabled people can do anything abled people can!’ to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and our own challenges and feel like the problem of disability rests squarely on the shoulders of the disabled and is already dust-the-hands taken care of?
If it really is about the plight of the disabled then why is the vast majority of the severely disabled population (72-73%) not invited the vast majority of the time or included in plays and narratives and showcases about the disabled and our lives and stories and struggles and accomplishments? It seems like the real handicap resides in the eyes and ears and minds of the abled, as well as an inability or unwillingness to face their own limitations and biases. Because yeah, I get it, it’s uncomfortable and exhausting and frustrating to think that with so much work done to make concessions for the disabled, it’s not a drop in the bucket of what we need, and at any moment some disaster could befall you or a loved one and put you among our numbers and you would learn extremely rapidly just how true that is.
One can have as many disabled speakers as you like and still be practicing systemic socialized ableism if 100% of those speakers are visibly, obviously disabled. It’s contributing to the narrative that only disabilities that can be seen are valid, and that bias is so widespread that the invisibly disabled are harassed and assaulted and discriminated against and disallowed the accessibility we need by the population at large. It’s also, as my friend pointed out, promoting a very dangerous and oppressive narrative that the abled have no obligation to help the disabled, that all disabled people can just overcome their disabilities in order to become inspiration porn for abled people, and that any of the majority of us who don’t are failing not because of systemic unfairness and negligence and apathy and neglect by those with the privileges and resources to help us, but because we’re not trying forty times as hard as an abled person just to be functional and survive in the world.
Those inspirational talks turn disabled people into the some of the worst enemies of our struggle—it’s the equivalent of taking a slave of some sort (sex trafficking, child brides, cult members, the unjustly harshly imprisoned funneled there from an alarming one-strike-and-you’re-out school system, children in abusive or otherwise exploitive situations, people and especially immigrants and the impoverished stuck in exploitive jobs or relationships because they can’t go anywhere else, or the 45.8 million actual slaves worldwide: https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/ ) and having them give a talk about how their lack of freedom and self-determination never stopped them from having a full, rich, rewarding life and how much they love Big Brother and what a zip-a-dee-doo-dah day it is, hooray, clap and go home and feel noble and humble for having listened to this story and maybe once in a while complain less angrily when your coffee order is wrong.
My whole life I have watched all of us promoting and sharing and sanctioning and pay for inspirational talks by the disabled overcoming their disabilities to the exclusion of listening to any other story—and let’s face it, the world is rotten and life sucks so why wouldn’t we want to listen only to the uplifting ones, especially if we can’t personally rescue those in pain and complaining and put our discomfort and abled-guilt at hearing such stories to work doing something about it? I get it. Hell, I drank that Kool-aid too, even though I was deep in denial about my own disability and the pain I was living with because I had nothing to compare it with, so of course I blamed myself and felt like such a failure and waste of space that I should die.
Throughout history lots of other people have felt the same way about people too disabled to work, and the institutionalized disabled were the first mass killing by the Nazi Germans before they really started going to town rounding up and slaughtering undesirables. After all, why should the state be taking care of people who are essentially useless for building an empire and master race? Or the American Dream?
I understand why people only pay for and share and watch the talks about disabled people overcoming disability. But it’s victim-blaming in disguise, and letting people off the hook for feeling and being responsible through our choices for making the whole human race better, not just the bits that we like or that give us what we want. Humans aren’t vending machines. One’s worth is not and never should be a job, an earning capacity, what one is able to accomplish, value conferred externally by another person in a position of power to revoke it on an agreed-upon whim. Our worth as part of the human race should not be subject to obsolescence based on failures of the body, changing technology, or other external factors.
But, these talks aside, we have that narrative shoved into us since before birth, when people are trying to get their unborn zygotes into the right, and expensive, schools, to go to the best universities and get the best degrees and the highest-paying jobs and therefore have resources to have the best possible life, the most valuable life not just to others but for themselves. Paying more money for better degrees and better schools to get higher-paying jobs, suturing money and personal worth and value together in such a constant way that we don’t even ever notice or think or talk about it.
Americans don’t even notice that the first question we ask is almost always, “What do you do [for a living]?” I’ve been told that’s not the way in most of Europe, which I’d sure like, because I personally think it’s tacky. Some people hate their jobs, some have just been fired, some people can’t work, and it it’s a bad first question if you want to get to know someone. It is, on the sly, a good question if you’ve been trained to do it, and trained to seek out and associate mainly with people most similar to you, especially financially.
Basically, yes, I’m happy that disabled people triumphed over adversity, especially because it is so much harder for anyone disabled—that’s what disabled means, everything is harder. But the burden of doing that should not be entirely that of the disabled person, especially if they can’t do it (which many of us can’t, hence: disabled) and don’t have supporters. A lot of disabled people are abused by their carers, both privately and in institutions. We’re also abused and attacked a lot period, because disabled. This is the opposite of what needs to be happening, and disabled people talking about this and raising awareness isn’t showing up to balance out these decades of bootstrap-pulling speech-giving few.
Just as with the poor improving their circumstances and becoming fabulously successful (the ‘American Dream’), the disabled overcoming their disabilities is really rare. For every one you see far more of us are hidden from view because it’s taking all we’ve got just to try to survive.
Don’t let optimism and a desire to see the world as a just and fair place determine what you watch, hear, see about an issue you don’t personally have to deal with. I understand that culturally and socially and through media we have all gotten those same messages, and have gotten so addicted to optimism that we treat threats to it like a methamphetamine addict treats obstacles to their next fix.
And I’m saying to you right now: don’t do that. Remember what I am saying to you now the next time you catch yourself thinking what you’ve been raised and encouraged to think about what disability looks like and whether it’s scalable with enough pluck, and that braille books and a wheelchair ramp equals total accessibility for all disabled people and deserves abled people giving themselves a huge beaming pat on the back and golden award for being so thoughtful of the disabled.
Don’t get me wrong—leave the books and the ramp and YES, those are huge wins that the disabled and our advocates fought tooth and nail for. But it’s far from over, and complacency is our biggest enemy, complacency and rose-colored glasses and even an almost aggressive apathy when the real reality is glimpsed under the veneer of all our inspirational talks and self-congratulations for specific accessibility wins. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting that anyone out there can fix everything. But the beginning of fixing things is taking your brain off autopilot and critically examining what you’ve been told and taught and shown. And then having conversations with other people, even if you don’t feel qualified or know much about disability. You can still ask questions. Like: “This speaker is inspiring and I feel inspired, but I wonder how many disabled people have been assaulted, hurt, killed, or died due to lack of what they need today, in my town, in this state/province, in this country, in the world. I wonder how many people do not have the option of overcoming their disability and need help and certain kinds of accessibility I take for granted, but can’t get their needs met.”
You don’t have to have the answers but don’t let anyone who doesn’t condescendingly, defensively, angrily, or patronizingly tell you that they do have all the answers. Ask more questions, because what they’re doing means that’s what they don’t want—closer examination of the whole picture. Even if they’re disabled, it doesn’t qualify them to speak for all disabilities and disabled people. They’re not representative of me, that’s for damn sure. Disabled people often can have even less in common with each other than any other two members of any oppressed group, not least because we can also belong to many other oppressed groups and there are more disabilities than you can possibly imagine.
Also, we’re not here to be ‘fixed’ with some idiotic miracle cure. This is another really harmful narrative, and one that people default to when they hear someone is disabled—trying to sell us on a ‘cure’ despite having known us only thirty seconds, not being a person who is treating us, not even being qualified to treat us, not knowing anything about our specific case and condition or the ‘cure’ they are proposing.
In short: disabled people try everything. We’re not stupid. If there was a cure, do you really think we’d go on holding on to something that endangers us and our survival and puts us through this conversation that was already old the first time I had it with a rich privileged asshole? Do you honestly think you know more about what I live with than I do? Do you think it’s appropriate to rearrange my life or dictate to me what to do after thirty seconds, you control freak who thinks of my disability like the hiccups? You insult my intelligence and my struggle and everything I have done living with disability. All because you have essentially a completely childish idiotic mindless idea that everything has a cure, or at the very least that disabled people aren’t giving their all because clearly if I was I’d be on stage giving speeches about how I overcame it.
What’s even more frustrating is this. For most people it’s as unconscious as asking ‘what do you do for a living?’, a knee-jerk response as automated as a telephone menu so as to sort me on a first meeting into how the other person will treat me. They won’t understand that I’m upset because I have had this stupid, insulting exchange thousands of times, and I still have never found a way of stopping it in its tracks, and every time I’m angrier that I have to go through this and not punch someone in the face, and then put up with this bewildered, frantic injured innocence when I’m upset that some abled person is telling me what to do as a disabled person. In addition to not knowing about my disability or being part of my treatment team, they don’t know what limitations I have, and one of them is not punching them in the face right now because I hate the world so much I want human life to just get wiped out and Earth to start over again with some other species, like naked mole rats or elephants or bees. Or maybe naked mole rat elephant bees: HUGE testicle-looking rats roaming the savannah in their swarms, pulling up trees by the roots with their tusk-teeth, serving their queen, pollinating flowers and making delicious amber-colored honey in honeycombs so huge they look like Tokyo apartment buildings.
I AM LOSING WHAT IS LEFT OF MY MIND.
I’m sort of okay with that, my brain hurts a lot.
Also, by over-serving and promoting a particular picture of disability as always and only something you can physically see, not only are we leaving out a lot of people, we’re actually putting them in danger, if they are getting threatened and harassed by strangers for using their valid handicapped parking placards (which happens UNBELIEVABLY often, especially if said handicapped person is a woman alone; the two factors increase her chances of harassment and harm exponentially to the max; I can only imagine that not being white would mean white assigned-male-at-birth guys would just come up and remove her kidneys right there in front of Wal-Mart).
[LENGTHY ASIDE] There’s a similar problem with our collectively promoted narrative of homelessness, and how we see and talk about homelessness and especially the only way the privileged ever interact with the homeless. This includes conflating homelessness with not having shelter. Historically and currently, a lot of homeless people congregate in shantytowns like the Hoovervilles made of discarded or stolen building materials of the Great Depression—and there was even one in Central Park!—and the tent towns of today that move around frequently to avoid the police and hold one another to codes of behavior to protect themselves and each other.
It’s also common and horrible to judge and deride someone who’s claiming homelessness who does have shelter, but very poor shelter that is unhealthy and importantly not theirs, and has no income but has expenses, and might be evicted without warning at any time or in some cases abused or taken advantage of or have other bad things happen to them because they have nowhere better, nowhere else to go.
There’s fear inherent in that that can’t be understood if you don’t live with it every day. It wears out your adrenals, your body, your capacity to withstand ordinary stressors, your will to live, your belief in anything, your capacity to thrive, your sense of your own worth and value, which is reinforced when privileged people treat you to unsolicited advice as if you’re not working hard enough. When nothing you do will end the fear and struggle for your survival it slowly eats away at you like a cancer and you, too, have been infected all along with the belief that if you’re poor, disabled, homeless, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough, and rare success stories get so much circulation and visibility that it pushes into you that you’re just not good enough and it’s your fault you’re suffering and afraid and unsafe.
Homeless shelters often have time limits, no privacy, very little room for belongings, inept and rude staff, and widespread theft, assault, and even the occasional murder. People who recommend homeless shelters never even think about what it would be like to live in a homeless shelter, know nothing about them, have never been to one or known anyone who has lived in one or even heard one being described before recommending it. That’s what really pisses me off. It’s like recommending eating a mushroom that you’ve only ever heard of, have never tried, never heard of anyone trying, never physically seen, and know nothing about other than the name and the fact that it’s a mushroom and people often eat mushrooms, so it’s right there in the name.
You are not a woodland guide qualified to advise people what mushrooms to eat, and you are not qualified to advise homeless people to go to shelters, nor addicts to go to 12-Step programs just because you’ve heard of them. Advice is like cooking (and mushrooms). Try it before giving it to others. Incidentally before you try it you should find out what’s in it first. And find out if the person you’re trying to feed is allergic to it, because as with food (and mushrooms), not everything is good for everyone.
Alcoholics Anonymous is only 5-15% effective (if total abstinence is the goal) for the 40% of alcoholics who actually wind up going. However AA has the advantage of being an extremely well-promoted cult—I mean, business—with government subsidization since you can be court-ordered into the program. It is not the only program out there for addiction recovery by any means but it’s the only one that has so much overwhelming power and press and so many evangelical converts dominating the conversation in popular culture and angrily shutting down any possibility of education about the program’s (many) flaws and failings, a more nuanced view of addiction and recovery that provides options for people for whom AA is not a miracle or even desirable cure, and actual good solid behavioral science and allowance for the differences in human psyches in pain for once.
Also, Housing First actually hit on the radical idea that rather than requiring homeless people to get sober before giving them housing, giving homeless people housing tends to lower alcohol and drug intake across the board. Shocker, I know, but people use chemicals to kill the pain of unimaginable stress, trauma, and danger when they have no other option. I hate pompous self-satisfied privileged people who see addiction as the CAUSE of all a person’s problems when sometimes it’s actually a symptom of problems that have proved to be beyond the person’s capacity to change or cope with in any way.
Homeless people who are drinking to deal with the unimaginable pain and humiliations of homelessness—as well as total lack of safety or certainty of not being mugged and raped and murdered every night—are not one sobriety away from turning a whole suffering life around, idiot privileged people. We don’t take the insulin away from the insulin-dependent diabetic so they’ll pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We don’t take the dialysis away from those in kidney failure and tell their kidneys that they’re lazy and it’s time to stop mooching off the state. Because that’s essentially murder, and I think one can get tried for murder if one does that. But if one takes away housing or benefits from the homeless and disabled and they die, one doesn’t.
Because first of all people don’t care, second of all it’s never considered a wrongful death or an upsetting loss of a valuable life (because a person can be human but not ‘valuable’), and third of all we persist in believing that the person who died more or less ‘let’ it happen and is actually the one at fault for not trying harder. Imagine if you were crushed to death in a garbage compactor someone had tossed you into because you weren’t considered worth keeping, and the people who tossed you in went off to a bar afterward, laughed, drank beers, went home, maybe had sex like bunnies, and slept like babies without a care in the world. Meanwhile your mangled corpse was fished out and your surviving relatives, harassed by the chore, decided what to do with your remains. The coroner noted on your death certificate that one of your causes of death was ‘didn’t try hard enough to fight back against compactor machinery.’ Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone in work gloves is spraying out the inside of the compactor. No one ever has to have blood on their hands.
Thus the wheel turns, the undesirables are killed by systems and not people who are so far removed from the consequences of their choices they might as well be on a pleasure dome on the moon, everyone sleeps the sleep of either the well-paid or the dead dust. The problems solved themselves. No more homeless, disabled, and addicts cluttering up life with their fussing and complaining and needs and our irritatingly pointless life in which we did not provide for our abled cousins a single motivational talk about overcoming all our hardships to make abled people feel awesome about themselves and work harder to achieve their own dreams without another single thought for us and ours.
Poisons were poured into the undesirables and those without worth to those in charge, the worthless suffered, and we purged them as proxies for our sins, and the dahlias are coming up a treat with the new bonemeal in the raised beds by the children’s new swing set.
“Addictions are tragic expressions of unmet needs” is one of my favorite quotes from a book called ‘Over the Influence,’ a kind of sourcebook of information on addiction and recovery that’s approachable regardless of whether one wants to recover, is recovering, has recovered, doesn’t want to recover, is a layperson or friend or therapist or interested person.
It does have at least one wrong piece of information in it I happened to know more about than the authors, about Olney’s lesions being a side effect of prolonged nitrous oxide abuse—a very common misconception due to poor conclusions at the end of a scientific paper on an entirely different substance tested on lab rats, remarks were later retracted by the same scientist but unfortunately by this time, kind of like the misconceptions about lemmings, the morbidity and shock value of the statement had lodged in the minds and books and papers of others and is now taken as a fact even though it was never in any way proven and I and my old MRIs from before I lost my health insurance are living proof it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. However, even though other facts in the book may also be wrong, there are several things in it that were helpful and new to me that did give me access to resources and information I followed up on that helped me far more than any AA bullshit ever did for me or my family. AA actually harmed my family a GREAT deal but that’s another story for another time.
‘Over the Influence’ introduced to me the concepts of harm reduction, which work quite realistically on the actual ways by which humans change their behavior and also learn to scale rock walls—gradually, learning new ways of movement, learning how to be safe, starting where you are and going from there, progressing at a reasonable pace, allowing for falls and starting over, training your muscles and instincts and wearing new grooves and patterns of behavior to do something you haven’t been doing in order to reach the top alive.
…Where you will then have a sword battle with Inigo Montoya, but it’s okay, because if you make it there, you’ll definitely win. The plot demands it. Just spare his life so he can help you storm the castle later. [/END ASIDE]
None of this is news. Just as with child abuse it happens so constantly and silently we don’t see it or hear it anymore, too caught up in those identities that we think people can’t help being and are entitled to claim. There’s some part of us that’s infused every day with the idea that poverty and disability are shameful, are signs of weakness, can be overcome and worked around, or that family members should take care of their relatives, and that the poor and disabled should submit to this basic form of captivity, this relationship within which we have no freedom and never fails to include some form of abuse of power and which victimizes us at some point because we have nowhere to go.
It’s a relationship that devalues not just us but all of us, that says that if we are defective we must rely on the charity of others, an unreliable and dangerous prospect at best. Because these, contrary to all popular belief, are not unilaterally states of failure or of choice. Who would choose to live this way? It makes animals of us, so desperate to survive we do unspeakable things. These are states any person could and maybe eventually will experience, and should never be viewed as weaknesses or grounds to treat us as lesser. You never have to consciously think these words or any like them and can in fact believe that you consciously think all people are equal while still unthinkingly treating person as if they are less than you, to physically grasp them and move their body as if it is your right to do so, to talk down to them, to speak differently to them, to disinclude them, to listen to your own ideas instead of what they tell you, to defend yourself with phrases like ‘just kidding’ when you upset them or say ‘I’m sorry’ without actually amending your behavior or taking responsibility for the consequences.
We rarely, rarely consciously consider how we treat others or the differences between how we treat person A and person B. We’re too busy thinking about how others treat us. Also like with walking we learned how to relate to others so long ago that it’s something that happens without thinking. That means how we treat others falls under the control of our autopilot unconscious, which calls on some alarming sources and prejudices we’re not even aware we have, usually things we picked up while we were still young and impressionable and forming our relational styles.
We find ourselves irritated and giving advice we have no personal knowledge or experience of without conscious thought. And when called out for this we get even more defensive, self-involved, more reactive, and treat others even worse. We become the worst versions of ourselves when confronted with the consequences of what we do and say, and the information that we are not living by the values we consciously try to believe in, that we do not treat others equally or as our own equal.
Here’s the thing: you can’t. You can’t ever. Because you can’t ever know anyone as well as you know yourself. The best thing you can do is be humble because you know where all your bodies are buried, which of your closets have skeletons, which of your bats have belfries, and which of your jokers are short of a deck. The best you can do is notice when you’re getting angrily defensive and insecure and say to yourself, “Pooh, you are a bear of very little brain. Get over yourself and remember that time you rolled in black mud, floated up a tree with a blue party balloon, and sang ‘Paint it Black’ trying to trick some bees so you could steal some honey before they stung you because it turned out they liked Nirvana instead.”
This doesn’t mean be a gullible idiot. There is such a thing as idiot humility, just as there is idiot compassion and idiot empathy. Have eyes-open humility, and not humility that is done for show or shame. Have eyes-open compassion for those that deserve it. Eyes-open empathy likewise. And this includes you—earn your own compassion and empathy by striving, and accepting that you will make mistakes—but learning from them and aiming to do better next time.
Accepting that you will make mistakes doesn’t mean never growing from them, or insisting others always pardon them and getting pissed if they don’t, and then projecting your shame as a guilt-trip onto them. You earn forgiveness from them if you have wronged them by making amends and importantly NEVER AGAIN DOING THE THING THAT HURT THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE (because you can apologize or you can keep doing the behavior, but not both), but you aren’t guaranteed or owed or entitled to forgiveness and can’t manipulate it out of them.
That is the price of harming others. You don’t get to Jedi-handwave it away, any more than you can do it with the basic laws of physics. Look, I’ve been meaning to chat to you about this, just the two of us, so we don’t have to have an intervention, those things are emotionally violent. You need to know you’re not a Jedi. This is important. Please stop acting like one in your relationships to everyone and everything and get off your fluffy duff.
It’s time for taking responsibility for the consequences of your choices, regardless of your intentions, and that includes the times you’ve chosen to do nothing, to freeze because you were afraid of consequences and thought saying and doing nothing would get you off the hook, but bad things happened as a result of this choice.
You are a human (again: not a Jedi human, just a human human, this explains why you can’t move boxes around with your mind while you’re in a handstand and for the final time NO that is not a real lightsaber, it’s plastic and has a little chip inside that makes swooshy noises). You’re built with that marvelous capacity for taking responsibility and learning and growing and adapting and for some reason it’s not happening. It’s okay, we have all been there, we all do it, but when it goes on too long irresponsibility, empty apologies and excuses become an addiction and you can no longer learn from your mistakes and wind up making the same ones repeatedly and not even realizing that that wall will still be there every time you walk into it so stop getting mad at the wall and shift your trajectory.
You need to practice your responsibility-taking and learning from whoopsies while you still can. It’s more important than any muscle you’ll ever build in a gym, than any joke you’ll ever learn, than any other trait you’ll ever develop, because all good traits stem from taking responsibility for yourself—learning, compassion, humility, empathy, integrity, respect, critical thinking, cooking crêpes.
By the double-decker carrousel.
Where you can see the sun set.
Through the iron girders of the Eiffel Tower.
Bonsoir, gay Paris.
…No, that’s still not a lightsaber.
…All right, you can play for one more hour, and then it’s time to start your ‘Adult Human’ training again, okay? I know it’s not as glamorous as ‘Jedi’ right now. But you get better friends who won’t steal your action figures and sell them on eBay. Did you bring the other plastic sword… I mean, ‘lightsaber’? Oh good. Let’s do this!!