Functionally Alive

Okay, here’s the thing. To everyone on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list – bra-fucking-vo. You are the gifted and talented and frankly, I am in awe. Look at you, you wild sons of bitches.

To everyone else already in their 30’s feeling like they blew it and are now stuck in whatever hellscape being a millenial in the US *is* – I’ve got good news. You are not in your 30’s. I mean sure, your body has been chugging along for 30+ years now. But can you really call life before say – 15 – living? You have almost no agency, no critical thinking skills, and due to us living before the internet – very limited access to information outside of your adults. I realize libraries existed but if you have ever visited a rural library in the late 90’s – then you know about how white bias can affect libraries. That and funding. Anyway. Was what we did before that really forging our path through life? No. Not here, anyway. I had been to a few different states. I had been force fed a whole lot of toxic Christianity. I regurgitated beliefs like facts on a test, both of which I did exceedingly well. I had kind of exerted a little influence over my sense of style but much of that was due to being unable to get many new clothes, but the other part was again, living in rural Iowa where I was not bombarded with advertisements all day.

What I’m saying is this: I have been doing this living thing with the choices and the agency and the relationships and the responsibilities for, at most, around 17 years. And that is giving myself a solid 14 years of adolescent cushion because it has been about 3 years now that I have been actively addressing my mental and emotional health, finding information at the source for myself, unlearning toxic spirituality, and pursuing the life I want instead of the one that was wanted for me.

So I’m not 32 and late to the game – I’m 17 and right on time. Or, even better, I’m 3 and precocious as hell. Either way.

It’s not that I’m 32 and will probably die between 80 and 90 and thusly have 2/3 of my life in front of me. It’s that my life, my ability to make my own choices, the ability to heal myself from what happened as I was forming, etc just started. I’m just getting the hang of this. Literally everything is in front of me and I’m barely past the tutorial.

Let’s make our lives what we want them to be. Starting now. Let’s build a foundation on which to stack the next 50+ years and not assume the shitty one that was given to us is our only option. Or our best option. Or the most secure. I refuse to say that because I have not had wild success at 32 that I am not going to get it.

I know we cannot just will our circumstances away. I know that we are millenials mostly and that we are trying to claw our way out of wells we never wanted to be in while the older generation remembers, loudly, how wells were only 2ft deep in their time and they could just step right out and how lazy we must be to not do the same. And then continue to be extremely bad at math and write and pass legislature that keeps us buried. I know. I also know how my only two options are to marvel at the injustice of it all or to keep clawing.

But I can always change me. I can always get better at something that brings me joy. I can always continue to heal. I can always reach out to others and tell them they are not alone. I can always remind myself that we are more than what we are dealt – or even the first couple of hands if we’re being honest.

I want to be very clear as I wrap this up that this post was never intended to be a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and ‘hustle harder’ etc. Fuck that shit. Medicare for all. Housing is a right. Tax the rich. Defund the police. Free college. We all deserve to rest. Living wages. Freedom from high interest debt. What I am trying to say is never listen to the voices that tell you it’s too late to change yourself. That you can’t learn that new skill. That it’s too late to be the person you want to be. That you can’t try again. That you’re too old to get in shape. Too old to learn to code. Too old to try that tiktok dance. Too old to tell off your racist relative. Too old to change your political party. Too old to heal. Too old to change your mind. Too old to change your religion. Too old to say sorry. Too old to say “I was wrong”.

We are only just beginning. Every moment, every choice left is always in front of us and it is NEVER too late.

Freedom

“We are FREE in Christ Jesus!” Is a sentence I have heard more times than I have had sex and I’m almost 8 years into my marriage soooooo. A lot. I’ve heard it a lot. And frankly, even if you weren’t raised evangelical – I bet you have too.

Freedom is thrown around by the church like a tie die hacky sack at a shoegaze concert in Colorado. Or, like how my son used to shout “Frog!” loudly at the top of his lungs while not being able to pronounce an r and his g’s definitely sounded like k’s every single time he saw another person for almost 4 months. That’s right. It was my favorite. However, when the church uses it, it is neither entertaining nor does it brighten my spirits. Almost entirely because they are saying it wrong.

Again, this is not a thing I have against Jesus. I like Jesus. It’s the church who claims him that I have a problem with. Because things freedom does not look like:

Heavily policing what women wear in order to enforce a strict code of modesty and begin the indoctrination that their bodies are dirty, dangerous, made exclusively for the enjoyment of men and of bearing children for those men, and that male happiness and indeed thoughts and actions are dependent on our ability to cover up skin.

Being taught that any hobbies that would not have a place in a new Little Women reboot are useless, and indeed sinful because they waste time and women’s time is never to be wasted – by her – on something she enjoys that does not have an element of productivity for others in it.

Being taught that women are obedient first, and everything else that is good and quiet second. The only way she will be blessed is to be submissive to a man, indeed many men, including her pastor, father, future husband, and sometimes brothers and sons depending on denomination.

Being taught to ignore your own experiences and suppress your own intuitive connection with the divine. Granted, this is more like a part b to the point above, but distinct enough it needs its own paragraph. If you have so much as a conversation with the divine that one of the men over you would find questionable, you are to immediately dismiss that conversation and assume you are being tricked by the devil. IF what you believe/realized/received/connected to was REALLY the good one, then He will reveal Himself to the man in authority over you and thusly give you blessing. Otherwise, trust any man in authority over you more than yourself. Always. Else you will most likely burn in hell.

Rejecting any personal aesthetic that involves attention or an affinity for any color not prominent in the rainbow or an Easter palate. Self care is a small list that begins and ends with prayer and might have ‘eat a salad’ or ‘drink some water’ or ‘exercise’ in between. Any sort of indulgence is a waste and selfish.

Peace is more valuable than truth. Especially when that truth is personal and the peace involves anyone else. There is only one truth that should be proclaimed whenever possible, “Jesus is Lord” and I swear there is a secret but well known rule that you get brownie points if it’s written in cursive on a T shirt bought from a grocery store. But seriously, racist grandpa? Shush yourself, he is Jesus’ problem. Petty aunt who passive aggressively compares the grandchildren in a ranking system? Smile and nod. Gropy uncle who aggressively hugs every kid and strips them of their personal autonomy? Children don’t have any say over themselves since they were born sinful, manipulative little turd nuggets so you should blatantly encourage them to not listen to that voice that tells them to stay away from dangerous people and hug their uncle.

Importantly all of these truths can be boiled down into one: do not be yourself. Be a quiet, giving blob of selflessness that constantly allows yourself to silenced while forcing yourself into a cookie cutter mold of a fictional woman from the 1800’s with an endlessly sunny disposition and a penchant for getting walked on.

*side note* Men do not have it easy either. They are discouraged from having emotions, showing emotions, wearing color, being unique in any way, showing weakness, displaying anything other than americanized masculinity, or having close friends that do not attend the same church, or are on a team together, or are women they do not intend to marry, or are not appearing masculine enough. Also the happiness, financial stability, and eternal souls of their nuclear family rests solely on their shoulders. Like they get to enjoy sex but have to keep themselves locked away too.

And locking ourselves away is the opposite of freedom. It is why we are depressed, lonely, and secretive. We have to be secretive because otherwise we die and we don’t actually want to. We want to live. We want to be free. We want to be everything we are. We want to be everything we are made to be. Because deep down we know we were made this way. We’re just told it’s wrong. That we’re wrong. And we’re not.

We’re not. We’re not. We were not born sinful turd nuggets. We were born impressionable, adorable whole people with likes and dislikes and intuition and curiosity chock full of wonder and questions. We internalized so much because we wanted so badly to be good and loved by the man in the sky who said he loved us so long as we were nothing like he made us to be. Or for parental approval. Maybe both. Kids are complicated.

The point is: it’s hard to realize all of this and live out the unlearning because our very vocabulary was fucked with. We were taught freedom and loyalty and unconditional love (agape, you’re welcome) and wholeness and clean and safe and all of those things were somehow twisted into meaning other things.

I am still working on it. Daily. To untangle all this garbage in my mind. Sometimes, doing so feels absolutely absurd. Because it’s often just pointless rebellion, like laying on the floor of my living room that desperately needs to be cleaned and vacuumed and instead shouting “I am more important than this!” at the top of my lungs while spread eagle in over-sized sweatpants. (Truly, I am a *joy* to live with.) But doing that kind of absurd rebellion always reminds me how absurd it is that what I am doing is rebellion. And that helps me breathe a little easier. And get my shoulders down from my ear lobes. And see that the divine truly does not care if I wear black on national holidays.

And that goddess is not in a building. But goddess also isn’t in the people in that building either. That goddess is everywhere and absent all at once and no one can tell us about ourselves (unless they are well trained therapists, in which case my advice is to listen) and life is half of what we make of it and then literally half advertizing (thanks capitalism) and half all of the shit that happens to us and the people that happen to us and how we definitely happen to them. And it’s messy. It is all so fucking messy and THAT is so much more pure than the people shaped cages we are told to be.

Be free. Really free. And really messy.

Sharp Knives

I have let a lot of things and a lot of people disturb my bliss. Parents to classmates to teachers to – I’m ashamed to admit it – fellow parishioners, boyfriends, lady friends, girlfriends, and siblings. Hell, even a few times some random people at the grocery store. But I am thankful to be able to say that the last decade has actually taught me some lessons that I’ve successfully absorbed.

One of them was beautifully and succinctly put by a good friend the other day. “Sometimes,” she said, “you have to guard your bliss with many sharp knives.”

I had been asking her advice in a situation in which I mostly knew the answer, but it was difficult to see entirely clearly. The conclusion was definitely, and absolutely to keep the person requesting re-entry into my life quite out of it.

Which I found particularly interesting considering the reconciliation that had happened less than a month ago. The circumstances were eerily similar. Two e-mails, two relationships that had ended around a year ago, two women that I had once valued as dear friends.

And two very different answers. The first damn near broke my eyelids as my eyes popped open, consumed the e-mail in record time, reread it in order to confirm it was really there, and then fired off an apology and an acceptance together before my lips had touched a single drip of coffee.

The other I sat with uncomfortably for days, trying to see past the plea in the e-mail that was tugging at me to remember the relationship that my gut was telling me might cause far more harm than good.

And it has led me to evaluate both current and former relationships in new ways. While we all have established patterns, so many of which need healing, there are relationships that go in circles, and relationships that move forward. Like tree growth, personal growth can also be measured in how far we reach down and how far we reach up. Relationships that go in circles are not introspective, nor straining for anything. They are cycles of repeated patterns that are destructive and increasingly draining.

Whereas relationships that grow… can change those habits. When a destructive pattern is recognized, it is changed. It is named. It is recognized. And ownership is taken for its consequences.

And if there is one thing my friendship group has been learning, it’s cutting people out who do not take ownership for their actions. Be it shitty parents, in-laws, neighbors, old friends, or partners. Because it is those people, trapped in their own cycles of destruction that will wreak havoc on your bliss. They will crash through it like a cat on adderal at 3am and then blame the dog. And they will do it over and over again.

Your bliss, by the way, is your peace of mind, your life’s stability and general calm. I like to think of my bliss as my dining room table at dinner. When we are all around it, sharing a meal, the voices of my favorite people, resting in each other, investing in each other, and recharging. People who wreck it are bringing divides into it, stealing your rest, silencing voices, or bringing so much of their own chaos that your bliss is lost in the background.

And we all deal with this at one time or another. We all put up with inconveniences to our bliss. Like that judgmental aunt at Thanksgiving, it happens. But that aunt isn’t in our daily life, because if she was we’d be murderers. And that’s bad.

But it isn’t always as easy to see as Aunt Mc-Why-Are-You-Still-Single? It can be friends who are in your life because you are an anchor while it feels like their life is spinning out of control. It can be an ex who wants to relive the drama. It can be your parents refusing to see you as an independent adult. It can be a controlling partner.

And even more confusing, sometimes we are all shitty to one another at times, or need an anchor in our lives, or have to be divisive in another person’s bliss when we see something hurting them that they refuse to acknowledge – nothing about human interactions is easy or clear cut.

And a lot of us did not have the protection from our parents or nuclear family that we should have growing up. And I think it is that realization more than anything that got me. I have to keep this place safe for them. This blissful time together, their world, my energy given to them, our home, in everything I can, I will give them peace. So that they know what peace is. So that as they get older they can protect their own peace, their own home, their own bliss. Whether their bliss is polyamory or monogamy, heterosexual or homosexual, single or partnered, kids or no, adopted or no, artist or accountant, vegan or keto – they can be themselves. Safely. Peacefully. Blissfully.

It is the only way to keep ourselves sane enough to be the activist humans the world needs. We have to have a safe place to go. And we have to protect it with the word “no”. No, you cannot talk to me that way. No, I will not be the person you text when you’re drunk. No, you cannot say that to my child. No. No. No.

Our words can be the sharpest knives we have, and the strongest binding we posses. Use them wisely.

Or, use them to promote baseless conspiracy theories on social media and delegitimize a democracy for the sake of your cult. Really, up to you.

*Crack*

Can you be baptized by Ke$ha? Because that’s definitely what I feel like right now. I turned “Raising Hell” to max in my car and belted my lungs out every time the lyrics “If you couldn’t tell, we can always find the trouble we don’t need no help. Oh, my mama raised me well, I don’t want to go to heaven without raising hell!”

A flood of imagery came with each repetition – Rep. John Lewis and his ‘good trouble’. The ancestor altar I just set up to heal the spirits of my family line. Falling in love with Satya. Looking at my lifemate after we had dragged each other to hell and back and feeling like I was really seeing him for the first time – and loving him. Having sex long after the surgery that removed my ability to conceive children just. because. it. feels. good. Feeling the conviction of all the pain and destruction I have cause BIPOC just by “living my life” unaware. Telling toxic people in my life to fuck off.

And I swear to goddess, as I was rocking the fuck out to this song – something in me broke. I’ve been struggling against the chains I’ve felt weighing me down, each one inscribed with some bullshit doctrine about original sin, physical demonization, female subjugation, performative holiness, co-opted capitalism, etc for years. And every time I raised my voice to speak my truth it has shaken. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like people who once liked me not liking me anymore. I don’t like disappointing family. I was a straight A, national debate champion, virginal good girl, over achiever for so much of my life. Arguments over text flooded me with stress sweat. But in this moment, I was overcome with the peace that passes understanding.

My family is my framily and we don’t expect each other to stay if we starting hurting each other. Humans are pack animals, we need our groups. But for too long the concept of family has been held over people like a guillotine instead of the safety net it’s meant to be. If raising my voice to speak my truth, to speak the truth of others, causes anyone to be ashamed of me – the doors are open. No one stays here unless they want to be here.

So here is my proclamation. The chains have fallen. They broke. And they’re not going back on, ever. I have two romantic loves of my life – and we are perfect just the way we are. My framily is my group and we do not threaten each other’s autonomy. We are activists and it is worship.

And while I do not believe in heaven, even if I did – that is NOT the goal, fam. The goal is to bring heaven to earth, to make earth a place of peace and justice – PEACE ON EARTH and goodwill toward men. NOT “close your eyes and wait until it’s over.” I rebuke that shit.

I have so many essays to write and points to make but this one, this one, is about me. This one is about my baby steps that have led me out of the darkness, each one in direct opposition to what I was told about truth and light.

Fell in love with a woman. Stayed in love with a man. Began healing my ancestral line, refusing to believe that we are beyond help after death. Stepping into my own priesthood. Began drawing healthy boundaries with people who shared pieces of my DNA (and held to them, even when they began to rail against them). Began to break the mold of the dutiful, quiet, obedient woman and embraced the wild, fierce, priestess that was my birthright. Threw out traditions that didn’t serve me and made new ones to my own liking. Smashed some stuff and gave a voice to my anger. Loved myself without permission and with total abandon (even and especially the pudge, wrinkles, stretchmarks, sagging, and body hair). Refused to believe I was cursed from birth, that my children were cursed from birth, and that our sole life’s mission was to save ourselves and await a holy reckoning. Danced naked in the moonlight around a fire. (Okay so not yet but its on my list.)

I am not ashamed of myself. The scales finally fell from my eyes and I was no longer comparing myself to what I was told I must be in order to be good.

I saw myself, exactly as I was made, following my own path hand in hand with my Spirit and it was good. It is great.

I am holy.

And I am dancing with my tits out, loudly and without abandon, breaking my own chains and howling at the moon while I reach across generations and through decades or murky trauma bullshit to build a new now, and a new future and continue to become the healer I am made to be, lit by the fire of all the lies and oppression and chains and pollution that have kept us quiet.

I am only getting louder.

And the fire is only getting bigger.