Personal Progress

When I was still Mormon, we had this program called “Personal Progress” wherein we would earn medallions for mastering skills of domesticity, spirituality, and submission. It was an honor to have earned your Personal Progress Medallion; the bishop even presented you with that little necklace in front of the whole congregation; a public declaration that you were well on your way to becoming a perfect daughter of Christ, worthy to be the helpmate of the CUUUUUUTEST return missionary in the whole stake. The best thing a girl could be.

I was an anxious, insecure, perfectionistic young woman. This program was made for girls like me. And so I plunged in with both feet, finishing the entire thing in two years, when it could take some as long as six. During this time,I learned the metrics of self-worth; Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue.

On paper, all of those values look well and good, but remember, the underlying motive of this program is to get young, impressionable girls to strive toward what their church arbitrarily defines as a Righteous Woman; the optimal feminine status being that of the devout wife of a worthy, priesthood holding, “provider/protector” husband, in addition to being the nurturing mother of Zion’s future.

At twelve, I didn’t know what “faith” was, nor did I value it. It felt silly to say the words “I believe” when talking about things I didn’t understand, and couldn’t prove whether they were true or not even if I did. Believing in things that are not seen hasn’t been my specialty since the Santa Claus Illusion was shattered.

“Divine Nature” was irrelevant to me, because even in adolescence, I didn’t really think about divinity, nor care about my royal status in heaven as a literal daughter of The Almighty. I’m a literal daughter of my biological parents now, and that has always been more than good enough for me.

I really can’t argue with the value of “Individual Worth.” God knows teenage girls need to find that. And I gotta hand it to the Mormons, they specialize in making their flock feel special. I didn’t believe that I was special until well after Mormonism, which I’m honestly rather grateful for, because the kind of special you are when you’re mormon breeds a superiority complex that I fortunately avoided, I hope.

Knowledge is a value in any context, and my youth leaders certainly urged me to pursue as much as I could get. I would eventually carry the burden of educating my future children to prepare them to be righteous spirit children of the Most High. I’ve never wanted children, though, which gave me the freedom to value knowledge for its intrinsic benefit, and pursue it for my own gain.

Choice and Accountability felt a lot more like Guilt and Shame. Under this value, we became well-versed in the Church’s arbitrary code of conduct-dress modestly, no coffee, don’t swear, no tattoos, no sex before marriage, don’t have fun on Sundays, you get the idea. Here, we also learned that it’s actually really easy to choose the right when everyone is policing your every move, even beyond those chapel doors. And we also became very much aware of the disciplinary protocols that would follow our inevitable transgressions.

Mormons do a lot of Good Works for their own. In order to learn this value, we’d bake cookies for the widows in the ward, volunteer at the Bishop’s Storehouse, (an inter-congregation food bank) rake leaves or shovel snow for the elderly members, things of that nature. I’m glad we did those things, it forced me to get out of my own narcissistic world and do something for someone else. I wish we’d hit this value harder, I still struggle to get my head out of my own ass to help my fellow man.

When we learned about integrity and how to have it, we covered all the basics-don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t intentionally hurt people, exude decency. We pledged to have the “moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.” But then I learned that morality isn’t universal, and it’s totally kosher for you to chop a guy’s head off to steal his stuff if God wants you to. This “knowledge of right and wrong” was getting pretty murky, so I just hoped that God would never ask me to behead anyone.

“Virtue” is code for “Chastity.” A righteous young woman is sexually pure. She has to be if she’s going to have her fairytale wedding in the holiest of holies; the temple. Hormonal adolescent girls are the gatekeepers of sex and therefore must keep the young men at bay by not bearing their shoulders no matter how hot it gets, only dating in groups, and keeping their boyfriends in line. I was not good at this. And when my “virtue” was forcefully taken from me, I’d accepted my fate of being ineligible for an eternal marriage with the love of my life, as I was not willing to jump through the hoops of redemption. That would require confessing a sin I didn’t commit to a man who had no legitimate authority over me.

I do not possess any of these values as the church defines them, but I feel comfortable considering myself a righteous woman all the same. I swear a lot. I drink coffee like healthy, well-adjusted people drink water. I help my fellow man, even the one who doesn’t look like me or doesn’t share my beliefs. I know that I have inherent worth, but not as a spirit crammed in a flesh vessel banished here by her omnipotent dad to prove herself, no. Just as a person on a planet with other people who miraculously get to experience life here for a while.

I guess the church and I just measure personal progress differently.

 

M.

 

 

 

 

Loved and Lost

Welcome to the Valentine’s Day edition of Down With The Norm.

To get into the spirit, let’s talk about the times that stupid cherub Cupid royally fucked me over.

My first was innocent and sweet. Dylan. I was fifteen, and so was he. I’d never kissed anyone before, and he graciously showed me how in his basement, my entire body burning red as he leaned me against the pool table and gave my eager lips their first peck.

The next one I remember is Alex #1. I met him at the Singles Ward. Neither of us took church seriously, and we’d leave early to make out in his car. It was something fancy, like an Infiniti or something that I was supposed to be impressed by. He was at least 5 years older than me, had pale skin and orange-red hair, and talked about working out more than he actually worked out.

Next was Joey. He showed me Fall Out Boy and the Oreo Cheesecake Shake at Sonic. A true emo boy who took his feelings out on a guitar. He had no idea how to follow through on plans, and, as Joey did, bailed on our Halloween date to go to a haunted house with his buddies instead. So I, desperate for somewhere to be, went to Alex’s (Alex #2, that is), who was just a friend, I swear. I don’t remember how that night ended, but the next morning began with a spinning head and pain in every place imaginable. Part of me blamed Joey, and we went our separate ways.

Somewhere between Joey and the next one was Brody. Brody raped me, and that’s all I’m going to say about it here because that horse was beaten to death four posts ago.

I knew Austin from high school. We’d lost touch until a while after he’d returned from his mission. He didn’t drink, but he brought me wine and insisted that I drink it in hopes that he could feel me up. He ghosted me after a couple of months, turns out he was married.

And then there was Joe. He was 25, and a brand new pharmacist. He was boring, but nice, and therefore deserved a chance. I gave him one for six whole months. I think he may have been my first breakup. I vomited both before and after, I have no idea how to handle disappointing people. Last I heard, he’s still friends with my ex-roommate. She had a habit of keeping in touch with those I’d left behind.

After that was Alex #3, because I hadn’t yet learned my lesson. Alex #3 was different, though. We met thanks to Tinder, our first date in a quaint European-style cafe for brunch. We eventually got kicked out after four consecutive hours of blissful conversation. He took me bowling after, and a month later, I was all but living with him. I invited him to a fundraiser gala where he’d meet my parents. He took me with him to Banana Republic to find the perfect suit. The night of the gala arrived, and I was dressed in an elegant, floor-length red dress, jewelry, and a face full of makeup I’d been working on since I’d gotten home from work. He rang the doorbell, and to my dismay, he wasn’t wearing the suit we picked out. Just jeans and a simple t-shirt and jacket. My face sunk into my throat, which sunk into my chest. He was breaking up with me. He said he’d coincidentally ran into his One That Got Away the other day, and decided he had to chase her instead. I closed the door slowly, gripping the sides of my gown, and sauntered to the gala alone, hoping that no one would ask me for an explanation.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’d be left for someone else.

Tim was somebody I’d admired from a distance since high school. He and his girlfriend back then had exactly what I was craving; a seemingly blissful, happy union between two blissfully happy dorks. He was a bleeding heart liberal, a D&D nerd, a motivated millennial with a master’s degree at 24. He only asked me to coffee because his girlfriend wanted to be my friend. It took me months to agree (thank you, crippling anxiety), and by the time I did, they were broken up. He and I clicked over iced coffees and side hugs. Our second date was at the cinema, and afterword, he declared his like for me. I was giddy, and proclaimed mine for him. And we swiftly became each others’ dorks. A few weeks later, he asked to come over. After skirting around the issue for a moment while petting my cat as an excuse for not looking me in the eye, he asked if we could not date anymore, as he was too anxious.

I found out on Facebook that he’d gotten into another relationship not 2 weeks after he dumped me.

Will met me at a Halloween party. He told me I had something “special,” something so alluring that he simply couldn’t keep his eyes off of me. (I was dressed as a PlayBoy Bunny, in true Elle Woods fashion, though, so that more than likely explains it). He was sincere, sweet, and genuine. The last time he attempted to see me, he had to work late at the Apple store, and he was terribly sorry. He waited until midnight on a Thursday to explain why he never showed. And now, it’s been two months since I’ve heard from him, so I presume that that’s over.

Then there’s the one that blindsided me. A Facebook acquaintance, initially, turned best friend, turned Cat Sitter, turned boyfriend all in a matter of a month. I panicked and withdrew, then reached back out again. He panicked and withdrew and begun a hiatus of which I see no end. But as soon as I get closure on that one, I’ll pass it on. I’m sure you’re dying to know, just as I am dying to get it over with so I can stop feeling like I’m about to fall off a cliff of emotions.

I’ve heard the “it’s not you, it’s me” bullshit a handful of times. The sting of being left for another girl only lasted a day or two, and honestly didn’t even alter my self-esteem. I’ve had terrible experiences with relationships and dating. I actively, deliberately, obnoxiously avoid them at all costs, but they evidently just happen sometimes. I keep using the excuse that I’m not ready, but I think that’s a lie. Relationships scare me because they require some degree of sacrifice of freedom. They confine me, suffocate me, and I inevitably either run, or make him run. They require vulnerability, trust, and communication. All things that I am still doing my damn best to develop.

Despite all this, or maybe because all of this, the weight of loneliness is getting heavier day by day. And sure, we can blame some of it on our society’s commercialization of love; Valentine’s Day.

Here I sit, almost 24 years old, with two cats and no idea what a healthy, meaningful relationship is, much less how to be in one.

I don’t need chocolates or flowers or teddy bears. I don’t need a date or a card. But damn would it be nice to be loved in the way I need to be loved for once.

Securely.

M.

 

Treatment

“It’s in your head” they said, and I nodded

rattling the cage of my psyche, my soul, my mind

“Take this” they said, and I open orange bottle after orange bottle

Three times daily, once with food, once before bed

And then everything is slower and I am listless

Anesthetized thoughts rattling the cage of my psyche, my soul, my mind

Hazily moping through days that are saturated in slumber

Relentlessly begging the clock to wind the sun down

“Do more” they demand; the persistent, untreatable thoughts

The ones that nobody has made a poison to kill yet

And I weave my way through the clouded trance

within the cage of my psyche, my soul, my mind

To do more and be more

With shallow breathing and trembling hands and racing thoughts of sheer panic

Until a quick glance at the clock grants me another dose

And I lean back slow into the tranquility

And then everything is slow and I am listless

 

M.

 

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Want To Be Touched

I don’t want to be touched.

Not even when I’m alone on the dance floor of a poorly-lit night club in a black dress and my favorite blazer

As you slither your way behind me, grabbing my waist with your free hand and clutching a warm beer in the other

Your humidified breath dripping down my neck as you try to sync two sets of hips to a beat I could feel just fine on my own

I don’t want to be touched.

Not when you ask me to go on a drive with you through the canyon, and the music is loud enough to rumble my ear drums

And you’re driving reckless and fast, my entire body swaying with the slightest twist of the steering wheel

My safety entirely in your hand, just like my upper leg, as you clench it tighter with every curve in the road

I don’t want to be touched.

Not when I’m strutting through the corridor of the mall downtown in an outfit that makes me feel strong and beautiful and sophisticated, and you, a stranger, catch my absentminded gaze

Your strides quicken as you rapidly collide into my path of travel and grab both sides of my face with your skinny, foreign hands

My eyes widen like the moon as you plant your dry, thin lips on my mouth, pull me over to a nearby bench, and sit me on to your lap, all before you even bother to tell me your name

The passers-by fight the urge to clap at your romantic gesture

I don’t want to be touched.

Not when you ask me to the movies, and you choose the lounge chairs in the very back of the theater where we can be alone

You allow me to enjoy the trailers without disturbance, and once the lights reach their dimmest point, your hands slide under my shirt

And I try to keep my eyes on the screen, but the weight and pinch of your grip makes me flinch and I tell you I need to go to the bathroom, but really I’m suffocating, and the stiff air within the bathroom stall only makes it worse

I don’t want to be touched.

Not even after sipping a drink of your creation in your living room as we watch some stupid action film on your modern, stiff couch

And before the final credits roll, I realize that I’ve been rendered immobile, and my body is slung over your shoulder, and we disappear in to your bedroom

And your body and your bed sheets consume me until the early morning hours, my body releasing inaudible screams

I don’t want to be touched.

Because you never bothered to ask me if this is okay, or are you comfortable, or where is the line

And if you did ask, you didn’t bother to comply

Because my consciousness resides within my skull, but I can’t afford the mortgage on the body that keeps it off the ground

But apparently, you can, and you take and you do what satisfies you

I don’t want to be touched.

Not even by the best-intentioned one of you out there

Because the price of security is isolation, and the perpetual fear of failing to protect myself shackles me

And my inability to form healthy relationships is inhibited, my detachment from the human touch keeps me numb for now

So that if you want to touch me, I can hide within compartmentalized lobes within my brain, temporarily severing the nerves of my periphery until it’s safe to come out again

I don’t want to be touched.

Even when you shower me in compliments about my beauty, intellect or comedic nature

Or buy me flowers, a drink, or a hamburger

So I buy those for myself

And I go to movies and canyon drives and night clubs by myself

And I feel myself

Because I don’t want to be touched.

 

 

 

 

 

Pusillanimity

This is an open letter to anybody I’ve ever bailed on. And trust me, that’s quite a broad audience.

To the perfectly nice boy who’s been asking me to coffee for MONTHS, but I always seem to have other plans. To the girl from high school who wants to catch up over dinner, but my car keeps breaking down, or I have to go see my aunt who’s last night in town happens to be this one, and can’t we try again next week?

To my old coworker who cheerily invited me to go jogging with her week after week when I started complaining out loud about my general lack of fitness, but I was always “too tired.”

To the genuinely good and nice and warm people who did nothing but request my company, but I wouldn’t or couldn’t show. To the ones I ghosted; too much of a coward to even offer a fabricated explanation.

I want to start off by apologizing. My tendency to inconsiderately back out on plans that we’ve made together at the last minute has absolutely NOTHING to do with you. In fact, I want nothing more than to have followed through on those aforementioned plans, and gotten to know you and perhaps even have had a little bit of fun.

If I may, i’d like to offer a bit of an explanation of what is going on in this anxiety-ridden noggin that the good Lord gave me. *If there is one*

I never make plans with someone that I don’t 100% intend on following through on. My intentions are pure, I assure you. I’m always eager to meet people and create new experiences with them and so forth.

But then, as we near our time to meet up, my anxiety elevates. Gradually, at first, and I start to have doubts about following through on the plans I’d made. “What if he/she doesn’t like me?” “What if they hurt me?” “What I’m uglier/dumber/less funny than they expected me to be?”

I start to feel unsafe. Not because of the person I have tentative plans to see. Not that, at all. It’s like a reflex, a constant need to protect myself from an unidentified threat. A lump in my throat and a sinking stomach. Thoughts that move at the speed of sound.

I slowly stop responding to your text messages. I pop a Buspar (a fast-acting anti-anxiety drug intended to prevent panic attacks). I convince myself that I’m much too tired to engage with others now.

You send me a “We’re still on, right?” text.

I don’t even open it. I turn your notifications on “mute.”

“M? You okay?” you inquire.

Ignored.

I probably end up passing out at 8 PM, and waking up to one or two more messages from you, with an air of either completely justified disappointment or frustration. And I ignore it. And then we likely don’t talk again.

And I feel alone.

The worst part of it is that it’s entirely self-inflicted.

I hunger for human connection constantly. Watching other people grow and develop amongst each other is devastatingly painful, because I can”t seem to allow myself to do the same. And I end up frustrating people I care about and want to be around, but I keep standing right in my own way.

In summary, I really appreciate everyone who’s ever reached out and tried to make me feel included and wanted. Even if you’ve ever just asked me to go on a walk in the park or get an ice cream cone. And I’m truly, genuinely sorry that I was unable to follow through. I’m sorry if I made you feel sad or mad or frustrated because I flaked on you. It’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve found myself struggling with this especially lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to return to therapy, and stay compliant on my medications, so that’s my fix-it plan. If you haven’t entirely given up on me, I’d still like to get that cup of coffee or see that movie with you.

Wish me luck, friends.

M.

Calloused

I’m back writing again, and you all know what that means.

I’m in emotional turmoil 🙂

Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than succumbing  to my own humanity. Y’know, feelings and whatnot. Particularly the ones that make you appear vulnerable and weak.

I’ve developed into the classic “funny girl.” Ask anyone that’s had a 30-minute conversation with me, I guarantee I’ve made them laugh. Humor is arguably the most effective tool of deflection.

I guess this is my self-protective mechanism; my adaptation to the realization that i’m not safe out in the world. And it’s served me well, for the most part.

I want to be perceived as the comedic, confrontational, independent gal who couldn’t give two bothers as to what anybody thinks of her. And to my core, I am that person. And I love that person. But even she isn’t immune to the pain of rejection, betrayal, misplaced trust, and heartbreak.

And i’ll be honest, initially, things don’t really get to me. I can shrug off most anything, and I’ll probably even crack a joke about it just to assure you that I’m okay. But after a random duration of time, it all gets to me at once. Pain always catches up, no matter how far of a head start you have.

Today was one of those days where I felt the pain of the last decade all come crashing down on me at the same time. I happened to be at the gym, actually, when the lump in my throat began to build. Leg day was cut short so I could make it to my car in time for the water works.

I’ve been through a lot in the past 10 years. Puberty, anorexia, braces, high school, rape, the loss of friends and significant others, death, rejection, and the constant frustration that I’m the one behind the wheel, but my GPS keeps rerouting, turning me in unproductive circles.

And I really haven’t done a whole lot of feeling.

You can only suppress emotion for so long before you break, I guess. Being alive hurts.

A healthy, well-adjusted individual would probably just allow themselves to feel the pain in real time, give themselves time to work through it, and then move on. I’d really, REALLY like to be a healthy, well-adjusted individual.

Recently, I’d misplaced my trust in someone completely, allowing them to tug me around. They gained my trust and vulnerability far too quickly, and left me the fool. My initial reaction was complete denial that it even affected me at all, and then it turned to frustration. Granted, this person wasn’t in my life long enough to put me in the emotional state that I am now.

But there’s always a catalyst for this sort of thing.

And that lead me down the rabbit hole to every other instance in which I was forced into a vulnerable position, which turned into me driving home from the gym with tears dripping down my face and some Kanye song blasting in the background.

I would beg whatever supernatural forces that exist to take the pain away, but I think the point is for me to let myself feel it.

So i’m laying here, in a cuddle puddle with my two felines, doing just that.

Growth; it isn’t always pretty.

 

M.

Itinerant

You thought I was done with this writing thing, did you?

Not a chance.

I’ve been spending a lot of time between now and January 23rd, my most recent check-in with you guys, making more mistakes, meeting different people, gaining new perspectives, and also attempting to learn a thing or two from all of that.

I’ve been graduated from college for a little over a year now, and I’ve been walking around like a deer in headlights ever since. It’s honestly adorable how unprepared I felt when I graduated high school. That was NOTHING in comparison to how I feel right now. Does one ever learn what the hell is going on in this whirlwind of experiences that we compile together and call “life”?

I turned 23 on Memorial Day this year, and shortly thereafter, experienced what I surely hope I can call a “midlife crisis.” You see, I woke up one morning and dyed my hair pink, and later pierced my nose. Two days later, I got the stud taken out of my nostril and began the process of vigorously washing out the color from my yellow locks. It could have been worse though, I could have gotten BANGS.

I’ve continued to draw further into myself while a part of me desperately tries to reach out. I’m a prisoner to my mind, a captive audience to a voice that chants, You shouldn’t be here. You don’t belong. You are not wanted.”

Sometimes, though, I do get over myself and defy my mean brain. I hide behind my sense of humor and cool demeanor as I interact with others, peeking from behind the sky-scraping walls at others whose intentions I may never know, may never trust.

Humans love an origin story. We want to know where we came from, what existed first. Chronology. But I can’t seem to put a start date on when I started feeling this way, which leads me to believe that perhaps I always have.

This isn’t a call for attention, or even sympathy. I don’t even feel pity for myself. Perhaps it’s an integral part of who I am. I’m comfortable in my solitude, acclimated to my loneliness. I am capable of making myself happy, and I do so often. It’s only on days that I fail that I wish I were different.

I guess the most I could hope for for myself is to eventually allow myself to be encompassed by those who help set me free from my malicious mind. I’m not there yet, though. So I sit in my quaint apartment behind a keyboard, attempting to assign words to feelings, transforming the internal to the external, so that I can get some peace and quiet.

M.