Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Masks We Wear: Counselling II

As many of you know, I am having counselling at the moment.

Now, in many respects, counselling is good. It is an opportunity to explore at least some of the issues with a sympathetic person who has the time to listen and enough distance from the situation to see certain things more clearly than I can.

So far, I like my counsellor. More importantly, I have a certain respect for her even though we don't know each other very well yet. She has a very intelligent, sensitive way of listening and yet she has quite a lot of very practical suggestions.

But, oh, there is something I hate about counselling: the exposure.

In life, as the ever-insightful Fiona has noted, we can wear a number of masks. I think of myself as a fairly honest and direct person and yet I know I wear a few: the good daughter who always looked after her mother, the efficient manager who is always cool in a crisis, the cheerful partner/carer briskly taking care of Things That Need to Be Done, the loving mother, the loyal friend.

None of these masks are lies. They are all both true and only part of the truth - as if my masks cover only part of my face. They show my best bits - or what I fondly imagine are my best bits.

These masks, I think, don't just cover our faces. The longer we wear them, the more they become part of our faces and part of ourselves. Sometimes it's not absolutely clear what is the mask and what is our real face.

What is becoming absolutely clear, though, is how much I dislike removing mine.

There is something deeply embarrassing about sharing such personal issues with a face to face person who knows who I am. I vent away on this blog, with practically no inhibitions. I have even shared some of my issues with a select few of my real-life friends. But I realize now that there has always been a protective mechanism in place - an anonymous blogger identity or a potted history of the issues minus the little details like the grief, the loneliness, the self-pity and the doubt. Another mask.

I had not realized that I was such a private person.

In masquerades, pulling off masks is a fun ritual. People take them off gently, hesitantly, revealing the beauty beneath. Or they take them off playfully, with a flourish, and everyone exclaims and laughs about how they'd never have guessed or how they knew all the time.

What we don't often see is the way a mask that has been on for a long time might not be easily removed at all. How a person might start to tug at the edges and be surprised by their own reluctance to be revealed. How it might come off only painfully, in pieces, pulling little bits of flesh and blood with it, revealing the face underneath, raw and bleeding.

Pretty, huh?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

(I Hate) Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, which celebrates the beginning of European settlement and (supposedly) our great nation.

I hate Australia Day. Emily is to Australia Day as Uncle Scrooge is to...

In the last few years, there has been an incredible rise in nationalism in Australia. Once upon a time, Australians were noted for their low-key approach to patriotism and general lack of respect for authority and national institutions. It would have been considered very strange and over-the-top to make such a big deal about being Australian. We had a kind of Anglo-Saxon "She knows I love her, I don't have to tell her, after all I married her, didn't I?" approach.

I love my country. I love our landscape, our freedoms, our sense of humour - so many things than I can hardly count them. When I am overseas, I miss our blue skies with a physical ache. And although it pisses me off that my Big Dude went to Vietnam, I honour his service.

But I really dislike the fact that there now seem to be flags everywhere and constant talk about unity and loyalty to our nation. We actually had a kind of oath of allegiance to Australia at an awards ceremony at work the other day. I was being presented with an award, so I was happy to be there, I had no problem with the wording of the oath, but for some reason I kind of choked on it. Semi-compulsory patriotism makes me uneasy.

Did you ever know someone who possibly has kind of low self-esteem who suddenly went around declaring to everyone that they have finally found the greatest love of all? It's like that. Genuine self-esteem, like genuine patriotism, is good. But hyped-up self-esteem, hyped-up patriotism, feels all wrong to me. It makes me wonder what is really going on. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

And it has an unpleasant flavour to do it. Drunken yobs have been going around with flags, demanding that people who look Middle Eastern kiss the flag.

And our Prime Minister loves it. He knows that the more nationalistic we are, the easier it is to get away with having his picture taken with returning soldiers rather than answering any hard questions about what the hell they are actually doing in Iraq in the first place and how the hell we are all going to get out of there without the Middle East combusting. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Bah, humbug!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Moving House

Well, we have finally moved into our beautiful new house. My apologies for my absence without notice, but there was a lot to do and no internet access.

This week was horribly stressful. The work, the disruption, the carefully saved money hemorrhaging out of our accounts, the heat... aaaaack!

But now, we are living in a very pretty house with an even prettier garden. I wake up in the mornings to seeing my Little Dude exploring his new garden with his dad. It's lovely.

I think this year is going to be a very significant one. You know those times in your life when it feels like there is a lot going on, even if outwardly everything is the same?

I feel like those little ducks floating on the surface of the pond, apparently very calm and unruffled, but underneath... paddling like hell!

More later.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I went to church for the third time in a month today. I'm intending to go again.

I know. I have said lots of stuff about churches that might make that a bit surprising. I am a person who has been away from churches for a long time. Unfortunately, some quite terrible things have happened in a church context, both to me and to people that I love. For that reason, and other reasons too, I largely stopped going to church for the last 15 years. I do not think that I was wrong to make that decision.

But I think that I would like to try to make my way back. I would like to try to give them another chance. A guarded, wary kind of a chance, but a chance nonetheless. Because I am trying, in a sense, to give God more of a chance.

And I'm not sure that I can just do that in a solitary way, by myself. I think community is important, even if I'm not that keen on religious institutions. And I would like to give my little boy a chance to experience some of the good things I also experienced at church. I think that I would be wrong to deprive my little son of those things because of stuff that has nothing to do with him.

It's not easy for me to come back. And one of the barriers is that I am pretty sure plenty of church members would consider me to be somehow inadequate. A heretic and an unbeliever, among other things. Quite honestly, I think my theology is, if not exactly orthodox in a churchy kind of way, well within mainstream theological opinion. But a lot of Christians won't agree with me on that and I'm sure they won't hesitate to say so.

I also know that I am a lot of other things that those kind of people don't like. An unmarried, de facto mother of a sperm donor IVF baby, among other things. Once again, I don't think my relationships to my partner and baby are illegitimate, uncommitted or even all that unusual, but I appreciate that my choices aren't ones they'd advocate. Also, I'm opinionated. I can be very irritating that way.

So, to tell you the truth, I would like to go to church because I need certain things - encouragment, support, community, spirituality. But I am wary of going because I'm not sure that a church is actually a safe place for me to be, especially in my current state of mind.

I see a certain divide that is not easy to cross - not for them and not for me, either.

And there are certain words I do not want to hear: words like heretic, unbeliever, disobedient and not a proper Christian. I do not think that people who use those kinds of words truly understand their impact. They think they are defending the truth, and perhaps they are. But they are also excluding people like me who are trying to come back, possibly in a half-assed sort of way, because they are essentially saying "If you don't believe this particular thing right now" or "If you don't act in this particular way right now", "then you aren't one of us, we won't accept you, we won't listen to anything you have to say and we don't want you. Conform or leave".

They see no legitimate half way point. They don't seem able to see that a person met half way might eventually find a way to come back. They turn what they might ideally want that person to do into a sort of minimum requirement. And in that way, they make the journey back, already quite tricky, so discouraging that it becomes impossible.

Or they might get frustrated with me because I might not come all the way back. I might hang around in the margins, loving some things about church community and hating other things. Turning up sometimes and disappearing sometimes. But my presence there, on the margins, might be good for me and possibly good for the church, too.

I feel kind of fed up that it should be this difficult. Because I do not believe that the Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes and felt very free to criticise the religious institutions of his day would really find it so difficult to accept someone like me. I think he and I would have a lot to say to each other.

But then, I accept that I would not come away from that experience unchanged.

I accept that if I am too defensive in my attempt to go back, then there's not much point.

So, as you can see, I am deeply ambivalent about this.

So I am sort of trying it out. As a friend of mine once said, in a very different context, you have to suck it and see.

But I have a kind of bottom line in my mind. I am open to being changed by God, and even by going to church, otherwise there is no point in going. But it has to be the real me. I get that I can't just fling angry accusations at churches and expect them to still accept me, but I can't just try to fit in or appear to agree when I don't. Because that would turn me into a fake.

Frankly, I have a tendency to fakery. Because I secretly want everyone to like and approve of me. I am a people-pleaser by nature.

But I need to not be a fake more than I need to go to church.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Counselling I

I saw my counsellor. It was very good. I instinctively liked and trusted her and I was surprised by how much we covered in a first session.

Aftewards, though, I felt like an outer layer of skin had been pealed off. I suddenly felt very exposed and vulnerable with only that new, pink underlying layer between me and the world. Such a thin barrier didn't feel like enough to protect me.

As soon as I walked out of that session, I thought, This is why people avoid counselling.

And for some reason, an image of crab meat and a shady rock kept coming into my mind. I didn't know why. I know nothing about crabs. I don't even eat them.

But now that I have looked them up, I begin to suspect why. Apparently, crabs grow by shedding their outgrown hard shell. All they have for a little while afterwards is a soft shell and this leaves them very open to a world full of predators. So they hide under a rock or bury themselves in the sand until their new, larger hard shell grows.

I have to discard that outer shell or I won't grow. It feels safe, it feels predictable, but I can't grow unless I shed it and endure this vulnerability. My protection would become my cramped little prison.

But I do need to go scuttle under a rock for a few days.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Looking Again

I always think my life is boring. But sometimes, if I look again more closely, I see something more.

First, the Big Dude and I finally had one of those conversations I have been wanting to have. And I give him full credit. The things I was telling him were anxiety-inducing even for a person who doesn't have a stress disorder like PTSD. At first, he sat there unwillingly with a look of anger, defensiveness and anxiety. But then, his essential decency and his love for me partly overcame that. He listened, we talked, he hugged me. He also suggested some Naked Time.

Unfortunately, the Naked Time hasn't happened yet. We are still living like brother and sister. Since I put any sexual interraction between us into my blog, alert readers with photographic memories will know that there has been nothing since November. But at least we are living like a brother and sister who love and understand each other rather than like a brother and sister who live on different planets.

Then, blogland. Well, it's not every week that my habit of speaking my mind is greeted with the implication that my thoughts can be the voice of God but also the voice of a heretic and an unbeliever.

Oh, well. Not everyone shares my appreciation of biblical criticism and of Tennyson's In Memoriam AHH:

There is more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds

And after all, I find that I don't much mind being called a heretic. I mean, since people like Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Copernicus were all called heretics in their day, it could be considered a huge compliment. And now that Ali, the Undercover Nerd is forming a heretics club for cool chicks, it is even more appealing. I am quite pleased that no one can burn us at the stake, any more, though.

But my favourite moment of the week came this morning. My Little Dude, who has so far shown no interest in stacking blocks, building leggo towers and the like (he has only been interested in knocking them down), suddenly decided to casually build a leggo tower four blocks high.

Now, this is one of those moments where parents show just how deluded they are in their adoration of their children. To me, it was like watching someone who has never previously picked up a paintbrush suddenly making a start on the Sistine Chapel. I was more than excited - I was awed. My kid is clearly a genius!

I am already hoping this means he will ultimately decide to become an enginer or join some other high-earning profession. Then he can afford to keep his mum and dad in the luxury we'd like to become accustomed to.

This is also our last week in our cramped little flat in the bad neighbourhood before we move into our beautiful new house.

And tomorrow, I will have my first appointment with a counsellor.

Suddenly, my life seems full of event and interest. Maybe I should make a habit of always looking again.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Personality Type

I have been asked by The Visitor to take the Jung - Myers-Briggs Typology Test. According to this test, I am an ENFJ, the Teacher Idealist:

  • a slightly expressed extrovert (11)
  • a slightly expressed intuitive personality (12)
  • a moderately expressed feeling personality (50)
  • a very expressed judging personality (78)

The two descriptions sound like me, if I take the most flattering possible view of myself. I can see why these tests are so popular!

Description 1

The Idealists called Teachers are abstract in their thought and speech, cooperative in their style of achieving goals, and directive and extraverted in their interpersonal relations. Learning in the young has to be beckoned forth, teased out from its hiding place, or, as suggested by the word "education," it has to be "educed." by an individual with educative capabilities. Such a one is the ENFJ, thus rightly called the educative mentor or Teacher for short. The Teacher is especially capable of educing or calling forth those inner potentials each learner possesses. Even as children the Teachers may attract a gathering of other children ready to follow their lead in play or work. And they lead without seeming to do so.

Teachers expect the very best of those around them, and this expectation, usually expressed as enthusiastic encouragement, motivates action in others and the desire to live up to their expectations. Teachers have the charming characteristic of taking for granted that their expectations will be met, their implicit commands obeyed, never doubting that people will want to do what they suggest. And, more often than not, people do, because this type has extraordinary charisma.

The Teachers are found in no more than 2 or 3 percent of the population. They like to have things settled and arranged. They prefer to plan both work and social engagements ahead of time and tend to be absolutely reliable in honoring these commitments.

At the same time, Teachers are very much at home in complex situations which require the juggling of much data with little pre-planning. An experienced Teacher group leader can dream up, effortlessly, and almost endlessly, activities for groups to engage in, and stimulating roles for members of the group to play.

In some Teachers, inspired by the responsiveness of their students or followers, this can amount to genius which other types find hard to emulate. Such ability to preside without planning reminds us somewhat of an Provider, but the latter acts more as a master of ceremonies than as a leader of groups. Providers are natural hosts and hostesses, making sure that each guest is well looked after at social gatherings, or that the right things are expressed on traditional occasions, such as weddings, funerals, graduations, and the like. In much the same way, Teachers value harmonious human relations about all else, can handle people with charm and concern, and are usually popular wherever they are. But Teachers are not so much social as educational leaders, interested primarily in the personal growth and development of others, and less in attending to their social needs.

Description 2

ENFJs are the benevolent 'pedagogues' of humanity. They have tremendous charisma by which many are drawn into their nurturant tutelage and/or grand schemes. Many ENFJs have tremendous power to manipulate others with their phenomenal interpersonal skills and unique salesmanship. But it's usually not meant as manipulation -- ENFJs generally believe in their dreams, and see themselves as helpers and enablers, which they usually are.

ENFJs are global learners. They see the big picture. The ENFJs focus is expansive. Some can juggle an amazing number of responsibilities or projects simultaneously. Many ENFJs have tremendous entrepreneurial ability.

ENFJs are, by definition, Js, with whom we associate organization and decisiveness. But they don't resemble the SJs or even the NTJs in organization of the environment nor occasional recalcitrance. ENFJs are organized in the arena of interpersonal affairs. Their offices may or may not be cluttered, but their conclusions (reached through feelings) about people and motives are drawn much more quickly and are more resilient than those of their NFP counterparts.

ENFJs know and appreciate people. Like most NFs, (and Feelers in general), they are apt to neglect themselves and their own needs for the needs of others. They have thinner psychological boundaries than most, and are at risk for being hurt or even abused by less sensitive people. ENFJs often take on more of the burdens of others than they can bear.

Obviously, I am an incredible person and practically a saint - but you knew that already, didn't you!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Me First

Sometimes I feel a bit disgusted. It feels like the modern Western world has become all about Me First.

Now, I could rant about consumerism here. I could rant about the decline of morality, responsibility and even basic civility. But actually, I mostly hate this Me First attitude in relationships and especially among parents.

I see, all around me, people leaving their partners and the fathers or mothers of their children. And if you talk to those people, really talk to them, you can see why. A marriage that looks okay to other people can be full of a lot of silent suffering, invisible to outsiders. There can be a lot going on that no one would ever guess. Terrible things can happen - disabilities, infertility, mental illness, addictions, violence and so many other things - things that descend on us like a meteorite, leaving a burned out crater in the centre of our lives and our relationships. I get it. After all, I kind of live in one of those relationships myself.

But a lot, and I mean a lot, of relationships seem to break up for no really good reason. Because someone wanted to be free. Because someone feels they missed their chance to be young and cool and careless. Because someone wanted the romance and the passion and the being the centre of attention of the first years to go on and on. Or because someone wanted to just be a mum for a while and forget they had a husband as well. Or because someone, perversely, decided that they wanted to be a rude, bad-tempered, bitter old bastard or shrew who no one in their right mind would ever want to live with. Or because of some other combination of human laziness or apathy or selfishness or pig-headedness or wishful thinking that left the other person alone, abandoned and trying to do the impossible: fixing a relationship by themselves.

Because when it all became too difficult, for whatever reason, one or both people involved tried for a while - they tried everything except brutal self-reflection, honest confrontation, the pain and effort of long-term personal change and the embarrassment and expense of professional help. And then they decided Me First, and bailed.

There always seems to be a lot of people available to cheer this person on. After all, the world is full of frustrated adults, frustrated parents. We want more sex. We want more love. We want more attention. We want more intimacy. Or maybe we just want to be left alone and not have any of those things demanded of us. And it's not wrong to want any of these things. A lot of adult life sucks and is tedious and boring and romance and intimacy and sex, or even the right to neglect our partners and treat them like shit, are the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Wife or husband or partner not giving us those things we want? We've been cheated. We are entitled. We should find someone else. Me First.

And in a way, I agree. People are free to pursue happiness. People are free to look for their perfect mate, the one who they believe will complement them in every way. People are free to marry and divorce and remarry or any number of permutations of those choices. And there is a lot of it about. We seem, in Australia, to be heading for about a 30% divorce rate. And that doesn't count all the people who don't get married in the first place: O brave new world, that has such people in it!

But I wonder about it when kids are involved. I really wonder. Because the truth is that this brave new world has a cost and only some of the cost is paid by the parents. Most of the tab is picked up by the kids.

I know. I am a judgemental asshole who doesn't understand and I am giving you all the shits.

But I say this because I was one of those kids. One of those kids who gets to overhear those conversations about how he or she is unhappy. How he or she feels they married too young or married the wrong person. How he or she doesn't want to be married any more, at least not with this person. How the price is too high, the sacrifices too great. How they just want to be happy.

One of those kids whose father or mother leaves in the middle of the night - a hug, a blur of tears and he or she is gone. Gone for good. Or maybe not gone for good, but it's never the same. Maybe one of those kids who gets to tramp around between houses, carrying little suitcases. Who gets to see daddy or mummy at weekends. Who gets to become a little diplomat who learns to make awkward conversation with daddy's new girlfriend or mummy's new boyfriend. Who gets to smile politely, or even to burst into tears, as the stranger we wake up to find in bed with mummy or daddy fumbles around, unable to decide whether to try being a friend or a substitute parent. Who gets to understand that we can't have that simplest of childhood pleasures: to take our boring, irrelevant parents for granted.

I know how it feels to be left. To feel like the fact that he or she left must be our fault, however many times you are told it wasn't, because we believe that if we had only been more beautiful, more interesting, better behaved, we would have been a more compelling reason to stay. To have that belief so deeply ingrained that it, in turn, influences our own choice of partner, our own relationships.

And yes, I know that there comes a point in life where we have to stop blaming our parents for everything. Where we see our parents more realistically, with more compassion, and realize that they did their best, even if their best wasn't very good. But there also comes a point in life where we see, we really see, certain things about ourselves, including about our childhoods and why we are the way we are.

I know what it is like to be one of those kids whose parents were free to put their own happiness at the top of the priority list. Who were free to fuck up, fuck around and, finally, to fuck off. Who were free to look their children in the eye, harden their hearts and decide Me First.

And that's why I'm disgusted.

Not really with the parents who are breaking up around me. My disgust with what other people are doing is just a cover. Just a moment of frenzied self-righteousness that makes me feel a little better. Because I'm really disgusted with myself. With my own treacherous heart that looks at my life, my partner and my child and whispers Me First.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Love Letters

While packing yesterday for the move to our new house, I found a pile of our old love letters. When we were away from each other, we sometimes wrote each other letters that were a mixture of memory and fantasy:

You kiss me deeply on the lips and neither of us can draw away. I feel hypnotised by the feeling between us. Your hands and lips move over my body, creating a tingling excitement wherever they go. I ache, wanting and needing your caresses. You hold me tightly, murmering over and over that you love me. My gratitude to God and the universe, whichever sent you to me, seems to flow out from me and the air around us is thick with our passion and tenderness as we merge into one...

Actually, I just edited out the more explicit bits - I don't know why. Maybe I'm shy.

But I am trying to remember the last time we had sex when I was totally certain that he really wanted me. I went out to a university "heroes and heroines, bastards and bitches of history" party. I went dressed as Cleopatra in a glittering gold and black dress, much sexier than my usual style. I was confident that I was looking my absolute best and I kept up my persona all evening, enjoying being pursued by all those heroes and bastards. When I came home, my Big Dude was lurking, just waiting for me to get in the door. Then he pounced on me, pulled my dress off and ravished me extremely enjoyably.

That was 1994.

We still love each other and we have even created a beautiful child together out of our love and commitment.

But it's been well over a decade since we’ve had true, mutual passion between us - not "making an effort", not "trying", but just fucking for love, pleasure and fun and just because we both wanted to.

I miss it. I really, really miss it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blogging is Good

Another reason why blogging is good: sometimes you get the feeling you are not the only one in the world with your problem, with your darkest and most horrible thoughts, and just knowing that helps at least a little bit.

From a blog called Life, Death and Love I have been reading:

I've lived long enough for people close to me to die, and they've died too soon, too young, too late and too lonely. I've lived long enough to see unimaginable abuse, to know people's most secret failures, and see people's most dreaded of fears come to pass. I've seen rejection, handicaps, natural disaster and unnatural annihilation.

In it all I believed in the integrity and love of God but many times at the expense of my own integrity: I denied much of what was rolling and raging in me because I believed. I truly wanted to believe the problem of evil was all a matter of perspective, the glass is half full. But it was a thin blanket against a bitter cold because smiling at and affirming the fullness does not do away with the emptiness, there is still the place where there is absence. Nor is it the "half full" that is the true issue really, it is the fact of any emptiness at all in the face of a God who seems to promise fullness or at least has the power to deliver it but sometimes does and sometimes does not.

I sometimes think it would be easier if he consistently did nothing. There would be a certain comfort to be had in even that hopeless predictability, but I've seen God both show up and stand people up without so much as a clue why.

So true.

Apparently, this was a long time ago for this guy. Now, he seems pretty happy and fulfilled, his faith largely restored to him and motivating him to help others. So maybe there is hope for me yet.

Maybe I just have to hang on.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Something Happened

My Big Dude's health goes in cycles. Sometimes he feels much better, maybe 70% of normal, and sometimes he feels terrible, more like 20% of normal or even less - percentages referring mainly to physical energy and levels of pain but also to mood and ability to have something like a normal life.

At the top of the cyle, he is still not like a well person but he is able, if he conserves his energies and prioritises well, to do little things like go for a walk or go bowling, and feel a bit perkier and able to plan and enjoy his life. He also has some energy for activities like intimate conversation and sex. At the bottom of the cycle, he is just plain sick, able to do only the minimum to look after a toddler and spending the rest of the time hanging around on the sofa feeling utterly shitty and bored and useless.

Unfortunately, he reliably hits the bottom of the cycle over December - January every year. I'm not totally sure why, but it happens every year.

Which means that, this time of year, my life generally sucks. I have to put in a lot of physical and emotional energy to look after him and keep his spirits up. And I get very litle from the Big Dude in return. He just doesn't have the energy for much intimacy, either physical or emotional. He really is only just coping.

So I always get a bit miserable myself, this time of year. And I have been - sad and irritable and generally fed up. And I am worse than usual because, for some reason, my current spiritual crisis adds that element of despair that I usually manage to avoid.

Anyway, I had a particularly bad day a few days ago. Just so over it all. Really wondering if I can go on doing this year after year. Feeling hopeless and sad and so lonely. Wondering if our whole relationship is the worst mistake of my life. I escaped for a while to sit on the steps outside while the laundry was going.

And I prayed. I am not always sure if I believe in God or not, but I asked the God I'm not sure if I believe in for help:

Please, help me.

And something happened.

A warm, subtle, infinitely gentle breeze blew lightly against my face. And I don't know why, but I felt that God was there, listening.

I haven't felt like that for a long time. I sat there for a few minutes, allowing that breeze to comfort me.

Then it went away and I got up and went on with my day.

Was that God? I don't know. I wouldn't want to outline that as proof of God's existence in any philosophical forum.

Perhaps it was only the wind.