Coming Home

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I spent time, earlier this week, in the Therapeutic Community, reflecting on what it means to be home. I wrote. I wrote because writing feels safe and familiar; words give me the structure that I crave amidst the chaos and uncertainty that is my diary over the next few months.

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Home is not bricks and mortar. Home is that place that you can return to again, and again; where you can be truly yourself, and where you are accepted for all that you are. Home might be a physical space; but it might also be a person, or a group of people.

The first image above is of my first home. My parental home, that I have reflected upon before. Then (as now) I considered Taize a place where I could return “home”. Where I could be reconciled to God, and to myself.

But since then, there have emerged other places that I could call “home”. The T.C. itself is one such group of people. I have shared with these folks the horrors of my past; the places my mind goes to these days, when I am triggered by something. They have helped me to disentangle the threads of my earlier life, to find a way of weaving them together again that makes sense; helps me feel OK about being me.

Another is my church. This week, an email; “what would you like to do [to mark your leaving]?”. I haven’t replied. I haven’t replied, because, as I find it hard to contemplate detaching from the T.C., I find it hard, too, to think about leaving the church. That  place, those people, are home. There, I have been real, and raw and vulnerable. I have been accepted in all the mess that I was in. I have made amazing friends. And it is with the church that I have decorated a Christmas tree each year; celebrated my successes, and theirs. Been pilgrim on a journey with them, companion on the road. I don’t want to leave that home.

I feel overwhelmed at all that has to be done in the coming weeks. With finding somewhere to live in a new country. Making a home for myself there. Above all else, I am trying to remember through all of these places and in all of these people, that God is always Home.

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Life Lessons

Progress Review, Q. 1:  What life lessons have you learnt from your time in the Therapeutic Community, or in life more generally?

I pause for a moment. But only for a moment, because I know the thing that is most striking of all the things I have learnt.

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When I entered the community, back in February, 2017, I was meeting with the end of my tether in every little thing that didn’t go according to (my carefully thought-out) plan. From a cancelled coffee-date with a friend (which meant they hated me) to not having a paper accepted at a conference (which meant all my academic work was rubbish), everything mattered. And it mattered a great deal.

But this I have learnt. Things can feel uncomfortable – even horrid and downright stressful – in the moment – but that that moment won’t last forever. That feeling is not the end of the world as I know it. And just because I am feeling horrible, whatever is happening, is not necessarily (entirely – or even partly) my fault.

As a case in point, I woke up one day this week, to an email from a distressed student. They were distressed (and had emailed at silly o clock in the morning) because the dissertation grade I had given them meant that they had a 2.2 rather than a 2.1 degree. Some semblance of this scenario happens each and every year. In the past, I have given failing grades to students. And when the complaint has inevitably come back to my door, I have felt like I have failed them utterly, not just in their grade, but as a person. That my teaching has not been good enough; that I should have done more to support them, and that their grade, and resultant anger and despair, was entirely my fault.

This time, I felt that same sense of dread as I read the message. But then I stopped. I stopped because, actually, it was not just me that awarded the dissertation said grade. It was second-marked. I stopped because, yes the student has a 2.2, but that degree class is a combination of much more than a dissertation mark. It was not that mark that led to them getting a 2.2 per se. I stopped and re-read the feedback the student had given me about my supervision, declaring that they were more than happy with my guidance. I might be partly responsible for assigning the mark – but the fact that the student has that mark is not my fault. I forwarded their email, and module feedback, to someone at the university who is responsible (and paid) for dealing with these kind of concerns.

And a couple of hours later, they replied to me, to affirm that all was okay by my actions, and the matter was in their hands. The feeling of dread passed. It felt horrid to open my eyes to that kind of message. To know that a student for whom I have pastoral responsibility is distressed. But – it is not my fault. In the past,  I cut in response to those messages. Could have done more; should have done more.   This time, I acknowledged how I felt, sent email, and carried on.

I can deal with the small stuff. I can deal with bigger stuff, too. I just have to remember that I can.

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Dawning

Dawning:        D [Welsh: awn ni!]ng      D[English: let’s go!]ng

I have written about sunrise before. Almost exactly three years ago. Three years ago, when I could see a future for myself in (South)-East London. Three years later, I am writing about a new dawning.

A dawning sense of acceptability. That I am acceptable. A transition from being told that I am okay;  being told that I have made progress in the Therapeutic Community; being able to identify its markers (no more cutting; healthful eating) but feeling rubbish nonetheless –  to feeling  that I am okay. Feeling affectively different, within and about myself.

I learnt a new word last week, courtesy of a Facebook meme.  Unfuckwithable.  This new sense that I have is one where I feel able to cope with rubbish situations and happenstance. One where I know and can hold to my boundaries. Where I can identify when you are likely behaving that way towards me because I’ve done something to hurt you, and when you are more likely behaving that way because of your own stuff. I can take responsibility for the former, and tell you if you’ve hurt me. It is also a sense that we can disagree – even fundamentally – but still both be okay as adults in a relationship with one another, however close or distant that relationship may be. And where I don’t give a  flying **** what your judgement is of me, because your judgement (in an absolutist sense of judgement) doesn’t matter. I am okay with myself. I am okay by God. And that is enough.

A dawning sense, too that I can move on, however hard it will be. That, as I prepare to leave the Therapeutic Community, to move country, to start a new job, I can face the uncertainty and stress and deal with it. That I will settle and have my own space, and be comfortable in my own company.

This new dawning feels lighter and spacious and a place where I can breathe freely. It feels good. And it is an embryonic, and fragile, and precious, dawning. One that I need to look after. There is no room in it for complacency. I am not sorted, and fine. But I am okay. And that is a dawning which makes the night time feel worthwhile.

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Small Reflection

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome…

Love after Love by Derek Walcott [continued at link]

God has a strange way of meeting me, just where I am. For all the times it has happened, for all the teaching that points in that direction, you’d think I’d have ceased being surprised at this long ago. I have not.

On Saturday, having acknowledged in the therapeutic community a long-standing struggle with compassion, particularly self-compassion; with the voices that haven’t quieted despite months of therapy, I am invited to sit quietly. To sit quietly, and to think on God’s compassion for us: for me. I sit in silence. Cry at a hazy recognition that this may be true. It is too much. I cannot be open to God’s love because, if God loves me, She does so knowing me intimately. Loves the parts of me that I detest. It means She wants to be close to me; wants a relationship. It is easier not to trust that I am wanted by Her (or anyone); to believe God (them)  angry; distant. It feels too scary to let Her (people) in. Don’t get hurt that way. But God does not think I am lazy or not good enough or rotten. I know this. To feel it is still a challenge.

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We are given the poem Love after Love  to read. It names hope. It names the hope that I have for the end of my time in the therapeutic community. Compassion is something that is encouraged there. I am encouraged to empathise with the small child who was scared of her angry father, for her parents’ ailing marriage; who was lonely at school, and frustrated at a disability she didn’t feel she was allowed to talk about. A child who was laughed at mercilessly by her parents for crying; told off for panicking. I still struggle to see that child compassionately. One day, I may be able to greet her; acknowledge her; take care of her, rather than ridiculing or chiding her. Welcome the vulnerability she has to offer.

One day, I might be able to allow myself to be authentic and vulnerable with others. Not close down  awareness of the affection I feel for them, lest it is thrown back at me, but express it. I might be able to look in the mirror, and be at peace with what I see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rooting Compassion

IMG_2310When I was little, but big enough to know that owning a pony of my own was out of the question, I was promised a pet when we got a bigger place. The house was on the market, in the hope it would be sold before I started school. Ten years later, having moved house, our family got a puppy. A golden retriever puppy, because temperament. And he went to puppy training and came near top of his class, and was socialised properly, and generally domesticated.

Apart from, my mother’s world outside the new house was becoming scary. So, taking the puppy in the car was a faff, and having people to the house was suddenly difficult, because the dog might attack them. As her world got smaller, so did the puppy’s. And he became territorial and aggressive around other dogs on the walks he did go on, and my parents couldn’t possibly leave him in the house for more than a few hours, nor could they take him out far. I came to detest that dog, for narrowing my parents’ world, as mine was narrowed in turn. When he died, prematurely, of an illness, I was working abroad, and felt nothing around his loss. My parents and brother did. I was alien.

I did not seem to.emotionally connect to animals – or people. My jobs have each lasted a couple of years at a time – the longest for five years – and in them, I have gotten along as best I can with colleagues, and attributed any benevolence on their part to collegiality and the duty of the job, and felt deserving of the malevolence and doormatting I otherwise experienced, because I am not a likeable person, and people liked my work, not me, anyway.

By the same token, I understood intellectually, at some level, that God loved me. But at the same time, I convinced myself, God hated me for what I was, and was angry with me for feeling as I did, let alone my behaviour towards others. I could not tolerate sitting with the knowledge – feeling the knowledge that God loved me. It was too painful to comprehend.

Amidst some more nasty malevolence, a group of friends at one university supported me, and accompanied me to Taizé for the first time, and ran to meet me when I returned their way months later. Years later, all those remaining there, plus some I didn’t know were still there came out to meet me for a drink whilst I was on a flying trip, with less than 24 hours’ notice. My belief that I am unlikeable has been challenged by them, time and again.

It is scary to believe that others might like me, and genuinely want me around, rather than simply be tolerating my presence for the sake of what I can do for them. As I continue in the therapeutic community, I am coming to feel the loss of other members more, as they move on. I am now the most senior member there. I don’t want to leave not just because the future is uncertain and frightening, but because I don’t want to lose the support of people I have come to know and trust deeply these last months. I am aware of my connections to others, no longer numb to the warmth I feel towards them.

I am feeling that particularly acutely this week. My cat is ill. The cat that holds bad memories of time with my ex-partner, whom I am left looking after thanks to his behaviour, until he is out of prison, is unwell. Previously, these defences, reasons I shouldn’t care emotionally for the cat would have kept me distanced from her. I take her to the vet, and she has to have tests, and she might be seriously unwell. And I am moved and sad and I want to hug her tight. She has spent months snuggled into the crook of my arm, or kneading my lap whilst I wept and wept. I don’t want her (or any animal) to suffer. But more than that, I don’t want to lose her. Loving others is deep joy. And deep pain.

 

 

 

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Square One

Spin the clock back a few years. I am spending a morning in Fenwick’s (erstwhile, delightful department store in West London) with my mother. We go to their cafe. I have orange juice. I want orange juice in a carton. My mother buys it for me, in a glass. I am told it is exactly the same orange juice as was in the carton. It’s just in a glass. I meltdown completely. I wanted orange juice in a carton. 

I have no memory of this event. Neither my mother nor I have any idea why I objected so strongly to orange juice in a glass. Or why I wanted orange juice in a carton. All I know is what I am told: that my two-year-old mind could not handle the situation. I ruined the coffee break. Was left screaming in the buggy. I am frequently and often reminded of this, and of several other meltdowns. I don’t know what to say to my mother to stop her repeating the story. What she wants me to say to her. I cannot remember what happened.  I was an impossibly difficult daughter to parent.

This week, I feel I am back in that department store cafe. As much as I cannot  remember why I was so aggrieved aged two years, this time, no one in the room understands why I am angry. I am angry at the ablist language being used in a psychological model.  Attempts are made to explain why I should not be angry about that: why this language is okay. It is not. It is discriminatory and negative and diminishing to use it in this context. I cannot explain why this language is not OK; why I am so angry, why I am so triggered. I recall that I was triggered before when this model  presented itself, nine months ago. That I said as much then, and was dismissed. Nothing in the way the model is presented has changed. No acknowledgement is made of the use of ablist language in it. Everyone is annoyed at me for being so angry. I dissolve. I am left alone, angry and ashamed.

And I am back at square one. When I entered the therapeutic community, one of my key goals was to be able to turn down the dial on my anger, to feel it less intensely, and to be able to express it more calmly. This week has shown that I can do none of these things. I am frightened of how angry I am. I want to hurt people; really hurt them. I need to hurt myself, to stop that from happening; to contain the anger. No one can contain my anger; it is too strong.

It is too strong, and I am despairing because it feels like I have not changed at all. When push comes to shove, and something really gets to me, I get lost in anger.  I am still angry as angry, days later. I cannot make them understand. I am trying upon trying not to cut. I have not yet cut. Cutting would take me back to the start line.  God, please quell this anger, before it consumes me. 

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