Sometimes I Think I Know Stuff but then Pema Chödrön Reminds Me I Know Nothing

I have not hidden the fact that 2016 was a rather tumultuous year for this writer (to put it lightly). In my reflections on the explosive events of last year, it occurred to me that the mantra I started chanting in early February 2016 included these words: “what is best for me, what is best for me, what is best for me.” As someone who understands a bit about that murky place where science meets magic, I should have known that such a mantra would result in the fiery explosion of all things in life that did not serve. It wasn’t long before I was ejected from a toxic work environment and fleeing a toxic relationship. I lost my pets, most of my belongings, 15lbs, and pieces of my heart. My friend died and my bike was stolen (methinks it carried some horrendous juju). What’s best for me, I said?

There were times when I was tempted to shake my fist at the universe and scream “what the fucking fuckity fuck?!” I did shake my fist at my former place of employment and former partner and scream and cry and hate and hate and hate (all in the privacy of my own home or my own head or sometimes in the middle of the woods and once accidentally on an airplane but just for a moment). But when those feelings finally moved through my dancer’s body and found a place of rest somewhere else, I turned my attention to a more sophisticated understanding of this journey called life.

It is so easy to blame isn’t it? It is so easy to point fingers at our spouses (former and otherwise), lovers, parents, Republicans, cis-hets, bosses and say “it’s YOUR fault.” It is so easy to puff out our cheeks, turn red in the face, and say with righteous indignation, “it’s because they/he/she/xe do it wrong!” It is so easy to jump on a moral high horse and proclaim everyone on foot to be a heathen/sinner/adulterer/bad dancer without actually stepping into their lived experience with compassion and an open heart.

I know cause I’ve done it. I’m fairly certain we all have though I won’t profess to speak for Jesus or Ghandi or Buddha or Mother Teresa or anyone else for that matter. It’s just so easy. I feel better when I have someone to blame because it takes some pressure off me. It eases my pain to know it was caused by someone else. Or does it? In those moments when I have been righteously indignant (and there have been many), MY body is the one that is tense and red, MY brain is firing on all cylinders, and I am the one who feels angry or incensed or frustrated or whatever. Does my righteous indignation actually have an impact on the people with whom I am righteously indignant? Not so much.

Enter Pema Chödrön. Sometimes I think I know stuff and then I listen to people who actually know stuff and I realize I don’t know anything. I do know how to breathe. I’m pretty good at that these days. Conscious breathing… deliberate, intentional inhales and exhales as a tool to regulate my nervous system. Since I live with PTSD, conscious breathing is my Jesus Christ; it is my personal savior. Without it, my prefrontal cortex would easily fly offline and my scared amygdala would run the show. It’s not pretty when that happens. So I breathe and I name colors and I look at clouds and I smell the wonderful essential oil blend given to me by one awesomesauce member of my tribe and I remain calm. It was from this place of calm that I was able to open up Pema’s books (again) and read her wise words (again) and be reminded that all the shit of life is simply that… shit of life. Life is not throwing shit balls at me because I deserve them or because I attract shit throwers, life throws shit balls because nothing is stable and permanent; sometimes life throws daisies and rainbows and sometimes life throws shit balls. Pema does not advise running from the shit balls, but rather, asks how we might turn the shit balls (she uses the term “arrows”) into flowers. Shit flowers? That I can work with.

I have recently been the lovely recipient of yet another act of cruelty, yet another pointed attack by someone who hates me. This hurts. This feels like a giant mother fucking shit storm. It comes with all the shitty emotions: embarrassment, humiliation, fear, anger, hatred. When I first learned of this attack, I wanted to blame BLAME BLAME the person who targeted me once again through a social system. I wanted to blame BLAME BLAME this person for their projections and attacks on my life. I did blame them. I do blame them. It comes in waves. But then I return to the teachings of Buddhism and ask myself, “how do I turn this shit storm into a daisy storm?” This does NOT mean bypass all my emotions and pretend that daisies grow from my butt. Au contraire, it means sitting in the shit storm with my shitty emotions and simply examining them. “Look at this shit puddle. Isn’t it interesting?” “There is a shit shower of blame descending on your body right now. How quaint.” “Maybe I should dance in this shit. Or paint it.”

This is NOT about blaming someone else or even examining how someone else is throwing the shit. This IS about examining how I feel in the midst of a shit storm and the shitty thoughts and emotions that arise in MY body. This is about me taking responsibility for myself and my feelings even if I feel (gulp) wronged. Pema also says we have to let go of this notion of right and wrong which I totally agree with in my brain and have a hard time internalizing in my body especially when it comes to abuse and oppression.

I want to be clear that I am able to sit in the shit 12 years after ending abusive relationship #1, and after 6 years of intensive therapy, and after 12 months of solitude/intentional healing time. If you are currently experiencing abuse or harassment or lack of safety in any way, don’t feel like you have to turn anything into daisies. Your #1 job is keeping yourself safe and sane.

The big question I am holding for myself (and the one I will pose to you) is how to put this into practice in the midst of a social-political climate that, frankly, is begging to be blamed. It is easier for me to apply this at a personal level (using a loose definition of the word “easier”). How do we rest into impermanence, groundlessness, and blamelessness when our country is led by… well, the person who is currently residing in the White House? How do we hold others accountable for acts of cruelty and oppression? Pema? Anyone?

I suspect that if Pema read this post, she would chuckle slightly at how I missed the point. In terms of knowledge and wisdom on par with our great teachers, I am a single-celled organism with some major evolution ahead of me. Yet I can feel the breaking of habitual patterns in my response to the current shit storm. Twelve years ago, when I last experienced a shit storm of this caliber, I did three things: 1) pretended it didn’t really happen, 2) denied most of the emotions it brought up, and 3) blamed myself, blamed someone else, blamed the gods for the storm. This time I choose to feel my feelings and hold compassion for myself and others. I still want to blame. I still do blame. But when I notice myself blaming, I sigh, look at it, and let it go. Conscious examination of thoughts and feelings. That’s all.

Thanks, Pema.

“Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart 

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End This War on My Body

You drive words like knives 
into my skin
Tell me I’m not OK
I don’t belong
I did wrong
I am wrong

You don’t look in my eyes
don't ask who I am
You drive your oppression
From fucked up projections
Straight to my heart
Hoping (don't speak it)
hoping it will stop beating

If you stop my heart
Stop my queer body
You don’t have to look
At non-normativity
Or ask yourself
why you play their game

You drive words like knives 
into my body
fists like words 
An offering of bruises
to remind me my place is
Below
Below  

From your stance up above
Gazing downward
in judgment
Not caring to know
To know
To truly know
The miles walked in my queer skin
The love birthed
From my queer blood

You use systems like weapons
To keep me oppressed
“they are there to help…”
Averting your gaze
As this act of violence
so full of lies 
Destroys my queer life

If you stop my heart
Stop my queer body
You don’t have to look
At non-normativity

This ends now
This war on my body
I stand firm on the ground of my spirit
And say (again)
ENOUGH

Rip into my skin
Tear into my heart
Throw my life, my love
Into the fire
Again
And again

Leave me torn
Bleeding
Bruised
Staring at you (yes you)
Who threw a knife
And looked the other way
as it pierced my heart
My still beating heart
Hoping (don’t speak it)
hoping it will stop beating

I stand firm on the ground of my spirit
With ghosts who bravely said
We’re here
We’re here
We’re not going anywhere
My still beating heart
My resilient heart
My uncrushable heart 
its rhythm in my body
beats 
fuck normativity
fuck normativity 
fuck normativity...

The Worst Kind of Toxic Work Environment

Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist are explicit in their hatred, I know how to conduct myself (hide, run, ignore, placate). When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist PRETEND to be open, accepting, and inclusive, I fall prey to a false sense of safety and do things like come out at work, only to majorly regret it a few months later.

This happened to me in 2016 (along with an ugly break-up, the death of a friend, bike theft, the loss of beloved pets, slander, and more…good riddance 2016!). I was working at a therapeutic organization that supports the mental health needs of young adults. One would think that the helping professions would be more inclined towards inclusivity and diversity- they certainly pay enough lip service to these concepts- but my experience has shown that such organizations are often more hateful and exclusive than other companies; they just hide it well.

Paying lip service to inclusivity without doing the work necessary to actually create a safe enough work environment is extremely dangerous. When I first started at the aforementioned organization, I was pleased by the rhetoric around diversity. I’m a fairly obvious queer person with a shaved head and gender-bendy clothes and my supervisor made it clear that he was in support of my identity. So I came out. I let staff know that I am attracted to same-sex partners and, when that went fairly well, let them know of my trans identity several months later. I’m embarrassed to admit that my naivete prevented me from recognizing that staff would more-or-less “approve” of my sexual orientation (it’s “OK” to be a white cis lesbian in most progressive cities in the USA these days-thank you assimilation) but would recoil in fear and loathing at my trans identity.

Oops. Big mistake. Lesson learned.

From the moment I started to assert my gender, I was met with hostility. Staff members who previously expressed feelings of friendship and connection withdrew and made microaggressive comments in staff meetings. Curious about what I heard? Check it out:

  • How can I support what I don’t believe in? 
  • You need to grow a thicker skin
  • I can’t get on board with your pronouns
  • Your gender isn’t real
  • What do your partner’s genitals look like? Yes indeedy, a member of the leadership team asked me this

My colleague who is QPOC has it even worse. They experienced (and continue to experience) racist, transphobic, and homophobic harassment from clients. What is leadership doing about this? Nothing.

I presented a training on gender inclusivity and diversity to the leadership team and while they raved about the content, they didn’t do anything to change their toxic environment. It was during this training that I found out admissions personnel hid my gender from prospective clients, using binary pronouns ON PURPOSE in case the freaky trans employee scared off profitable bodies.

The scariest aspect of all this: This organization markets itself as an inclusive space for LGBTQ clients. WHAT?!

Let me repeat: Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

If I understood from the moment my employment began that I was working in an environment that liked to be superficially inclusive but hid a wellspring of hatred and transphobia I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME OUT. Because I thought I had the support of leadership, I asked for gender inclusive practices to be instated (such as the naming of pronouns during community meetings) but I had no idea that cis staff and clients would be allowed to express hatred and microaggressions towards trans staff and clients who outed themselves.

What happened when I brought these issues to the attention of my supervisor? I was told I was being “theatrical.” In all fairness, he apologized for that remark, but I think it illuminated a truth of feeling that lurked beneath the surface.

The bottom line is that racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia abound at this organization, but administration and leadership refuse to examine their own roles in the creation of this hate culture. Why is it OK for a cisgender staff member to tell a transgender client WHO IS IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION AND DEPRESSION that their gender “isn’t real?” It’s not OK, but it happens.

One of the reasons I am not naming this transitional residential therapeutic center is because this issue is not unique to this particular organization. It happens all the time in the helping professions and I have said before that it is unacceptable.

Here’s why:

  • If an accountant commits a microaggression towards a client it sucks; it’s familiar, it might spur us to seek tax support elsewhere, but it won’t offer undue harm to our mental health (any more than the other daily microaggressions we experience from strangers)
  • If my postal worker tells me to “pick a gender,” I feel hurt and confused but my recovery from substance abuse isn’t called into question

However, when your “mentor” at rehab tells you your gender isn’t real, it has an impact. This person has power over you. They are in charge of your health and well-being. They are your guides on your path to recovery. And they just told you you don’t exist. Good luck moving through your depression after that.

For queer staff members of the helping professions, such implicit biases lead to a false belief in safety which leads to vulnerable admissions of identity which leaves one open to attack. I came out at work, in part, because I wanted to support our queer clients. I thought my role as an out trans person would be a beacon of safety for them. I was wrong. My false sense of safety led to a false sense of safety in other staff and clients. Yes, other people came out and asked for support. And yes, they were met with microaggressions and hostility. I still feel responsible for that.

So how do we create our own safety?

  • Don’t assume that organizational lip service regarding inclusivity is backed by training, professional development, or policy in any way
  • Be wary of cis-het white people who claim to understand multiculturalism and diversity without offering any education or training on such topics to staff
  • Remember that it’s not your job as a queer person to educate everyone else on inclusive practices. You can point out areas that need improvement if you feel safe enough to do so, but know that leadership teams and management are the ones who need to work to create a safe enough environment
  • Form groups with other queer and marginalized employees. Share experiences. Support each other. Do not tell management you’re doing this
  • Take your time in coming out. Do what feels right to you, not what you think might be in the best interest of clients or other staff

“Ninety-seven percent (97%) [of trans people] have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault” (National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011).

Nice to know I’m just a statistic.

I’m starting a new job next week. As of now, I am uncertain of how to show up. I could let everyone misgender me without correction which feels rather craptacular, or I could come out and risk hostile encounters. There is a trans adolescent client at this organization and I already feel the pull to come out in order to stand in solidarity with him, but I think I will assess the situation over time before making any decisions. This makes me sad.

And thus I begin 2017…

 

 

 

 

Binge Watching Heteronormativity

I am not a huge fan of movies and even less of a fan of television. Therefore, it is rather odd that I have recently found myself watching an obscene amount of really bad, really heteronormative media.

What is going on?

On November 8th, when this country elected Trumpy Wumpy to the office of President, I fell into a deep and somewhat debilitating despair. I cried for two solid days and started looking at immigration websites for countries which I thought might accept me as a resident on day three. As someone who normally stands at the front lines of every fight for social justice, this time I just felt defeated. I have no more fight in me (or so I thought).

A week after the election, feeling like a shell of a person, I sat on my couch and stared at the fire. Then a thought popped into my head, “I need to watch something hetero.” I sat a bit longer, trying to come up with the most heteronormative movie ever made when the title, Father of the Bride flashed into my head. I gleefully found it streaming online and immediately watched the entire outrageously heteronormative film. Then I found Father of the Bride II and watched that on the same day. Admittedly, I growled at the actors, pointing out the not-so-subtle instructions on how to be a man or a woman…

Man: Bumbling, unobservant, goofy, tyrannical, possessive of the the females in his life, wealthy, out of touch, playful, juvenile

Woman: Pretty, intelligent (for a girl), nurturing, wiser than man, soft, wants nothing more than romantic love, stylish, mature

I won’t go into the overt racist and homophobic stereotypes that appear in the films, but know that they are there.

Over the course of the following several weeks I watched (this is highly embarrassing):

Gilmore Girls
Little Women
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

At some point in this train wreck of a past time, I realized that I was engaged in an activity from my younger years- binge watching heteronormativity in the hopes that intense study of the phenomenon would allow me to accurately perform it.

I am reminded of all the years I spent trying to be a girl, pouring over fashion magazines and watching What Not To Wear to gain a better understanding of how I should perform my gender. I have not engaged in this activity for a decade, but it showed up in November after we elected Cheeto-head.

Why?

I am still uncovering the motivation for this recent hetero binge fest, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. I am an out queer/trans person. I write about the experience of being a queer/trans person. My doctoral research centers around the experiences of queer/trans people. My survival instinct likely kicked into overdrive and said, “Hold the phone! If you want to live you better learn how to perform their shit and assimilate into their world. Otherwise they are going to kill you.”

I had a dream last night that I grew my very short hair out into long, luscious locks. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but people kept complimenting me on my beautiful, feminine hair. My only response was, “I feel like a drag queen.” I did not like the hair, but I noticed how nicely I assimilated into the dream society. This is not so far removed from my actual experience. When I shave my head, most people raise their eyebrows and say, “why did you do that?” When it starts to grow out I hear, “Your hair is starting to look nice again. I’m glad it’s growing out some.” If I ever wear anything that remotely looks like girl clothes, I am complimented. “You look so pretty in that.” “You look very nice today.” But when I wear my normal men’s clothes, no one says anything.

It’s interesting how people use compliments to let you know how well you are performing gender or not. The subtext of their words are:

“When you do things that push the boundaries of gender, you make me uncomfortable and I hate you for it.”

“When you assimilate in a way that makes sense to me, I feel better and therefore like you more.”

How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days shattered something in me. Even straight people must be offended by this! It was so overtly misogynistic, both men and women appeared ridiculous. Maybe it is supposed to be satire and I just didn’t get it which is quite probable. It did have a serious moment were the audience is supposed to “ooh” and “ahh” at the slender lead actress in her swanky yellow gown. I wonder what would have happened if they sent her to the party dressed as a Dapper Dan in bow tie, vest, and hat? And the lead actor could have worn the beautiful yellow gown (I’m sure he would have looked marvelous in it).

Shit. There I go again with my inability to assimilate. This period of binge watching has ended. As much as I might think I want to give up my queer identity in order to be accepted by the masses, I know I won’t. Living a lie won’t help me or anyone else. If I’m killed for being queer, so be it. I won’t be the first person. Plus, who knows if Mike Pence will get his bigoted little hands on our rights, or if there are enough people who don’t hate us to stop him and Trumpy Wumpy’s team of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic cronies. And finally, if I go into hiding, then I’m not standing in solidarity with my fellow queers and we all need each other as we head into a period of time that we may refer to as “The Dark Years.” Or maybe just “The Years of Cheeto” which at least makes me smile.

When the Body Cries

I used to think I was alone in my hatred of the body I was given. I believed that no one could loathe their skin sack as much as I did or feel they had been given their body in error. My body did not belong to me and I was going to do whatever it took to beat it into submission. This body with the wide ribcage, broad shoulders, and tiny wrists could not be mine. This body with the beautiful face, mammoth calves, and belly that I cannot starve away did not belong to me. It is not mine, I tell you and it must be controlled, whipped, starved, and drugged so that it will become the body I know I need.

I am many years removed from feeling that extreme hatred of my body. Six years of intensive therapy with a brilliant art therapist supported my healing in a profound way. There are still times, in moments of stress, when I stop eating but that is not because I want to be thinner. For me, food is stressful and when life becomes overwhelming, it’s easier not to eat than eat. I recognize that this is an unhealthy coping skill and I work very hard not to let it overtake me, but sometimes it does. I share this because I was told this year that my unhealthy coping skill was a character flaw; something I did to make someone else’s life difficult. I share this because I do not want anyone else who struggles with disordered eating to endure such a lie.

Everyone has unhealthy coping skills. Life in a body is very hard and sometimes it just plain sucks. Unhealthy coping skills include but are not limited to: drinking and drugging, gambling, binge watching Netflix, overeating, under-eating, drinking caffeine, over exercising, under exercising, lying, stealing, manipulating, not talking, gossiping… the list goes on and on. The point is we all engage with them sometimes so judging each other for them is hypocrisy.

Most people who struggle with disordered eating also struggle with perfectionism and telling us to be perfect (i.e.: don’t have an eating disorder) doesn’t help. Just saying.

I am currently developing a hypothesis that unhealthy coping skills are actually the body’s way of trying to get our attention. We live in a mind-based, left-brained world (thank you, Descartes) but our bodies carry wisdom and are constantly communicating with us though we mostly don’t listen. We don’t listen because we haven’t been taught to listen.

Body might try quietly at first to let us know that something is off. Maybe we get a stomachache or a headache, but we take some Advil and get on with our day. So then Body starts telling us it needs something but we mistake that need for sugar/alcohol/television/sex etc…. These unhealthy coping skills cause us to numb out which makes it even harder to listen to Body. So Body gets louder and louder and we engage more and more with our unhealthy coping skill, thinking “I just can’t seem to get out of bed,” or “I will just have one more drink,” or “there isn’t time to eat.” And before we know it we are in a delicious spiral of addiction or a maze of an old pattern and Body cries and cries, “listen!”

There have been times in my life when everything had to run into the ground before I listened to Body who was trying to offer life-saving messages like, “get out now or he’s going to kill you,” or “this is not the life you are meant to live,” or “this is a toxic relationship.” More recently, there were times when Body said, “you’re not in the right place,” and I could hear the message clearly the first time it was stated. When I listen to my body, the doors of opportunity open. When I do not listen to my body I end up in a state of starvation and turmoil.

How do I listen? First, I must be still. Body’s guidance is felt rather than heard and if I’m moving, it is too easy to lose the message in a flurry of activity. Second, I must quiet Mind who loves to chatter and drown out Body’s wisdom. Then, in that space of quiet stillness, I can feel the messages from Body with clarity.

Life would be so much easier if we were taught these steps as children so we could easily hear and take action when Body cried.

I wonder if the hatred I felt for my body was due to the fact that Body always had the truth and I didn’t want to hear it. Don’t we often get angry with people who hold us accountable for our actions and expect us to live up to our highest truths? I think Body is doing this all the time. I’m glad to be in a position of love for Body, even if they always speak the brutal truth and ask me to take difficult action in order to actualize my potential. It’s like having my own personal guru with me all the time. And all I have to do is listen.

 

 

 

 

 

No Room for Me, the Non Binary

There are some people and organizations who overtly exclude others: most religions, elite universities, right-wing conservatives (not all, but some), left-wing liberals (not all, but some), school curricula, the media…OK, there is a lot of overt exclusion in the world, but it is truly wondrous how exclusive the world can be without particularly trying. There are several bathrooms at my place of work. The two on my floor are gender inclusive (thank you!). They each contain a toilet and a sink, neither of which care about the gender of the person using them. Then there are the bathrooms in the rest of the building which are for “men” or “women.” I wonder if people think I don’t deserve to pee. More likely, they don’t think of me at all.

Gender_Neutral_Bathroom_graphic

This is not a difficult concept

Continuing education and professional development are a part of my chosen career so I often find myself in trainings and at conferences or workshops. These experiences often ask people to divide into groups of “women” and “men,” or have intake questionnaires that want to know my gender: Man or Woman? Or request that groups have an equal number of women and men etc… etc…. When I point out that I am neither a man nor a woman there is generally a question from the facilitator along the lines of, “Well, how would you divide the room then?”

Uh, by experience, interest, area of expertise, modality, musical tastes… ad infinitum?

We are entrenched in the concept of excluding each other; it is an insidious and harmful practice and shows up everywhere.

Some of the time I can brush it off by saying, “The world just sucks. This is how it is. Whatevs.”

Other times I feel crushed by the weight of normativity and want to crawl in a hole, never to emerge.

The latest example of exclusivity came in the form of a meditation retreat. The last four months of my life have taken me into a dismal abyss of fiery agony. I have experienced death, divorce, moving, theft, and loss that hurts so badly I sometimes wonder if my heart has just up and left my body because it can’t take the pain.

Such is life.

So I move through my journey of healing, searching for ways to make sense of what has happened and looking for places of growth. Healing is facilitated by dance, art, music, meditation, time in the wild, spiritual practice, and some serious therapy. Even though I have strong resources in the healing realm, I am always on the lookout for new experiences that might benefit my personal and professional identities and the notion of a meditation retreat floated into my consciousness a few days ago. I am not a fan of talking, but I imagine two weeks of silence with hours and hours of meditation each day would challenge even the most taciturn of people.  So I started to look up retreats in my state for the coming autumn season and discovered… they are quite gendered. Women sleep in one dorm, men sleep in another; there are separate waitlists for women and men, and one has to register as one of those two binary categories.

Sigh.

My initial response was: OK, well, I guess I can just be a woman for a few weeks.

My next response was: I DON’T WANNA BE A WOMAN even for a few weeks.

My third response was: Maybe I can be a man…

My fourth response was: I’m not a man and they likely won’t let me pretend to be one even though they will let me pretend to be a woman.

My final response was: Poo on you meditation retreat. I don’t need your stupid silence and vegan meals and transcendent experience anyway.

I recognize the rather toddler-esque quality of the final response, but sometimes one needs to let one’s inner toddler have a temper tantrum.

I will find a way to participate in a silent meditation retreat or else I will create one for myself. The purpose of this post is to highlight the never-ending barrage of micro-aggressions that one experiences as a non-binary person. I’m not interested in sympathy or pity; my experience as an NB is quite cushy due to my class, race, body, education, and ethnic privilege. It still hurts, but I can move through the world with relative ease even if my NB self is repeatedly excluded.

exclusion-e1383054794270

Wouldn’t it be nice if we considered ALL people when creating groups, social systems, curriculum, families, pop songs, television shows, architecture, medical care, or when we elected politicians?

INCLUSION is better than EXCLUSION

 

Stop with the Binary: I Am Neither a One Nor a Zero

Even though I know that the entire universe can be reduced to binary code, I do not believe that such a reductionist stance is entirely helpful. Why be reductionist when one can be expansive? If we take the ones and zeros and expand them ad infinitum, then take an expansive perspective, we must see something more than ones and zeros (such is an artist’s interpretation of binary code).

Why am I so worked up about this?

Because the world wants me to land on one side of the binary or the other. Are you a man or a woman? Are you an addict or sober? Are you an artist or a therapist? Are you gay or straight? Even the “in-between” answers such as “I am androgynous” or “I am bisexual” are extremely limiting. They still place people on a linear spectrum in between the binary categories and some of us do not fall anywhere on those spectrums!

These days I’m mostly interested in the “addict/not-addict” binary. It is intriguing how things get invented, slowly or quickly become part of the dominant cultural narrative, and are rarely questioned ever after. The dominant recovery narrative is very binary: you’re either an addict/alcoholic or you’re not. If you are, then you drink or drug yourself to “rock bottom” at which point you either die or get sober. Most likely sobriety comes in the form of 12 step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Supposedly it doesn’t matter which meetings you go to because if one is a drug addict one must be an alcoholic and vice versa.

Why?

The research on addiction is still controversial and narrow. Despite several decades of the medical “disease” model, Gabor Mate has recently touted what I like to call the “addicts just need friends” model (it’s actually much more robust than that… he has some interesting theories). It seems to me that there is likely truth to both of these theories though I wouldn’t automatically subscribe to anything considering how little we actually know about the brain. Not to mention the complexities of our fucked up social systems.

I recently took a bunch of courses to obtain my addictions specialist credential. Courses in which instructors were still adamantly describing addiction as a brain disease. When I brought in a more recent study which questioned the validity of that stance due to the phenomenon of neural plasticity, my instructors were surprised (and apparently were not keeping abreast of the literature). It seems the bottom line is that we don’t fully understand addiction though I highly suspect that it manifests differently in different people.

Why do we have such a need to create a universal, singular experience for all people?

And why do we label certain addictions “bad” when others are socially sanctioned?

Drugs = bad

Sugar = not so bad

Restricting calories = terrible

Overeating = probably shouldn’t do it but…

TV = not bad at all (shhhh)

Alcohol = bad for some, fine for others

Coffee = totally OK!

Internet = jury is still out

I have been told I am “fucked up” because I have struggled with anorexia for the majority of my adult life, yet my neighbor needs coffee to wake up every morning and no one questions the fuckedupedness of his brain. Wussup with that? Why are fingers pointed at me because I had a problem with amphetamines back in the day, but my friends can drink wine and beer every night without judgment?

What makes one addiction worse than another?

I held down a job when I was using. I was still an artist. I was still smart. I cared for my partner (financially and emotionally supported my partner, in fact) and my family. I never stole anything. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are not addicted to amphetamines, who can’t seem to keep a job, who don’t care for others, who steal things and lie…. So why am I labeled a drug addict who must abstain from all substances from now until I die? Correction: I must abstain from narcotics and alcohol but coffee, cigarettes, sugar, TV, internet etc… are all OK. If I don’t use drugs, but I drink coffee, am I sober? If I have a beer, but don’t eat sugar, am I sober? If I can’t tear myself away from the internet but I don’t drink, am I an alcoholic?

Methinks ’tis more complex than addict/not-addict.

Methinks binary constructs leave out complex layers of individual and collective experiences, thereby ignoring nuances that could lead to more robust treatment options which might impact a larger population than oh say just 12 step programs.

I don’t actually have answers. I just like to ask questions. Think critically. Don’t drink the Kool-aid. Expand das mind.

Stop trying to binary me.