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Saturday, January 23, 2016

a long, dusty road

I would love to have a talk with my psychologist about the very fine lines between wonderfulness and assholery that I'm willing to microscope into during my soul search for who I really am in my friendships. In broadest terms, I used to blow up bridges, and now I don't. In more specific terms, I own that I create emotional interfaces that sometimes get wildly misinterpreted and I'm learning how to avoid that in future by studying how I keep creating monsters in the present. In minute definition terms, I seem to bring out the worst in people after showing them what I see as the best in them.

I think the problem I'm having is that some of the people I attract tend to already have latent or hidden talents for entangling emotional time and space, and I fuel it into growth with the sort of honesty that sees deeper into souls than most people usually see, or at the very least, don't bring up in conversation beyond placating platitudes. I see that lost kitten behind the dragon, or the tiny little girl crying in the dark behind the princess. I see the missing link between heart and head that can't quite define why a sunset on a lonely beach brings a tear that no one else sees behind the photographic bragging. I see the things that crush us, the dreams that lie shattered, the way our souls retreat into places no one can find. I dare to walk into other people's heads and find them.

And then I dare to sit with them in the one place no one else ever does, and talk about the real stuff no one else ever hears. I'm like the breeze that whispers into an emotional window and touches the sadness and lifts up the eyes and looks into them. I'm the one who isn't afraid to see who people really truly are.

That sounds wonderful, doesn't it? But it's terribly flawed. I'm not a breeze, I'm a person. And the seeing only goes one way. Just because I can see in the dark doesn't mean I can illuminate another mind. Being able to get in so far doesn't mean it's safe, for either of us. But that's what we all want, isn't it? Someone to find us, get to know us, understand us. I'm drawn to understand how people come to be who they are, but it comes with a price.

I started down this road a long time ago when I asked myself how people can use each other like dryer sheets and then toss them aside. And then the tossed aside people pick up the same bad habit and that behavior spreads. Everyone who is waiting for a hero winds up becoming someone who throws another person away. It's like the two things can't mix- if you're waiting for someone to love you, you can't be the one who loves someone else. Sooner or later someone has to say I'm going to love someone even if they don't love me back. Even if it hurts, even if they wind up alone, that is the only way they can turn to the next person and be what that person needs. No one can be what another person needs until they have risen above being tossed aside like a used dryer sheet. To wait to be useful to someone's emotional whims again becomes ridiculous in hindsight, a dirty bad drug, and the habit is really really hard to kick.

Out of that rose the idea that we either sit in self pity or learn selflessness. Self is in our way. If we continually define the world around us by our self perception, we always lose, because all day long our self perception is challenged, and we build very thick walls of self validation or, at the very least, justification. If we are behind walls justifying ourselves, we cannot come out and love someone else. It doesn't work that way. We can wave friendly flags from inside our fortresses, but we can't share what's real if we're blocking the world from showing us ourselves in a mirror the way other people see us.

How do we walk out from behind our own walls? I've been working on this for years. Years and years of scaling my own walls, imagine that. I didn't just have a fortress and a moat around me, I had a labyrinth even I had a hard time figuring out. Self sabotage is the most dangerous enemy we have. Locking one's self away becomes a sad and scary kind of self torture other people don't understand unless they've done it themselves. Like a house of mirrors, eventually we must question- which is the real me? I've been presenting as someone for so long with so many layers of facade that I don't remember my own real feelings anymore, beyond resentment and self pity and bitterness. I don't remember why I locked myself away, even if I do find the moment and relish replaying it in my mind.

Some of us bury our souls deeply under mountains of deflection and then sit very far down inside it wanting to know why no one tries to get in and find us. Why does no one really care? And then we go around checking all our locks again, making sure whoever does try to get in will have to work very hard at it. They'll have to earn it. Even if we'd never do the same thing back for another person, we expect someone else to invest all that work into finding out what makes us tick.

Self discovery is a journey. Everyone says that. What if you got so scared of yourself locked away in the dark that you became desperate to get out? What if you lost where you put all those keys to all those locks? What if the monster breathing down your neck already knows you so intimately that you actually think it would be worth trading your soul to escape it? Except that monster IS your soul. You can't trade something away that is actually you. I got so bad under my mountain that I started chopping parts of myself off.

On April 29, 2008 I wrote A Long, Dusty Road, which I'm going to copy here. This is something that's going to wind up in Existential Aspie. I've put some of the background story through several experimental rewrites, most of them public, one through a couple of beta readers, so some of you have seen part of this before, but you might not have seen the rest, unless you're one of the older lurkers. I'm working on grasping how to share a big concept in as few boring words as possible, but this post from 2008 is the first time I ever shared it with anyone. Maybe the rewrites weren't necessary.

About 20 years ago, in my mid 20's, I was destroying myself with alcohol and starvation.  I didn't see it that way, most people don't at that age.  At that age we are indestructible, wacked back and forth with self love and self hate, dreaming big dreams and not having a clue how to reach them.

I reached an event horizon and sucked myself right into the black hole of my soul.  I've been bad places, seen bad things.  Somehow I tripped gaily through like a lamb through a slaughter house, oblivious to the horrors around me.  I had no feelings about it.

I hung out with a drug lord in Phoenix back then.  He was underground, on the run from California, establishing new territory for a new purple marijuana cross that was all the rage on the coast while he covered as a pizza delivery boy.  Basically ripping the rug out from under the local drug lords, getting ready to move big shipments cross country.  Offered me a run, I turned it down.  He was 17, slick and professional.  They were all young.

I never dealt, never bought.  Compared to other people, I barely used.  I did love alcohol, though.  And I was this kid's friend.  I hung out with his girlfriend.  He could trust me because I didn't care.  I didn't take sides, didn't care about money, had no other friends.  Autism may actually be what kept me alive through that, I don't know.

Rode with him one day to a part of town I hadn't been.  It's actually a huge city, sprawled over 50 miles in every direction, some of it nice, some of it crap.  I loved it out there, gorgeous sky.  Had a good job in a 4-story hospital.  Used to watch the sunrise from an empty construction area.  About the only thing I really ripped off was toilet paper.  I wasn't into needles and that crap.  I had free run of the place, being on the overnight stat housekeeping crew, which was small.  I cleaned up after dead bodies, births, surgeries, and really contagious stuff, and I saw everything from gunshot wounds to crazy people walking out the doors in their little night gowns.  I walked freely through the guts of the hospital, the lab and records and the morgue.

A nurse once thought it would be funny to sprinkle trail mix all over a hallway and call a stat cleanup.  I don't put up with crap.  Showed my boss and he nearly got her fired.  You sneer down on the people mopping up the blood and puke, you get what's coming.  You don't trivialize 'stat' in any way, shape, or form.  Stat is sacred.

Another nurse failed to tell me the stat cleanup in the ER was after a family of lice.  I got a 4-story hospital locked down over that one after I heard a secretary joking on the phone about having to check them in at midnight.  By 4 a.m. I'd been all over that hospital, including labor and delivery, and that was considered serious contagion.  I mean, who wants to go have a baby and then find out the hospital has been locked down because some idiot nurse didn't consider an entire family ~*dripping*~ with body lice worthy of telling a housekeeper to gown out for precautions.  I even asked if there was a precaution on the room before I stripped and disinfected it.  I could have been covered in lice and eggs for hours just from rolling the sheets up and throwing them into a regular hamper, which also got laundry locked down, big time.  My boss tracked that nurse down, as well.  You could say MY boss pretty much ran that hospital when errors were made.

A charge nurse on the second floor once called me to clean up a glass breakage.  I arrived to find mercury beads strung out all over the room and into the carpeted hallway.  I put everything down in the middle of the hall and left it in everyone's way so they'd be forced to walk way around that room.  I found her and asked if the breakage was the blood pressure gauge, which was the old fashioned kind on the wall.  Yes, that was it.  I asked her if any of it got onto her clothing, or whoever it broke around.  She didn't know, had no clue if a patient had been in the room.  I asked who all walked into that room since the breakage, because the mercury was obviously strung out into the hallway, and then I asked her if any beds had been rolled in or out of the area through that hallway.  She got snotty with me, got in my face about how she didn't have time for this, who was *I* to be questioning *her*, etc.  I just smiled and called my boss.  Boy, did she get reamed.  Mercury poisoning is no joke, particularly in a hospital, and that stuff was ~everywhere~.  We even had to throw our shoes and clothes away.  I went home in scrubs and footies.  A special clean up crew in biohazard suits locked the floor down and cleaned EVERYTHING.  Think about this the next time you go visit someone in a hospital and see little kids running around touching everything.  Smile at the housekeepers.  They are doing excellent jobs.

I'm not against nurses.  I'm not saying nurses are inherently bad or stupid or negligent.  But I am saying don't take your housekeepers for granted.  Some of us just might be saving a few lives ourselves.  You never know.

Anyway, I hung out with a drug lord, but I was pretty 'clean'.  My only love was alcohol and the occasional brandy bong.  I was young and pretty, but I didn't care.  I never dated, except for one guy who bugged me to no end, but it took him forever to get anywhere with me.  Somewhere in my recent past I'd had a very scary ex-husband and a child he'd abused.  Dropped the kid at my mom's house and just drove to Phoenix for a 3 month vacation from having to deal.  I just couldn't face it.

Back to the story.  Rode out with this kid one day to a different part of town.  Went into a guy's house.  Heard that guy tell my guy that if such and such didn't happen, they would cut off his hand.  Everyone around us looked at me to see if I reacted.  I just smiled back, never flinched.  I had butchered plenty of animals growing up, I cleaned up after blood and gore and death in the hospital, just hearing someone threaten to cut off a hand was nothing to me.

I realize now that guy took me with him to witness, in the event they had killed him.  He trusted only me for that.  I would have been the one going back with his body to tell his girlfriend and call his parents.  Guess the alliance worked out.

Lamb through a slaughter house, oblivious.  Autistic.

And I was like that.  If I felt something I didn't want to deal with, I could cast it off.  If I felt any guilt or anguish or fear, I could walk away from it.  I was Mr. Spock.  I felt nothing, cared about nothing (except obvious breaches in protocol, like the mercury spill).  I felt no love, no need, no sympathy.  I turned completely off.

At the end of that summer, I was suddenly ready to come home.  Something was wrong, I didn't know what.  I just knew I had to get home.  Quit my job, left my key, never said goodbye to anyone.  I made it from Phoenix to my mom's house in MO in 23 hours flat.  The highway patrol in New Mexico never caught me, and truckers blocked them off so they couldn't.  I flew like the bats of hell were after me, slapping myself hard to stay awake, screaming to stay awake, freezing myself with the windows open and nearly falling asleep doing 90 through the night.

By the time I got home I could no longer move.  My fingers wouldn't unbend.  I could barely walk to the house.  I couldn't turn the knob, so I had to knock.  When they opened the door, I fell in.

I spent a week in bed in a deep fever and sweats, writhing in nightmares.  I had liver poisoning, setting off my first lupus flareup.  My dad is Mennonite, my mom is a health store nut, no one ever took me to a doctor.  I don't know how I lived.  I remember the haze, the series of dreams, the visions.  I remember a week went by without food or coherent conversation.  I remember God.

I was on a dusty road, leaving a house.  I had a robe, a staff, and a little pouch.  I was setting off on a journey.  As I shut the door and turned to the road, a figure appeared.  I didn't see a face.  He instructed me to follow the road and collect the treasures for my pouch.  He said I would know them when I see them.  Then he vanished, and I turned and started walking.

I walked a long, long way.  The road was dusty, and uninteresting.  I walked and walked and walked.  As I walked I felt heavy, tired, discontent.  I ached.  I thought, if I just take off the part that is making it hard, I can enjoy the walk.  So I peeled off some skin and tossed it to a bush.  I took off a fingertip and tossed it off the side of the road.  I slowly peeled more skin, and each time I did, I felt better, lighter, unencumbered.  The road slowly curved around, and still I walked and walked.  But it got easier and easier, because I kept picking parts of myself off and tossing them away.

Finally the road curved back to where I was heading back the direction I had come, and it still stretched off a great distance.  Walking was becoming so tedious that I thought I shall have to pick off more, and I did.  It was amazing how much I could pick off and throw away so I wouldn't have to feel hot and tired and thirsty, or sad and lonely.

After what seemed like days and days of walking, I arrived to a huge gulf, like a deep rip in the earth.  It was dark, and the sky was dark, and the other side was black.  I knew I had to cross it.  But how?  Who could cross something like that?  I looked over the edge, there was no way to climb down.  It was much too far to jump.  But I had been instructed to follow the road.

I was nearly to give up, standing there feeling angry at how ridiculous this was.  Then I heard a Laugh.  It creeped me out, and even though I had no skin left, I could feel where the hairs would have been going up in goosebumps.  A big face floated up out of the depths of the gorge, looking at me with hard mocking eyes, laughing at me.  He said he would help me over.  I said No, you'll eat me.  He laughed at my fear.  He said he was the only way I could get across, and I said No, you'll pull me down in there.  He laughed and floated his face very close to me at the edge, and as he got closer his face turned into my face, and I cried out and fell down in despair, because I knew then that I had destroyed myself, that I had brought this chasm into my life, and that there was no escape.

The despair was horrible.  I couldn't escape it.  The face laughed and laughed, and I cried and cried.  Should I just throw myself off now?  I could see no way out.  Is this the end?

Then the figure appeared next to me.  I still couldn't see his face.  He was very stern.  He said I told you to follow the road.  I wept with my head down and said I followed the road, but I can't follow it any more because it's broken, and there is no way across.  He said I gave you a pouch to put treasures in.  Show me the treasures you have found.  I wept and held out my empty pouch.  I said I saw no treasures.  He said What about the pretty rock?  You saw a pretty rock.  I said Yes, but it was just a rock.  I felt so terrible that I had not picked up that pretty rock to show him.  I realized I had seen other nice things along the way, and that I had nothing to show for my journey.  He stood there by me for awhile, silent while I wept and wept.  When I was nearly wept out, I asked him How do I go on?  What do I do now?  Tell me and I will do it.

He said You must go back the way you came.  You must find all the pieces you threw away and put them back on.  You cannot go on until you have them all back.  I said Ok, and in great gloom and sadness turned back to retrace my steps.  I could see now I was only a skeleton.  I had no flesh left.  I looked back and the figure was gone, but so was the laughing face.

The walk back was even longer than the walk forward.  I had to stop and search every bush, every rock, every part of the sides of the road for flakes of skin and pieces of fingers and all the other tiny little bits I'd torn off.  I tried to make them go back on my skeleton, but they were dried up, useless, unable to cling into place.  I put the shriveled pieces into my pouch and kept searching for more.

After a very very long time, what felt like weeks, I arrived back at the door I'd first left, still a skeleton in a robe.  The figure appeared.  He asked if I had found every piece.  I was very miserable and not sure, some of the pieces were so small and dried up I could have missed some.  He told me to give him the pouch.  It looked pathetic, a small pouch full of dried up flakes of skin.  How could that ever cover my body again?  They looked too small to ever be able to be usable.  I dreaded what he would say.  I handed him the pouch and looked away, feeling miserable.

He told me to shut my eyes, so I did.  He blew on me, and said Open your eyes.  All the skin and little bits were back in place, looking like they first had, and my robe was white.  And now I could see his face.  He had very stern but kind and loving eyes (I still can't tell this part without crying) and told me to start again.  I was to follow the road and collect the treasures I saw.  And I had a new command.  Never again mutilate myself so that I couldn't feel something.  Then he turned and went through a white door that appeared, and I was left with the road.

The rest of the vision went by quickly, as if I were seeing the future.  I saw myself gathering pretty stones and flowers, and my pouch growing large.  I saw myself happy and having a picnic with others by the side of the road when we got hungry.  I saw sadness and grief come over me and pass through, and I saw myself sing again.  I saw that I could feel every little breeze on my arms, and feel every blessed pain in my legs.

And when I reached the gorge, it was just a crack across the road.

I stepped over it.

And I woke up.  My fever was gone.  I got out of bed and ate some food, and have spent the next 20 years of my life following the road.


Back to today.

I've come a very long way since then. I've learned that not everyone can self motivate out of the dark, much less understand who they really are in it. I've tried to convey this idea to spirit-minded people who can bring up Jesus looking for lost lambs in the dark while simultaneously closing themselves off from the world, completely misunderstanding that the lost lambs in the dark are us. I've seen firsthand how sealing ourselves away from perceived dangers can create pockets of more actual very real danger that we purposely blind ourselves to. The ultimate question is how can someone who believes in any kind of God or spiritual source of goodness turn their back on someone they love right in front of their face? Much less other people. The conundrums that make our heads spin are Existential Aspie's holiday candy. I delight in turning my head inside out looking for why we are the way we are.

But back to my original reason for starting this post- taking a look at myself in the f(x) equation, given that the irreversible function of someone else's psyche response hinges on my input initiating the positive or negative emotional growth that stems out from the start of my presence. I can't help noticing that I am really good at bringing some really negative stuff out in some people. I don't mean negativity, I mean actual self destructive behaviors that were once hidden, and now displayed for the world to see. I've seen this happen time after time with a series of friends- it seems if I make it ok for them to be themselves with me, whoever those selves are at the time of my finding, there seems to be a sudden surge of bravery into dropping walls up to that point (but never further), and what the world really sees are skewed coping mechanisms and cliche masks, and the friend du jour mistaking my intention during my acceptance of them wearing fortress suits as I whisper into their minds for someone giving them permission to continue the act for everyone else, too. If it worked for me, surely it'll work for everyone. If I'll stick around through the junk, that must mean it's acceptable junk and they can come out and play now.

So I can't help wondering about my presence actually encouraging the broadcast of worse behaviors that were once hidden, even from me. I guess it's a good thing to see the 'real' person behind the hidden stuff, but my concern is that we're still not that far into the fortress, and now we've got fortresses cosplaying as real people, and it's still obvious to me that there is a kitten behind the dragon, a weeping girl behind the princess, a lonely heart on a beach no one else can reach.

I'm not afraid to go there, but I'm tired. And I have stuff to do. Lots and lots of stuff. I am very fortunate to have a couple of friends who see me on the inside, and what I'm trying to do. They've watched me go off the FOCUS track and implored me to GET TO WORK.

There are billions of minds out there I need to whisper into.

I think this post today is me stepping over that crack in the road.


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