Identity Confusion/Conflict (for lack of a better title)

Friday, June 8

Don’t know how to start.  So odd.  I read what I wrote down that Elizabeth said in our phone conversation — “Identity in flux” — yes that’s exactly my experience.

“Attachment repair” — homies seeking to “re-identify”  Barking to the Choir p16  Find identity through someone who loves you, not someone who is jealous and threatened and projecting self-hate.

Saturday, June 9

Very intense session with Erica.  I read her the two blog entries about “wild and precious life.”  (April 2013, August 2010)  I cried as I read.  There was also a quote from Father Greg about the homies needing to “re-identify” as the repair for the attachment wound.  I see that I am struggling to replace the felt sense of myself as someone selfish, unkind, rigidly virtuous, with a felt sense of myself as someone worthwhile, with something to give to others.  “I have fought like a demon against oppression.”

Had a very different experience at dinner.  I sat at the long table.  I think D has had to go to the health center — he’s had too many falls, and his mind isn’t quite right.  For me, that lifts a blight.  He made lots of negative comments.  I sat next to Sabra and across from Margaret and Lorraine.  I think because my spirits had been so lifted by the narrative medicine class, and the talk with Erica, I was able to converse easily and even contribute.  I talked about the class, and also — I don’t remember exactly how we got to it — Lorraine had said something about how the teacher was important, and I started talking about Miss Hill, and assumptions, and cosmology.

Note: Father Greg Boyle wrote Tattoos on the Heart, about his work with gang members in Los Angeles.

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Spirituality

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”       Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p64

Her definition of spirituality is one that I like very much.  I agree with it intellectually, but I rarely have a felt sense of the compassion, and a felt sense is what makes something real to me.  It’s easier to see connection in the physical universe, and of course humans are connected on on the physical level, to an extent that we have lost awareness of.  In a smaller world it’s obvious.  In our world — I once worked it out: this paper I’m writing on is made from tree pulp.  Someone cut down the trees, someone else transported them to the paper factory, someone else ran the machinery…  the man who drove the truck used gasoline from an oil field, and is connected to all the people who work there…  and he ate food grown and transported and sold and cooked by other people…  and on and on.  I am connected to all these people by this piece of paper.  Even the sun comes into it, and the rain, they helped the tree grow.  That we are also connected by fields — electromagnetic, gravitational, psychological — seems obvious to me in some ways, but I’m too habituated to individualism and isolation to be able to feel the connection.  Rooted in compassion is a little harder, but I can’t see how there would be any compassion at all if it didn’t already exist in some form at the simplest level.  In the atoms and molecules, ready to emerge as soon as the right level of complexity is reached.  There is scientific evidence, now, that compassion is “hard-wired” in humans.  I don’t believe for a moment that humans are basically selfish, violent, and greedy.  I think those behaviors are a result of being hurt and scared.

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Journey

This was written 10 days after I sprained my ankle on April 14.  Initially I wasn’t able to walk very far.  The walk to the dining room can take 7 minutes.  Not possible in my disabled condition.  Fortunately, I can get supper delivered.  At first I could hardly stand long enough in the kitchen to cook, but that got better pretty quickly.  It is a long walk plus two elevator rides (and I am so GLAD for all the elevators!)  In fact I’m pretty spoiled here.  The fall also made it impossible to get to the Neskaya Conference, a big event that I had been looking forward and worrying about for quite a while.

So I had felt like I was moving along fine, and then suddenly hit a brick wall.  This made me question why it happened — not because I was stupid, not because God had it in for me, not even because it was a random event — it seemed pretty clear that I was supposed to learn something from this experience.

This journal entry is an attempt to explore what possible meaning there might be in being immobilized for a time.

Journey.  I’m thinking that it will be a long journey to the top of the waterfall stairs and the elevator to the ground floor, then to the massage room.  The word “journey” resonates.  I set out on this long journey, and suddenly got stopped and immobilized.  Where am I going and why?  What’s really important?  What matters to me?  “For a great journey on the drawing tide.”  It makes me think of the Cadfael book, and the crusader whose last journey is up the river a short way, having to be carried, then rowed in a boat.  The “great journey” was Jenny going to Europe, then to California, back to Maine, crossing the country by car more than once.  More than one journey/pilgrimage to Callanish.  The summer I did both a Deena Metzger retreat and the Circlework training, and was so disabled by PTSD terror that I couldn’t get what was available.  That’s actually been true my whole life.  So disabled by early wounding that I couldn’t get what was available.  “Cuncti simus concanente…”  But I did build Neskaya.

The “Waterfall staircase” is a long staircase at Kendal that takes you from the living floors to the community area.

“Massage” — having a massage every week is part of my healing from trauma, since trauma is held in the tissues.

“…journey on the drawing tide” is from a poem by David Whyte

“Cadfael book” is “An Excellent Mystery” by Ellis Peters

Callanish is a stone circle on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides

Deena Metzger is a writer, her book that meant the most to me is called “Writing for your Life.”

Circlework” was developed by Jalaja Bonheim

“Cuncti simus concanentes…” means “Here we come singing..” and is the music for a circle dance called “The Pilgrims’ Dance.”

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Learning Resilience

Woke up scared.  Still feeling a little activated, a kind of buzzing in my stomach.  I’m sure part of it was that I took Mocha to the vet, and she had two vaccinations: distemper and Lyme.  Yesterday she was very lethargic and not at all interested in food, which they said was likely, but it really made me feel scared.  The other thing was I emailed my realtor yesterday saying I was ready to sell the house and she called back so we talked about it.

I don’t like being activated.  It’s very uncomfortable.  I asked myself what I’m afraid of.  Mostly afraid of making a mistake.  Behind the fear of making a mistake is the fear that I will be thrown out and not be taken care of.  This fear is from when I was an infant left alone and afraid no one would ever come and that would mean I would die.  As a baby, I didn’t have those words, just a feeling of desperation and that I had done something “wrong” — I had no idea what — and that something catastrophic was going to happen as a result.  This is trauma, when the reptilian brain stem concludes that you will die.  As a baby, I couldn’t fight or flee, so my system would have gone into default mode, that is, freeze.

I had to sit myself down and remind me that in the long run there is no catastrophic mistake I can make.  How much money I eventually get for the house doesn’t matter.  I’m taken care of, here at Kendal, until I die.  Writing it down I feel a level of comfort I didn’t feel when I was trying to convince myself.  It’s true, I am taken care of.  It’s really amazing how much that helps.  So much gratitude to the rich people here who make it possible.  I wish I could also believe that I’m held in the hands of god.

It’s too bad, Mocha having a bad reaction to the vaccinations.  I was feeling fairly solid and clear about selling the house, but worry about Mocha “knocked me off my perch.”  Interesting phrase.  The suggestion that I had got “too big for my britches” and needed “taking down.”  That’s all the remains of Mother’s conditioning.  She thought that way — “thinking you’re so great” — I don’t think I’ve ever made that judgement of anyone else, or wanted to bring someone “down.”  I wasn’t thinking I was “great,” I’m not even sure there was any sense of “good for me.”  Just relief at having been able to take a step, a necessary step to clean up unfinished business.

Her conditioning still affects me, part of what happens to a child of an alcoholic, and I can see it and mostly don’t believe it now.  I was also taught to believe that money was more important than my comfort or happiness.  What makes these conditionings very hard to undo is that they happened to a child who was already traumatized and so they could trigger the absolute desperation of PTSD.

To try to help myself, I went back to the most recent time (February 2017) I wrote for guidance.  This is what was said:

Divine Process, please help me.    I am with you all the time, even though you can’t feel my presence.  I love you very much and I feel your pain.  You are doing very well with this extremely hard task.  You are actually healing a very deep and wounded part of yourself.  You are with her as I am with you.  I know you are scared and angry that you are not “getting anywhere.”  It’s not about “getting” somewhere, it’s about being present.  Being present to extreme pain — and the pain that baby feels is intolerable, that’s why she was traumatized — is very difficult.  You are doing well with it.  Keep on as you have begun.  Remember that you are loved and cherished infinitely and forever.
Thank You.

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Persistence

Brené Brown expresses resilience as:  “I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again.”  ibid p 65

When I first read it I thought “That’s not me.  I don’t know how to get there, how to prove that I deserve to live, that I’m not defective, how to change myself so someone will love me…  I’m not persistent, I’ve quit over and over again…  After a disappointment I often stop dead, don’t send out the brochures or put up the flyers…”  As Dr. Rankin said to me long ago “When something goes wrong, you conclude you can’t do it.”  Then I look back only to last Saturday, when I was cast into complete despair by the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis, and the realization that I had to start all over with another healing process.  But this time I knew, from so many times in the past, yes I quit completely, but after a day or two something in me picks herself up and keeps going.  It’s not something I did by will power or decided on the conscious level, it’s something that happens, something deeper in me that keeps going.  On the conscious level I’ve completely collapsed.  My persistence comes from a deeper level.  And who can that be but the real me?  The collapse is to some extent conditioned behavior, but the persistence is not.  It’s different from pushing myself.  Pushing myself is conditioned.

When I was a teenager, I was devastated by being rejected by a boy who, I was told, was interested in me, and then fell in love with a friend instead.  But I did not blame them, and I did not close my heart and decide that I would never love again.  I think now that this is a characteristic of the real me.

Imagining that I hadn’t persisted, I saw that in the one thing that mattered, I persisted and persisted, and never quit.  What I was trying to get to, though I had no name for it or understanding what it was, was my true self or the truth about me.  For a lot of my life, until I was 42 in fact, I thought I was defective.  In 1984 the information about the effect of parents’ alcoholism on their children became public and I understood that all the “defective” stuff about me was what I had learned from alcoholic parents, not who I was.

If I had learned it, I could unlearn it.  I went to COA groups, got into therapy, worked on alcoholism and the 12 steps.  At the same time I was diagnosed with systemic yeast.  This was in 1984, while the doctors were still saying there was no such thing.  Eating a strict diet and taken yeast-killing medication, made me feel considerably better.  I felt like I came out of about 4 layers of fog, but my intuition said there were more layers to go.  My conditioned self said I wasn’t working hard enough, but another part of me knew that what I needed was some new theory or technique or method.  So I went to different alternative practitioners, and sought out different therapies.  I tried out a lot of things, even continued doing them for several years before I realized they weren’t working.  I got better at deciding something wasn’t working sooner.

Finally I understood that I had been traumatized, after a friend had tried to tell me this repeatedly — but my parents were never violent, how could I have been traumatized? — I read in Peter Levine that an infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room.  The helplessness of a baby is extreme, so it’s more vulnerable to being traumatized by things that wouldn’t faze an adult.  I began to see myself as wounded, not defective, it totally changed how I worked on myself.  I kept trying to get to the bottom of the wound, the truth of how it affected my life, but still had the sense that I wasn’t getting there.

When I finally got to Erica, I got to the bottom.  Understanding how serious it is to be traumatized as a baby, and have your brain and nervous system develop under the influence of trauma, really helped me understand why I had had to work so hard for so long to get better.

As my therapist Karen has often pointed out, when I can do something, I don’t value it, thinking that everyone else can do it too.  For the first time, I’m wondering why I think that.  I’m guessing that it was because my parents criticized me whenever I got it wrong, but didn’t praise me when I got it right.  So I learned that when I got it right, it was just what was expected, not anything special.

When Erica says something like “I’m so impressed with how you handled that,” I’m surprised.  It’s taken me a long time to see that I am, in truth, a hard worker who has learned a lot of valuable things.  I look back to the time I was at a retreat on the issue of peace.  I got talking to a participant, who happened to be a therapist.  I told her how, before my work in Somatic Experiencing, I used to be disabled by my anger.  My knees would literally get weak.  After I had worked with S.E. for some years, I got angry one day about something the government was doing and I went straight to the phone and called my congressperson to register my displeasure.  I was surprised and delighted with myself.  The therapist said “What you have done is HUGE.”   Later, I gave a talk, at my friend Beverly’s UU Church, on Journey into Courage.  While I was talking, I could see a woman in the front row wiggling with excitement.  When I was finished and available for questions, she said she was a therapist and what I had done was HUGE.  Those experiences planted a seed of the idea that I had worked harder and more persistently than I thought.

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“…and it is trying desperately to flower…”

Written in Davis, California, at the time of my breakdown and hospitalization.

   This poor tree is hanging at the edge of the abyss — its roots have no soil and are trying to press into crevices in the rock, a powerful wind blows its shape all stunted; and it knows that it could create soil if it really wanted to — out of blood and sweat and tears and rotted hate — and it knows that it is the source of the wind…
And it is trying desperately to flower.

The pain of reading this again is seeing myself take responsibility for my pain.  I could “create soil if I really wanted to…”  What a totally crazy-making belief.  I did NOT have the power to create soil by myself.  Repeat NOT.  Crazy-making because if I believe that I am holding on to my misery, I “should” be able to make it go away.  But no matter how hard I try I can’t make it go away.  But then I must really want it, otherwise I could make it go away, right?

I thought I had written a blog post about this, but all I could find was this one:  Choices & Dysfunctional Beliefs.  It’s not quite the same phrasing.

 

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In the Middle of a Huge Transformation

I haven’t done a blog post in a long time.  My life has been overwhelming, I am beginning to realize that I am going through an unbelievably HUGE transition.  Not just from “regular life” to “a place for old people,” but from a life lived in the distorted space caused by PTSD to a life lived where I have enough support to begin to be approaching the kind of life that we were designed to live.  This is still very disorienting, and even my response to still not having found “kindred spirits” is different from the past.  Instead of thinking “I’ll never find anyone like me,” I’m thinking “There are people here that I will feel comfortable with, it’s just going to take a while to find them.”

I think that I still have layers of ancient exhaustion coming up to be processed.  This is from having pushed myself my whole life “to prove that I deserve to live.”   The cost of trauma is this: when someone goes through a complete flight or fight scenario — e.g. running away from a tiger and escaping — they have to rest for days to recover.  I’ve been told that a man who had retired from a job he loved took two years before he felt rested.  So it makes sense.

About three weeks ago I sprained my ankle.  It meant that I had to miss the conference that was going on at Neskaya, but it also meant that I had to rest.  I was immobilized.  I had the impression that there was another whole layer of exhaustion that I wasn’t aware of.

This is what I wrote this morning:

Very, very tired.  And a little dazed.  I can see that I’ve been pushing myself.  In fact I could feel it this morning, sorting mail I brought from Franconia.  Pressure to deal with address change.  The postmistress was very firm (with an edge) that I had to get a new mailbox within 30 days.  So I’ll go online and change my address.  Another task.  I wrote another long list of tasks.  It takes up more lines than there are on the big white pad.

Yesterday I forgot about things like ordering from Vitacost.  I’m out of GABA.  I did do a laundry but had to leave things in the dryer because I forgot that I had Erica at noon.  I did go to meditation, but spent the rest of the day reading Jacqueline Winspear — In This Grave Hour.  I just got locked right in.  It made me late to dinner, and I ate and came back and finished it.  Being a little horrified at myself, I looked at my behavior and realized that I got sucked into reading because I was too tired to do anything else.

“In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there.”

Second cup of tea.  I still feel a little dazed.  I look at the beautiful fragile pale azalea flowers that have bloomed in spite of being cut off from their roots.  Instead of admiring their spunk, I’m in pain that their lives have been so blighted.  I was re-reading Brené Brown’s chapter on Hope and Spirituality and was saddened to see       — thinking of a piece I once wrote describing myself as a tree clinging to a cliff — “and it is still trying to flower” —      the extent to which I don’t believe in myself, how easily I get hijacked into saying “I can’t do it.”  I realize there’s an element of blame — “It’s my fault, I’m not persistent enough…”  — instead of seeing that my ability to persist was crushed very early  — “Why did you even try?” — and then I see that despite many setbacks I never gave up.  Now I’m here, and I’m still trying/working to find the nourishment I need.  I think of Mother, felled by the stroke, and never really trying again.  Content to spend her days in a hospital bed, food brought to her, watching TV.

There’s a bird on my feeder pole.  On my list is “vacuum out the cobwebs in the feeder, fill with seed, hang outside — move pole?”

Jacqueline Winspear is a writer of murder mysteries and thrillers about Maisie Dobbs who was a nurse in the First World War.  In This Grave Hour is about the beginning of WWII.

Reading is my “drug of choice,” and I am aware of it as a “mindless practice.”  Usually I use it consciously as a break from my day, usually I read something I’ve read before, and it’s easy to stop at a natural break.  So I rarely get caught by it as completely as I did here.

The book by Brené Brown is called The Gifts of Imperfection.   The chapter I’m referring to is called “Cultivating a Resilient Spirit.”

“In your heart, in your soul…” is a line from Loreena McKennitt’s song Full Circle.  When I find a song in my mind, I pay attention, looking for the message.  Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not.

“Why did you even try?” was something my father said to me when I asked for help.  He said “If you didn’t know how to do it, why did you even try?”  I remember thinking to myself “Whatever happened to ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’?” and thinking his words hadn’t affected me.  But a father’s voice is very powerful when you are a child.

The reason there are several items on the To Do List entry is that almost everything I had to do involved several steps, and I wanted to be able to check off when I had only done one.

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50th Anniversary of Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King jr.

My journal entry for April 4, 1968

I don’t know where to start.  It seemed as though the volcano was going to blow last night.  I wanted to smash a window or something — perhaps because of Dr. King’s death?  Where is a quiet place…

What — what — pieces coming out in fits & starts — like pieces of vomit flying in all directions because I can’t channel myself toward a toilet — and vomit the whole mess & get rid of it so it doesn’t have to sit around in there — rotting & multiplying.

What’s in the vomit, the rumbling magma of the volcano — can i look ? easily — long years of lonely, of being different, of being intelligent and sensitive, yet having no reassurance from outside that any of these things were valuable.  [(fred loves me)     NO HE DOESN’T]  My parents always saying “Don’t think you’re so great”, never encouraging or praising, my father always focussing on tiny details as the basis for criticism so I think if i can clear up all the bad tiny details i’ll be alright and this keeps me so uptight the whole self is bound in fetters and cannot grow or be easy and free.  And then i clear up detail after detail — i no longer look at my bad skin or my big ears, but my self image is of the ugly adolescent — now i see details in my behavior that point out my selfishness, my closed-in-ness, my clumsiness and blindness — do i know how to care for another human being?      The convoluted wanderings of the dungeons of the castle i live (?) in — or defend vociferously.  Who’s down there? what ghosts wander?  My drunken mother bearing her heavy cross while the rest of us do the real work. and a dark and guilty ghost stalks after her, whispering to me, you could have done something you could still do something…

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Extraordinary Ease with my Life…. Really?

Excerpts from journal written during the week at the end of February:

Sunday: Woke up not sure where I was.  I think from a very intense dream.  Feeling very lost.

Monday:   Had that strange isolated feeling when I woke up.  It feels like I woke up in a strange hotel, not a familiar room.  I wasn’t able to get up for a while.

Tuesday:   Spent most of the day reading Coming Home.  I’m almost done.  Only took Mocha out twice.

Wednesday:     I forgot to take this notebook.  Erica said I was looking and sounding much more relaxed.  I had trouble getting how I was feeling and finding words for it.  With Erica’s help I began to see that I have stopped pushing myself in some major way.  Possibly from spending a whole week letting myself rest so I wouldn’t get sicker.  It’s possible that I have majorly let go of the belief that I have to prove that I deserve to live.

I have noticed myself enjoying little things.  One was the night I watched 3 YouTube favorites — trailer for Dakota 38, We Are the World, Matt dancing 2012 — and felt very nourished.  Another is being able to enjoy very ordinary dinner table conversation.

As I was telling this to Erica, she kept smiling with delight.  She said something about how my emotional state was being able to vary in the middle instead of being all on or all off.    This is called “self-regulation.”  It’s normal nervous system function, instead of being triggered by trauma.

Yes, I do seem to have arrived at some extraordinary ease with my life.  What’s tricky is that it feels so unfamiliar.

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Spasm of Self-hate

This is an example of how I work through something in my journal.  It took several days and then some of the realizations only happened while I was typing it up a month later.  These are in italics.

February 7

Big snowstorm predicted for today.  This is when I miss my stove.  A day to curl up by the fire with a good long book.

I look at the Book of Joy on my side table.  The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  It’s about how to find joy in a painful difficult world.  I started to read it and then couldn’t keep going.  I think it’s because I don’t believe I will ever find joy.  Not because I’m too wounded, but because I refuse to do what it takes.  I’m too stubborn.  Nothing ever works for me.  Damn.  Added later: I see now it’s an old old belief:  “Nothing ever works for me.”

Erica said something about being grateful for the pain because it shows me what is really important to me.  Be grateful for the loneliness because it lets me know how important connection is to me.  Sometimes that’s comforting — yes, that’s what I want!  Sometimes it’s painful — I don’t see how I can make it happen.

O dear.  I read the next chapter in “Joy.”  It said joy happens when you are doing good for others.  When you radiate joy.  This happens when I’m teaching dance, when I’m teaching astronomy.  But only then.  I’m really not able or willing to be helpful to F, or S.  It see that I’m very judgmental, along the lines of “attractive” and “unattractive,” and I want the attractive people to like me and I’m not really interested in spending time with the unattractive.  I’m not willing to go be with people who are lonely.  It makes me think of Mother taking me to visit the Rogers sisters.  They had been my grandparents’ servants.  And how it felt like — this is how my life will end.  In a crowded room smelling of urine.

I’m seeing myself as a rather nasty person right now.

I’m really going through a spasm of self-hate.  I see myself as really useless in the larger scheme of things because I don’t have enough relationship skills.  I’m unhappy because I don’t do anything for other people.

Comment while typing up:  Once again I’m judging myself by my mother’s values — no, not her values because she didn’t live up to them.  She used them to manipulate me, and possibly herself.  Or maybe it’s that the way she did “good to others” was like her driving for the Red Cross.  She was a high status woman helping a lower status person.  I am seeing that my wish to share my excitement about astronomy and dance is a contribution to the world.  I think of the story of someone getting to heaven, and God tells him he wasn’t supposed to be like Moses, he was supposed to be himself.  I’m not good at helping people I don’t find “attractive” and part of that is personality, not just looks.  God designed me to teach astronomy and circle dance, so that’s my cosmic job.

February 8

Such an odd day.  I think I finally felt/thought something like “I’m just going to quit trying.”  After that things were much easier.  I stopped worrying about hating myself.  I stopped being so impatient.  I let myself just sit and read.

February 9

Good talk with Elizabeth.  I told her about the Book of Joy and being “too self-involved.”  She reminded me that the Dalai Lama is the one who didn’t understand what “low self-esteem” meant.  We had a really interesting talk about “selfish” and “unselfish.” and how they were really useless concepts.

Actually, calling someone “selfish” is often a manipulative ploy to get them to do what you want.  I think about the story of Eknath Easwaran, whose grandmother and mother greeted him when he came home from school, and wanted to know every detail of his day.  When you are given that much attention, you are able to grow a good strong base from which it’s easy to give to others.

There’s another paragraph I want to copy.  Something about research suggests that unhappy people are too self-involved to have attention for others.  (p 62)  I don’t think this is true for me.  Could I say that I am unhappy?  all the time?  I do feel that my day is often a struggle just to get through the day.  I don’t get much satisfaction from doing something I “have to do.”  It’s just work.  I see that I’ve stopped writing “good for me!” after things I do accomplish.  Maybe that’s part of the problem.  I never learned to feel satisfaction from getting something done.  My motivation was too often to avoid getting yelled at.  I never got praised for doing something, but if I didn’t do it I was made wrong.  So that’s what I learned to do to myself.  To have impossible expectations and then be angry at myself when I couldn’t achieve them.

Talk with Erica:

The sentence from Tutu needs something added:  When we feel disconnected from that community, then we are unhappy.  Experience of disconnection is painful
My feeling of not being happy is to my credit
I can feel and see the lack of connection
My unhappiness is a sign of disconnection, not self-centeredness.
Jenny is suffering from the culture of disconnection
it’s a disease, not who Jenny is

February 10

Erica just turned the whole world upside down and inside out.  It’s not that I’m unhappy because I’m too self-involved.  I’m unhappy because I suffer from the disconnection that is “normal” in our culture.

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