Forgive Yourself

 Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.

From a posting on Facebook that struck a nerve

 

It seems so simple, and makes such obvious sense, but unfortunately there are no instructions on how exactly one would go about forgiving oneself.

Starting my search for answers in earnest. I made a mental foray back to my high school years, in an effort to understand that time of my life, so critical to the formation of who I am today and source of so much current angst. It seems that time was one unpleasant memory after another, even fifty years later I’d be hard pressed to come up with a happy one. The result of which has been that I’ve kept the memories of that entire time walled off in a dark corner of my mind.

I suppose the changes I’ve felt lately have had something to do with my growing older, having less to look forward to, leaving much more time available for reflection, if that is in fact what it is. The therapist I unload all these feelings on might also have something to do with it.

It still amazes me, the sheer weight of pain, disappointment and regret that I have managed to drag along with me for fifty years. I know this is a product of never having dealt with any of it at the time. Even now I can see each moment of humiliation, feel each burning act of bullying, taste the sting of failure all seen through those seventeen-year-old eyes.

Opening the door those memories, has not been a painless. To be honest I wonder if it will make any difference at all or is it simply a form of self-flagellation? I began with an essay on my breakdown in my senior year of high school, an admission that even so many years later is extraordinarily painful. I’m still humiliated at the thoughts of my actions and the loss of what could have been or should have been.

I had tried to give my therapist a copy of what I had written but she insisted I read it to her. As usual she had a couple of seemingly innocent questions. The result of which was an hours’ worth of pain pouring out in waves of tears. Her suggestion, a letter written to my seventeen-year-old self, to give myself credit for picking up the pieces of that shattered year and going on.

I have tried, oh how I have tried. Hours later I find myself sitting amidst a virtual pile of crumpled papers, no closer to understanding how to absolve my younger self. It sounds so simple, but again, how do you do that?

I could explain how I understand now that I did not have the tools to cope with all that was going on at the time. The hormones that brought feelings I didn’t understand, changing me into someone I didn’t want to be. The competitiveness of the adolescent world in which I didn’t wish to participate. The fear of being different, the anxiety of potentially being found out.

I can tell you to forgive yourself but I know you wouldn’t or more accurately couldn’t. You believe at some level that you deserved all of it, gods payback for all the perverted thoughts. The cutting binding, stabbing, burning, and all the pain generated at my own hands, at your own hands, was the cost of enjoying a moment in our alternate world. That world you dreamed of is now reality for me and will be someday for you.

That I couldn’t save you from the pain has meant that you were unable to save me from the regrets. You’ll come out the other side of this ordeal slightly broken and definitely scarred, but you will survive.

 

Advertisements

The Year of My Breakdown

Did you ever notice how pressure builds up over things until suddenly you notice the gauge is well into the red?

I had a year like that, it was the time of my senior year in high school and the longest year of my life. It was also the point at which I ran out of time. All the decisions I had delayed, all the painful situations I hadn’t learned to deal with, they all exploded at once.

The uncertainty of who I was and the inability to see a path that might bring resolution topped the list. It was followed closely by fear of moving into the next phase of my life.

Would I go to college, which one, to study what? Would the draft get me? The terror I felt at being thrust into situations that would be totally unfamiliar was paralyzing. I didn’t have anyone I could I turn to for advice, yet even if I did, how could I ask for advice when I didn’t know the questions I needed answers to?

I had wanted to be like everyone else, anonymous and successful. The trouble was I let my desire to be part of a particular crowd direct my decisions. I took a very demanding course schedule, subjects that would be difficult even if I wasn’t struggling with so much personal uncertainty. Russian history, physics, trigonometry, Italian, subjects I wasn’t interested in but they were taken by the people I wanted to emulate.

I was also in love, or what passed for love at seventeen. Taking pity on me, friends had taken it upon themselves to set me up with a young woman that apparently was as awkward as I was, naturally my response was to grab on with both hands and hold on.

I had always assumed that my first sexual encounter would solve all the incongruity issues with my gender, that I would finally be able to stand and shout out, see I really am a man, of course the thoughts and feelings continued and in reality, grew worse.

My utter lack of self-confidence colored my world a uniform shade of grey. I was tall and gawky soft and doughy and totally lacking in social skills. I was totally broken and had no idea how to fix what was wrong.

My solution at the time, was, to deny the existence of a problem and flee.

I now recognize when looking back, that this has become my lifelong strategy, it wasn’t until I was almost sixty years old that I finally faced a problem, namely my gender, and did something about it.

But meanwhile back in 1970 I was rapidly racing to the end of my high school career. I should have just closed my eyes and stumbled onward. I had gone through most of the motions, I had taken the SAT test and scored 1,225 and even without studying I still had a B+ average.

But ….

I had discovered the positive aspects of smoking pot and skipping class, neither of which lent itself to planning for the future.

When I got the letter that I hadn’t been accepted to my first choice of college and my only other option was to go to community college I became, the best word I can use to describe what happened, is unglued.

So with ten weeks remaining in my senior year of high school…..I quit

Many people are not able to recognize the moment in their lives when everything changed, I don’t have that problem. My life has been divided into before and after and now, so many years later I still left to wonder where the other road would have taken me.

I did go back the next year and finish up, but the die had been cast and everything from that day forward has carried the mark of that decision.

 

 

 

2190 Days

Two thousand one hundred and ninety sunrises,
Each one seen with new eyes
Filled with familiar sights
Yet all seen as if for the very first time

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days
Each one a twenty-four-hour slice
Of triumphs and disappointments
Both significant and trivial

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days
Each an identical collection of hours,
Yet all stand apart
From the two thousand and eighty nine days preceding.

None of which provided
Preparation for what awaited.
When the commitment was made
To live a life previously only imagined.

Two thousand one hundred and ninety sunsets,
The dying of the light drawing each to a close
Granting permission to the darkness
to open its memories, to share its secrets

Two thousand one hundred and ninety nights
Each a chance to relive what has transpired
To anticipate what awaits each coming day
in the shadow of my reincarnation.

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days,
From this new perspective
The wreckage of expectations and shattered preconceptions
Yields to the construction of new truths

Two thousand one hundred and ninety days of truth
Each rewriting a lifetime of deceit
Each erasing a bit more of self-deception
Until the truth stands proudly alone.

The Cellar of My Mind

Slipping into the cellar of my mind,

Descending through musty recollections

Each step downward, another step further into the past

The ages roll backward, appearing as strata of a canyon wall.

The flash of neon proclaims the seam of my teenage years

Walls aglow with black light posters,

strobe light pulsing with stomach-turning frequency.

A moment frozen in time by artificial lightning flashes.

This teenage incubator, a coveted refuge free of worldly judgement,

Provided a medium for the seeds of independent to take root,

where questions of gender incongruity could be examined

with an eye toward what the future might hold.

Here in my garden, among the flowers that were nurtured

skepticism and cynicism took root as the invasive thistle

Each bloom of confidence choked out by weeds of doubt

In corners they grew in spite of the absence of light

How to reconcile the bits, pieces, the feelings

Strewn strategically about the room

A can holding a Woodstock puzzle, filled with cheap weed

Proclaiming peace and love in the age of Aquarius

The corner bulletin board meanwhile

Displays a map of Vietnam torn from a newspaper

Its broad sweeping arrows proclaiming how simple it is to win this war,

A new age of peace powered by napalm and agent orange.

Even fifty years later I can still feel the agony in my soul.

The endless stream of questions without answers

Hopelessness over so much suffering, so many contradictions,

The scars of a lifetime marking the struggle to finally discover who I am.

 

 

 

Thoughts on growth and changes

As I turned the key to that apartment for the very last time,
It brought to mind fresh starts and the changes they bring.
And as with all things, there must be balance
For each beginning there must also be an end, 
Our lives are thus marked by these endings and beginnings

Those apartment walls, now blank and barren,
enclosed not simply space but also a time as well.
They hold all the memories of the beginning years
he start in the everyday world as myself

It was a time of tremendous uncertainty, 
yet also a time alive with joy and excitement. 
Every experience a first time, 
Each first time ripe with life changing potential

From the minuscule to the monumental
Each one of a thousand triumphs over the fear
Each decision to continue in spite of failures 
All recorded as the growth of the person that is Rachel.

With the final physical culmination of a lifelong dream fulfilled, 
I moved unconsciously from thinking about being transgender 
To being aware only when I had intentionally made myself visible.
Finally arriving at a point where I simply live my life each day,

It’s been a long journey, spanning years from a dark and fearful place,
To standing erect and open in the sunlight sharing my truth.
And whether I’m speaking directly to a single heart or to a sea of faces
I’ve finally realized that by living openly I make a difference,

I’ve shared stories that have made some listeners cry 
They have in turn shared their own stories with me, 
With likewise tearful results.
I’ve met trans people, at all points on their journey
I’ve met the parents of trans children struggling to understand.
And the survivors of trans people that could no longer go on.

I’ve offered insight to some and given hope to others.
I’ve shared comfort, and tears when there’s nothing else left to say
Each of these unexpected connections welcomed as a sacred gift,
And proof that I never knew what I was capable of until I tried.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Where did those damn words go?
they were here just a minute ago.
Now a song from my youth has kidnapped my brain
Sent it down the rabbit hole,
To the accompaniment of “Are you going to San Francisco?”
I’m suddenly deep in the summer of ’67
My junior year of high school looming large
It was my time of turmoil, 
fear of the future swelling each day.
The war was a constant drumming in my ears
empathy tearing at my heart.
These memories remain even though
The person that created them no longer exists.
Each scene remembered, suggested other memories.
Growing exponentially this mass of recollections
has soon consumed all of my brains computing power
The words that were to last forever, words dragged across the threshold
From the mists of a dream into the waking world.
have slipped away, vanished before being committed to permanence
Now displaced by visions of fading photographs,
snippets of songs and a gnawing disquiet.
my mind relinquishes any semblance of control,
submerging itself wholeheartedly in a world of ghosts.
Remembered honestly, this was the most difficult time of my life
Yet unintended in this flood of remote memories,
Lies long hidden evidence of strength I didn’t know I possessed.
Strength that in the end allowed that terrified boy to survive.

Turn for the Better

Life has certainly taken a turn for the better lately but

My natural inclination is to

Wonder if this is the calm before

The storm.

Has this fear of success been hard wired into my brain,

By simple repetition of a lifetimes of bumps and bruises

Where has my propensity to identify

with Eeyore come from?

Is this a product of a childhood trauma perhaps?

Or a genetic disposition

Or simply a cruel joke

Of an unsympathetic universe.

To dwell in this dark cloud all the while ignoring

The silver lining is exhausting,

Caustic to hope, fatal to mental stability.

Killing the joy of hard won forward progress.

To stand still, to give in to doubt, is to perish.

To allow uncertainty to plant the seeds of paralysis

Is to guarantee a fresh wave of self-doubt

And an extended stay in the grip of depression.

So, it is that I endeavor to remain fixed in the present moment.

Turning a blind eye to the past and its burden of regrets.

Turning a deaf ear to the whispers of the future predicting failure.

Accepting this moment as a gift

Remembering that tomorrow is promised to no one.