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.
#LinkYourLife is found on Facebook, Twitter, The Honeyed Quill and OTV Magazine
#1000VoicesforCompassion is found on Facebook, Twitter and you can link up to monthly themes.
I find comfort in the oddest places and in the obvious. The other day it was a cemetery. Today it is your post. Sometimes it feels like I’m bleating against the howling gale telling the world it is alright it can be all right. But then a little sanity like this dulls the gale and allows other sounds to be heard – bird song small children hope filled adults. Thanks for turning up the corners this sunny morning.
It can be all right. It takes bleating against the gale. And you know, I’ll never think a cemetery is an odd place. It full of humanity’s stories, too…struggles, triumphs. Thank you for taking a respite here. And thank you for ask the bleating you do. Your cottage and compassion breaks down borders and swells across nations.
As I read your post, all I could think of was these words:
Unfortunately, there is not much choice other than to take it; to feel it, to live it, and to let it get you down, then wait for the moment in which peace and acceptance arrives. How you do that, I have no idea, but you are right in that it takes courage, courage and compassion; compassion for yourself and for others in other circumstances, and for those without empathy.
Your description of shame residing in the “shadows of self” hits home. It is when we are most vulnerable that those shadows find their way out to tease and aggravate our wounds. At other times, when we avoid the dark, we can pretend they don’t exist.
I have no words of comfort, but I do care. That you can find such eloquent ways of expressing your emotions and your situation at least provides a pressure valve, though I am sure the pressure itself diminishes in no way.
Hang in there, Charli. Let us know of ways we can support you other than providing ears to listen. We are here.
Ah, I had forgotten about this movie. Yes! Great cathartic scene! Having compassionate readers like you certainly helps as I release the pressure valve, but I also hope it inspires others to speak out or write who struggle with having a voice. Those of us who do can speak or encourage those who’ve not found theirs. Thank you fr listening, for being here and for caring. That we care makes a difference in shifting our world.
We need many compassionate hands. There’s a huge load to move at the moment.
There is, Norah. We’ll start with our hands. <3
Oh, and the Jon Stewart video – compelling viewing. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Ugh, we’re always more vulnerable in the middle of the night and so horrible to wake up worrying if you’re going to get drenched. No wonder you’re crying. But, if you can, hang on to what that feels/sounds like, you might need it for Danni in your revised Miracle of Ducks – and I don’t think that very primitive gut-wrenching crying is often well depicted in fiction, as (thankfully) it’s a long way from our ordinary experience. So hard to hang on to your sanity when the world seems to be treating you like shit.
You’re right, you have to look after yourself first and reach out from a position of greater security. I followed the link to your former home which looks truly idyllic and I’m outraged that it should stand empty while you’re in the leaky trailer, and that they won’t pay back your deposit. Okay, there might be cultural differences in our interpretations, but I wouldn’t give much weight to it being described as CLEAN – it seems an odd thing to emphasise in their advert (although they don’t seem particularly literate with all those exclamation marks).
Of course it hurts because it connects to a vulnerable point in you, but I wouldn’t beat yourself up about feeling residual shame. I’m sure in some frames of mind, when things are going well, you don’t feel this way and can brush things off. That time will return if you take care of yourself now, but I’m glad you seem to be doing.
That’s right, we have discussed the portrayal of grief on your blog following several different book reviews. I will hold on to some recall of touchpoints for Danni. In fact, the opening scene, I rewrote to portray a different look at military PTSD. For years I never thought Todd had it, then I felt he did but had trouble articulating “symptoms.” Now, I see how he’s bee stuck in military mode all these years. It takes much processing to unravel what we think are simple human reactions. I hope to use all this to make a more meaningful story. If it can resonate or give another military wife insight, I’ll be pleased. For now, I’m marching along, hopeful despite the leaking that we will get my office space figured out today. Next we will work on how to create an outdooor kitchen. We turned off the potable water and some leaks stopped so some is in the pipes. But the air conditioner is the one overhead and we will remain vulnerable to rain. One step at a time. Thanks, for reflecting back some of these ideas about writing and living.
Charli, first, I am so sorry to read you are going through such a hard time, and that you experienced sexual abuse as a child and that shame still lurks within shadows of your self. I loved though that you say, “And it’s okay if healing has to begin again and again.” That is such a helpful way to look at it. Shame is such a sneaky emotion and I think so many of us deny it, only to then punish ourselves and other people. What we are ashamed of in ourselves, we are going to avoid or hate in other people too.
I totally agree with what you say about self-care and self-compassion and that we need to have the courage to look inside ourselves to be able to care for others. (I had a bit about this in my own post, but took it out because the post was getting long and so it will be for another one.)
There’s so much of value in this post – I also love what you wrote about facing your fear and then being able to help your brother-in-law, and that you also acknowledged your feelings of anger towards him and let them go to carry on helping him. It’s so important to allow our feelings and to not allow them to consume us.
Thank you for such a powerful and insightful post!
Thank you for reading, Yvonne. It can be disappointing to realize we have to deal with something we thought dealt with, yet healing is an ongoing process of growth and I’d rather continue to grow. I do believe in the value of sharing for the chance that what is shared will help someone else. Thank you for continuing to give a strong voice to compassion around the world. If we could be consumed by such a feeling, compassion would be a mighty one!
I remember sort of living in a type of camper during one summer… on a lot between two country houses not quite a teenager. The others had gone out for the evening and I was left to sleep alone… not! Really who could sleep with the buzzing of a hornets nest in the vent? And worrying if they were going to get through and sting you while you slept. Was this some kind of punishment? I ended up going to one of the neighbors… and then later being berated by my parents for not being ‘brave’ enough. Yet would they have tolerated sleeping in that room? I doubt it.
It is hard to not take things personally. Even if not directly pointed out to us by those we thought we had respect for, like landlords who should pay back our deposits when we leave a place cleaner than we found it. Or other adults who keep telling us to go somewhere else for encouragement or help.
I also sent you an email… Hope you are feeling better Charli.
That must have been unnerving! And to be berated for not being brave is ridiculous. I like the idea of being the adult someone can go to for encouragement and help. If we each could do that for our circles of influence, what a better world we’d have. Thanks for the email, Jules!
Hugs, Charli. 💗 Take care of yourself.
Thanks, Sarah! Self-care included getting an office squared away…ah! Feels good. Not “home” but it will do.
jeez! you are a knight and I can imagine only you come out with in a shining armor from distress.
I pray you get relief from your sciatica and agree that compassion starts with us, and can go beyond only with us…
Hang in there, chica!
Prayers and a hug come your way!
Ha! At times I’m a clunky knight, banging about in my armor. 🙂 I found a chair that I’m hoping will work better and space for officing. Thanks, Ruchira! <3
[…] Courage to Care by Charli Mills […]