Yesterday, I returned from my lunch hour 15 to 20 minutes late. I was met by a chorus of concerned coworkers. No one was upset I was late, but they worried about me “all alone in the big bad city.” I was immediately warmed by their jokes and concerns. I felt valued, worthy, loved, validated and like I mattered. And then my mood took a turn.
Sadly, when I got over the initial warm and fuzzies of being greeted with such sincere concern and caring, I felt lost. I didn’t know how to process it because on some deeper level I couldn’t understand it. Instead of being appreciative and holding it up as baseline human decency, I began to question what I did to deserve it. Without warning, I had fallen back into the Tara of months ago. And, for the first time, I felt the depth of the damage. I felt how spending a year of second guessing my value, my sanity, my personality, my ability, and whether or not I am the emotionally maturing human being I strive to become has hollowed me.
I believed I was toxic and that I deserved to be a whipping girl. I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that a woman like me would never be anything more than the incessantly annoying street scum on the bottom of his shoe that had to be addressed now and again to keep up appearances. And when I wasn’t feeling that way, I believed it was simply a matter of hardening my heart, adopting an air of aloofness, and dismissing my abuser as unworthy. In a sense, I was becoming my abuser to escape the abuse.
And now, once again and triggered by an event that should have remained warm and fuzzy, I felt the positive attention was undeserved. I also felt like a failure because I had convinced myself that if I just tried harder, I’d uncover what I had done to deserve the way I was being treated, fix it, and the person I trusted and admired unconditionally would return in place of the one that now so deeply loathed me. It didn’t matter that I had snapped out of it and gotten over the shame, the feelings of loyalty, and a deeply held sense that I owed him something and reached out to people around me and changed my situation. It didn’t matter because just as I was beginning to feel like myself, there would be one more incident to compound all others. It would be one more opportunity to be ignored, to be dismissed, and to understand that I never mattered and never would. And I wondered if I’d always feel that way.
But I did get out and yesterday happened. I kept it together enough to get through the day. But I spent the commute in fits of tears. Why? What did I ever do to deserve to be treated so heinously? And why didn’t I deserve an apology? How fair is it that this person will never take any responsibility for their actions? That they’re incapable of understanding the effect of their actions on others? Over and over again, those same questions. It was unfair, it will always be unfair, it could have been worse and that’s just life. All of it. I stayed in that mind frame as I went on about my night. I felt slightly better after I had an actual meal but I cried a bit more out of helplessness as I finally made my way home.
Today, the damage doesn’t seem so immense. Last night I dreamed that I had acquiesced and agreed to join a church. As I walked around I encountered my family and friends from various circles. I snagged one of them and asked to see the tree. Rumors of a “sacred” tree were the only reason I’d shown up to begin with. She took me through some corridors and down onto the landing of the large spiral basement staircase. There, in the center of the staircase was a pine tree. It was tall, disappearing into the darkness of ceiling and the trunk was thick and gnarly. It didn’t have many limbs. The limbs it did have stretched the length of the basement and were covered sporadically in thick, chunky bouquets of pine needles. And the church choir, filled with my new coworkers, was gathered around the base for practice. ‘It isn’t what I expected,’ I thought to myself, ‘but it is beautiful in its own special way and remarkable that it can continue to grow beneath the weight of the building and without the sun.’ As drove into work this morning, all I could think about was that tree and that it had to be the singing from the choir that kept it growing.
In all of the therapy I’m proud that I do, one of the hardest undertakings is Shadow Work. It sounds new age and strange but I promise you it is an absolute necessity to truly explore oneself. You aren’t just acknowledging the darkest parts of your personality, you’re accepting them so that you can manage, transform, and I suppose in rare cases and in the strongest individuals, exorcise some of them.
As a teenager and twenty-something, arrogance was always my darkest shadow. The fact that I was generally more intelligent, astute, and contemplative than my peers and even my elders was a source of pride that metastasized into aloofness and snobbery. I’ve been lucky though, as far as this particular shadow goes. Nearly, five years working multiple jobs (at least one always in retail) will humble anyone with an ego and a six figure education. My shadow’s appetite for superiority dwindled as I fell in love with the complexity of humanity and the understanding that behind our jobs and educations and familial/civic responsibilities, we’re all rich and complex beings seeking validation and witness.
That dark part of me, “Bitch Tara,” as my best friend refers to her, was excruciatingly honest and unforgiving. It was a defense and an outlet to show off the uncanny way I just seemed to understand people, their motivations, and their weaknesses without trying. By shedding this unnecessarily cruel utilization of such knowledge, I had in my mind, become a better person. Bitch Tara was banished because Shadow Work, as I understood it until recently, was black or white; there was no grey.
This past year has been one of the darkest in my life. Someone I trusted implicitly, from the very beginning, turned out to be toxic. There is no explanation for such uninhibited trust from day one, except to compliment the performance artist’s mastery in manipulation. That trust was eventually and relentlessly violated both in the way I was treated and the fact that I’ve come to learn that there was little truth in anything spoken to me. Instead, a narrative was created–complete with villains and martyrdom–that hid the duplicitous, dishonest, and dark true nature of a sick human being.
As a result of this dynamic, I spent a lot of this year suffering in secret. I began to doubt my own sanity and to believe that I lacked ego strength and that I was overly sensitive and that pleading to be treated, at the very least, in a civil and neutral way was selfish. I almost believed that yelling and pointing and insulting was acceptable and that my sensitivity to it was abhorrent. The key here is: almost. Along the way, I fought—in tears—to be heard. I called out the behavior at every twist and turn. I knew that ultimately my attempts at adult conversation would be futile and turn me into the bad guy and yet I persisted. Of this, I’m proud; my integrity and adherence to my own personal code of conduct was honored. Compulsive lying, emotional abuse and narcissism were confronted with their antitheses. This was black and white.
Until I had a moment of grey and “Bitch Tara,” nearly dormant and believed to be diminished, stepped into the light. She crossed the threshold and stared the sick one in his empty eyes. I told myself, in those long, drawn out seconds of fortitude that I stood before this person having done nothing more than adhere to my principles—a foundation of which he knows nothing as he lacks truth on a fundamental level. But remember, it was Bitch Tara who led the charge and I would be remiss to omit that she stood before the offender with an obvious and aggressive superiority; the same sense of superiority I wielded as a kid. He had confirmed for me what I’d chronicled all along and I was satisfied.
There, fueled by darkness, I set a new precedent in the relationship. There was no fear, no shame. I stood there clear-headed, with my healthy ego and my sensitivity intact. This time it was about me and the fact that I am no longer intimidated by the hollow and sullied.
I’ll admit that it’s a struggle now to put Bitch Tara away. Her appearance proved to be a seminal moment that rooted on many plateaus. She was useful in overtaking the darkness cast by someone else. But, attempting to quell her lust for devastating revelation has proved futile and will only happen retroactively. In that sense my integrity is taking a hit and it is clear there is still much hard work to be done. Thankfully, I do a lot of therapy.
Recently, I was offended by a passively racist comment. The comment was amplified by the fact that I felt that not only had my abilities to produce in the situation that provoked the comment been stifled to protect the ego of a bigot, but that the inaction that created this situation was an act of disloyalty. In other words, if the offender had gone to bat for me against a bigot in the first place, they would have had no reason to make their passively bigoted comments.
The loyalty issue is moot at this point. I understand now that loyalty requires emotional capabilities that, in some, are non-existent, severely underdeveloped, or reserved only for their codependent. It’s futile to pine for something that never existed, but necessary to understand this dynamic as it pertains to racism.
Alas, I was told that the protected bigot would have agreed with the offending comment and gone about their day entirely unaffected (subtext: follow the bigot’s example from now on; be a bigot, not a black woman). It gets worse. Indeed, I was punched in the gut with the most cutting, deeply offensive version of the asshole’s free pass (I’m not responsible for your feelings, you are), I have ever encountered.
‘In all the therapy you do, you need to talk about why you’re so offended by racism and fix it.’
This is not an exact quote, but pretty fucking close. When I went back for clarification and asked if I understood correctly that I was being told that I, a black woman, was offended not because I had a right to be offended when someone makes a racist comment, but because I have emotional issues that I need to work out with my therapist, the claim was vehemently affirmed.
It lingers so much that even now, a few days later, I’m hit by waves of nausea just thinking about it. It’s worse than the insinuation that I should follow a bigot’s example. It felt worse, emotionally, than being called a primate by a drunk stranger. I knew going in to the conversation that it would somehow be my fault because in this particular relationship, I’ve gotten used to being the bad guy.
The thing is that now, at a time when racists like Donald Trump are making blatant, hateful expressions of racism acceptable, I refuse to take the blame for someone else’s passive racism. Or, as one of my favorite drag queens says: Not today, Satan. Not today.
When I’m told that I’m the one who needs therapy to ‘get over it,’ I can’t be sympathetic because one was ‘raised that way’ and ‘it’s hard to get out of that mentality.’ Nor do I accept “I am who I am and I’m not changing for anybody” as anything other than what it really articulates: everyone else can go to hell whilst I enjoy the privilege of saying, doing, and behaving however I want. Or, as Donald Trump recently said via FOX News to the supporters who didn’t like him pretending to care about ‘his blacks,’ “Get over it.”
But, Donald Trump and my offender are narcissists. They represent an extreme. They can’t help who they are and lack, for whatever reason, the capability to contemplate the how their actions affect others beyond how they can get what they want for themselves from these ‘others’ and ‘those people’ and then, and most importantly, to internalize those lessons, modify their behavior and mature as human being. Sadly, their growth game is shallow.
But what about the rest of the world? What about the rest of these Trump followers? How can they claim that they are not racist? How can they claim that Black History Month, the Black Lives Matters movement and BET are racist when they represent a tiny fraction of a much larger hegemony? How can so many people in one of the top nations on the planet be so emotionally and intellectually stunted?
Again we come back to ‘being raised that way.’ But it’s more intrinsic than that, it’s the about the that thing that narcissists and racists and hypocrites only recognize in themselves: subjectivity.
Racism, like narcissism, is never objective. It isn’t objective to those who experience it because the hatred resonates and reverberates in even the most intimate aspects of individuality. It isn’t objective to those who perpetrate it because they’re reinforcing and feeding off of deeply ingrained power dynamics. And it isn’t objective to anyone on the middle of that spectrum because the media, liberal and FAUX, is woven out of stereotypes, cultural fallacies, and cultural fantasies. Racism is a human phenomenon, an unnatural order of things that has permeated our existence and dyed itself into our societal DNA. And, unfortunately, as a species, many of us choose to adopt the safe, comfortable, painless way of life of that is “I am what I am.” The rest of us wave a dismissive hand and continue to fight the fight from all the wrong directions.
To that mentality, I chose to say:
- Falling in love is amazing.
- The difference between arrogance and confidence.
- Communication is everything to me.
- A space of one’s own is EVERYTHING.
- Being social is actually kind of fun.
- You are your own champion.
- Roasted vegetables are easy and AMAZING!
- Cats have personalities.
- I can’t change my personality, but I can develop and manage it.
- Baking Soda and Vinegar kick ass.
- Much of life is about showing up.
- People aren’t always who they say/think they are.
- Embracing my flaws is incredibly liberating.
- My people are everywhere, I just have to find them.
- I should have bought a power drill a long time ago.
- Area rugs are super expensive.
- Sharing your time and space with someone is what really counts.
- The way I plan to spend Christmas from now on.
- I find extroverts scary for all the right reasons.
- Being open about my flaws is incredibly liberating.
- The difference between a selfish person and an egocentric person.
- People who talk big and promise big can be full of intention and empty of action.
- How to say ‘No.’
- Don’t be empty of action.
- Show up.
- I can survive humiliation.
- Have expectations of no one, regardless of what they say.
- Indeed, blue is my favorite color, but I can appreciate others.
- ‘Death by meeting.’ The struggle is real.
- You can accomplish quite a bit in 4.5 minutes.
- People who make others their ‘project,’ need the most work.
- Therapy saves my life.
- Heartbreak is devastating.
We were, even then, an odd pairing. The ne’er do well with so much potential and the tightly-wound budding intellectual. Both angsting in our own ways; echoing secrets down the mysterious corridors of our inexplicable loyalty. You desired my approval and I, to be your object of desire.
We’ve played this way for over a decade; a long, slow game of tag. And suddenly it’s different now. We’re different now. You are different. The potential I felt, first before anything and anyone, has begun to slay shadows (and still: hearts). It stirs within me something new. Indescribable. Something that runs deeper than loyalty. Not binding, but melding. You are my first…exercise of faith.
It’s me, not you. Who am I to question you? So what if you confuse narcissism with self-reflection and confidence with egocentrism? It’s me, not you.
Gaslight the way. When you get there, turn, and expect to see me a step behind, you’ll know that it was me, not you.
I am intimate with few people. I have social skills, I socialize, I speak so as not to reveal. I am an introvert. The few people with whom I am intimate, I trust. I trust them to be open and honest and to say the difficult things, but to say them with tact and most importantly, humility.
There’s a lot of emphasis here on language.
When my more intimate relationships end and it is by my choice, it tends not to be because someone did something I didn’t like, but because they said something. Not something I didn’t like, but something that “set me free.”
Once it was being told, “I don’t care about you.” As soon as those words were uttered, I felt whatever emotional attachment I had to this person leave my body.
Weeks later, in conversation, they asked me why I wasn’t calling, why I hadn’t stopped in. I recounted the aforementioned tale and was met with an incredulous: ‘it’s not that easy.’ Except it was.
Another time it was hearing a friend tell me they paid their lawyer a lot of money to see to it that they could do whatever they wanted without consequences. I felt sick to my stomach and needed a shower when I got home. I have no room for such sociopathic privilege.
This time, it was slightly different. This time I took offense at being labeled, at being told what my life experience was and continues to be, and how I should see the world. Again.
Shocked that it would happen again, I lashed out. I was told my anger had more to do with “other things.” I sat in disbelief. The child in me apologized, I felt ashamed and humiliated. And then a calm came over me. I just felt…untangled. Sad, but untangled.
Indeed, there had been an over reaction on my part, but it had nothing to do with “other things.” A hundred conversations had ended similarly: in deference, with me blaming myself for being offended, for over reacting.
I was being managed and always have been ‘managed.’
The declarations of deep and profound understanding, the pursuit and assimilation of my own language, the promises of being shown love and gentleness, the poetry, and the sense of equality…all acts of seduction. All misinterpreted. All my fault.
This time, my own utterances set me free: Shit! I’ve been played.
Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word dignity thrown around quite a bit. In most cases, the discussion was about poverty. On one hand, the poor needed to have or show some dignity by working harder, by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” And, on the other, the working poor deserve a livable wage so that they can live with dignity. In fact, because I’m finally in a job that uses and tests my education, I now have a more dignified job.
My response, sometimes vocalized, was one of confusion. Is being poor or working a job that doesn’t require a degree or a particular expertise, exclusive of dignity? According to the aforementioned paradigm, yes.
In both instances, a lack of money and capital equates to a lack of dignity. Consciously, subconsciously, and culturally, this language suggests that our bank accounts are intimately linked with how much honor and respect we are given and with which we view ourselves. Yes, living comfortably on the salary of a single, 40-hour-a-week job is a luxury everyone should be afforded, but not living such an existence doesn’t necessarily make people feel less worthy of respect. I hear stories about a middle-class that once existed in this country, a middle-class that prided itself in working hard and earning a living. As those people continue to tumble down the tax brackets, now it appears that they had only dignity in numbers of the populist kind.
It’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that something as subjective, personal, and unique as respect has been usurped by a symbolic practice. And until money ceases to be the token for succeeding at life, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If even the deeply altruistic believe dignity is bestowed with cash, then even the good guys are cogs in a system that must, at the very least, be re-calibrated. Honestly, we’re all just rats the maze. But seeing the dignity in others should have nothing to do with their bank accounts. Unless, you truly believe a person can be paid their worth.
Suddenly, I exist within a world where I’m talked at, instead of talked to or conversed with.
My own utterances–ideas, sentiments, profundities–are filtered through the egos of others, broken down into what I can only imagine one believes are digestible chunks for someone like me (other), and spoon fed back to me, mere seconds after departing my lips.
Technical terms I introduce in a question are explained and defined for me before the question isn’t answered. My own conclusions are interupted only to be articulated for me. And when I can’t recall the point toward which I struggled because my path was constantly obstructed, it’s because I’m tired. Like a child, I’m told I’m tired.
When I take issue with how something is said, I’m told to worry only about what was said. Because, I suppose, the intrinsic link between the how and what of discourse applies only when they–the them to my other–says so.
Assumptions are made that my time is spent “playing around” and so I should welcome the idea of taking on and picking up the responsibilities of others’ (their “us”).
I smile and nod. Menial tasks are praised. Feats and struggles and my resulting successes are unacknowledged because they were never witnessed because I am invisible.
I want to show support and say hello, but I’m ignored. Look at me, I can’t further their cause. Did I mention I was tired?
Occasionally, one of them–by now it’s clear I am other–makes a joke about my big education and “the big bucks” it makes me. I’m sorry, does my education intimidate you? Obviously, my bank account doesn’t.
But this is a job that affords me more dignity. They use that word a lot and they know not what it means.