Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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It’s that hateful question every child is asked by some grinning old person who means well but has no real idea of the strain they are placing on a young mind. What do you want to be is basically who do you want to be crammed into one sentence that most of us won’t even answer in a life time. We will do many things, be many things, our personalities will shift with our mood like desert sands and we will be and do more and less than we ever knew we could. 

I remember my son’s kindergarten graduation. He was told to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up and this one question put him into such a tailspin of existential dread that he actually became depressed. How could he even hope to know? He was five. We talked about all the lives one person could live in one lifetime and how it was common to change jobs and careers many times as the years passed. In the end he decided he would tell his teacher he wanted to be a stay at home dad and I applauded his decision to think outside the box while coming up with an answer for his kindergarten graduation.

My son is a really good person with a really good heart and he has broken out of every box he has ever been faced with. I don’t think there is a box that can hold him. He’s been thinking outside the box for so long that he’s free in a way few of us will be. That’s why I was confused when he got up on stage after the last twenty five kids had declared their intention of becoming a veterinarian all because the kid before them said that, and stated in a loud voice that when he grew up he wanted to be an underwater treasure hunter. I had never heard that from him. Water had always frightened him and money has never meant a thing. He’s not one of those kids that will read a book for five dollars or clean his room for ten so why the change?

The answer of course is adults. He denied ever saying he wanted to be a stay at home dad, that he’d mentioned it at home but not at school. He’d chosen the safe bet, the manly bet, and the principle came up to me afterwards beaming because he was the only kindergartner who had stuck to his career goal. No he was not a sheep who blurted veterinarian, but he had not been honest, not been himself.

It’s funny how much this little moment has bothered me. It was 13 years ago and yet I still struggle with what happened to his inner authenticity. Had he told them he wanted to be a stay at home dad? And had they reacted the same way they had when he took off his shoes and showed off his blue nail polish? He was five. I had been painting my nails and looked up to see him painting his. I smiled and said, “Nice.” The teacher asked me, “Did you do that? Did you paint his nails?” No I hadn’t, he had, and everyone but me was weirdly upset.

I hate how we treat boys. Honestly I hate how we treat girls too. Society sucks and its patriarchal indoctrination is dehumanizing for both the sexes. We lost two boys in junior high because they didn’t fit into the roles society set for them. They died because of roles. I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t remember their faces. I guess what I want to say here is please don’t ever ask a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead maybe ask, “What is the thing that makes you most excited in life?” For my son that was theater and I pray it still is. For my friends daughter, that’s making TickTock dance videos. There are a thousand ways to live on this earth and there are no roles that need to be filled. A boy can be a stay at home dad, a girl can be a detective, I can be a unicorn and hide in my micro studio reaching out to people through WordPress. Be weird, be wild, be tame, be a fruit bat. None of it matters as long as deep down that being is what makes you sparkle.

It’s OK to paint your nails boys. Ladies, shaved heads are sexy. God, please forgive role enforcers who tell children it’s not OK to be who they are. And God forgive the person who told my two friends that Gay wasn’t okay. It was, it is, it always will be. I wished they had lived to see how much the world has changed.

I love you. I’m crying again. We’ve got this. Soldier on my compatriots and do it with sequins.

I Go Bravely

I go bravely even though all my cards are played, my house has fallen, my love is broken, and I stand here naked as a babe in the snow. I am blue with the cold of my vulnerability, yet I stand head held high before my demons daring them to come and take me. Is this bravery, this slow suicide we women face because we dared to say no, take a stand, and then find ourselves alone in the elements with no place to turn? If so I’ll choose this death over the suffocation of your fine cage. You were master, punisher, with holder of love, but no more. I have freed myself and in going free I have taken flight into the chasm of the vast unknown, knowing only that my heart still beats and tomorrow will come wether I have the strength to join it or not. Though my parachute will catch no air and my wings have lost their feathering I will take this fall believing it is better to break and be reborn then to remain whole and unchanged. I go bravely into this world without the insurance of a good life, but with a life, my life, held, captured, grasped tightly in my own two hands.

Choosing Healthy over Hellish Love: Understanding the Trauma Bond

I’ve known several people who believed in this phrase, “We always hurt the one’s we love.” These people weren’t naturally abusive but each had a brutal past, a despair based perspective and an intangible grief. They lived in a state of bitter despair, their days clouded with careless words, biting comebacks and bursts of violence. There were constant stories of war, drunkenness and past wrongs depicted so vividly that, even though I wasn’t there, I experienced them vicariously.

Trauma Bonds make you the secret keeper to other people’s traumatic experiences. These bonds hold you hostage to atrocities, forcing you to turn for support to those who witnessed hell with you. Break a trauma bond by starting a better life and you will never be forgiven for leaving your fellow victims alone with their pain.  Stay and you will be forever stuck at the scene of the crime, a captive victim to a hellish past.

Trauma bonds are fused by a love that goes beyond healthy. It asks that you bare your soul, set aside your values and immerse yourself in a cult like existence. The bond is so overwhelming that you forget who you are and what you ever wanted for yourself. Only the trauma exists; the perpetuated recollection of the darkest moments in life replayed again and again within the trauma bond collective.

Trauma bonds are defensive. Everyone outside the bond is viewed as a potential risk, criminal or predator. Within a trauma bond there is no room for growth, no room for happiness, success or healthy relationships with the outside world.

In my book, The Only Home I’ve Ever Known, my character Gidra is trauma bound to her mother Sophia. They survived a war, hid from enemy troops and forage for food through bombed out villages. With the wars end their trauma bond continues. It grows, warps and twists into a new kind of desperation which makes Gidra’s life impossible to endure. At the beginning of the book Sophia artfully recalls their shared past in order to maintain her control over her daughter. You and I have been through a lifetime together and there is no one in this world who will ever love you or know you the way I do. Please remember that when Parker starts to make you promises. Please remember how hard we’ve fought to stay together when life wanted to separate us.” With these well-chosen words Sophia strives to enforce the trauma bond and destroy any hope Gidra may have of a life outside their bond.

Identifying and breaking away from a trauma bond is an important step to discovering your autonomy.  If you are experiencing a relationship that leaves you feeling depleted or depressed it may be traumatically fused. Separation is usually the first step. Only through separation will you begin to gain a new perspective of the world around you. Secondly, forgive your trauma partners for the life they offered you. When you learn to let go of your past you will be ready to embrace your present. Practice self-protection. Set safety boundaries that free you to live authentically. Open your self to new experiences slowly. Too much too quickly can send you back into old habits.  Practice everyday gratitude (this I really can’t stress enough). Chose to be happy and remember that you do not owe your life to anyone. You were born to live each day on your terms. Go forth and truly live.

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Role Enforcers

If you find yourself feeling the need to explain your actions, you are probably confronting a role enforcer. A role enforcer is a person, or group of people, who intend to keep you stuck in their version of what is acceptable. Role enforcement has been a necessary component in human development by keeping us safely organized within a social structure. Parents are natural role enforcers. It’s the parent’s job to shape their child into their idea of healthy maturity by keeping the child safe within the bounds of a shared identity.

Friendship also acts as a role enforcing infrastructure. Friendship begins with shared interests, perspectives and behaviors which support one another’s idea of what’s OK. If you step outside of the shared state of normal then you run the chance of being teased, nagged and manipulated back into the flow of what is acceptable. Remain at odds with your friend’s relational infrastructure and you’ll soon be looking for new friends.

So what is role enforcement’s place in an intimate relationship? In truth it has no place because a healthy relationship is deep and open. There are no shared states of normal. Instead there is flexibility, compassion and understanding of the changes and shifts which slowly transform an individual throughout a lifetime. We are born seeing the world through our parent’s perspective, we are raised and shaped by the qualities of our friends but as adults we may choose to break the mold, rise up and become the person we were born to be.

In my book, “The Only Home I’ve Known,” I introduce Gidra, a World War II survivor raised in the sex trade. She lives a life born of desperation; driven by a will to survive the worst situations. When the war ends her mother Sophia (an abusive role enforcer) maintains the survival role. Gidra is objectified, sold, paraded out and bartered for jewels, clothing and money. She meets Parker, whose unconditional love shatters her perspective; freeing her from the role which crushed her. With Parker’s love she dares to seek a life of possibility and hope.

Always beware of role enforcers. Identify the people who make you feel as though you must explain your actions. Notice when your authenticity is challenged. Watch for little comments and innuendos that imply you are not acting in accordance with role expectations. Role enforcement is a natural state in herd mentality but it has no place in an open aware relationship. Desiderata by Max Ehrmann states, “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all people.” Love the role enforcer for the well-intention gifts they tried to saddle you with but never surrender your sense of self or let anyone box you into a false identity. Take comfort in the knowledge that you are unique to this world. There never was or ever will be another you.