I Think About Righteousness and I Live By It.

The phrase stranger danger was coined back in the 60s, but it was something that continued to be used well into my childhood in the 80s. There were cartoon things schools would show kids to make them all aware that strangers could be a danger to you so be wary of them. I don’t remember ever being shown the cartoon or hearing my mom say the phrase, but I learned about stranger danger in other ways.

As a very young child, I lived in a neighborhood that had cheap rents and not a good reputation. I only lived there for maybe 3 years but it cemented the sentiment behind stranger danger to me. If we kids wanted to play outside, multiple adults accompanied us “just in case”. We weren’t sure what “just in case” really was, but they were there “just in case.”

Riding our bikes down the street or in the shared parking lot between my building and the next meant that there should be at least one adult for every child. That didn’t always work out for reasons, but usually there were plenty of adult eyes on us as we played outside.

When we moved to suburbia, the stranger danger mentality followed. We rode our bikes in roving gangs of children, we were to be inside by the time the streetlights came on, and my mom had us in an after school program when babysitters were no longer available to keep us so that we would be safe. We didn’t stay home alone for long when I was young and we made sure doors were locked, that we didn’t answer the door if our mom wasn’t home, and we stayed in the relative safety of our neighborhood when we hung out with our friends.

As a teen, I was a loner and stayed home more often than I had as a kid. My nights home alone were filled with music, books, and writing. I had friends and sometimes we would go out in semblance to the roving gangs of kids on bicycles from my childhood. Only now we had friends who drove where we wanted to go and there were usually at least 5 – 7 of us at a go. We were safer in groups as a kid and we were safer as teenagers because nothing horrible could happen to us.

Stranger danger shaped my childhood in weird ways. But the overall sentiment, no matter how safe we tried to be, did not always work out in everyone’s favor.

It is I who cause Osiris to be a spirit, and I have made content those who are in his suite. I desire that they grant fear of me and create response of me among those who are in their midst for I am lifted aloft on my standard, on my thrown, and on my alloted seat. – Spell 85 from The Book of Going Forth By Day

The disappearance and murder of Molly Anne Bish probably should have rocked my entire world when it hit the presses. Molly was my age and she had probably been taught the same things about stranger danger as I had. Maybe she watched the cartoons in school when I didn’t. In any case, she probably had a general awareness of her surroundings at all times, locked the doors when her parents weren’t at home, and did all the good things people and organizations tell you to do so that you won’t go missing or wind up dead.

But even with all of that, Molly still disappeared from her job as a lifeguard at a local lake. Her mother had been dropping her off each day and paid close attention to Molly’s surroundings before bidding good-bye and “I love you” to her daughter. The day before Molly’s disappearance, her mother noticed a suspicious looking white vehicle with a strange man in the parking lot with her, but she ignored it instead of calling it in.

The next day, June 27, 2000, Molly went missing and her mother remembered that strange car and the strange man sitting in it the day before. She was last seen by her mother wearing a blue bathing suit. At least her mother got to say good-bye, something that doesn’t happen often in these types of cases, even if she didn’t know it was the final good-bye.

For three hours on that day of June 27th, families came and went with their kids to enjoy the cool water on such a beautiful day. They all noticed that the lifeguard was missing, but no one thought to ask themselves why the lifeguard had left their water and bag of things out in the opening – which included their lifeguard whistle – and why the first aid kit was left open by the lifeguard post. Someone even took it upon themselves to pull the whistle out of Molly’s bag and use it as they played fill-in for the missing Molly Bish.

The police were finally contacted and immediately began trying to find Molly. There was no usual story about being a runaway; it was clear that Molly had not left her post willingly. What teenage girl would leave her things behind? A search was immediately organized, purported to be one of the most extensive and expensive searches in Massachusetts history.

They came up empty.

The police cordoned off the lake and turned it into the crime scene it was, but the detectives admitted that the evidence they collected was contaminated. The woman who had taken Molly’s whistle had trampled some of her things. Someone put the first aid kit away. There was evidence taken from the lake, but too many had come through and trampled it for the evidence to be the solid lead the police needed to find out what had happened to Molly.

As usual, the police looked at Molly’s family and friends, hoping to find a jump start on the case there. The police looked into her father’s job – he was a parole officer – wondering if this disappearance was linked to a disgruntled convict under her father’s thumb. But it seemed that her father was well-liked.

There were some thoughts that maybe she had taken off: a friend of hers had been injured badly and there was fear that she wasn’t going to make it. But everyone knew that Molly wouldn’t have left without telling someone. Or if she had left at all, she would have made the journey with other friends and not on her own. They kept coming back to the bag of things she had left behind with this theory too. Why would she have left her things at the lake even if she had gone off to visit with one of her friends?

The one thing that the police and Molly’s mother kept coming back to was the white car with the strange man from the day before. Other locals had seen the vehicle too in various places around the lake: in the parking lot, down the street, and in a campground that was reachable through a path in the woods from the lake. But no one seemed to know who it was who had been driving that white sedan. Flyers asking people if they knew who it was to call in to the tip line went up.

Tips came in, but nothing concrete surfaced.

In late fall of 2002, a local hunter was walking through the woods about 5 miles from Molly’s parents place when they saw something blue in the distance. The something blue looked like a bathing suit. That man didn’t investigate what he was seeing for whatever reason, but when he shared this story with a friend of his almost half a year later, his friend put two-and-two together and notified police.

The police found Molly after an intensive search. Her body had been strewn about the area known as Whiskey Hill due to predation. No cause of death could be determined. All they knew was that a happy, healthy 16-year-old girl had gone missing and her body found three years later, almost to the day, with no understanding as to what had happened in between.

Since the discovery of Molly’s body, no less than four people have been interviewed as persons of interest. In each case, the family is given a modicum of hope only to have those hopes dashed.

It seems like every other year there is talk of some new lead in the case. Two years ago, twenty-six pieces of evidence were submitted for enhanced DNA analysis to a lab in Texas. The police on the case were quoted a year later as saying that there is “cause for optimism based on some of the things we’ve tested.” Last year, detectives began searching the woods where Molly was found after a tip about a buried car – possibly the suspicious white car her mother saw the day prior – in the area. They took ground penetrating radar in the hopes of finding the car, but no new updates have entered the local headlines since last year.

Molly’s family continues to fight, pushing however they can for justice for her. Her sister said that she will keep fighting, a sentiment echoed by Molly’s mother repeatedly over the years. They won’t give up, or give in. They’ve hired private investigators to aid the police in their investigations.

In addition to the above, Molly’s mother and family have humanized her in a way that not many victims with cold cases are able to do. The fact that Molly disappeared and was murdered only 18 years ago gives the case a more humane persona than Danny Croteau’s news articles ever conveyed. The articles are less sensational, more to the point. Molly was a human being and we were able to learn about who Molly actually was versus what the newspapers would like us to believe.

I don’t think Molly was any different than any other 16-year-old girl. She wrote a letter once to a local mother who had lost her daughter in much the same way that Molly’s mother would lose her. She belonged to clubs and had a boyfriend. She had worries and concerns; she had plans and a future. Molly probably could have been one of my friends if we had gone to the same schools.

The only difference between her and I is merely a matter of circumstance. I came home in June 2000 if I went out at all; she never did.

I am Nun, and the doers of wrong cannot hard me. I am the eldest of the primeval gods, the soul of the souls of the eternal gods; my body is everlasting, my shape is eternity, Lord of Years, Ruler of Everlasting. – Spell 85 of the Book of Going Forth by Day

The word justice is a word that seems to have lost a lot of meaning. We hear it thrown around on true crime shows and fast paced drama TV shows. It’s in many headlines nowadays and all over the internet. It is justice that people speak of in situations like Molly’s where, for so long, we have wondered what happened and when someone will face charges.

But it isn’t necessarily justice that the family or those of us who have been heartbroken by the circumstances of this case that we’re looking for. The desire is to have the person responsible for this crime held accountable for their misdeeds and to pay for what they took away from the family when they took Molly from the life she had been cultivating for herself.

It’s been a little over 18 years and the family still holds out hope. They appear in the news about once a year, not always related to the possibility of new evidence or the re-hashing of old evidence. But they continue to spread a message of hope that one day, they will know what happened to their daughter and the person responsible will be held accountable.

We know it’s possible; the murder of a local teacher was solved just last fall and earlier this year, another murder case from the other half of the state was possible. With the changes in technology, it is absolutely feasible that the person who did this will one day be brought up on charges. But that day has been a long time coming and those who have held their breath, waiting for it to finally come, are still waiting.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Spell 85 of The Book of Going Forth by Day

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May He Live After Death Like Re Every Day.

As a kid, I loved being terrified and mystified by the television show, Unsolved Mysteries. The theme music, the voice over of Robert Stack, and the 80s visuals were all exactly what a kid like me wanted to scare the ever-loving shit out of myself. And there were plenty of nights where I wondered how the fuck I was going to fall asleep after that nightmare of an episode. Maybe I was just a weird kid.

In 1993, an episode aired that caught my attention because I knew the name of the victim. The year before, she had been murdered and there was no new information about the case so they turned to the public for help. I don’t know if that episode really did help at all because it was only six months ago that the killer was finally arrested.

When I finally read the articles about the arrest, I wondered if this would be just the first in a long line of cold cases to be solved. Earlier that summer, there had been hints of another cold case that had “new developments” though nothing more had been/has been released on the subject.

I was kind of right.

Another cold case was solved in the last month, just not the one I was keeping an eye out for. I only knew about this unsolved crime because of an article done early last year where the victim’s sister was interviewed. I can remember reading that article last year and thinking, how are they going to solve that?

Well they seem to have anyway.

On March 11th, a man was arrested for the 31-year-old crime. Based on the news coverage, it sounds like the suspect has all but confessed what with his story changes and all. Again I began to wonder if the cold case with developments from last summer would get an update finally; I had been following it since I was a teenager and if there were “new developments” then it stood to reason there were new leads.

But so far nothing.

I began to wonder what it must be like for the victims who have to wait so long for justice. Could their souls really move on if that’s their belief system anyway? Or do they wait around their families and around each new police detective assigned to their case, hoping that someone will finally confess or that some clue will blow the case wide open?

What made my questions worse was the knowledge that unsolved murders are a dime a dozen according to the county’s cold case database. It’s a long and depressing list, some recent and others not so much. Some will most likely never be solved; others may still have a chance.

One of them stuck with me after reading the victim’s name. More so even than the case with developments last summer. I can’t stop thinking about it. I remembered the name whispered by the adults when I was a kid and I can’t stop thinking about him.

O Lords of Justice, put an end to the evil harm which is in me. O you companions of the God of Justice, may this god be gracious to me… – Excerpt of Spell 14 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

The murder of Danny Croteau happened a decade before I was born, but all of the adults in my family remember it. This subject matter will be difficult and I have to warn you all here for triggers for sexual abuse and the Catholic scandals. For those not willing to read about this for mental health reasons, skip down further past the second picture below to the third paragraph in that section. (In addition, I have ceremoniously desecrated the name of the priest in this post.)

One of the things that the newspapers like to highlight the most about Danny is that he was an altar boy. Most articles reference this fact either in the title or within the first paragraph. They’re hoping to drag the reader in, to illustrate that a pure-hearted innocent was murdered. They also want to remind as many people as possible the abuse of power from the priest when they begin to pepper the details into their articles.

What they’re forgetting is that Danny was more than this two-dimensional news article image. He was an altar boy – an important position according to other kids who also held the role – but he was also a kid. He was a Boy Scout and maybe, if he had lived, he would have one day become an Eagle Scout. He helped out an elderly neighbor for nothing more than milk and cookies. According to one childhood friend, he was the kind of kid who would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him with no questions on why.

He helped his parents out around the house. He did chores and maybe he complained about the doing of them, but he did what he was asked. His family was big with a total of six kids and his blue-collar worker of a father working two and three jobs at a go to make ends meet.

But beyond all of that, he would go out and play with his friends. They would play pickup games of whatever sport in the street: baseball or wiffle ball. He would go fishing at the local watering holes and talked about, maybe, one day being a priest. He wanted to go to Africa, not as a missionary, but as a scientist. He would stay out late in the dark, hanging out with his friends and doing what kids did back then.

Danny Croteau had hopes and dreams. The articles rarely remind you about the fact that he was a kid and he had his whole life ahead of him to plan out. His life was cut short and the secrets that slowly spilled out after he died would, eventually, lead to one of the biggest scandals in the state of Massachusetts.

When the local parish priest first came to St. Catherine of Sienna church, he made an impression. The older members were discomfited by this youthful priest, who introduced modern music to the choir and preached against the Vietnam War. The phrase “hippy” was sometimes thrown out and around by the elder members of the church, but they couldn’t deny that he was bringing members back to the Church in droves.

Not only was he outspoken about his political views about the illegal war, he also made himself useful. The Croteaus weren’t the only family to receive the priest’s largess. He made himself useful. He would raid the church’s freezer and bring roasts or steak. He would give them money if they needed help to float the bills. He would babysit the kids, giving the parents a break when they needed it. He was helpful and kind and everyone who were helped out by him remarked that it was a status symbol:

The priest was seen eating at so-and-so’s home the other night, they would murmur. It was a mark of favor. It was supposed to show that he was part of the community centered around the church.

All it did was give him more and more access to the victims he had chosen.

The priest, F/ather L/avigne, had had rumors swirling around his name since before he even entered the seminary. He had been in trouble as a youth for “immoral acts” with children. But the Catholic Church didn’t care or never learned of it. They failed the people who F/ather L/avigne would later victimize.

Danny’s secret was the same secret children at the priest’s previous parish kept to themselves. It was the same secret that other kids in Danny’s church kept quiet. F/ather L/avigne had a predilection for little boys. He would coax them with alcohol and Playboys. He would watch them change into their altar boy smocks. He took them camping and had sleepovers both at the rectory and at his parents’ home in the city next door.

Danny’s secret, most likely, led to his murder, but we’ll frankly never know.

On the evening of April 14th, the day before the fishing season was to open, Danny never came home for dinner. It was a Friday night and his parents weren’t worried. Friday nights meant that the Croteau kids could eat whatever they wanted for supper and could stay out late. When Danny still failed to come home after dark, his parents went looking for him but he didn’t turn up at any of his local haunts. No one could confirm when they last saw him.

So they did the next logical thing: they turned to the police to file a missing person’s report. Unfortunately, Danny had to be missing for 12 hours in order for the report to be filed. By the time the official report was entered at 2:11AM, it was too late for Danny.

On the morning of April 15th, a fisherman showed up at a local spot that’s no longer in use. A guard rail has been put up in the name of safety and there’s no easy parking for locals anymore to fish along the Chicopee River. Back then, you could pull right up to the river and stay as long as you wanted. You just had to be careful of the trash leftover from local teenagers using the area as a party space or lover’s lane the night before.

The fisherman found Danny Croteau lying face down in the river about five feet from the river bank. He called it in and the local police, followed by the state police, were on the scene very quickly. They could see impressions from tire tracks, one of which appeared to have been made in the mud by a car getting out of there pretty quickly.

The mud had been kicked up and it was clear that a struggle had happened. Danny Croteau had fought hard for his life, fighting back against his killer with everything he had. By all accounts, Danny was a big kid and he probably tried to use his size to his advantage. But in the end, Danny lost the battle when his killer picked up a rock and killed him. The cops took impressions and found the murder weapon, which had both Danny’s blood and someone else’s on it. They thought it would be an easy case to solve.

The autopsy revealed that Danny was legally drunk at the time of his murder. It wasn’t the first time the 13-year-old had been either. Two weeks before his murder, after a sleepover at F/ather L/avigne’s family home, he came home feeling ill and was sick a few times. His older brother had a similar experience after spending the evening sleeping over at the priest’s family home, but the priest assured the Croteaus their son got into his parents’ liquor cabinet without permission.

The Croteaus never went to identify the body, F/ather L/avigne offering to do that for them. He said that they shouldn’t see him that way. Maybe he really did want to keep them from having the image of their son like that. He also talked them into a closed casket, again citing that they needed to remember their son as he was and not how he had died.

This was just the first of many instances where F/ather L/avigne seemed to do things that would zoom him to the top of the suspect pool. He was found at the murder scene the very next day and when he was interviewed, he asked questions that all true crime readers and police detectives note to be suspicious. They’re the type of questions the murderers ask to check to see how the investigation is going.

But this was Massachusetts and even though the police suspected the priest, there was no way a Catholic priest could do this. Catholicism was the top religion in the state and is still the religion du jour according to the Pew Foundation. They had to tread carefully. Not only was the local DA a Catholic, but no one could believe that a priest would do something so heinous.

F/ather L/avigne lied during his interview, claiming that he hadn’t seen Danny since the sleepover where the child had come home seemingly hung over. A witness came forward to say that Danny had been at their home a week or so before his death and made a call to “his father” to pick them up. It was F/ather L/avigne’s car that came to pick up Danny, not his father.

After the funeral for Danny, presided over by the very man police were beginning to suspect in the homicide, F/ather L/avigne told Danny’s parents he couldn’t be seen with them anymore. Carl remembers being bewildered by the call, which came seemingly out of the blue. They didn’t know that he was a prime suspect or that he had abused their son. All they knew at that point was that the very priest who had helped them over and over again was now claiming he couldn’t help them during the worst moment of their lives.

F/ather L/avigne, with the backing of the Catholic Church, was brought in to pass a polygraph test. He couldn’t have done the horrible deed, of course, if he passed and that would put the whispers floating around the city to rest. For all intents and purposes, it sounds very much like he failed the first test. The newspapers claim it was inconclusive. Two further tests were completed at the backing of the Church and he passed.

F/ather L/avigne was transferred to another local church, St. Mary’s, amid the swirling rumors about his hand in Danny’s death. Most of the kids who had been abused by F/ather L/avigne could believe that he would do it. The priest, apparently, had an explosive temper and they, of course, all secretly knew why the priest would want to do such a thing. The police heard the claims and felt that the motive was not only damning but obvious.

Local opinion is that the police didn’t handle the case well. They seemed to tiptoe around the Catholic Church. This is true, by all accounts. While the police seemed to believe that, along with the local D.A., he had committed this crime, there wasn’t enough evidence to seek an indictment. The Croteaus were not only informed of the abuse their son had suffered, but some of their other sons confirmed they had also been abused. With that, they filed criminal complaints against their priest. But the D.A. said that there was no way they could convict a Catholic priest for the murder…

In the early 90s, when I first heard family members speak about the case, there was new heat on the case. In 1991, F/ather L/avigne was arraigned on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. His congregation was floored by the reports. Men and women and children all picked sides: those who believed the priest could do something so horrific and those who did not. The scandal threatened to destroy parishes – and in fact the parish where the abuse claim stemmed from did in fact break in half – and the first Catholic abuse scandal was born.

I won’t detail the long list of names that came forward, courageous people who spoke out against the priest. I’ll leave this link to the Bishop Accountability page for anyone who wants to explore it.

Suffice to say that the priest who was supposed to finally get his comeuppance for the abuse he had perpetrated, and the murder 20 years before, against the innocent never came. He pleaded guilty, but never spent a day in jail for it. He was never to serve as a priest again, but the Catholic Church paid him every month. He wasn’t defrocked, just retired.

The Croteaus were hopeful that this would do it; they would finally get the justice that their son deserved. The case was reopened by the new D.A. at the time now that victims of F/ather L/avigne’s were coming out of the wood work. They came out in droves, suing the Catholic Church and the priest himself, for the horrors they had suffered at his hands in long-suffering silence.

DNA testing was still in its infancy back then, but evidence collected at the scene was sent to a lab. Blood typing had confirmed that Danny’s blood type and another, Type B, was on the murder weapon and some of that blood was on a piece of rope found at the scene. The lab cleared F/ather L/avigne’s blood from the murder weapon, but couldn’t conclusively do so on the rope found at the scene. It wasn’t enough evidence for the case to go to trial as the D.A. believed they didn’t have enough evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt.” The case went cold again.

In the early 2000s, after I had moved out of state, the case came back under the lime light again. Litigation had been filed by a local lawyer to release the gag order on the documentation surrounding the sex abuse and murder investigation against F/ather L/avigne. The lawyer needed it to determine if the Diocese was complicit for the lawsuits that would eventually be filed. A judge ordered the documentation released to the public even though the D.A. fought hard against it. He claimed it would do more damage than good.

Maybe the D.A. just didn’t want to try or care anymore. After his failure in the early 90s, maybe he couldn’t face another failure or people claiming he had done nothing after claiming he would do something.

But maybe this was all that he needed to try, once again, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that F/ather L/avigne was guilty of murder. DNA testing had come a long way since the early 90s, something the D.A. acknowledged.

He sent the evidence in for testing one more time and the testing failed to link F/ather L/avigne to the crime. Thirty-two years after becoming the only suspect in the murder (as all other suspects had been ruled out concretely), hope for justice finally died.

Around the same time, a local priest began to refuse to give the tithes from his parish church to the Catholic Diocese until they defrocked the sexual abuser in their midst and stopped paying for L/avigne’s retirement. He was threatened by the Diocese but his parishioners agreed with him. Others joined in the fight, but it was Father James Scahill who pushed and pushed. He won his fight and L/avigne was defrocked.

That was the only justice the Croteaus would ever know.

… I shall be aware in my heart, I shall have power in my heart, I shall have power to do whatever I desire… – Excerpt from Spell 26 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

I can remember an aunt of mine saying emphatically, “that priest did it; he killed that boy!” I was at her house and I came into the conversation too late to make sense of it. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It haunted me for a while because I couldn’t fathom – as many who viewed the abuse scandals of the early 2000s against the Catholic Church – that someone would do something like that to one of their parishioners.

She mentioned other names – kids she knew who had been abused by the priest. But it was the murder charge she levied against the priest that stuck in my memory. I didn’t understand it all until I saw Danny Croteau’s name on the cold case database for the county. It was the only time I would hear about it before I began digging into the case myself.

I visited the graves of the Croteaus some weeks back. Danny’s been joined by other family members, including his father. He’s no longer alone at least. The bench pictured above was the only thing I was comfortable photographing while I was there, paying my respects to a family who had survived the most horrific thing that I can imagine a family going through. All reports show that, even at the height of it all, the Croteaus never lost their faith.

As I stood before the stone bench on a cold Sunday morning, I tried to understand what it must have been like, not only for the family but for Danny too. His life had been cut short tragically and brutally. Thinking about it in terms of my own son, I am frozen by the intensity of my own feelings on the matter; I can’t describe the feeling at all. I can’t imagine how the family managed to survive at all.

As I thought about Danny the last few weeks while writing this entry and visiting his grave, I wondered about his soul. Was he resting in the arms of God? Or was he watching his family, waiting for them to join him before he went to wherever it is his soul has gone to? Was he angry that justice would never be served and that the likely murderer still lives?

I can’t answer these questions; maybe I’ll never know the answers but maybe one day I will.

All I can do is honor the boy’s memory and remember him. I can remember him as the wild child who hitchhiked where he wanted to go and wrestled at the YMCA. I can remember him as the prankster who stopped before running off that fateful April 14th evening to help his mom bring a rug inside and setting it back in its place.

I can think that maybe he’s a little at peace, even though justice will have to wait until the alleged murderer has to face his Maker whenever that will be. At least he’s back with his father now and maybe, I think, he probably did wind up in the arms of God. His mother always figured he had become an angel and if he did become one, maybe he’s the angel who watches out for those who need protection the most.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Excerpt from Spell 85 from the Book of Going Forth By Day

Lent 2018: C’est Fini.

I don’t ever really know what to expect when I observe Lent. I know what I would like to see happen and I know what I would not prefer to happen, but I’ve learned that expectations should be left out of it. In my experience if you go in with even a modicum of expectation, they’ll be fire bombed from orbit. It’s always better to not have them.

I’ve also discovered that, as the Lenten season progresses, I find myself feeling more and more helpless and hopeless. I always start off with some slight hope that my observance will be pleasing – to the gods, to the ancestors, to God, whomever really – but by the end of it all, I feel very much as if I’ve been marooned in the desert with nary a drop to hydrate myself with. It’s simultaneously frustrating and the whole purpose.

Forty whole days of sacrifice is hard. The point is reinforced over and over again through strategic points in those forty days. I’ve often wondered if the reinforcement of that point is something everyone goes through or of it’s something I, myself, go through because of my mental illness. The mind is always tricky and the constant belief that I have failed can be overwhelming.

In every instance, I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. I may not have had my eyes fully opened the first time this happened, and to be fair things were drastically different for me back then, but the constancy of my mind telling me that I’ve fucked it all up is even more draining than I can convey.

I often wonder if Catholics go through the same thing. I don’t have any I can really ask; all the ones I know intimately have long since lasped from that faith. I don’t think that they do to be honest. They have the ability to reach out to a deity who is not mine and feel the comfort therein.

I’ve thought about that too. Beyond asking the ancestors for some succor, what if I were to reach out to that amorphous deity or His son? In every instance, I am always reminded about why I turned away from the monotheism of my youth. I turned away from monotheism on purpose and while I’ve discussed some of those reasons here, not all of them have come up. I can say that the idea of reaching out to a deity who is not my own especially after my many years’ journey since I left is not a viable option.

Thus the hopelessness and helplessness.

It is, to be sure, why I always want to stop observing. But the ancestors are clear: if I am to have my way with venerating them, then compromise is part of that plan. And thus this compromise.

May we have communion with God in the secret of our hearts, and find Him to be to us as a little sanctuary. – Charles Spurgeon

This year, I gave up two remote concepts as opposed to anything realistic. When my mother finally asked me what I had given up, she sounded disappointed in my answer. My coworkers (who have always found it interesting evidently to ask what sacrifice I have planned for Lent) also seemed particularly disappointed in my response. This only made me realize how much outsiders always seem to view Lent as a physical sacrifice of X, Y, and Z thing. They never think of it really as bettering yourself.

But that was the point I was hoping to achieve. I had found my failings in the last few months after Advent and knew that I needed to step back from the obvious and move more towards the ambiguous. I needed things that while expressed in physical representations were more nebulous and vague than what I had done in the past. Besides after last year’s destruction, I felt I was owed, I guess, a little break from those types of things.

Sloth and gluttony are both part and parcel with my depression. Recently, a conversation with my son (who has a tenuous grasp on mental illness at 10 though he is starting to get it) pointed out that he thought my inability to do much after work was a direct result of laziness. I realized then that that was exactly what I thought too. I wasn’t taking into consideration my own limitations due to my mental illness. After a whole day of being on the go from the moment I wake up, I was more than entitled to take time out to rest.

The problem is, as many people know, the work/life mix that seemed easily found years before is no longer viable. But with all the other concerns that come along with working a 9 to 5 that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet, the work/life mix is difficult to achieve. Even with the knowledge that I am very much like most people in my very same circumstances, I did at least try to move beyond sloth and gluttony as much as I was capable.

The end result was less that I was capable of doing more but the realization that there are two other people in this house who consistently do less. After twenty days and an impending burn out, I made it clear to both of them that I needed help not simply because of mental illness but also because my job takes up most of my energy all day, every day. I need help and oddly enough, the call was answered.

Upon thinking about this, I thought back to The Empress card from the ancestors. They had reminded me that I needed to take care of myself too no matter what end game I was hoping to achieve. Self-care isn’t my strong suit in any way to be honest. But I needed to both better myself while simultaneously taking care of myself.

I think they were hoping I would speak out and ask for help.

I did so a few times these past forty days, not just at home but elsewhere too. I had found my limitations and knew that no matter how hard I would prefer to be able to move past them, those limitations were the end game for me. It was either, help me please, or continue to suffer in silence and run headlong towards the inevitable break down.

I can’t say for sure but I would assume that finding your limitations and being vocal in your inability to get past them is a step in the path to bettering yourself. The ancestors, anyway, seemed pleased with it.

While the hopelessness and helplessness of the previous month or more hasn’t completely faded from me, I am hoping that it will continue to lessen as time goes by. I would like to assume that this is a turning point; a moment in time where I remember that human beings, myself included, are not perfect and are not robots. Sometimes we need others to step in and help out.

It is the resurrection that makes Good Friday good. – Ravi Zacharias

I can always see the end coming when I make my yearly appointment to donate blood. This has been something that I have been doing for years, as long time readers of this blog can attest, and it has always seemed very fitting for me to continue the trend though the connotation has much changed.

Originally this was a devotional act. It made sense to me that Sekhmet would like it if I, as her devotee, would donate blood in her name. People who read this often were horrified at the prospect, focusing wholly on her destructive aspect and the blood soaked pre-world where she vamped her way through scores of hapless human beings at Re’s say so.

They always seemed to be forgetting entirely her healing prospect. And to be sure, donating blood is an act of healing. Not only can the blood be used for someone who needs whole blood, but it could also be used in various trials that require whole blood for the testing. Previously, in my experience, people were too focused on the word “blood” and not what the donation is used for. And since the health organizations are horrifically discriminatory against the lgbtq+ community at large, I often go to try to make up for an entire swath of the population who can’t donate due to that discrimination.

The funny thing is that blood donation as slowly morphed to a devotional act for Sekhmet to an act of remembrance for my ancestors.

A little known fact is that my mother used to donate blood before she started on medications that leave her out of the running. An even lesser known fact is that my maternal grandfather did the same thing. It seems appropriate that I continue the family tradition. I even brought my son this time so he could watch and start to think about whether this is something he would do when he’s old enough.

The sacrifice of some blood on Good Friday is a fitting ending to the season of Lent.

Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life. – Janine di Giovanni

In my final homage to both the ancestors and Lent, I spent time with them this morning. I sat in reflection of what the past 40 days were like and gave a very heartfelt thanks that things were easier this year than last year. The specter of my last Lent had stayed with me for about half the forty days before I was finally able to release it.

I asked the ancestors as I always do what I could expect now that I’ve come through this most recent season. They slammed me with The Magician. This card heralds the start of The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana and speaks to the beginning of the path ahead. While standard Rider-Waite iconographic interpretation discusses the fusion of the spiritual and mundane as well as hints at the use of all four alchemical elements present in Tarot, the deck I use for my ancestors is a little different.

The imagery of the Antique Anatomy Tarot is a little less obvious than the standard Rider-Waite imagery. The alchemical symbols for earth, air, fire, and water are present along with the symbol for Mercury, associated with The Magician card. But that is where the similarity ends. There is no overt symbolism related to the fusion of both the spiritual and mundane… except that there is. It’s just a little more intuitive than other decks.

As I sat there, focused on the metaphor of The Fool’s opening salvo for the journey ahead, I couldn’t help but wonder what more could be coming my way. A fusion of mundanity and spirituality has been something that I think many of us hope for but often fall flat of the mark that we set for ourselves.

The ancestors whisper of trust and care, of love and progression. They murmur of intuition and dreams, reminding me that a meat bag like I can achieve what I want most. I guess we’ll have to see.

Lent 2018.

The Lenten season decided to sneak up on me this year. One moment, it was the New Year and a decision about observing Lent was weeks ago; the next moment, it was only in a few days and I had to decide whether or not I could face it again. After last year’s fiasco, the ancestors couldn’t really blame me for being leery of the prospect.

The funny thing is that, even with how awful things were last year, once I was able to look back and take stock, I could in fact see how it worked to better develop my relationship with them. I spent more time with them during Lent and I found myself relying on their advice more heavily than I would typically. On that end, we could say it was a bit of a success.

And as always, I really don’t want to disappoint them. They aren’t able to take part in these little rituals anymore. It’s for them that I say an occasional Hail Mary or Our Father. It’s for them that I pay homage to saints and have begun adding certain saints’ feast days to my celebratory calendar. It is with my ancestors in mind and the knowledge that through me, they can reconnect with their physical representations of faith that I do these things.

So, as much as I definitely wanted to say, “oh no, I think not,” this year, I knew that I wouldn’t. No matter how awful things were last year, I could remind myself that the the point in the season is about deprivation, about preparation, and about reflection. I spent a good deal of my time last year doing all of those things and at the end of the day, even with the awful fallout, I can say that it definitely wrought change even if I didn’t really expect it to.

With that reminder in mind, I thought about what I wanted to give up. I have a habit of choosing really big things and then getting angry with myself for not following through or forgetting or just generally not going a full 40 days of deprivation.

I think, in all the times I’ve observed, I’ve been successful exactly one time. On the flip side, I can say that last year was a success in and of itself, just not in the way I had expected.

I’ve decided to get down to brass tacks this year though. I’ve decided to tackle two of the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth and gluttony.

sloth

Thou seest how sloth wastes the sluggish body, as water is corrupted unless it moves. – Ovid

One of my major failings – and I have many – is sloth.

I spend my entire work week having to complete things in very specific and predefined timelines. If I don’t meet the expectation that we have given the client for whatever item I am working on, then our value/add goes down in their eyes. And of course, I hear about it from the Big Boss.

So all day, every day, I am working with the knowledge that I have a finite period of time to see to whatever it is that I am seeing to.

Almost in response to this constant pounding nag that I have only so much time to do something, I tend to put off everything else in my life. I have to send out mail? Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. I have to flip my bookshelves because they’re bending again? Meh, I’m not in the mood so I’ll get it tomorrow. There’s a sink full of dishes and no bowls left? You know what, I’ll just get to it tomorrow.

The problem is that tomorrow never shows up because by then, the task has become insurmountable. Instead of dealing with things when it’s time to deal with them or when I realize it needs to be done, I continue to push it off in the hopes that either someone else will do it for me or I can nag someone else into doing it for me (with limited success).

When no one bothers to step up to the plate to do it, I end up doing it anyway and am disgruntled by how much harder I’ve made the task for myself. And yet, I continue to do this.

Tomorrow is a day that never comes and the cycle flourishes.

The best part is that I know what will happen when I tell myself I’ll deal with it later, but I don’t bother to stop putting myself in this untenable position over and over again.

I have a variety of reasons why this is a thing. If it’s because the chore in question is related to Big Adulting Stuff, the reason is quite simply that I am too anxious to do the Big Adulting Stuff. So, it’s better to ignore it (wrong – as I know) than to actually do it. If it’s the smaller things, then the only reason is because I’m exhausted and I frankly don’t want to have to deal with it.

As tired or anxious as I may be that doesn’t mean life doesn’t keep happening.

So, in an effort to continuing in this vein for yet another year, I’ve decided to take into consideration the fact that what happens when I get home from work tends to mean that I am not going to do whatever needs to be done.

During dinner, I get sucked into Internet or TV. And then I’ll read because I don’t want to deal with the things waiting for me. And then I’ll write if I have time or continue to binge watch whatever I was binge watching earlier that week. I have a lot of things that drag my attention away from where it needs to be, so I’ve decided to limit that.

Television off. Phone on vibrate unless I’m using it to listen to music. Books and laptop are not allowed out until 7:30. That gives me an hour and a half to deal with whatever thing I’ve been putting off that needs to stop being put off.

Gluttony

Gluttony and idleness are two of life’s great joys, but they are not honourable. – Julie Burchill

Another major failing of mine is a form of gluttony.

When I think of the word gluttony, the image those most often comes to mind is a Roman banquet of epic proportions replete with periodic stops at the vomitorium to make room for the next course. I can absolutely and confidently say that I am not like that – in fact, I’ve been losing weight fairly steadily since I flipped my diet last year prior to my gallbladder surgery.

But, I do have a tendency of eating out more than my budget can handle. And I have a tendency of blowing my monthly budget out of the water with idiot mistakes… like going out to eat more often than I should. To me, not following the strict budgeting I’ve put into place for myself in an effort to achieve a Big Adult Goal this year is a part of gluttony.

In a way, gluttony ties back to my slothful tendencies. As I was thinking on these two things to give up, it occurred to me that, very easily, the two go hand-in-hand. While I may not consciously push off cooking dinner, I always have a host of canned responses as to why I don’t bother. The phrasing of those reasons tends to be me highlighting how tired I am because of work and how I’m just so hungry right this second that I need to get something immediately instead of waiting.

I’m lying to myself every time I do this and I know that I am. Every Tuesday, or thereabouts, the kid and I make dinner together. (Usually tacos.) It doesn’t take me that long to get that dinner finished and every Tuesday, I come home “starving” and desiring to just dip into a bag of Cheetos or make something quick that I can eat that much sooner.

But because this important to my son, and to the S.O. when he comes home to leftovers, I know that the canned responses are, in fact, bullshit. It’s a carefully coordinated and class act, but it’s all bullshit for as far as the eye can see.

So, I will be saying good-bye, generally anyway, to junk food and fast food. Going out to dinner for a pre-planned [and therefore budgeted] meal with the S.O. or my son is one thing, but going out three nights a week because I don’t feel like taking the half hour it may take me to cook dinner is ridiculous.

And this way, hopefully, I’ll be able to, you know, stick to that budget that’s been crying at me every month when I look at my bank statements. That way, I can ensure that on top of giving up, I can continue to give back to the community and various causes as I was doing last year even if it’s just a few bucks here and there.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. – Luke 9:23

After my last fast food hurrah with my son yesterday, I took the time to clean and rearrange the ancestors’ place of veneration. I sang songs and made sure that I had everything set up with all the appropriate symbolism that goes into my relationship with them on a daily basis.

I sat down with the ancestors briefly (since I had to help out with the annual Valentine’s Day hoopla for the kid’s school) and asked them what sort of advice they had for me going into this. I reminded them about the concerns I had going into last year’s Lenten season and that, to be honest, I didn’t really have the same concerns but that they were there nonetheless. I pulled The Empress card in response.

Among other things, The Empress is about nurturing and creativity. These were two things that I failed to do for myself last year. Instead of nurturing myself and pushing myself forward, I was too busy beating myself up for every perceived mistake. Instead of going into the season with creativity and excitement, I went into it with a heavy heart and just about set myself up to fail.

As always, I don’t know what the next 40 days will bring, but it certainly will be interesting. Hopefully, when things get a little tight or I start getting down on myself, I can reflect back on The Empress and remind myself that success in something like this is measured less by the tangible and more by the feeling left behind.

Lent 2017: See What’s Behind.

I have a planning mind, I guess. It’s a trait from my mother. We all plan things in various ways. We make lists for all types of necessities: shopping, next steps, goals, packing, etc. I can remember watching my mom make lists and my grandmother’s lists on the kitchen table when I was a kid. I have never figured out if it was simply a learned behavior or just a requirement stemming from genetics.

I walked into Lent a little half-assed. I knew I was going to do it some weeks before it began. The ancestors were hammering me so. I couldn’t have said no even if I wanted to (and oh, I honestly did want to) and so, I went forth with a half-assed plan:

  • No meat dinner on Fridays
  • Quitting smoking
  • Donations to worthy causes

It wasn’t a huge list but the ancestors agreed it was a good idea. They backed my play and when I asked them what I could expect they turned sorrowful, almost regretful. They said I would know despair but that it was for the best in all ways. They told me not to worry – they told someone with anxiety to trust and follow the road ahead no matter where it went.

It was a large and bitter pill to swallow.

It choked on the way down.

biTteRNeSS bEfoRE bREakFASt

Maybe I’m foolish, maybe I’m blind… – Human by Bone ‘n’ Rag Man

It started as innocuous as could be. The hardship was there, but as I looked over it each morning, I found the mountain ahead not quite insurmountable. It was perhaps a little difficult to climb, maybe the path wasn’t always so very clear but, I was fairly certain I could do it.

To be fair, it’s easy to look back at a time of darkness and make it lighter. To prevent myself from doing that, I kept careful notes each morning. And yes, it was hard and annoying. And yes, I whined a lot. And yes, I grew quite wrothful. But going through my notes, it looks a bit like it maybe wasn’t as bad as all of that to a degree.

It’s the mind that gets you.

I’m out of the forest of depression and anxiety now. They’re both still there but not to the nth degree that they were. The gray, finger-like branches of depression and the thunderous cloud bursts of anxiety have faded. I’m grateful for all of that.

They mentioned trust; the told me sorrow.

They reminded me in little ways that this was all for the best:

  • The SO telling me that Lent is about bettering oneself and what is quitting an addiction if not bettering oneself?
  • The son telling me that I was doing so well.
  • My mother buying me a mid-Lenten hurrah gift to show me how proud she was of me.
  • My boss buying me a 12-pack of diet Coke to succor me through the hard days ahead.

There were many little things that popped up to remind me that the road ahead, while tumultuous and obviously sorrowful at some point, it was all for the best. So long as I continued to trust in what was coming, then I could move forward perhaps not quite with alacrity but at least forward. 

I was reminded as I moved along of all those conversations I had had in the last 2 years with gods and fellow polytheists about trusting in the path, the journey, the gods. Those conversations tended to be about a sort of blind faith and I fought against those pieces of advice every time.

The ancestors laughed when I mentioned this to them. They told me that I was trusting them now. How different could it be from trusting the gods?

They had me there.

Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Take a look in the mirror and what do you see? – Human by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

Lent was less a time of introspection, of sacrifice, of bettering myself than a steady nosedive into a fiery oblivion. I could recognize that many of my actions were self destructive but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Even when I assured myself that I would not fall prey to my own foolishness, it seemed as if I had to go through with it anyway.

The ancestors shushed my qualms and told me to keep going.

I burned my bridges with alacrity, destroying everything in my path.

During one such moment, I was yet again reminded of Sekhmet and the Destruction of Mankind. While I burned and destroyed, leaving decay and chaos in my wake, she did too. When I felt closer to her than I had in over a year, she came to me to succor me as a mother to a child. Her presence was calming and the rage within subsided.

By then, though, I had fucked myself ten ways to Sunday.

It was 30 days in and upon realizing that everything was a disaster, I gave up Lent. I didn’t give to another charity. I ate meat that Friday and had picked up smoking that very morning. The reasons are immaterial to this blog or entry and I won’t go into them. But when the haze of rage finally cleared, I saw the destruction I had wrought and I truly knew despair.

The ancestors were right.

I was, of course, angry with myself but I was also angry with them. They reminded me about trust. They told me that it was dismal now but things were going to get better. I figured they were lying to me, trying to keep me around before I dismantled their altar and kicked them all out.

Maybe it’s human nature to want to believe. Or maybe the idea that I would be getting rid of one of the few things in my life that I had come to rely on stayed my hand. They reminded me to trust, to believe, and I did.

where would we be without friends

Some people got the real problems. Some people out of luck. – Human by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

Just before Palm Sunday, the dismal abyss of my life began to light up again. The ancestors were coy and cheerful when I checked in, but they assured me that I was headed in the right direction. They also assured me that they had my best interests in mind. The overall theme of that conversation was less about trust and more about belief; they’d get me through.

So the sun came out and shined upon me. My anxiety and depression had already receded to moderately manageable levels when I had started smoking again. It fell back further, hiding from the light that was shining down upon me.

Things are better now. The spiral into the dark chasms that was the first 30 days of Lent became an uphill climb out of darkness the last 10 days. Everything is far from perfect, but it’s much better now.

Immediately after seemingly to fail, I asked the ancestors if they were disappointed in me. I was a little disappointed in myself, less because I had failed and more because so many people had assured me they were so proud of me. I had disappointed them all and assumed my ancestors would feel the same.

They laughed at me when I asked. They told me that this road I had traveled for Lent wasn’t about the goals I had made for myself but had been more about my ability to trust in them. I had proved over and over again throughout Lent that I trusted what they were telling me and acted upon those words. They were sorry for the hell I went through but advised it was the only way to kick my ass into gear.

And they were/are right.

I needed The Tower to happen in order to meet Death.

I needed destruction and death on all sides in order to be resurrected.

Them akhu be damn tricksy, but I trust them finally. I believe them when they tell me not to worry about X thing but to instead focus on B. We’re all in this together with concrete and symbiotic goals that we need to meet to fulfill a dream. They’re needs are intertwined with mine and I realize that they can be trusted to get me through.

Thus endeth the lesson.

The next one, well… I can say it’s a bitter pill to swallow too. But perhaps not quite so bitter as this last one.

Lent 2017: Heart with a Gaping Hole

I’m just at the halfway mark and I would love to say that things have changed so very much. I want to say that I’m upbeat and positive, that the mood swings have gone, and that I am floating on a natural high of my own ability. I want to tell everyone that I feel better, healthier and ready to get active again.

But I can’t say any of that. The ancestors promised me despair; Lent has more than delivered.

Depression

Dark twisted fantasy turned to reality; kissing death and losing my breath. – Bones – MS MR

I don’t necessarily feel like a monster anymore, which could be a good thing. Maybe monster is too strong of a word.

Every day tends to have at least one single moment where I am ready to break down and say fuck it, fuck this, I just can’t do it. There is just that given moment in a given day – sometimes more than one and sometimes just the one – that leaves me questioning why I chose this course of action in the first place.

People always remind me then to look to my reasons. They tell me to remind myself with the reasons behind this choice to keep myself on track. To be honest, I can’t actually remember what those reasons were anymore. I stop and ask myself why the hell I’m doing this and I honestly can’t remember.

I always come back with an ambivalent response. There is always a “but…” in there somewhere. I didn’t really want to quit. The ancestors didn’t give a shit what I fore-went during this season. And I could have found something else if I tried hard enough.

But here I am, ambivalence and all, on day 20.

The least expected thing to start cropping up was the depression. I knew that I used this addiction to aid me through my anxiety and that it helped me to cope with all of that. I had figured that part out pretty quickly. It just honestly never occurred to me that I had been using it for my depression as well. I don’t know why I never thought of it.

My depression is usually small, pretty manageable. It’s the anxiety that causes the most trouble.

I’m high functioning so most people don’t realize that I do have mental health issues. The first time I mentioned my anxiety to a coworker at work, they stared at me in shock. I haven’t ever mentioned the depression; I can imagine that I don’t fit into my coworkers’ ideas about what a depressed individual looks or acts like.

My depression is something that sits there on my back like a gray monster. Sometimes it is big enough to smother me, much like it is now; other times it is just a small annoying weight back there. It started to grow around day 13 or so, maybe day 12. It seems to have grown as much as it was going to. I don’t think it’ll get any worse at any rate.

To be honest, I was kind of hoping it would stop of its own accord and start to shrink back down again.

It hasn’t.

It most likely won’t.

health

Lost in the pages of self made cages; life slips away and the ghosts come to play; these are hard times – Bones by MS MR

I’ve noticed that I don’t have a lot of patience anymore. I scream a lot more in the car and while everyone always said that I drove like an asshole before, I definitely do now. I yell a lot at people who can’ t hear me yelling: neighbors, my son, the dog, something that happened last year. I’m angrier than I was before.

Sometimes I can trace out what makes me so angry, what specifically about the quitting that has made me angry enough to overreact to what is happening. Invariably, I am always overreacting. I shouldn’t be so upset that the neighbor put the broken plastic chair on the side of the road; it doesn’t affect me. I shouldn’t be so upset at the car that’s inching forward to merge into the next lane; they’re over there and it doesn’t impact me.

I haven’t noticed any difference in my breathing or the aches in my chest. Everyone always says, with almost a badge of honor, it’s the coughing that let’s you know when you’re over a hump. I haven’t tried to clear out my lungs since I quit. I think I’ve had two coughing fits and nothing that came up with any substance. My chest hurts every day; sometimes it’s a panic attack and sometimes it’s this.

It actually annoys me sometimes because I can’t always tell the difference between the panic attack and my chest just hurting. Sometimes, it’s a muscle ache; sometimes it’s more than that. The ghost pains move around my chest, up near my arm pits one moment and then down near my diaphragm the next. It annoys me every time I stop, every time I am mindful of my body. Somewhere in my chest, it always hurts.

I can’t breathe through my nose still. I suppose I could just assume that I have allergies and that’s why I’m living with a perpetually clogged nose. I think that’s a lot of bullshit. I think my nostrils are probably just fine; they just haven’t caught the memo yet.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel healthier or better.

I kind of assumed I would. I mean, when you give up something that you have been doing for 15 years multiple times a day, aren’t you supposed to just suddenly feel better about, I don’t know, yourself, life? Something? I don’t feel better. I still feel as gross as before, but of course that could just be the depression talking.

I speak every day to the ancestors about all of this. Without fail, I jot a few words down to form a small string of sentences in the morning. I tell them how bleak I feel; what my dreams are filled with and how it relates to how fucking irritating this shit is; how annoyed I am with myself and my surroundings; and what the fuck was I fucking thinking.

Sometimes they respond in whatever way they feel is necessary. Sometimes, they don’t at all but I kind of feel them a little bit. Personally, I think they’re still cheering me on even if I don’t hear it. I guess I’m okay with that.

I just wish the depression would quit already.

laughter

Dig up her bones but leave the soul alone; let her find a way to a better place. – Bones by MS MR

I did notice that while I’m more aggressive and bitchy still, I’m able to laugh more. I don’t know if that makes any sense? It’s like everything is funnier or brighter sometimes and it just makes me laugh for no apparent reason.

I spent hours on the couch with the significant other last week just laughing at stupid shit. None of it was particularly funny, but it all kind of streamed together into a long drawn out laugh. I had a similar experience with my son; it was definitely funny. He made that face he makes that gives me a case of the giggles, only this time it was a paroxysm of barking laughter.

I was thinking just the other day that, honestly, as horrible and annoying and as bitchy as I am about all of this, I haven’t really had to exert willpower during those times when I want to break down. I don’t even really distract myself during those moments. I just ride it through. Sometimes I’ll breathe through it, but mostly I just let it ride.

It hits, it overwhelms, it’s gone.

I guess I’m doing okay. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t gotten into a car crash when I was driving like an asshole. I’ve caused a lot of mayhem in other ways. I don’t know if I’m working through those parts or if I’m just going to let it ride, just like the cravings.

I figure one day I will be safe to be around again.

Lent 2017: Things That Will Bite.

On the final day of February, a mere few hours before Lent was set to start, I went off by myself for a few minutes while I considered what I was getting ready to do. I needed to think about what I was giving up, what I could expect. That card reading I had done for myself kept showing up in my mind’s eye, reminding me that what I was looking forward to was despair.

It honestly seemed like no matter how much I tried to spin how positive this experience was bound to be or was supposed to be at any rate, I kept coming back to the bleakness of despair.

Since the start of Lent, I’ve woken up twice in mimicry of the 9 of Swords. I’ve managed to put down the feeling of anxiety and depression those moments brought with them. Before falling back to sleep in those moments, I turn over the image of the 9 of Swords in my mind and kind of sigh. I mean, what other type of reaction can I really have?

I knew what I was getting into and I honestly thought that I could get through this.

Reclusion

Say your prayers, little one. Don’t forget, my son, to include everyone – Enter Sandman by Metallica

I’ve felt a little bit like a monster since the 1st of March. I’ve also felt a little like a doll made of porcelain, minutes or hours or years away from a cracked face, knowing that the cracked face will occur one day. I have also felt more than a tad like a broken piece of pottery, something perhaps once used in someone’s heka, that has been used up and destroyed.

It’s been 10 days since then and my emotions are all over the place. Everyone tells me that this is normal. I’m kicking an addiction – something that I have been absolutely assured is not done every day or even in a day – so emotional upheaval is part of it, I guess.

I don’t know if I really want to hear it though. All I keep thinking about is why in the fuck I’m doing this and what this is supposed to achieve. Everyone says something different from each other about it and in the end, I’m left more confused and annoyed than I was when the advice first popped up.

Quite obviously evidenced from the above paragraph, I spend a lot of my time complaining, though mostly in my head.

I never realized how much having an addiction could, like, lessen your ability to give a tin shit about outside things. I also never realized that this was the one thing I did regularly to keep my mental health in check – I honestly didn’t understand what a coping mechanism this is or how completely unprepared I was for that fucking despair thing the 9 of Swords talked about.

I am far less entertaining with my ongoing monologue while driving and use a lot more curse words (and I’ve always used a lot of them). I am far more willing to get off the phone with someone who is angry not-with-me or maybe-a-little-with-me over work stuff that isn’t my fault and cry. I don’t typically cry at work so that’s been interesting. I’ve done a lot of yelling in the last ten days and I’m not a quiet person once you get to know me.

It’s been… it’s been a lot for all of us.

The significant other keeps reminding me that this is absolutely a good idea. Sometimes I tell him to fuck off. He smiles and laughs since he’s been in my shoes. Other times I tell him that I want to stab him in the eye and he gives me his telltale smirk and continues on with his day. I feel bad for all the times I thought very uncharitably about him when he was going through this.

But mostly, I feel like a monster. I feel like something dark and rabid, living in the swamp with all the dead things.

Monster

Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon’s fire, and of things that will bite. – Enter Sandman by Metallica

Every single morning, I wake up and think about how much I can’t do this. The push to just give up is overwhelming. I always knew my mind was an enemy of sorts. I am very used to listening to my brain tell me what a complete failure and loser I am about so many things. It’s a daily occurrence, so it’s not like I haven’t gone through this particular song and dance before.

The idea of giving up just pushes at me like a weight on my chest though and it is so strong. Frankly, giving up is louder and more insistent than the voice that has always told me what a horrible human being I actually am. I never really considered the fact that there would come a day where I could honestly say that the voice in my head that is named Anxiety is drowned out by something louder.

And truly, it does get drowned out when the voice of Surrender whispers insidiously and seductively in my ear.

When I open my eyes and I am finally aware of my surroundings, I think about how stupid this is. When I have my second cup of coffee before I wake up my son during the week, I think about how it would be easier to stop this ridiculous exercise. When I drive to work, when I get angry, when I want to cry, when I am reading a book, when I am scrolling through Facebook, when I am going through Duolingo for my French lessons, when I have forgotten to take a lunch break at work again, when I have gotten out of the shower: all the fucking time, I keep thinking about what a farce this is.

The key, or so I have been told, is to distract myself. The funny thing is that I would use my addiction to distract myself from the voice in my head that tells me how much I suck at everything. Everything else I try now seems to pale in comparison or fail miserably. Chores, books, conversations, etc. They all fail to offer the distraction that I have been assured is the key to this.

I write about all of this, thinking about what Alex said in a comment on my last entry about this. He told me that sometimes willpower isn’t the way to go, sometimes asking for help is the way to go. I’m not very good at asking for help, so I write a small paragraph each morning to the ancestors. I think they’re listening.

Last night, a very nice and happy cheerleader appeared in my dreams. She wore an A on her uniform and her skirt went to her knees. She had white sneakers and a peppy little grin. Her eyes were made of the universe; she was my ancestors in a single body. They did a cheer about how I could do this and how I shouldn’t give up because, of course, yesterday’s daily entry was about giving up.

I haven’t given up yet, but I want to.

Day 3 (Barbed Wire)

And never mind that noise you heard. It’s just the beasts under your bed, in your closet, in your head – Enter Sandman by Metallica

It’s not all horrible, I suppose. Part of Lent includes donating more regularly than I already do. If I hadn’t gotten a body modification within the last year, I would have most likely donated blood which is a favored go-to of mine for a myriad of reasons. Instead, I have been having a lot of fun researching various organizations to give to in order to ensure that almsgiving, as requested, is a part of my Lent experience.

I get to donate every 10 days and I get to choose the organization so long as it is not the ACLU. I have a recurring donation set up there and the ancestors requested that the places I donate to be new places. I have determined which two organizations get the first two donations – Planned Parenthood and Hope for Paws – and I have a pretty good idea of what the third will be. I guess I’ll have to look around for the fourth.

When I’m not complaining or hurting or annoyed, I think things are going remarkably well. I’ve managed to ignore my desire to give up on all of this and I’ve managed to keep to the goals I had set for myself. I don’t think I’m doing too badly all things considered.

It could be worse, I keep reminding myself in as cheerful a way as I possibly can. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It just really depends on the day.

Lent 2017.

Recently, I started thinking about that story in Genesis where Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son to God. It’s kind of a weird thing to be focused on, but I woke up one day thinking about how Abraham just got this message one day and instead of fighting back against his deity, he went ahead with a plan to sacrifice his kid.

It’s been a few years since last I heard it spoken of in relation to the Bible, but I can remember wondering why in the world anyone would do that. It just never made a lick of sense why the hell someone would be willing to do that.

I mean, did he cry at the thought? Or did he just go “yeah okay” and get on with the program? I always had to ask myself whether or not the whole story was “yes, I will do this thing” from Abraham or if there was a lot more fear, anxiety, and ranting against what appeared to be a completely unfair request.

I kind of thought, as a kid, that he probably was pretty upset by the whole thing. I mean, can you really just go ahead and willingly sacrifice your child out of blind faith? I personally don’t know the answer to that question, but I have a better understanding about sacrifice and faith as an adult than I ever did as a kid.

As a kid, the sum total of things that I would sacrifice was, well, bullshit. It was stupid things. “Give that to your brother” or “stop doing that because I said so.” I mean that’s what I thought sacrifice was. I just assumed it was being told by someone more powerful than you to stop doing the thing for their own reasons.

It’s not really like that, but it also is. I’ve been told any number of times by my gods that X had to happen in order for Y to occur. And X usually entailed having to surrender and give in to blind faith that they would ensure that Y really did occur.

This is an actually an overarching theme in my religious relationships and it comes around quite often. I don’t trust, therefore I have a hard time foregoing whatever it is they think I need to let go of in order for Y to occur. It’s a cycle or something.

To me, it has always been scary and frightening whenever I’ve had to do that. There’s no stoicism here as shocking as that may be to some people. I have ranted and raved quite a few times because what they wanted just seemed so damn unfair. But even with all of my bitching and moaning, I did the thing and gave into faith…

Eventually.

My gods have never come and told me – either through themselves or through alternative means – that I could stop sacrificing whatever it was because I had proved my faith, proved my fear of them. Maybe Abraham got the better end of the deal because he didn’t have to give up something he loved.

lent 05

I’m a sinner; I’m a liar; Want forgiveness; But I’m tired – Curbstomp by Meg Meyers

The theme of sacrifice has been popping up a lot lately. I kind of expected it. I usually hit this theme around now when Lent is around the corner. Last year, I studiously ignored all of the little neon lights pointing at Lent and kept tooting on my merry little way.

I’m not so lucky this year.

Some weeks back, my ancestors began hemming and hawing about Lent. I kind of assumed they’d be a little outspoken about it since they had asked me, very politely of course, to observe Advent and I had declined for perfectly valid reasons [at the time]. I guess they figured since I wasn’t able to partake of Advent, then it would be perfectly okay to push for Lent.

I kind of went round and round the idea for a bit with them. They were very sure that they wanted me to observe Lent, but had little other advice to offer. It was only after a particularly grueling session with them that I came to the conclusion that this was A Thing and that I should do The Thing.

I figured I know how to go about this and I have a sort of blueprint to follow, it couldn’t be so bad as all that.

Though they were particularly mum when I pushed the point in that grueling session, I have since learned from my ancestors that the original blueprint is a little faded and aged (maybe they had to think about it before getting back to me). I need to revamp the process and start over.

That’s around the time that I started thinking about Abraham and his requirement of sacrifice.

The ancestors made it clear that the sacrifice this year had to be bigger than diet Coke, had to be bigger than chocolate. It had to mean something to me personally. I wasn’t really sure what they were looking for, so I of course asked my son for a few suggestions. He only had one even after my pressing and pushing for more.

When asked, the ancestors agreed that would do.

The funny thing is that I’ve been thinking about giving it up for a while so it’s not really anything that’s come up out of the blue. It’s just unexpected and a little rushed. If I had more time, I’d plan it out. But my ancestors know me of course. They know that’s an excuse; if I don’t go for broke, I’m never going to fucking go.

sacrifice

I’m a shadow; I’m a creeper; Want forgiveness; Getting weaker – Curbstomp by Meg Meyers

The other day, I sat down with them and went through a long list of questions and answers. I asked them what I could expect all of this to look like and wouldn’t you know it? Despair. I got a lot of despair. I kind of had to laugh; you’d expect someone who is sacrificing something pretty big to be going through despair.

In one of those flip moments, they also told me that if I didn’t bother, then I would be much happier. It’s like they just needed to let me know that this isn’t supposed to be a pleasant process. They even came back three separate times and reminded me that sacrifice isn’t supposed to be easy or simple; it’s supposed to hurt.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who has a longer Catholic association than my tangential one, she reminded me that the 40 Days of Lent were related to Jesus’s time in the desert where he’s being constantly harassed by the Devil. If that doesn’t resemble despair, I don’t know what does.

But as with Jesus in the desert, the refusal to give in to temptation is what I’m after here. I can only hope that my will power is enough to see me through.

That, and hopefully my friends and family understand just how completely awful I am going to be while I sort this addiction bullshit out of my system. But at least I can always remind myself (and them) that I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

Some Would Sing and Some Would Scream.

I’ve been purposely quiet lately. The whole last month – last three months really – have been a sort of nightmare that Americans woke up to the day after the election. There is so much going on everywhere that it’s enough to send anyone into a spiral of darkness and depression, myself included.

Every single day, I wake up at 6am and spend a half hour looking through the news reports I missed out on while sleeping. I comb the various social media platforms I am on and reblog, share, and retweet the things that I find need to be shared. I spend much of my breaks at work or periods throughout the weekend doing the same thing. It’s honestly one of the few things that make the darkness a little more bearable.

It also tires me out. I mean, there really is only so much of these horrifying things you can take before you want to hide in a pillow fort for a few days. Life continues though, no matter how scary the real world has become and no matter how your mental illness reacts to it.

I still have to go to work and pay the bills. I still have to get groceries, do laundry, help my kid doing homework, and clean the old homestead. I still have to have the same arguments about fruits and vegetables with my son. I still have to feel miserable when shit starts flying at work. I still have my life to lead amid the nightmare fuel the world has seemingly become.

Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us can get up and greet a new day.

Fleur de Lis - Lily Style

You soon find you have few choices… I learned the voices died with me. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

During all of this, there has been some beacons of light in the darkness. I have turned to comfort from my ancestors. Some of the reason that I have turned to them is because of that old whispering commentary telling me to get right with my ancestors. But that’s not the whole of it.

I know enough about them to know that there were members who fought for freedom in some form or another. I figure they’ll understand all this stuff we’re going through now. My grandfather and his brother joined up during WWII, the time frame that seems to most mirror what we are going through today. I know they probably get it.

I don’t actually know what caused them both to join the air force. I couldn’t say if it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the atrocities committed by the Axis powers, or just a need to be a patriot. My grandfather once told my mother, after learning that I did not vote in the first election that I could have, that he was disappointed because the fight for that freedom to vote was something he had done or something like that. So maybe it was just the need to fight for freedoms.

I don’t know what, if anything, they had to say about the Japanese internment camps. I don’t know what they thought or felt about any of that and I will most likely never know. I have a romanticized dream that both my grandfather and great uncle thought it was just awful. Maybe the rose colored glasses will be ripped from my eyes one day or maybe not. I of course prefer my possibly false characterization.

Whatever their reasoning, I have turned to them, and my akhu as a whole, more and more often. Multiple times a week, I find myself talking to them, thinking about what they would say to me during this trying time if they were alive. Perhaps nothing; perhaps something. It is a comfort to me.

And that is predominantly why I’ve been so quiet.

The Keys to Bokeh

All you have is your fire… And the place you need to reach – Don’t you ever tame your demons. But always keep ’em on a leash. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

One would think that in such dark times, I would turn to my two warrior gods. They would be two whom understand fighting against a sea of swirling isfet, and to be sure, the world certainly seems full of that right now.

But I have found myself unable to do so. Whenever I think of it, I talk myself out of it. Things aren’t so bad for you. Let them focus on those who are in danger, those who truly need advice from two warriors during this trying time. I need comfort and wisdom too, of course, but in my mind, not as much as others.

I can feel them both like distant statues seen in the distance. The image is hazy even when squinting. If I were to move closer, I would no doubt have the image resolve itself. But I can’t seem to make myself move closer.

As I spend more time with my ancestors, I have found that they like being in the limelight less and less often. It seems very much to me that they lived quiet lives and want to continue that practice even in death. They have often asked me to be silent, to keep details back.

I have half a dozen drafts of posts that will never see the light of day simply because they have asked me to keep it quiet.

And to be fair, I often agree because the idea of going full on ancestor veneration under public scrutiny is disturbing to me. A little of that is because it feels lile breeching a previously unknown boundary.

But too it is also the idea that this world of akhu can get a little lonely.

Often it feels like a lonely little island with not so many other people discussing the subject. Since my ancestor veneration looks more like a cross with Kemeticism and Catholicism,  and an occasional pinch of Methodism, it seems like keeping it all to myself makes the most sense from all perspectives.

Lantern on snow

I knew that something would always rule me… I knew the scent was mine alone. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

The akhu have filled a sort of empty niche, willingly placing themselves at my disposal. Maybe this is the road I need to be on while I “get right with them.” I guess I’ll  find out eventually.