My bed.

After a long day of work, I’m quite sore, and feeling the aches from some very old wounds.

But then I look at my bed.  Not in terms of how nice it would be to hit the hay (although that sounds very good, indeed) but as a reminder.

I’ve built myself a bed.  It’s really not very remarkable.  Plain, sturdy, with a few little touches here and there that likely only I will ever notice.  It holds up the mattress.  I sleep on it.  Just a bed.

But I built it.  I designed it.  I bought the parts, the tools.  I cut, sanded, painted, stained, and bled building it. (Stupid belt sander – that’s another new scar.)  I assembled it.  Dressed it with new blankets and sheets and pillows.  I’ve polished it with cinnamon oil – not only does it give the wood a nice glow, and make my room smell wonderful (spice and exotic and masculine and fiery), but it supposedly repels spiders, too – we’ll see come the spring.  It’s solid, too – wooden beams and blacked ironworks and square corners which all evoke feelings of the earth.  Yet when I move, or grow, it’s collapsible and transportable, and easily adjusts to whatever size mattress I want.

On weekends when I get to be with my children, my daughter climbs into it with no hesitation whatsoever.  You might have to know my daughter to appreciate what a subtle mark of pride it is that she would not pause before trusting her body weight to something unknown or uncertain.  My son jumps on it and leaps off it joyously, and it doesn’t even so much as creak.

I’ve still got some work to do on it.  I’ve got a few spots I want to hit with paint, or new fixtures – I haven’t decided yet.  Also, I need a trundle so my son has his own bed when he stays with me.  It’ll come.  The mattress is the expensive part – I’ve got to save for a while to get that.

It’s even more than that, though.  The other day, when I opened my eyes, I found myself – once again – unable to move.  Can’t think, can’t move, can’t even roll over.  The only thoughts I’m capable of seeing as having any validity whatsoever are ones of self-loathing and hopelessness that anything will ever change.  It’s a rough place to be, and I’m thankful that it doesn’t happen often.  Once every two or three months, now.  I’m told that’s really quite remarkable, that I’ve got it down to so rarely.  And even when it happens, I lay quietly.  I don’t try to move.  I feel the bed beneath me, supporting me.  I know that it’s a painful place to be, but it will pass and I’ll soon be able to get up.  To go to work. And in a day or two, it’ll be behind me again.

Last time, God reminded me that about two years ago, I was in that same place.  Only it was every morning.  For about a month, I didn’t even have my air mattress set up.  I slept curled up on a blanket in the floor, under another blanket.  No pillow.  I remember a weekend spent curled up there, emotionally destroyed because I hated myself.  I hated myself because I knew – in much the same way I know my hair is blonde – I knew that I didn’t love my kids.  That I was the worst father in the world.  That I didn’t care if they lived or died.  Oh, there were other reasons, too – I was fat, and out of shape, and I ate poorly, and too much.  I was selfish and a liar and bloodthirsty and manipulative and an addict and evil and heartless.  And obviously insane, because I didn’t think any of that was true.  But everyone knew it, as much as they knew my hair is blonde.  And the more I protested that I didn’t feel any of those things, I fought not to be those things, I didn’t want to be any of those things… the more obvious my insanity  So there I was, an insane, evil, heartless monster who didn’t care if his children lived or died.  I didn’t need a bed – I didn’t deserve one.  I had more than I deserved – I should have been happy with an old towel.  Or nothing.

Now, I have a bed.  A good bed, that I built.  It supports me physically and emotionally – I built it sturdy enough for both tasks.  It makes my room smell nice, (hopefully) protects me from spiders, and my children (who I love dearly) enjoy it as much as i do.  If it isn’t quite finished yet, that’s ok.  If it isn’t much to look at, I think it’s got a certain rustic charm – like an old mine cart.  Again, much like me.  I deserve this bed – how could I not?  Every part of it came from me.

Plus, when I sit on it, my feet land perfectly flat on the floor.  Exactly the right height.  That’s not an easy thing to get right!

Earth.

The Greeks and Romans divided the world into 4 main, classical elements.  Anyone who has seen Avatar knows them: Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.

One of my more successful techniques I’ve developed over the past year has been look at the world, and categorizing things according to these divisions.  It’s merely a tool for association.

For instance, the element I associate most strongly with is the element of Earth.

The element of earth, I associate with greens and browns.  It is grass, trees, mountains, stone.  It represents strength, endurance, constancy, and honesty.  It also represents stubborness, unchangingness, apathy, and stagnation.  It is home and hearth – the smell of baking breads, cut grass, freshly turned soil, sawdust.  The feel of cool stone against your feet.  I associate carpentry, farming, gardening, animal care with the earth.  It is nourishment, support, strength, protection, security.

It does have its hard sides.  It is harsh and unyielding.  Out of balance, it is cold, hostile to growth and life.  Jagged edges and desolate wastelands and decaying swamps all have their place in earth, too.  Flint and obsidian and sand and earthquakes.

Oddly, its greatest weaknesses are its greatest strengths.  Too hard, and it will crack under a sudden blow.  Too constant, and it will be shaped by other influences easily, given time.  The canyons are carved by wind and water and time. 

As without, so within.  When I am too attuned to Earth, I grow silent.  I settle in, refuse to move, cling to that which I know, reject new things.  There’s a coldness there which pushes people away – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  Taken to the extreme, it is full-on dissasociation and closed-offedness and detachment.   I do try to take care to embrace the warm, life-giving, nourishing, supportive, and constant elements of earth, and watch out that I am not emulating it’s negative traits.  But then there are the other times – times when the world is spinning around me, my head is running frantically, I can’t catch a breath, or there are people attacking me.  Those times are times when the quiet strength of the earth is welcome.

That’s where the association comes into play.  There are times I’m super-triggered.  My body shifts into fight or flight (or freeze) mode.  My mind races 30 steps ahead of myself, and I can’t keep up.  I get locked in the circular mental conversations, overthink and analyze everything.  That’s the PTSD talking – I can count on a word salad conversation to trip me into that mode.  A direct attack, unwarranted blame, or worst – a negating response, completely disregarding everything I’ve said.  That feeling of being trapped, surrounded by people who cannot/will not understand me. Won’t even try.  That heart-pounding, breath-rattling, mind-spinning response is one of an abundance of air.  So, (once I bring myself to the point of actually wanting to end the panic), I work with the earth.  I invoke it in my mind.

Smells are powerful, as is flavor.  Taking a bite of fresh-baked bread, still warm, does wonders.  A walk outside – away from the pavement and asphalt (I’m not sure why, but I associate them more with air than earth.)   Climbing a tree works well, as does sinking my feet into sand.  But when I can’t do any of that… just to close my eyes, and feel the earth beneath my feet.  The gravity pulling me close, constant and unyielding.  I can feel the weight of my body pressing against my feet, my back, my rear end.  Sit…

Breathe…

Wait…

Relax…

The ground will not crack beneath me.  It will support my weight.  I can trust it to bear me up.

Those words, worries, thoughts and fears… They are mere air.  The earth was here yesterday.  It is here today.  It will be here tomorrow.  Constant and unchanging.

And it cracks that panic right in two, and balance is restored.

A year ago, I wrote these words:

I am not Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, or Tim Taylor.

I am skilled, rational, literate, quick-thinking, capable, and educated.

I have created works of art. I can bring people to tears with my words, my songs, even a glance. I can move people, convince people, educate people, inspire, terrify, and uplift people. I’m experienced in every aspect of my chosen field, and many others, as well. I have a Master’s degree, am well-versed in history, science, art, logic, philosophy, and literature.

I am loyal, encouraging, passionate, sheltering, gentle, humble, forgiving, courageous, firm, empathetic, trusting and steadfast. I have faults, which I work daily to improve upon. I’ve made mistakes, and nearly destroyed myself trying to make them right. I’ve broken down, given up, lost my temper, misjudged, been selfish, and flat out lied. And each time, once the dust settles, I strive to do better next time.

I have pushed myself beyond exhaustion to improve the lives of those I hold dear. I have faced my deepest fears so that others may know peace. I have taken blows that would shatter others, and stayed my hand when the opportunity to retaliate has arisen. I have endured ridicule, monotony, disrespect, guilt, and disdain in trying to do what I knew to be right – and through all of it, I have risen to do it all again the next day, and the day after.

I have held my children as they cried, and punished them as they raged. I am the shelter in the storm, the stern taskmaster, the guardian and the goad. And if I expect remarkable things from everyone around me, know that I hold myself to double that standard. I am fully aware of the gravity of the situations and choices I face daily, and the costs of failure and misjudgment.

I’m not a child. I’m not a monster. I’m not a beast, a thug, or a brute. I’m not an oaf, a clown, or a buffoon. I’m not Peter Pan, I’m not John Talbot, and I am NOT Homer Simpson.

I am a Man.

And while I may not be very good at it yet, I am doing the best I can. And I’m getting better each day.

This post, I feel, started my journey towards discovery.  Towards healing.  Since then, I have learned – about depression, about spousal abuse, about narcissism and BPD.  I’ve learned about men’s rights advocacy – both the good and the bad – self-harm, boundaries and expectations.  I’ve learned about myself, and I’ve learned about other people.

When I wrote those words, I was in agony.  I wrote them to shout at the top of my lungs a denial of who I was told I was, and to defiantly assert who I said I was.  Nowadays, I don’t need to declare anything like this – I will no longer tolerate anyone telling me otherwise, nor will I associate with those who believe otherwise. 

I am a survivor of male domestic violence and abuse.   I am surviving depression.  I am beating self-harm.   I am a strong man, a fantastic father, and a skilled artist and artisan.  I was good – now, I am better yet.  I look forward to being even better tomorrow – now that I am confident there will be one.

Mountains

A mountain stands.

The air is thick with ash; glowing embers coat the ground. The rain pours from the sky, washing the ruin. It’s not safe yet – coals still glow red, and the surface is occasionally disturbed as whole faces slide away. Mud runs thick, exposing the leaden bones beneath.

The heat from the blaze almost cracked the mountain in two. Fields of glass obsidian dot the landscape. The mountain will bear the scars forever.

It used to be lush and green here. Safe. Now peaceful parks are dotted with the blackened bones of trees which once stood tall and mighty. The skies weep at the devastation.

But that is not the only water flowing. Deep within the earth, there is a spring. Cool water pours forth in abundance, travelling through halls carved just for it. This water cooled the stone enough to keep it intact. A secret source of strength the stone does not deserve.

At the surface, the sun peeks through the clouds, illuminating three lives standing after the inferno. A grandfather oak stands tall, its knotted roots driving deep into the stone. Sheltered by its branches grow two saplings, cradled and protected. They have been scorched, and only time will tell what damage has been done to them. But they remain.

Already the tender buds of new life are peeking through the surface. Some day, the mountain will once again be wrapped in warmth and abundance; offering support and protection to all which call it home. The ash from before will allow it to thrive as it never has.

There will be days of laughter and picnics once again. Other storms will come, gales will howl, flames may once again kiss its flanks. Men may stomp and howl, shaking their fists, and even carve their marks through its flesh.

But the mountain remains.