Thunder claps and I awaken. The camp trailer is dark and I reach up to feel the paper towels and garbage bag just inches above my head. Damp, not dripping and the bag still holds. Too much moisture and pooled water will break the seal of packing tape around the plastic between me and a leaking ceiling seam. The latest leak I’ve stuffed with paper towels and change them out when they reach saturation.
I relax until the rain cuts loose. I’m beyond crying any more, having sobbed yesterday when I cried out in frustration, “I want to go home!” I yell it at my husband when he arrives from his contract job. We exchange frustrated barbs until one dog scrambles up the wall, trying to get into the overhead bed. The dogs are a litmus test for stress. We are in the danger zone and I simply sit down in the chair that aggravates my sciatica and let tears slide down my cheeks. Home. Comfort. Security. Certainly many are worse off than me, but I’m weary. In the dark of night before the thunder arrives, I shower in a cement public restroom and cry beneath hot water until I can’t cry any more.
When the rain cuts lose, splattering the aluminum roof that is my transition between homes, I know it will take a few hours before the water pools and leaks. I have no tears left so I roll over and go back to sleep, wishing I didn’t have to wake up. Yet cold water dribbling to my hip does the job, and my day renews.
Waking up to news of Trump’s nomination does nothing to lift my spirits. I don’t bother making the bed, and the routine I’ve established this week dissipates into apathy. Politics are nothing but brand campaigns and I’m clearly not the target audience. Where does civic concern for a nation go when brands force sides as if this were a choice of pops — Coke or Pepsi — when the people need water? I was going to write letters to my state rep to express my outrage at the injustice of a state that tolerates veteran homelessness. The house we rented for nearly four years stands empty; all the real estate sites list it as “CLEAN and now ready to SHOW and SELL.”
When I first saw that selling point, I felt punched in the gut. Clean? CLEAN? As if our living there had made the place dirty? I’m a writer who used to work from home and although housekeeping was not tops on my daily to-do list, my home was not dirty. As if to invalidate my sense of reality, the property managers will not give back our security deposit despite the cleaning I did and the housekeeper I hired to shampoo the carpets. Feeling as if the world sees me as unclean stabs me in the heart of shame; shame from childhood, family incest, isolation. Having broke the silence decades ago and the cycle for my own children now grown, I’m pained to recognize that shame still exists in the shadows of self.
It’s hard to get motivated to write civic letters when water drips from my trailer and shame clouds my head.
Two motivations I’m trying to embrace allow me the opportunity to write through my shame:
- From the Honeyed Quill, Shawna Ainslie posts: EMERGENCY #LinkYourLife PROMPT: Fear, Compassion and Community Action. #LinkYourCompassion.
- 1000 Voices for Compassion: Compassion and Courage.
Compassion is not something I see this morning following the hate-stirring rhetoric of a man who embodies the worst of America, yet seems capable of convincing others that his brand of hate is a cure-all. Compassion is not something I’m feeling. Then it occurs to me — it takes courage to care.
From self-care to that of others, it takes courage. We risk much to admit we are in need or struggling, but that’s where self-care begins. I’ve not been bashful about expressing my experiences current or past, though it is painful to do. How can one break the silence without speaking? I don’t want to dwell in anger or be the sum of my circumstances, nor do I want to be avoided by friends, family or readers because I speak out my truth — the good, the bad, the ugly.
Speaking out has its dangers. Anger can consume. I found it difficult to let go of even for a weekend, but denying my anger doesn’t make it go away either. I have to face it, feel it and make choices as to how to direct it. I have to be real (and compassionate) in acknowledging that shame is still an issue for me. I read a blog this morning by a survivor of sexual abuse who states she had no shame. It made me feel mine all the more keenly — like now, I’m ashamed of my shame.
Not feeling emotion only leads to the numbness I felt when the rain began before dawn.
Self-care, self-compassion is where healing can begin. And it’s okay if healing has to begin again and again. Establishing a routine in homelessness is one way I’m trying to take care of myself. Walking is another. But these are not enough for my circumstances. I’ve pushed hard to get my veteran husband into VA counseling for PTSD and I’m going to behavioral therapy sessions, too. I’ve signed up for an online workshop called Unshamed. I’m asking for help, even when it embarrasses me to do so, and I’m also being honest about what I can handle at the moment.
I’m homeless. I can’t have huge expectations upon my productivity.
Without self-care we can’t care for another, let alone a stranger. If we don’t have the courage to examine who we are and what we want out of our brief lives, we will fall into the traps of fear, perfectionism and judgement. It’s good to acknowledge what makes one fearful. I’m terrified of not having a home and here I am, not having a home. I’m not perfect. I can’t compare myself to another abuse survivor and feel inadequate because she has conquered shame and I’ll most likely go to the grave with mine. I don’t know that I can ever scrub it clean enough. But it doesn’t make me dirty. When I accept my own weaknesses, I can be more forgiving of another person in their weakness.
It takes courage to care for others when I facing my own fears. It took courage to help my brother-in-law yesterday to find his own DVA rep when his politics and lack of empathy upset me. I could have chosen to ignore his question of how to go about VA benefits, after all, he didn’t even thank me and he gave me a “chin up” talk as if I had no right to feel overwhelmed by my leaking trailer or lack of home. I could have taken delight in thinking, “Let him figure it out,” knowing how difficult it is to navigate the VA system. It even took courage to correct my own thoughts when I felt like comparing his service to his brother’s (my husband). He didn’t see combat! But I stopped myself and remembered that he served. It took courage to care, to look up his DVA and send it amidst my own pain he has no capacity for understanding.
Compassion doesn’t mean we don’t feel negative emotions. Courage is what it takes to overcome those barriers of our own negativity and that of others to show compassion. Both courage and compassion are acts.
Writing is a powerful tool for exploring and expressing voice. No matter what we write professionally, personally or in community, voice is what resonates. And the truth is more powerful than purple prose. Maybe that’s why I squirm when trying to read Trump’s speech. Even the annotated version by NPR only adds to the either/or struggle between 2016 US presidential candidates. Facts are not always truth. The truth is that politics is playing upon fear. Trump’s entire campaign message is summed up in his speech: he will restore safety to America if he wins. But who is stirring up the feeling that America is un-safe? America is in need of self-compassion and Americans need to overcome their fears through the courage to care for others.
A writer and comedian whom I admire for speaking truth with humor and compassion is Jon Stewart. He gave me back my motivation this morning. Truth has a way of calling us to action with justice and purpose; lies and denial use hate and fear to agitate action. Stewart offers us the revelation that Trump can’t give Americans back their country. He says to those wanting to take back America:
“You feel you are this country’s rightful owner. There’s only one problem with that. This country isn’t yours. You don’t own it. It never was. There is no real America. You don’t own it. You don’t own patriotism. You don’t own Christianity. And you sure as hell don’t own respect for the bravery and sacrifice of military, police and firefighters.”
Further he says, “Those fighting to be included in the ideal of equality are not being divisive. Those fighting to keep those people out are.”
Full version is on YouTube and worth watching. More so than watching any of the RNC speeches.
What you do own is this: you own your truth; you own your experience as a human being; you own your choices; you own your actions. I own my leaky eyes and leaky un-home, but I also own my resolve to speak out. I’m not living the RVer’s lifestyle, nor am I having a grand adventure. I own my stress and shame, but I also own expectation to be treated with human dignity. I have the courage to speak my voice. I am not silent. I am not perfect, but I am not silent. I will continue to look for ways to take care of myself, my husband, our two dogs and others in my life.
As much as I want to wrap my arms around the world and invite every weary traveler of hardships to sit by my campfire, I will start with those I see — the blogs I read, the people I encounter. Compassion starts with me. It starts with you. Have the courage to care where you are right now no matter how shitty or spectacular life might be. Circumstances don’t dictate one’s capacity for compassion and courage. Compassionate and courageous people will trump…well…Trump-like hatred.
If you are having difficulty today, please reach out here. Speak out, use your voice. There are communities where compassionate and courageous people reside. Read their stories. Respond. Add your own.