bring me the pill for infelicitous birth

This was going to be mainly about what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but now since two of its very close relations–abuse, especially sexual abuse, and narcotics addiction–have entered the internet news cycle for which I am probably way too late at this point but I am actively ignoring myself as I offer myself rationalizations not to write or not to put it anywhere anyone will find it if I do write something and so because virtually anyone with a decent-sized megaphone with which to address addiction gets it completely and horribly wrong just as those speaking about trauma and PTSD also get it completely and horribly wrong I found myself with more to say than what I started out thinking I was going to say.

Neither of them, for instance–PTSD nor addiction–are diseases.

psych drugs and warning labels in psychedelic blue and hot pink

take this medication with resignation and bare faith

We would like them to be. For a million reasons but mostly nobody has to address anything they themselves might be doing to exacerbate a problem if that problem can be relegated to medical management and pinned on some vague notion of inherited disorder for which we have almost no empirical evidence that is not deeply founded in the sort of already-given interpretation my culture demands regarding health and disease, order and disorder, normality and perversity, function and dysfunction, productivity and loss, and–this list is endless as these lists always are. The point is still that blaming (genetic, medical, physiological) fate is slightly less odious than blaming those suffering under that fate but still too easy when problems are manifestly rooted in the specific cultures in which they appear, and in very complex ways that might cause discomfort to many who consider themselves beyond reproach because they did not really enjoy heroin that one time they tried it or maybe the painkillers they occasionally need to take are effective for the bluntest of physiological pain but no more than that and so they have managed so far to avoid becoming junkies of any kind.

Lucky them.

Three things:

In North American cultures, addicts of what are called hard drugs are almost always survivors of trauma–trauma severe enough that anesthesia from life itself can become the only thing that makes life bearable. And so addiction is what you do if you cannot kill yourself on a punctual, finalized schedule.

I cannot put it any more concisely than that. Probably one could investigate neural pathways and what sorts of environmental variables affect endorphin production in some cases or dopamine in others and oxytocin in other others and probably some indefinite several of neurological signaling agents we do not know very well yet. But my experience tells me that when a drug can simulate family in the absence of, you know, actual family, it answers a primal need that will not be denied once it finds what it thinks it is seeking. The idea of “will power” is laughable in the face of this sort of need, but my confused critique of whatever it is we call will–I haven’t a clue, honestly: I cannot find will in any of my personal faculties and would not recognize it if it were there staring me in the face and enacting things all on its own power as I squinted in incomprehension because where on earth did it find this original power because I have never come across any and believe me I have looked everywhere–ok well besides that much critique I am leaving the rest for later.

This will probably not make sense to you either: addiction can signal a tenacious sense of self-preservation and something like an inextinguishable hope: whatever and wherever my place is here on the planet I am doing all I can to stay here and make it into a dwelling place familiar enough not to set off serial panic even if my life will turn out to be nothing much else beyond surviving my own murder/suicide. The junkie shooting up is refusing to die even while taking into her body what may be that one bad hit. The chamber with the bullet. The all it took. The we knew this day was coming.

Sometimes that day never arrives. Contrary to legend, addiction is no surer a predictor of death than any other dangerous and desperate bid to stay alive long enough to give sunrise one more opportunity to justify its arrival.

Not entirely unlike life itself: a mortality rate of one hundred percent. Not one of us has survived it yet. I know some of you believe that to be untrue but the evidence is overwhelmingly pessimistic on this one.

That was just one thing.

Here are the others or some others or something:

somethings, I mean:

In the cultures I might call my own, PTSD is usually figured solely as either a soldier’s burden or the occasional outcome of large-scale disasters. Of those I have spoken to who are diagnosed or diagnosable with PTSD, I have known a handful of soldiers and maybe one or two survivors of the flood fire famine sort of disaster that we recognize as disaster. I have not counted up the rest but that is mainly because they are one of those vast majorities that are really hard for one person to count especially when every other day I meet another one of us. The rest of us are survivors of the more private disasters of childhood abuse, domestic abuse, andor rape.

“andor” because abuse is almost always sexual at some point whether it is primarily sexual or also physical, emotional, spiritual, or some terrible cycle of All Of The Above and so abuse and rape often as not are synonymous and even simultaneous. Other times they happen in succession. And maybe some more abuse later on because you were taught that it is part of the natural order and so it just looks like another day to you.

That’s two things. Here is where I stick my neck out:

The medicalization of addiction and of many conditions called mental illness, including PTSD, functions in part to divert public attention or maybe the public itself is diverting its own attention this way which seems a more faithful description but we whoever we are we cite models of disease for this among other things in order not to have to address our own complicity in one or another tradition of abuse–traditions which precipitate what is called mental illness and what is called addiction. Repeatedly. Predictably.

Those traditions of abuse are endemic to that culture or cultures with which I am most intimately familiar because they permeate me. Or us.

This is something I proclaim as a strong strong hunch and one for which the research necessary to show it conclusively is more than a single person could do or at least if I were the only single person doing it it could take a very long time and not just because I spend most days tending to some PTSD-related intermission or another. Statistics on childhood abuse, for instance: completely unreliable, and by the researchers’ own admission almost every time I look up another batch of them, almost certainly leading to gross underestimation of the extent to which the practices addressed in their studies are accepted as normal or at least tolerable by the participants/respondents.

Here is an interesting study on public perception of child abuse in the US (pdf file).

The Framework Institute has done other research on child abuse as well, all of it interesting.

That is almost all I have to say right now. But the other day I ran across another glib homage to the power of modern medicine or that is the power of the myth of modern medicine and it was so cheerfully reductive that I wanted almost to curse the very idea of research because no animal who forces itself to be as obtusely optimistic as we have seemingly become should be trusted with the care and feeding of a whole planet based on whatever knowledge it can produce for itself.

The most recent upsurge in despair followed this which is how this all got started insofar as my deciding to write something down goes:

A comprehensive PTSD drug would be the holy grail, of course.
well.

no.
actually.
the holy grail would be

a culture that does not deliberately impose multiple traumas on its offspring over and above the unpredictable and inevitable injuries that are standard-issue living.

the holy grail would be

a culture that does not use shame and silencing as its primary methods of discipline when overt violence seems unacceptable if that ever happens to happen.

the holy grail would be

directing some of the obsessive energy devoted to identifying the neurological and genetic causes of psychiatric disorders toward identifying and eradicating the cultural, social, and familial causes of those myriad physiological changes that so often result in syndromes we call mental illness. because we cannot bear the possibility that we may ourselves be the primary vectors of this sort of pathology we look for isolated, simple biochemical interactions where nothing isolated or simple ever takes place: in and among the bodies of complicatedly social, intelligent, and sensitive animals.

the holy grail would be

examining cultural assumptions about family that chronically make children open targets of abuse while simultaneously depriving them of the security they would need to be able to talk about what was happening to them without fear of retaliation for telling the truth.

the holy grail would be

asking ourselves with unhesitating honesty why our culture predicates itself on scarcity, competition, conformity and exclusion, deprivation, and a general hostility toward life as it occurs on Earth as the pillars of social, spiritual, and economic order and security. we have chosen homelessness as the guarantor of stability and I mean that both literally and metaphorically although the metaphor is itself as real as any shopping cart and tarpaulin city.

the day after after that other day

Written the day after Christmas ie about a month ago

26 Dec 2013

As usual I do not know where to start but I do have some idea or inspiration or compulsion or something to remark at least that this year’s Christmas day was one of the most grueling of my life even though–and I mean this emphatically and truly and truly emphatically–it was one of the nicest Christmas days to unfold in my house in quite some time. Which is to say one occurred and it was one in which we all gave each other however much room we needed to tend to the noises in each of our heads while also making it clear or clear enough that company was to be had if one wanted any.

Or at least that is how it looked to me. It may have occurred in an entirely different way for my housemates but their stories I have only heard bits and pieces of. Despite this low-stress atmosphere I only lasted for ten hours of consciousness before I threw in the towel and decided to reboot which took another ten hours and had me up at dawn instead of noon and so this might be the Quarterly Circadian Rhythm Shift.

I know I am not the only one whose voices were being noisy yesterday but I do count myself fortunate in that mine have quieted down to the point that I could almost say that we have quiet civil conversations instead of the shouting matches we used to have with their screaming liarliarliar at me and my screaming shutupshutupshutupshutup at them and neither of us managing to get our points across to the other in any useful way at all. Both sorts of exchanges bite off big chunks of what I always hope will be productive days and turn them into little spasms of almost no practical use from anyone else’s point of view but at least with the conversational method we stand some chance of reaching an agreement we are all comfortable enough with to let the organism get some sleep.

The lady sitting near the ATM yesterday seemed to be having much greater difficulties with her voices than I was with mine. Unless she was on the phone but I did not want to lean over intrusively to see if indeed there was not one that I could see. As I walked away I wondered what would have happened if I had asked her who was bugging her and trying to take Samantha away while she was reading to her but I did not really have it in me to talk to someone else’s voices so I took the Billy Don’t Be a Hero way out and walked around the block continuing to find no stores open and beginning to wonder if macaroni and cheese were really going to be Christmas dinner (they didn’t have to be but I fell asleep before the dinner being cooked was fully cooked and so they were what I ate. Sort of. My stomach rebelled halfway through for no apparent reason and so today I am eating everything in sight now that there are things to see and to eat that it knows it can handle).

I could say a little more about my day yesterday but I only have a couple of vignettes: in the first one Mission Street is quite nearly dead that is nobody is out there who has anyplace else to be and I am thinking this is not quite right or this is new or something. I am not sure of this though I mean I did see several people passed out on the sidewalk who must not have lasted their whole days either so it was surely desolate but whether I have seen non-desolate Christmas days on Mission Street I cannot say for sure without asking around first. So I might get back to you all with that. Two Mission Street Gift Shops were open and at each one a family was looking over the bicycles but there were no other customers in sight. My guess is they opened because they have done business on this holiday in the past but maybe they too had nothing better to do.

In the second I am talking to the housemate who speaks in ellipses because what else can you do and we are throwing out phrases to the effect that on this holiday you are damned if you do have family and damned if you don’t. Nearly every one of my close friends has a home to go to for the holidays of their choice and the rest of the year does not bother me so much but the way in which family spirits all of them away at one time for at least twenty-four hours and up to two weeks in some cases creates a kind of pre-determined and very local interpersonal drought whose menace is maddeningly self-fulfilling in that no matter what happened last year and how consciously I plan to keep it from happening this year this year is never anything like last year and so whatever precautions I take turn out to be completely orthogonal to the actual problems that arise.

But so my elliptical comment was something to the effect of all that but sounding more like “mmggppphhh…family…” and then considering how reports from family holidays usually turn out, I reckoned maybe I was not the unlucky one in my version of things.

· · · · ·

1940s Christmas Day Peoples

There is a story in this picture although I cannot say that I know what it is. I would hazard a guess that there are at least eight stories in this picture and probably more than that since in my own experience the stories I even tell myself about this or that thing we all lived through change depending on which one of me is narrating and even each of us change it around at least a little every time through and this is one reason why I cannot stop writing although not so many know this about me but that is a slightly different writing problem that I also have but am trying to work on and that is all I will say about it right now. Suppose though that each of these stories however many there are in this picture or were since not all of them are still here to unfold themselves suppose each were worth ten thousand words then that would be some piles and piles of stories just to go through once much less fifty times or sixty times or seventy times or more.

Here is what I think I know about it or maybe I should say here is some combination of things I have heard and the things I think I may not have heard but maybe glimpsed waiting silently and not even patiently and not even resigned but maybe only on the bare energy of having once or twice come to mind but there where there is not enough time even to get to all the stories that can be told and so those that cannot will bide but not their time so much as their will to remain through every iteration that cannot stop and wait for them.

The year is 1940something. I do not know which 40something but I am guessing there is still a war on only maybe not for much longer. Each kid has one toy: Santa’s gift perhaps if Santa was a part of this scene which I also cannot say for certain. There may have been other presents but those would have been things like fruit in the stockings and maybe boxes of underwear from an aunt or uncle or maybe aunts and uncles did not gift children with underwear until the fifties I do not know the precise origin of this gently dystopian unless you were the one who had to say thank you for the socks in which case it was not so gently dystopian of an American tale.

In any case money is short this year and the presents homemade in some cases and make-do in others. I am not sure which are which except for the little wheelbarrow which is still around somewhere and was crafted by hand and necessity if I have the story right which I cannot claim actually to have but the wheelbarrow looks sturdy from here so its continued coherence seems credible to me.

There are more facts I suppose that I could mention: facts like I do not know if this family was farming yet or if that happened later on after they moved north a little ways which I know they have not done yet. I do not know what sends them northward (slightly) nor how they decided where to go but they will move to a rural town in the Pacific Northwest of the US. They are already in the Pacific Northwest, which is why they will not be going far when they do go, but whether this house is in the country or a small town or a medium sized town I am not sure except that the area is certainly not a small town now. But you know, addresses being what they are, a person can live in a city without, you know, living in the city. So this house could be almost anywhere within maybe a hundred square miles or so and parts of it would have been more densely inhabited and others less so.

None of that makes much very clear does it. I will guess though that at the time nobody else in the US knew where the Pacific Northwest was, really. By the time I was nine or ten, which was much more than nine or ten years later than this, the east coast still had no clue about anyplace that was west of the Mississippi except possibly for Los Angeles and stories about the Yukon. And the Wild West wherever that was but it was not so much a place one could go although it may have been once but I would bet it was always already a scene that one carried around everywhere and maybe romanticized depending on the quality of one’s seats: much easier to do from far away.

There is a lot of space in between Los Angeles and the Yukon. Whole civilizations had already been decimated and were trying already to rebuild from almost nothing and people of all sorts were living in those spaces and doing things that might be forgotten by now except for those things that will not be forgotten until memory itself gives out and who knows when that will be.

I will confess: I do not know why I am writing about this picture or that is I could trace easily enough the chain of events on the outside and associations on the inside (to whatever extent those exist distinct from one another which extent I do not believe in all that much really) that led me to think I wanted to write about it but what to say next escapes me. This is an unreconcilable picture precisely because it contains more stories than it can actually hold. It whispers half-formed hints much like that strange and sweet mix of Douglas Fir and clover-fed manure rushing up and wrapping me in promises of comfort and escape there in that rocky driveway for just a moment before the always nameless always inarticulate apprehension arose telling me to keep to myself and away from everyone who might be even a little bigger than I was.

It was a feeling that like any other feeling never asked its rights before it arrived and never listened to reason although certainly it could be temporarily injunctioned at the behest of shame. But only temporarily and at a price that I would wager few would be willing to pay if they realized just how high it was or how long its memory of credits owed.

I do know that for me the greater destructive potential lies in deliberate not-knowing than it does in anything that I could possibly become aware of at this point and one thing this picture says to me is that I do not know the half of it.

My way or the highway, and if you choose the highway it’s all his fault

My biorhythms were doing whatever it is they do when I strolled into Mad in America and read about Robert Whitaker’s presentation at NAMI. Or really, its aftermath.

Whitaker, as you may or may not know, is taking all sorts of flack for his research into the current state of psychopharmacological research and marketing, which you can find out more about in the books Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic. I have read both of them and although they are not without their rhetorical excesses (and of course I adore rhetorical excess but not usually mixed with science unless for artistic effect), the research Whitaker has put into them is thorough and very hard to argue with without resorting to very very tired canards about the plight and safety and whatever-tugs-your-heartstrings about the “mentally ill” as long as you don’t have to actually talk to any of them.

One day I will explain why I always put that term in scare quotes. Unless I already have, in which case I will probably do it again even so. But not just now. The short version of Whitaker’s message is something like: we–or those of us not involved in or with pharmacology industries–have no idea how little information we have been given about psychiatric medications, nor how much of what we think we do have is completely without empirical support. Whitaker has unearthed repressed research, inadequate methodologies, and a number of not-too-surprising instances where profit has short-circuited the scientific skepticism that is necessary to keep us from proclaiming that our knowledge is complete when it is in fact completely unmoored from any empirical observations because the money is nowhere near them.

Whitaker has made some enemies, of course. Many of them seem to think that the complexities of reality need to be hidden from some of us for our own good: specifically, those mental patients currently taking antipsychotics who truly need them. As you might suspect, precisely who needs their antipsychotics can vary depending on their relationship to the person you are asking.

A summary of this whole argument would take more energy than I want to expend at the moment, but Whitaker is currently living a snapshot moment that illustrates it, to my rickity mind, particularly well. So a link, and then the comment that those aforementioned biorhythms told me I had to leave after pouring one more cup of coffee, but with the part stuck back on the end that I cut out for the sake of not covering someone else’s blog page with my ranting. If you have time, read the comments (you can skip mine, I am reproducing it right here!); they shed quite a bit of light on the scene and had a great deal to do with whatever induced me to stop everything else I was going to do today to write what follows.

Whitaker’s post

My comment, plus extra bonus words:

No, you don’t have blood on your hands–and wouldn’t have even if Earley’s son had fared worse.

My very honest opinion, given the information given/linked here? Mr. Earley, I have no doubt, believes that he is trying to do the right thing for his son, and believes that “tough love” is a perfectly useful tool in motivating people to live up to their families’ and cultures’ expectations of them. But what I think I see is not at all unusual in the culture I live in (US, western, anglo-american–lots of names and none of them sufficient): our emphasis on individualism and personal responsibility often passes into brutality and abuse despite good intentions and in spite of every bit of love we believe we hold for those close to us.

Take your meds or get out of my house? It looks to me that Earley’s son was given a choice between two barely tenable alternatives, and the son took the one that he himself considered less painful, less risky, less likely to cause him great harm: he left home, alone, knowing what he surely knows about his capacity to handle difficult situations.

Being diagnosable with mental illness does not render us incapable of looking out for our own interests. Not knowing anything about Earley’s son, I can only speculate about why he chose to leave home rather than continue treatment when those were the only options available to him, but if I were going to analyze the situation further, I sure would want to know why he made that choice. I suspect the answer as to how best to serve his son could be found by listening to his son–for Earley, for anyone else.

Earley instead blames you for daring to uncover empirical facts and pointing them out where his son could see them. Controlling information access is a display of power. Possibly an abusive one. But it is endemic in our paternalistic culture and, for too long, has been an acceptable practice in caring for those whom we deem incapable of caring for themselves.

And yet Earley’s son did care for himself. He left home. This seems plain to me from here.

I suppose it might be a relief to be told that one’s child is suffering from a brain disorder and not reacting to, say, inhospitable conditions at home, using whatever means they can. But what I dearly wish could happen in public dialog would be for us to recognize that not only can no human behavior can be explained so simplistically, but there exists little evidence for those explanations we are given–or that we receive–as though they were studied, nuanced scientific conclusions.

We do not have to make a choice, when trying to explain emotional or neurological distress, between blaming refrigerator mothers and attributing it to well-documented brain disorders. Both of those figures are mythological and completely divested of any attention to the reality we ourselves live. But we do need to recognize that upbringing–and this is not a process confined to the traditions of any nuclear family, but a cultural and sociological process that continuously changes its focus–cannot be untangled from the physiological structures we inherit, in whatever shape, and which then develop in response to everything we ever perceive.

And, now apparently, we hear that we are shaped by many of the things our parents and grandparents perceived before any of us had begun to be iterated and reiterated by our own experiences. Take even the briefest critical look at our current understanding of neurological change and the mechanisms of inheritance: less comprehensive, less efficacious than our level of knowledge of these processes is only the degree of control we have achieved over any of them. We fancy ourselves master wizards when we are the neo-ist of neophytes.

My sense of what is called mental healthcare in the US is that, at the level of public discourse, it remains stuck in the positivist, enlightenment-era myth that not only will we be able to categorize and analyze any problem to complete resolution if we apply the briefest effort, but that we are always just on the verge of doing so, or that the last discovery finally put us over the top and now we have the magic key!

You know. Like Zyprexa, the wonder drug, showed us the way to cure psychosis. And a whole bunch of other disorders that we didn’t even know were disorders, much less similar enough to psychosis to be treatable with the same drugs!

I understand why we want these sorts of answers, and why we want them to be easy and without any implications for those considered normal, well-adjusted, and in need of nothing but their own self-sufficient selves. But as complex, intelligent, sensitive, and intensely social creatures, we are all implicated in each other and have been for millennia. Our relations are so complex we might never be able to name them all, but like our old Freudian unconscious, they will make themselves known whether or not we recognize them when they show up.

The desire to assign blame is tempting, I suppose. The more quickly the singular, locatable culprit can be found and punished, the earlier we can forget our own implications with what goes on nearby and return our self-image to its unblemished, untouched ideal. But it almost always leads us to overlook a great deal of detail and a great deal of what could be useful information.

And of course, a compassionate practice aimed at sorting out connections rather than offloading guilt onto the nearest neighbor might also stand some chance of making our multiple connections with our world much less painful.

It is apparent that many of us find those connections painful, is it not?

where you must repent before kindergarten

I was talking to my therapist the other day–auspicious start for a blog post innit?–mainly because I pay her to give me an hour a week in which to think of something to say out loud which is itself a major exercise in social willpower for me not that in my universe “the will” names something at all legible as such but this may be idiopathic or really I am not going to try to explain the problems I have with it right now.

But so a topic arose as it frequently does concerning the tenets of the Judaism that she follows in relation to such things as the Buddhism we are both interested in and the Christianity I was raised to believe but walked away from for the sake of self-preservation in early adolescence which was a late adolescence which is why at 16, 17 I was only in early adolescence and the question we were looking at that is the other day my therapist and I not in 1978 was what does each say about self-anything. Self-regard, self-care, self-compassion, self-hatred, self-ish-ness–we mentioned all of those and probably some more self-doings/qualities/things.

I do not know precisely which sort of Judaism she follows but it is likely not Conservative or Orthodox but I have not asked so that is what it is a likelihood and not a confident assertion. But she said that if you are Jewish, then the general form of a prescriptive rule is, in her words, “Do this–unless it is not healthy for you.” I drew from this that the Jewish Rules are serious but they are not intended to do harm and so one is more or less obliged to be mindful about the consequences of following a rule and that includes a mindfulness toward oneself.

I pointed out that although one might think to look for this same principle in Christianity what with its shared history with Judaism, regard for the self seems not to have translated well if at all. What I hear from my Catholic friends is that Catholicism did not pick it up and what I have experienced of it tells me that Protestantism did not pick it up either or at least the more conservative parts did not or at least not the evangelical and or fundamentalist and or dominionist strains with which I am far far too well-acquainted.

Anathema, actually, is what would be any principle of caring for oneself first rather than others, and especially powerful others, and especially powerful others holding positions of authority who have laid down rules they expect you to follow. It is not that the self is any kind of illusion. The self is eternal. The self will survive the self that is the death of “the flesh” and be judged according to how well it withdrew from and overcame its fleshy self during its earthly bondage to it.

I walked home with visions of Platonic horses pulling chariots this way and that but in the ten minutes it took me to go the four blocks I drew out for myself something like this:

Fundamentalist Christianity has done with the Platonic idea of the unruly horse leading the disciplined horse astray and the chariot of the self to ignominy that which it does best with most ideas it did not come up with from scratch. It runs them all the way through the very ends of logic and out the other side and then continues on indefinitely or until it reaches a level of sufficient cruelty toward the negative term.

There is always a negative term.

So unlike the Buddhist self which might be said to be not real or to be an illusion or at the very least impermanent and delicate and subject to the same decay and entropy as any other phenomenon arising from a collection of living matter and so in a practical sense something for which attachment leads to grief this fundamentalist self could not be more real existing as it does in a physical dimension for now and a spiritual dimension forever. More precisely the earthly part is split from the really real part that must purify itself of itself or of its other self.

Bajillions of academic points of departure await. I am not going to take any of them although they might sneak in anyhow. Because experience is more compelling to write about much of the time or that much time that I spend trying to estimate what style to aim for forgetting that style will emerge according to the general outline I am trying to follow and who made that outline because who wants to speak. And so I quote many preachers, sunday school teachers, evangelists, and those traveling revival preachers who had the precise amount of charisma to charm a congregation for a week or so before they needed to move on lest anyone get worn out in the spirit.

Something like this and many times in slightly different ways sometimes but sometimes the same phrase once and twice and three times with a rising voice for emphasis maybe a pointing finger often an intense, penetrating gaze and then quickly whisper and hush and the air crackles and stirs until down to the heartbeats auditioned by their own bodies for some measure of faint resonance or conviction stirring almost without pattern or rhyme. until now.

We must die to the self. The self is evil. The self is in thrall to Satan. The self was born separate from god (or the universe or everything but not out loud). The self will lead you that is the real you astray. You must not listen to what your self wants. The self must be deprived of its fondest wishes. The self must be rebuked. The self must be conquered, subjugated. The self must be denied that is it must come to know itself as abject as fallen as unworthy as treacherous mad sick mistaken broken beyond humanly-possible repair so dangerous and to be endlessly blocked from getting what it says it needs or wants at least until it admits to its own degeneracy and begs for forgiveness rather than mercy because mercy is not on offer even though the word is invoked so frequently that one might think it meant something quite unusual.

Otherwise we risk ‘Hell’: that catastrophic condition worse than death where all connection and light are extinguished not just forever but repeatedly taken away to heap loss upon loss and anguish upon anguish.

Because God— well here things get quite out of hand and I am not really in the mood to draw out the entire Protestant or conservative or fundamentalist or evangelical Christian cosmology, but as many have pointed out the fundamentalist Christian version of God has a way of looking like an authority figure with some baggage of his own flying into fearsome rage if any of his children dare to withhold affection or wish him ill or even look at him wrong. The point of salvation–be it whatever any given congregation determines it must be–is not the point at which the self gets a break from the

well I will go ahead

abuse.

Is that clear? I mean is this as clear to you as it is to me? However large a line can be drawn around the Christianity that treats its selves this way and I think the question I am going to pursue next is where the line itself might have begun with the Reformation or prior to that but wherever it began did that particular articulation of Christianity could it have emerged out of a culture in which abuse, that is intergenerational child abuse along several spectra was not endemic or (about to or already become) foundational?

Explanations and analogies are only what they are because we who come up with them are good at seeing patterns but patterns are sometimes nothing but pattern rather than the expression of some force more fundamental than that perceiving the pattern. This is how the question arises for example whether the patterns we see in the positions of celestial bodies relative to this celestial body as it would be looking up at somewhere else’s ceiling are interesting pastimes or alignments of cosmic forces whose influence on us is related somehow to the patterns we have been able to elaborate out of them. The question then whether the pattern is also an expression of forces that necessitate that very pattern or whether the existence of the pattern is a consequence solely of our ability to create patterns sometimes or almost always we forget to ask unless our method requires that we remember but still we forget. And also the question could some other array of forces completely different from what I am thinking of also have produced this pattern because if so the whole puzzle is still open this question also falls away in the euphoria of having constructed a pattern that appears to fit neatly and everywhere we currently have data points for. That a given pattern is the best and most useful to come along so far does not rule out the possibility that a better one could come along in some other place and time but for the same set of data.

My experience tells me that the last question remains open when imagination is willing to grant that it cannot imagine everything imaginable or at least not all at once and certainly not yet. There may be other conditions keeping it open but this one seems necessary. And generally speaking I tend to imagine that almost anything else could be the case if it could be considered reasonably as that which currently appears reasonably to me to be the case. This would be why I almost never make claims without a few dozen qualifications.

And so my argument from incredulity may come to nothing but I am going to continue to act as though it is worth thinking through even over a long period of time because I am sort of on a mission although I have never been able to name that mission exactly I am pretty sure I took off on it almost 45 years ago or maybe even one or two years before that.

Here is a list of things that I have read mostly in other people’s writing about childhood abuse that make sense to me within the context of relatively general ideas about child development here in the culture that I grew up in whichever one or ones that is or those are and which–
well here is a list and some interjections:

It is said that:

Children are dependent on their primary caretakers or parents (and from here I am going to use “parents” as a synecdochical or abbreviate reference to whoever carries the most responsibility for feeding, protecting, sheltering, nurturing, training, and all else that is needed to keep a child healthy and safe. I know that there are many individuals who do this who yet might not be “parents” in a legal or biological sense in my culture but “primary caretaker” has too many syllables even for me and “caretaker” is not specific enough). The younger the child, the further the extent of dependence to the point of absolute dependence in infancy. Children will each view their parents as all-knowing and all-good in rough proportion to both the child’s age and their level of dependency.

I take this at face value when not purposefully engaging in deep psychoanalytic spelunking. In my own experience it seems true enough of what I can recall of conscious thoughts and feelings when I was small. I took everything my mother told me about the world as the literal, infallible truth, even when I was old enough maybe to start to intuit the potential problems in being that credulous and that trusting.

But that was me. And this sort of thing gets said by a wide variety of people who work with a wide variety of children and so whether it is strictly true in every case it is mythically so in general. Interestingly I think also this infallibility and goodness are usually attributed to conservative constructions of ‘God.’ And often for the same reasons.

None of that is news.

Children whose parents are abusive, who inflict pain, who punish their children for perceived imperfections–and I am thinking of such things as being unable to avoid spilling ever or unable to be always perfectly quiet or unable to always suppress anger or unable to always suppress sadness, doubt, upset, jealousy, desire, or other affects that strike the parents as negative, threatening, dangerous in some way whether to their own peace of mind or to the child’s future as an acceptable person and I am also thinking of outsized punishment for anything or for nothing at all using physical beating or refusal to meet basic needs or deliberate and deep shaming or turning away repeatedly in a kind of serial abandonment that leaves a child always at risk of losing those upon whom their survival rests–these children are faced with a dilemma that they can only solve one way.

That is, their all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful parents cannot possibly be doing any of these things out of any sort of error at all from the point of view of a child. That would be catastrophic: the parents would become untrustworthy during a time when a child has no means to protect itself from capriciousness and needs its parents to be consistently benevolent. Functionally a child with untrustworthy parents would be an orphan and quite without any remedy: when you are very young, to be orphaned is to be as good as dead.

And so self-preservation dictates that some solution be found very very quickly.

In an abusive family, children are also often punished for behavior over which they cannot be reasonably expected to have control: strong feelings for instance–especially feelings that parents do not know themselves how to handle without shame and punishment. Expressing unpleasant (to the parents) feelings can earn vociferous correction and this amplifies the dilemma to the point that a child comes to understand that its very existence as an emotional being is putting them at risk of abandonment and death.

The solution may already be clear: a child experiencing this kind of abuse from its parents must choose to reject whatever parts of themselves seem to be angering or alienating or upsetting its parents. Because if they can somehow keep those parts hidden the risk of orphanhood and death begins to diminish. Put another way to emphasize the enormity of this threat: the risk of sudden and catastrophic annihilation begins to diminish to the extent that the child can learn to hide its strongest feelings from its parents.

Parallels jumping out at me so quickly I can barely keep up with them so here is one of them: fundamentalist Christianity taught me that I was born evil and that I must repudiate myself in order to find favor with a god who otherwise wanted to see me suffer disproportionately to anything I could realistically have done to that point. I was often bewildered to be told that this god was very upset about something I had done which at the time I felt I had done out of necessity and sometimes under the duress of having to choose from possible actions that all seemed risky and so it was imperative to find that one that would be least painful or more importantly the one I thought least likely to annoy god or my parents because their annoyance was more urgent a problem than my own relative well-being.

But I also learned eventually–too soon really but not right away not the very moment I learned to speak–that a place of eternal catastrophic abandonment and annihilation awaited all people for their inherent evilness. If that sounds like what has been called hell, then I am describing it adequately for now.

The only choice offered to all people all of whom are defined as evil at the moment of birth–and this varies across denominations but the basic idea of original sin holds that we are born into a fallen state whether or not we have a few years of grace in which we are taught that we ourselves are responsible for that fallenness in the eyes of the god who cannot apparently be anywhere near anyone who is in this state for reasons that can be logically circular at times–the only way to escape orphanhood or death or catastrophic abandonment or hell is to reject one’s fallen self: to repent, or acknowledge that one has been evil all along and that as an evil being one can do nothing acceptable in the eyes of this god who does by now begin to resemble an abusive parent: arbitrary, unpredictable, and uniformly rejecting in that no part of the self will remain uncondemned: eventually even the best of intentions catch dad/mom/god on a bad day and will bounce back to the self as unanticipated shame, abandonment, and/or violent rebuke.

Reality for a child in an abusive family can become chaotic as violence or shame or rejection are unpredictable outgrowths of the parents’ own shifting emotional or physiological rhythms–rhythms that a child cannot comprehend well enough to be able anticipate their effects. The only controllable entity in a child’s universe is its own self or rather the child’s own self is the only entity on which it is allowed to exert any control be it effective or not. Much as the fundamentalist Christian self remains under constant scrutiny for shortcomings that cause its god to turn away–to stop speaking, in effect, or to send a believer to her/his room to search themself for signs and motives of and remedies for disobedience–this child’s self will be under whatever degree of self-surveillance is necessary to keep its parents from turning away.

There are finer splittings of the self within the tradition called Western but this one resonates here: a child living in an abusive family will come to militate against its own self or that is it will divide itself against itself or against the bad self or against the self who appears responsible for unpredictable abandonment and or injury. Or at least so far as the child can make out those qualities in themselves that enrage or upset or drive away their parents must be repudiated–one might say the child must repent–and carefully controlled lest they emerge in any recognizable form. Because those parts of the self for the child at that time are in fact dangerous and they represent a certain evil insofar as they appear to the child to directly jeopardize their only source of sustenance and protection.

And so the child’s self repudiates or repents of its other self in order to reduce the immediate danger of sudden catastrophic abandonment and annihilation–or something like hell, say.

I recall hearing more than once that the family was the microcosm for god’s kingdom but I doubt that anyone saying that had looked closely at the what similarities might be seen between that kingdom and abusive families. Of course abusive families have only been relatively lately recognized as abusive and I do not know how many others might have noticed by now that the abused child’s necessary war with itself might be mirrored or otherwise reproduced in the fundamentalist Christian’s war on themselves–and even could easily pass for abusive parenting when fundamentalist Christian teachings are handed down and enforced through familial power structures.

So I am just going to say that I think I see something here and it looks entangled to me with the culture I grew up in to such an extent that it is not always clear where abuse and fundamentalist Christianity can be completely distinguished from one another. If a culture produced abusive parents who produced abused children who grew up needing substitute parents while only recognizing abusive authority figures as acceptably parent-like then those grown children might predictably choose or stick with a religious tradition that supplies them not only with such a parent but with an entire social structure that feels like home because it supports ongoing abusive relations between its upper and lower hierarchies. And so their campaign against themselves can continue but not only that: it is reinforced and modeled as normal and necessary.

It seems clear that USian mainstream culture has absorbed this hostility to the self albeit in complex and ambivalent ways: selfishness is almost universally regarded as a defect even while a self with a drive to dominate others and to profit from this domination is hailed as ambitious or possessed of a strong work ethic–whether or not the dominating requires any sort of productive work. One could investigate the Protestant/Puritan/Calvinist roots of such ambivalence or rather it has been done but I am not aware of connections yet drawn between micro-cultures of abuse–abusive families–and larger structures of abuse or not in such a way that they might be detectable in fundamentalist Christianity nor much written on any historical or genealogical analysis of that connection. If there is one.

The last thing I want to say though is something of a resistant push back against the notion of selfishness as a defect of character but not at all in some Ayn Randish exultation in cruelty inflicted on others out of the crude narrow selfishness arising in a culture where abuse is practiced as a matter of course. And especially not so long as a self who inflicts cruelty on others is able thereby to achieve some great accomplishment or idea–one that will eventually avenge all the insults sustained by this reactive, resentful self who still lives and acts under the rule of self-abnegation as its reverse side and so does not in any way undermine or question the tradition of abuse.

Instead of this polarized tendency either to torment the self for the sake others or to torment others for the sake of the self, one thing–and it is not just one thing but here I will condense a few things–that appeals to me in Buddhist thought is that the self is a transient effect among all the other transient effects in the world and as points of unnecessary suffering these would benefit the most from a compassionate intervention: one that shifts attention away from continually judging the self as to its acceptability and especially away from the cultural axiom that there can be no connection between a yes and a no judgment on this question, no possible position between the extremes of elect or damned.

Suspending reactivity against oneself can create space in which to do not much more than note that oneself appears here at this time and place, but that notice can set off a curious cascade of perceptual and conceptual change. This has been my experience, once I manage to interrupt my own self-obsession by studiously and calmly observing whatever–whatever as in whatever happens–and I am able to pause the reactive impulses from my own sense of besieged self: the siege comes to an end. Or is suspended at least, and all of us here the non-royal we can breathe a bit and begin to pay greater attention to what comes to pass, be it self or other or other other, without always meeting it with suspicion and hostility.

* * *

Most of what I have relied upon here for descriptions of abusive families has come from elsewhere but the only discrete elsewheres I can recall at the moment are Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good and also Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. I think the specific question of familial abuse is distinct from the more general ideas I have read in what is sometimes called trauma theory. At least so far, the mentions I have run across of “abuse culture” as an attribute of westernish cultures have arisen mainly in activist circles, which are not necessarily coextensive or even concentric with academic ones. And so this is all the bibliography I currently have, but it leaves out all those titles and writers whose names I never took down.

fly me. or not.

I am trying to find a way to Seattle and back that involves as little money as possible. For reasons about which I can only begin to speculate air travel is less expensive than both rail and bus but no matter which I were to choose I cannot really afford either one. So this may all be moot in my particular case but it still seems pertinent to say:

Looking at the anecdotes posted at tsastatus.net for SEA and SFO sent me diving for a Klonopin. These stories are not particularly graphic and do not consist of the most horrible cases of TSA personal encroachment that have been passed around, but imagining myself in the place of the people describing their experiences as they went through the security line was enough to send a cascade of cortisol through my body. And so I do what is necessary to counteract it.
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Just kick some ass and everything will be fine.

Another story about what can happen when assumptions about gender collide–you have probably heard about this already, that a transgendered woman was denied emergency medical care in Muncie, Indiana precisely because she is transgendered. That is to say, the hospital staff actually told her that they could not treat her “condition.” However, by “condition” they were not referring to the medical emergency she was presenting with; she had to ask, though, for clarification, and, no, they would not give her medical care because she was transgendered. What she came in for had nothing to do with gender–or at least not in any direct way that I can imagine off the top of my head, and I doubt they had anything in mind either–but they refused to treat her because of who she was, not because they were incapable of helping her with her presenting symptoms.

Go. Read about it. Do whatever you think you can do to bring some rationality to the situation. Then come back here and find out why going directly there and “kicking ass,” while a perfectly understandable wish if you were brought up on the American cowboy myth, would not help anything. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Well, no I won’t. I’ll write this and then some time after that maybe you’ll read it. All three of you.
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