Dec 31

I’m not doing that anymore, Dave

Given that it’s the last day of 2011, I want to use today’s post to personally reflect on the past year, particularly my recovery with regards to being codependent.  It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks, and was one of the contributing factors to a recent bad day I mentioned.

This isn’t surprising, as the events that led to me seek therapy and uncover my codependency unfolded around this time last year.  That was when things really began to spin out of control in my friendship/relationship with a young man I will call Dave, and I realized I needed to get professional help for some my own reactions.  Then when things fell apart completely and I threw Dave out of my life, I went into therapy and started to really learned what codependency is and why I’m codependent.

For those who may not know what codependency is, I’d like to start with Melody Beattie’s definition:

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling the other person’s behavior.

My only problem with Ms. Beattie’s definition of what it means to be codependent is that devoid of any context, it sounds really awful.  That’s because being codependent is awful, in the sense that it’s hell on the person who is codependent and those who are around a codependent person.

What doesn’t come across in that definition very well is that “the other person’s behavior” is not minor behavior.  Ms. Beattie is talking about behavior that is truly out of control and usually committed by someone who does not wish to take responsibility for that behavior.  Codependent people end up taking responsibility for that behavior — usually out of a sense of obligation disguised as love — and trying to rescue the other person from their actions and their consequences of those actions.  We seek to control and “reel in” that behavior, to try to keep everything in that person’s life — and our own by extension — from flying apart at the seams.

Dave was the last person[1] I was codependent with before getting help.  He was out of control, not handling his own past well and acting out in ways that were self-destructive and destructive to those of us in his life.  And for the longest time, I made excuses for him and took responsibility — responsibility that Dave refused to take himself — for cleaning up the resulting mess.  As a result, my life fell apart — which is pretty common for codependent people.

So I went into therapy and began to examine my own behavior, why I tended to put other people’s needs before my own, and chose to attempt control other people who were out of control rather than taking care of myself.  I re-examined my self-perceptions, came to understand and appreciate my own boundaries, and learned to put far more of my energy into caring for myself.

Like recovery from most things, recovery from codependency is a process, and usually a never-ending one.  I still have moments where I slip into the old “care-taker” habits that marked my relationship with Dave and others.  In fact, Dave and I started hanging out again — and even started moving toward a relationship again — as I continued my therapy.  At the time, Dave seemed like a changed man, and I decided I wanted to give him another chance.

Unfortunately, I discovered appearances were deceiving toward the end of June, and that Dave was still up to his old games of deceit, manipulation, and using others (including me).[3]  So I eventually told Dave it was over again and told him I would not talk to him until he got help for his problems.

Before the second separation, I had felt the old patterns come back.  I had started to allow my life to center around Dave again.  However, I can proudly say that things hadn’t gotten as bad that time around than it was at the beginning of the year.  Plus, once I saw the truth about Dave’s continuing out-of-control behavior, I quickly cut it off.  For a codependent person, that is a victory.

I’ve heard from Dave since, and my response has been even stronger.  The last time I heard from him, I laid out the rules of what it would take to prove himself to me and convince me to let him back in my life.  Dave didn’t like the answer, said a few nasty things to me, and stormed off. I haven’t heard from him since, and while I’m a bit saddened he hasn’t changed, I will not accept an unchanged Dave.  I cannot change him, and I do not want him back unless he chooses to change himself.

I hope that Dave will be the last person I get into such a rough and out-of-control relationship.  I’d much rather find a great guy who understands and values his own integrity and a sense of responsibility.  But if I do meet another guy like Dave and even start getting involved with him, I now have the sense of self-worth and the tools to recognize it and put the brakes on.  And that is good enough.

Note:
[1]  It’s important to note that my codependency developed over a long period of time and is the cumulative result of taking responsible for many people over the many years of my life.  While Dave was a toxic person[2] and not good for me, it’s important to note that my codependency did not start with him.  Also, I am responsible for my codependency and my recovery from it now.  As Ms. Beattie also says, it may not be my fault that I’m the way I am, but it’s my responsibility to do something about it.

[2]  It’s important to note that toxic people are not worthless or irredeemable.  Saying a person is toxic simply means that they choose to behave in ways that hurt other people and are often unhealthy to be around.

[3]  The final straw for me was that we broke up and agreed to just be friends.  I was crushed by this decision.  While we were out together three days after the decision, a waitress asked if we had considered getting married, and Dave told her that we were actually engaged.  That was the moment that I realized that Dave would tell any lie that suits his purpose, even if his only purpose is to get a little extra attention from a random person in a restaurant.  I didn’t want anyone who had such a low regard of his own integrity.  Someone who can lie so easily for such a pointless reason cannot be trusted to treat others properly.

Dec 30

The more I think about men’s issues, the more I want to promote feminism

Patriarchy sucks for a lot of people.  Some of those people are men.  After all, patriarchy seeks to establish some sort of code on what it means to be a man and enforce it.  That means that if some man — I’ll use myself as an example — don’t meet that code, we are deemed “not man enough” and are often ridiculed and mistreated by the patriarchy’s many enforcers.

According to the patriarchy, my “manhood” is open for debate because:

  • I am terrible at sports.
  • I tend to be very sensitive an emotional.
  • I like various “girly” things.
  • I like kissing other men, not to mention doing other things with them.

Being teased or having my “manhood” questioned isn’t fun.  Like I said, not being a sufficiently sanctioned “real man” in the patriarchy sucks.

But you know what sucks even more in the patriarchy?  Being a woman.  This is because women are the real targets of the patriarchy.[1]  The whole reason that the patriarchy wants to define what it means to be a “real man” is to set men apart from women, demonstrate that they’re extra-special, and thereby justify and maintain male superiority, male privilege, and male dominance.

Patriarchy’s mistreatment of me is a side effect of its real objectives, which is to wage war on women.  To put it more bluntly, I’m nothing more than collateral damage.[2]  Furthermore, while I may be hurt by patriarchy, I also benefit from it and the privileges being male grants me:

  • It’s highly unlikely that my accomplishments will be overlooked or diminished by men who are more interested in how big my breasts are or how good I am in bed.
  • I don’t have to be nearly as worried about whether the man who strikes up a conversation with me at the coffee shop will rape me because he thinks he’s entitle to any man he decides to be friendly toward.
  • Not many people will be inclined to assume that I can’t possibly be an engineer, a firefighter, a doctor, or a soldier simply because I’m a man.[3]

I don’t bring this up to diminish the fact that I and other men are hurt by the patriarchy.  I do, however, want to put the harm done to us into the proper context, because I feel that context recommends the best response I and other men can make.

If we are collateral damage in the patriarchy’s war on women, then I think it’s time to start allying ourselves with the women in that war.  After all, if we’re all being hurt by the patriarchy, it’s time we all start fighting against that same patriarchy.  And that’s why I’m for promoting feminism and feminists.

This is where I think it’s important to understand that as men hurt by the patriarchy, we’re collateral damage rather than the actual targets, our role in this fight is also secondary.  I strongly believe we need to follow the women’s lead in this fight.  As I said in my previous entry, we can’t make this all about us, even though we will benefit in the process.[4]  But we need to be willing to set aside our egos and our desire to take the center stage — reasserting that same male privilege that the patriarchy already grants us[5] — and work as supporters and allies.

Notes:
[1] Actually, I suspect that trans* people of all types also qualify as real targets as well.  After all, whereas I might question the gender policing that the patriarchy uses to enforce male superiority and dominance, trans* people reject it thoroughly and completely by having the “gall” to refuse to “stick with their rightly assigned gender.”

[2] Not that this makes me or other man any less injured.

[3] People might assume that I can’t do some of those things because I personally am lacking in some way as an individual.  They’d be right.  But there’s a difference between that and assuming women can’t do those same things because they’re the same.  I’m a man, so I get to be an individual.

[4] And despite what some may think or claim, many feminists want us men to benefit from feminism.  I’ve heard far more women talk about how patriarchy hurts men than I’ve heard men talk about it.

[5] And that’s the thing.  It seems like a lot of men who are hurt by the patriarchy aren’t ready to give up the ways in which the patriarchy still serves them.  They want to be able to “like girly things” — to pick an example — yet still maintain some sort of special status over women.  Fighting the patriarchy doesn’t work like that though.  You fight it all or you ca’t really fight it at all.

Dec 28

If I’m going to be an ally, it can’t be about me

Some time ago, I had a friend who liked to be “helpful.”  He loved to do nice things for others.  He loved talking about all the nice things he did for other people.  It got annoying rather quickly.

Mind you, there’s nothing annoying about helping other people.  In fact, such expressions of altruism, hospitality, and compassion are something I personally value greatly — and think everyone should value greatly.

There’s also nothing inherently wrong with sharing stories where one helps another.  It’s often a good way of raising awareness of the problems and needs of others.  If my friend Becky mentions in passing that she gave our mutual friend Ralph some extra grocery money, I might respond by saying that I didn’t realize Ralph was strapped for cash and ask if he’s okay.  I might even contact Ralph and ask him if there’s anything else he needs.

No, the problem with my friend’s behavior was that he was bragging.  What’s more, it quickly became clear that his intentions were not so much to help others but to draw attention to himself in that “look at what a great guy I am” sort of way.  In time, I began wondering if he cared about the people he helped at all beyond a way to show off what a great guy he was.

I thought of this friend as I got involved in a conversation over at Fannie’s Room regarding those people who wish to be seen as, to paraphrase Fannie, heroic allies of women or racial minorities (or QUILTBAG people or any other marginalized group) for the simplest and most basic things while they ignore subtler, more complex, and equally important (not to mention more common) manifestations of marginalization.

While I certainly agreed with the point Fannie was making, I took it one step further:

You know, I never really got this mentality.  I have no desire to be a “heroic feminist ally.”  Quite frankly, doing so would strike me as making being a feminist ally all about me.  (Do I really need to spell out why this is problematic?)  Personally, I’d much prefer feminists give me an honest critique of where I do well and where I need to improve.

I want to expand on that point.  When a person is acting as an ally to others, it’s not about them, and it’s inappropriate and rude to make it about them.  People who wish to be an ally — whether it’s an ally to women, QUILTBAG people, racial minorities, or some other group — need to understand this fact quite clearly.  Without doing so, one isn’t much of an ally.

On those occasions that I write about feminist issues as a man — or should I ever right about trans* issues as a cisgender man or racial issues as a white man — I don’t do so in order to gain praise.  I do so to help out women (or trans* people or people of other races), and I believe I wholeheartedly have a duty to do my best to help them.  Part of helping them means not drawing attention to or accolades for myself in the process.

That’s why of all the blog posts I’ve ever written, the blog posts I write about women are probably the ones I think hardest about and fret the most over.  It’s easy for me to write one about gay male sexuality, Pagan spirituality, or my past experiences as a fundamentalist.  I’m intimately familiar with those subjects on a personal level.  When I write about issues that affect women, I’m writing about someone else’s experiences and struggles as an outsider.  That calls for great care and attention, because it’s not about me at all.

And that’s the way it should be.

Dec 25

Christmas musings

I’m not a big fan of Clay Aiken’s rendition of this song, but my selection of YouTube videos was severely limited.  I first ran into “Merry Christmas with Love” back in the ninth grade (that’s be the 1988-1989 school year, for those of you who might be wondering) when our chorus teacher announced it as one of the songs we would be singing it as part of our Christmas concert.  I was deeply touched and moved by the central story and message of the song.[1]

In a small, not-exactly-the-same sort of way, I can also understand the sentiment on a personal level.  Since my mother began working at a hospital several years ago, Christmas has often been a bit strange in our home, and Christmas day itself often doesn’t seem like Christmas day.  Take this year as a good example of what I’m talking about.  My mother has to head to work at around 1pm.  Because of this, my parents and I celebrated our Christmas yesterday, exchanging gifts and having our big dinner.  As such, this morning feels like most other days, with my mother getting ready for work and me thinking about my impending drive back to Rochester after lunch.  When I used to live at home, such years were even odder, as my father and I would look at each other after Mom left for work and wonder “what do we do with the rest of our day.”

I can only imagine how much stranger it is for those people who don’t have loved ones around them at all during this season.  It must be difficult.  I actually admire some friends who discovered that a mutual friend had no Christmas plans and invited him to their house.  We should all have that sense of compassion for others.

So, dear readers, may you have a Merry Christmas.  If you find yourself surrounded by loved ones, hold them a little closer in appreciation.  And if you find yourself alone, drop me a line.  It’s not much, but at least you’ll know someone cares enough to talk.

Note:
[1]  This is actually why  don’t like Aiken’s rendition of it.  I felt he tried to “dress it up” way too much with his vocal talent.  Yeah, he’s a pretty good singer, but sometimes, the song itself is more important than how amazingly one can belt it out.  When the latter starts to detract from the former, there’s a problem.

Dec 24

Anticipation

When I was younger, I had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve.  I would lay in bed thinking about all the presents I would be getting, wondering which of the toys and other things I asked for would actually be waiting under the tree for me the next morning.  The anticipation would keep my mind wound up too much to allow it to slip into unconsciousness.

As I grew older, the problem faded.  As I got older, the magic of all those presents began to wear off — to the point where as an adult, my first thought when family members ask for gift suggestions is occasionally, “great, more crap I don’t really need and don’t have a place to put anyway.”  This is good, as I’m not sure that I could handle the sleep deprivation now as well as I did back when I could still count my age using only my hands.

I admit, though, that the anticipation of giving has also grown since then.  There’s something special about knowing that when someone opens that almost perfect gift[1] their expression and reaction may actually light up the room.  It’s an anticipation that doesn’t keep me awake half of Christmas Eve,[2] but it’s something that gives me that extra thrill and desire to go on.

I also think there’s something to be said for anticipating the joy of another person, as it takes us outside of ourselves for that moment and makes us more other-focused.  Sharing in the joys of others adds to both our joy and theirs, and it makes life that much better.

What joys do you share?  What things do you anticipate, both during this season and throughout the world?  Have you ever had that moment where you’re looking forward to something so much that you can’t sleep?  Can’t concentrate on your job?  (Don’t worry, I won’t tell your supervisor.)

Note:
[1]  This reminds me, I need to answer my own question on a recent open thread.

[2]  In fairness, this is at least in part due to the fact that I’m not (quite) as hyper or excitable as I was in my youth.

Dec 23

But I hate supporting the patriarchy![1]

I’ve had a few ideas for a post running around in my head for a few days now.  I want to explore how gender is treated in modern Paganism, how a binary view of gender[2] influences Paganism (most notably Wicca and those traditions closely related to it), and whether it’s a good or bad thing.  However, that post is nowhere near ready to go up.  However, thinking about the topic brought up a recent memory that I’d like to reflect on.

Earlier this year, Z. Budapest came to our town and held a tarot workshop at Psychic’s Thyme, in which each woman in attendance received a personal reading from Ms. Budapest.  The event was well attended and from all reports I’ve heard, it was a great success.

As the event approached, I had many customers at the shop ask me if I was planning to attend.  I’d simply smile and point out that I would not be attending, as the workshop was for women only, and express hope that they would have a good time at the workshop.

Apparently, during the workshop, one of the women decided to ask Ms. Budapest why she had made the event women only.  She started her reply by explaining that this was a special event intended to strengthen and nurture women, and that part of that was giving them a special place free with men.  I’m totally on board with her on all of those points.  While I certainly would have enjoyed to meet and learn from someone as experienced and renowned as Ms. Budapest, I agree that — especially in our patriarchal society that tends to devalue and marginalize women — it makes perfect sense to say, “some things are just for the women because they deserve it.”

The ending of her explanation was a bit more problematic to me.  Part of her argument was that men already have a “special place” that caters to them.  She went on to say that the place in question is known as the Vatican.

As I said, I have no problem with women-only events and spaces.  In fact, I highly approve of them.  However, I do take issue with the suggestion — even if done in jest — that as a man, I have my own space within the Catholic church.

The first — somewhat obvious in my opinion — with that suggestion is that as a gay man, I’m not a “proper man” in the eyes of the Vatican.  I don’t meet their understandings of what the proper role of men is, at least when it comes to terms of sexual behavior.[3]  In short, I don’t meet the Catholic standards of manhood and would find any attempt to do so terribly painful.  As I’ve heard some feminists say, patriarchy is hell on women in particular, but it’s ultimately not good for anyone.

That actually brings me to my second issue with the suggestion.  If patriarchal institutions like Catholicism aren’t good for anyone — or even if they were bad for women and perfectly fine for men in general and me in particular — why would I want to take part in it, thereby supporting its continuation.

There are a lot of patriarchal institutions out there, and the problem isn’t just the Catholic church.  Some of those institutions — like my career field — would be hard, if not impossible to simply walk away from.  I have to deal with the fact that I’m a part of them — and I try my best not to feed into their patriarchal nature and even do what little I can think of to help break it down.  But I have no reason or need to be a part of Catholicism, and I certainly don’t want to support or endorse its institutionalized patriarchy.[4]

If I’m going to seek out a male-only, male-affirming space, I’d much rather find one that has figured out how to be male-affirming without doing so at women’s expense.

Note:
[1]  And I pray for the day I figure out how to stop doing so altogether.  Even unintentionally.

[2]  Though it may be more accurate to say that polarities are discussed in gendered terms, but that’s something that needs a full post to explore.

[3]  I suspect that’s not the only place the Catholic church might take issue with my “masculinity,” however.

[4]  Plus, there’s a good bit of Catholic theology I disagree with, being a Vanic witch and all.

Dec 21

Let us bring forth that which has quietly formed in dark places.

Happy Yule![1]

The winter solstice — that point where the sun’s rays are least direct on the Northern Hemisphere — officially takes place tomorrow morning at 5:30 UTC.  For those of us in the Eastern time zone (UTC -5:00), that translates to tonight/tomorrow morning at 12:30am.

The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year and the triumphant return of the light, longer days, and warmth.  To some Pagans and Wiccans, it represents the rebirth of the sun god.  Yule brings a sense of rejoicing, the darkest time following Samhain has is about to pass and the half-year reign of the underworld will begin to wane and give way to the brightness and warmth that is vital to our survival.

However, I think it’s important to remember as we begin to pass back into more light that we need the time of darkness to survive as well.  After all, the growing season and bountiful harvest rely on the gestational period of the dark winter months, just as our own psyches require downtime and decreased activity.

Yule marks the rebirth of light into a fragile, not entirely ready form, but it’s a birth that takes place thanks to the things that have been rejuvenated and seething in the darkness.  And while that fragile light shall grow stronger and eventually overcome the darkness for its time of reign, it will also be nourished by the waning darkness and the slumber it encourages.

So let the light shine in this quiet time, not as a brilliant force to be reckoned with, but as a comforting glimmer and a promise of what is to come.

Note:
[1]  Or for any readers who are in the Southern Hemisphere, happy Litha/Summer Solstice.  I hope you will indulge me in the rest of this post, however, as I focus on the mysteries I am currently experiencing/working with.

Dec 19

Raised Right: Missing Childhood

Today’s look at Alisa Harris’s book, “Raised Right:  How I Untangle My Faith from Politics” continues to look at chapter seven.  The underlying theme of this chapter — which I did not adequately explain in last week’s post, leaving my criticisms somewhat without the necessary context — is about how Ms. Harris’s conservative upbringing focused so much on politics that it consumed her whole identity and her relationships with other people.  I touched upon a similar phenomenon when I wrote about fundamentalist identity over at Confessions of a Former Conservative[1].  As such, I can identify with a lot of what Ms. Harris talks about in this chapter, though under slightly different conversations.

Harris speaks in the first paragraph of how her political leanings set her apart from many of her peers:

And while they were e-mailing one another about boys and fingernail polish, I was assuming the mantle of e-champion, which required two things of me:  an e-mail address to receive daily Bush campaign emails and the indefatigable conviction that I must forward to everyone I knew.

While I talked about how fundamentalist identity can consume one’s entire identity, I had not considered discussing how it echoes Ms. Harris’s own experience as described above.  Not only does such an identity consume a person, but it often becomes something that completely separates them from others.  In many ways, I imagine this is intentional, as fundamentalist and other conservative Christians find it important to identify themselves as separate from other people who are still “of the world.”  As such, this obsession with in-group activities to the detriment to other interests that one might have in common with their peers becomes an important sacrificial act demonstrating one’s “insider” status.

This is particularly troubling when one is young, as Ms. Harris notes that young conservative Christians — and I’d add fundamentalist Christians regardless of political involvement — tend to act like adults and associate more with adults.  There’s a certain sense where “fighting the good fight” becomes so important that simple things like expressing an interest in boys or girls, popular culture, and other things, which ultimately can rob such youth of their childhood.

I’ve often looked back at my own youth — and even my college years — and wished I had them to live them over.  I find that because I was so focused on being the perfect Christian, I put a lot of my personal development — especially emotional development — on hold.

When I finally addressed these areas of my life, I found myself trying to work through things in an adult world.  I found myself learning social skills and emotional coping techniques while holding down a job and acting like a responsible adult, as opposed to having the luxury of working through these things while still being able to rely more on my parents and having far less responsibilities.

This is one of the “holes” or distortions that Ms. Harris alludes to in this chapter of those whose politics become the whole of their identity.  It’s one that I felt she should have explored more.
 
Note:
[1]  As an aside, let me said that I’m quite pleased that Former Conservative has managed to rejoin the ranks of bloggers everywhere.  We missed you while you were silent, guy.

Dec 18

We all have our bad days

Today’s post is going to be somewhat personal, as it’s what I have the energy and mental capacity for today.  I’m still recovering from my FINE[1] day yesterday.  I get them every now and then.[2]

One of the things I’ve found over the past year that it’s actually helpful to acknowledge such days and even indulge in them.  Prior to entering therapy last January, I would fight hard against such days and demand that I “just get over it.”  After all, it was “just a feeling,” and I should be able to control them.[3]  I would seek to diminish my rough days if not outright repress them.

The problem with that approach is that they never really go away.  Things just build up, waiting to get out.  Eventually, when you can’t hold it in any longer, it all boils over, explodes, and makes a huge mess.

Yesterday, I actually had a much better day by acknowledging that I was having a bad day and allowing myself to do so.  I was able to both indulge in a bit of self-pity and make light of it.  It made the whole experience not great, but far more bearable and manageable.

As a society, we tend to encourage people to put on a happy face, to act like nothing’s wrong, and to think of people who “have it worse.”  The problem with this is that while there may be people with worse problems out there than what we are facing, our problems are still very real and we need the freedom to deal with them.  And we can’t do that if we can’t even acknowledge them or feel like we have to downplay them.

Notes:
[1]  FINE is short for “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.”  An old coworker taught me that.  He learned it when he was in counseling years ago.

[2]  Right now, they seem to be happening every other week or so.  I think it’s the holiday season combined with the fact that a few “major events” happened in my life around this time of year, and my mind tends to gravitate towards the associated memories.

[3]  The need to be in control is a major issue for most codependents.  One of the big wake-up calls I faced when I finally acknowledged my codependency and got help for it was acknowledging just how much I needed to be in control of not only myself, but my circumstances and others in it and how I sought to exert that control.

Dec 17

The Visitation: Considering the Target Audience

While writing yesterday’s post, I noticed something else about this week’s passage from Peretti’s book, “The Visitation.”  As I didn’t feel it really fit in with the rest of my post, I decided to save it for a short blog post today.  Because the passage in question involves Pentecostal characters, it included certain tell-tale signs that one would expect when reading about Pentecostal characters, such as one of them praying in tongues.  What I found noteworthy about this is how Peretti describes it:

She was standing still, clutching her Bible to her bosom and looking heavenward, her lips moving rapidly as she whispered in another language.

A few paragraphs later, he phrases it similarly:

Now all three women  were pointing and looking while Dee kept singing in and out of English.

If Peretti had been writing with a strictly Pentecostal audience in mind, he might have used terms like “praying in tongues” and “singing in the spirit.”  Instead, he uses phrases that describe these concepts in an attempt to better explain things to non-Pentecostal readers.

Having read other books by Peretti, the fact that he’s expecting non-Pentecostal readers, let alone thinking about making his idea accessible to him, is worthy of some note.  Earlier books like “This Present Darkness” were rife with “insider language” of not only Pentecostals, but those involved with spiritual warfare.  To my mind, those books were clearly intended to target those audiences.  This new, more accessible language to a larger audience is a relatively new development.

I’m a bit curious how successful a move it is.  This book is still about supernatural events that are theoretically supposed to happen in the real world.  I can’t imagine your average Episcopalian or Methodist taking an interest in this book.  Plus there’s the fact that he’s not entirely successful.  There are still a few points in which falls back into thinking like a Pentecostal and shutting out any other potential readers he might snag.  However, I give him credit for trying.