Hello Friends -
It's been 7 months since I last wrote to you. Perimenopausal depression, meaninglessness, and anxiety returned last August when I stopped taking testosterone to revive my lost libido. It was changing my hairline and I decided I'm not willing to go bald for my sexual vibrancy. What I didn't know then is that testosterone also gives us a zest for life and it was doing what antidepressants could not do for hormone-based depression. I lost all motivation and returned to a state of emptiness and disconnection. I had no desire for anything. Up until the new year I mostly read fiction and cross-stitched while I watched TV. Now I'm feeling a bit more like myself and I have an itch to come back to public writing.
I still struggle with desire and motivation, but I'm showing up to the page at least once a week, which is far better than not at all. I was inspired to start writing again because, despite all the work I've done to piece myself together after shattering, I haven't repaired the rupture with a crucial part of myself I exiled when I dissociated. I need to bring her home before I can properly construct my memoir, and I'm feeling called to publicly document my attempt.
As many of you know, I’ve been in a years-long process of healing and piecing myself together after midlife shattering. While I mended a good number of my dismembered parts in these years of quiet healing, held by the profound care and safety of my husband, I have done nothing to repair the rupture with my spiritual self. I can't be a whole person or properly write my life story without including the mystic that made meaning out of my traumas and heartbreaks through spirituality. As I once heard Oprah and Alanis Morrisette describe it, I was a God Girl. But I began exiling the mystic part of myself during my pregnancy with my birth son and then banished her completely when our adoption triad fractured. I stopped believing in everything that held me together through all the traumas prior, so it's really no wonder I shattered. I raged at every concept of god I ever put my faith in - Father, Mother, Universe, Beloved. I no longer felt like I was having a love affair with the divine because it did not feel like love from any angle to experience the worst grief and betrayal of my life. I descended into a dark night of the soul and I still haven’t found my way back to the light.
The mystic was absolutely essential to my ability to function amidst poverty, violence, and single parenting with mental illness. The help I needed for Complex PTSD when I was young wasn't accessible, so I turned to God to make myself sane as best I could. Whether as a Christian, a pagan, or a nonaffiliated mystic, I perceived every challenge in life as an opportunity to become more loving, functional, and emotionally regulated. The faces of my god shifted over time, yet I always perceived divinity as a steady presence I could have an intimate and ecstatic relationship with. Until I didn’t.
Intellectually I know that we make our own meaning. It’s up to me to decide what I believe and to act in alignment with those beliefs. But it’s awfully hard to make meaning when I’m experiencing depression and anxiety in a chronically ill and perimenopausal body navigating a world that is crumbling under the weight of the injustices of capitalism, the pandemic, and war. How does anyone make meaning out of this madness?
“Spiritual equals that dimension of our core reality where mind, body and spirit are one. An individual does not need to be a believer in a religion to embrace the idea that there is an animating principle in the self – a life force that when nurtured enhances our capacity to be more fully self-actualized and able to engage in communion with the world around us.” bell hooks
Fortunately, I do have someplace to begin. The first brick in my spiritual foundation is my relationship with non-human kin and the practice of witchcraft. I don't relate to gods or goddesses, but I do relate to, learn from, and feel supported by the mycelium, lichen, trees, flowers, ducks, nutrias, and squirrels that reside in our beautiful creekside ecosystem. And I co-create with the medicinal and magical plants in my community garden plot to make items that are supportive of grief and transformation.
The second brick in my spiritual foundation is my knowing that the only grace and blessing I’ve directly experienced was from the hearts and hands of humans rather than some sky daddy. The circle of friends that gathered and cared for me the night I learned my mom died. The circle of friends who welcomed my birth son into the world on their bare chests the night he was born. The single moms in my old apartment building that shared food, transportation, and childcare. The online community that holds grief, anger, and difference with unconditional positive regard. The husband who is mind-blowingly caring and truly safe to be with.
A few years ago I heard writer Steve Almond talk on the Dear Sugar podcast about the God-Between-Us and I knew that if I ever returned to a concept of god it would be this - the interconnection of all beings. Divinity as a relationship rather than some external sentient being. Relationship with humans and all of our nonhuman kin as a spiritual practice. Grace as the way we nourish one another, especially in times of pain.
The challenge is that I’m deeply afraid of relating to other humans right now. When our adoption triad fractured, I ruptured with every single person I was close to. No one believed me when I said the adoptive parents using their power over my son to coerce and control me was abuse. Not one of the chosen family members who were present at my son’s birth stood up for me or for him. I’ve learned since that the betrayal and abandonment I experienced destroyed every bit of trust I had in myself or other humans. I’ve rebuilt that trust with myself, my husband, my daughter, and the adoptive parents. But every time I try to expand my trust into friendship with new people and make myself slightly vulnerable I go through a hard contraction and return to isolation. No one has done anything to hurt me in these situations but my nervous system chooses to freeze anyway. How do I get from here to making relationship a supportive spiritual practice again?
In the days to come, I'll be writing about the variety of approaches I'm taking to invite the exiled mystic home and build trust. This will include books (both new ones I’m drawn to with this spiritual journey in mind and the old ones that accompanied me for decades); my attempts to nurture friendships with humans and nonhuman kin alike; and BDSM.
Kink is a powerful form of self-expression and helps me understand myself. My husband and I are in a new-ish 24/7 D/s adventure and it is the number one thing enlivening me right now (Eros is the Dom and I am the submissive). I've always pursued kink as a transformative process and a method of relating to the divine in another person, so I see a lot of potential in D/s as a manifestation of the God-Between-Us, as well as a path of inquiry into the deepest, darkest parts myself (kink as as shadow work). If that's not your jam I understand and my feelings will not be hurt if you unsubscribe.
I have anxiety about writing from the midst of the darkness instead of waiting till I’m basking in the light. But I can't let fear hold me back from expressing myself. We love to celebrate the phoenix rising from the ashes, but we're supposed to hide the excruciating burn of the emotional and physical transformations that precede rebirth. We hide our burning wings behind closed doors and pulled curtains. We turn off the smoke alarm so that we don't draw attention to ourselves as we collapse into the ashes. We put on a mask or we hide in a cave, whatever is required to keep life moving forward while we ache with the burning. We wait to tell the story until it has a happy ending or a transformative arc, until we understand the meaning in it all, or until our wings are holding us in the sky again.
I've been in my cave long enough and I don't want to wait till I have a tidy ending to emerge. The memoir is for tidy endings. I need to write my way through what's unfolding right now. I need to write about sitting in this mess of ash made up of all I lost these past nine years (god, family, friends, community, career, dreams, and an able body) and how I'm mending together the bones, sinew, blood, and muscle that are left into wings for the April that lives on the other side of this rebirth.
What’s Speaking to My Soul Right Now
The Art of Losing by Megan Pillow on Roxane Gay’s Audacity Substack. It’s a beautiful reflection on loss.
What to do With the Things You Don’t Want by Holly Whitaker. Holly is currently writing from a place of lostness as she gave up her multi-million dollar business a year ago and is still navigating the grief.
Holly Whitaker Reports from the Liminal Space on the new Quitted podcast with Holly and Emily McDowell. This new podcast is all about quitting the things that are hurting us and this episode tells Holly’s story.
What My Bones Know by Stephanie Foo. I think this may be the first memoir from someone with a Complex PTSD diagnosis. I’m only halfway through but it’s given me a lot to consider about my own healing journey with CPTSD.
Somebody Somewhere on HBO starring bawdy cabaret singer Bridget Everett. The main character is deep in grief and is saved by friendship with a group of queers and outsiders. As a queer and an outsider, this is my favorite kind of story.
Depeche Mode’s 101 Concert Album