Friday, August 28, 2009

Our Wounded Artists

Despite the fact that many of my friends and readers will be rolling their eyes and saying, "Jeesh, it's over! Move on already!" I just can't. Tomorrow, August 29, would have been Michael Jackson's 51st birthday. There is something about the death of Michael Jackson that stirs an anguish in me, an anguish that is begging to be named and brought to the surface. I don't intend to dissect the rights or wrongs of Michael Jackson's life. It's not my place to do that, but I cannot miss the brilliance and tragic irony of his life. It would be too great a waste, and I want to talk about it.

First of all, I believe there are many people, both living and dead, who are gifted in their particular genre of the arts-- people, who carry large sacks of pain from their pasts and from the generations before them. These gifted people, despite a lack of true personal identity or connection to reality, are able to delve into their art and there, touch their true selves. Deep within the arts they create are the touchstone moments of rejection, abandonment, and abuse. In their arts they are able to experience a part of the original pain of their lives and, thus, who they really are, both broken and whole.

Michael Jackson is only one of many people in our culture with whom we have witnessed this. We are a culture of abandoned, rejected, exploited, and abused children. We are a culture largely consisting of hurting children in adult bodies. There is something about the practice of the arts, whether music, dance, theater, or poetry, when done well, that sings the truth of our hurting culture. Now and again there comes an artist who reaches within the hurts of their own life and puts it out for the world to see. We see it, feel it, and the soul within it resonates with our own experience. I think for me and millions of others, Michael Jackson was able to do that. What then happens is that millions of us project our pain onto the artist. We also project our adoration onto the artist for his/her dance or song that speaks our truth and when we witness it, we cry out, "Yes! I feel that! That's it! You named it!".

I'm not certain what we, as a culture, can do to prevent these kinds of tragedies-- the tragedy of a gifted artist losing himself or herself within their art. Not only is MJ's death a horrible tragedy, I consider it tragedy that he lived with such suffering, physically and emotionally. The only thing I can think is that we collectively nurture and value our children, so that they grow up with a strong sense of who they are. In psychology we call this ego strength. If we can build children with good ego strength,then these are the children who have the ability to create and also stay within themselves. They will be able to create and not feel compelled to take on the pain of the world in the process. Children with solid ego strength can sing it, dance it, write it, and know it is a gift to God and the universe, not the sum of who they are.

So, I don't want to belabor this horrible event but really find some MEANING. It's necessary for us all. Whether MJ sang and danced the story of your life is not the issue really. Whether he harmed more than he rescued, I cannot say either, though I admit to a fondness for MJ and sincere belief that he loved children. I can say without doubt, however, that the pattern of his living and dying seems to becoming one that is all too common,and this hurts. This is the anguish of it.

Photo above found at:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Intimacy? Why?

I am having some meandaring thoughts about intimacy-- so bear with me while I try to organize them here! I was thinking about what intimacy is, how it happens, and why we are so reluctant to have it. First of all, intimacy is when two or more people come together and CONNECT. Intimacy can happen between spouses, friends, parent and child, or most any relationship. Each person brings a real self into the moment with the other person who brings a real self. What I mean by this is that I am in touch with my thoughts, feelings, and values, and come into relationship to share them openly, willingly, and honestly. The other person(s) does this as well and a magical thing happens-- intimacy. Intimacy is not enmeshment, which means we come together and I lose myself in whoever I fantasize you to be, and you lose yourself in whoever you fantasize me to be. When we are enmeshed, we lose ourselves in other people. When we are intimate, we bring what we have and ultimately always find more of who we are. In true intimacy, I can say "no" when I need to and can respect the other's "no" as well without falling apart.

Intimacy does not happen without practice. I believe developing the capacity for intimacy is just as crucial as language development. Also, like language, intimacy is best learned at an early age. We can learn intimacy and new languages later in life, but it is always more difficult. Our brains are just primed to get these things very early on! Intimacy begins at birth... the touch, smells, and sounds of our caregivers. We cry and they meet our needs. We explore the world and caregivers look on lovingly and encourage us to try new things. We make mistakes and caregivers may critique, offer advice, or support. In all these ways, and many more, we learn who we are and how to share our budding selves with others without fear.

So if intimacy is all that and a bag of chips, then why the hell are most of us running scared when it comes to getting intimate? Well, fear is always based on fear of loss. Thank you, Dr. Howard Lipke, for giving me this wonderful insight this weekend! The fear can be a loss that already happened and fear wards off the sadness and grief of the past loss. If you experienced true intimacy with someone, then lost that person, being intimate with another can trigger those painful feelings of loss. The other type of fear of loss, is fear of a future loss. For example, we may fear that if I become intimate with you, then I will lose myself. Often adults who experienced physical and/or emotional abandonment as children fear intimacy for this reason. They fear that if they share who they really are, then you will not want to be with me anymore and leave, just like others have before.

Love addicts have often experienced both enmeshment and abandonment. In their world, these are the only two options. The love addict experiences enmeshment as a wonderful union, a supernatural connection, when the addict is truly FOUND in the other person. The love addict is able to experience a self through the eyes of the other person. This is terribly exhausting for the object of the love addict's affection.

The love avoidant often fears intimacy due to strong fears of potential abandonment. The love avoidant ultimately wants to be admired and maintain a sense of control. Love avoidants will pursue a love addict (who often appears in distress and in need of a hero). The love avoidant comes onto the scene, saves the day, then wants to bask in his/her bravado. When the love addict begins to actually seek identity through the love avoidant, the avoidant fears that intimacy may be approaching and intimacy means you will see I am really not a supernatural savior. True intimacy could also mean that you see the real me and abandon me, as others have before. Thus, the love avoidant does what avoidants do best... well, avoid! Run! This sends the addict into a desperate chase, which only makes the avoidant run harder. You see the pattern.

Another barrier to true intimacy is that many people are completely out of touch with their own thoughts, feelings, and values, and therefore, cannot possibly share them with someone else. How can I bring anything to the table, when I have no clue what is in my pantry? This is true for both addicts and avoidants, and why the first step to any recovery is development of a self. I guess what I am realizing then is that true intimacy always happens first with self and Higher Power before it happens elsewhere... what a concept. Sometimes meandering takes us to nice places.

Photo above found at:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gimme a C! Codependent!

Codependent is a term that confuses many people. Some people believe they know what it means, but really do not have a full understanding of the codependent role. The word codependent has such a negative connotation, too. I mean, who really wants to willingly identify themselves as codependent? Most of us get there only after years of codependent behavior that has made our lives a wreck, and we acknowledge ourselves as codependent. By this time, we would almost graciously accept the label of Boo Boo the Fool just to get some relief! I'm hoping to shed some light on what exactly IS a codependent?

A cheerleading team has a captain and a co-captain. The co-captain is there to assist the captain with tasks that the captain cannot handle alone. The co-captain is the leader in situations where the captain is unable to perform his/her managerial duties for the team. I have never heard of someone say, "Oh, I want to be co-captain of my cheerleading squad!" The co-captain is generally someone who wanted to be captain, and didn't have the seniority, skills, clout, whatever, to be captain. It's somewhat the same with a CO-dependent. The co-dependent is there to assist the addict with tasks that the addict cannot handle alone, as a result of their addiction. The co-dependent has to step up and lead when the addict is unable to perform his/her duties, as a result of their addiction. No one ever says they want to grow up and be an addict, and no one ESPECIALLY says they want to grow up to be a CODEPENDENT!

We become co-dependents by default, that is, when we grow up in an unpredictable, scary, and/or chaotic environment, one where we have no developmentally appropriate level of control. Often these are environments where one or both parents/caregivers are addicts or codependent themselves. Children in these homes cannot predict from day to day what punishments might be, whether parents will be happy or raging, what might make a parent happy, if Dad or Mom will be high, or if anyone will be home to cook dinner. When we cannot be captain and have some measure of control, we are defaulted to codependent.

Let me preface by saying, there are NO perfect parents. We need only be good enough. Children need safety, unconditional warmth, someone who nurtures development of unique skills and traits, a caregiver who provides predictable structure and routine, and someone who listens/validates the child. When one or more of these are consistently not met, the child fails to develop emotionally. The body grows, but there is not a person in there!

The foundational definition of codependency is lack of self or lack of a relationship with self. Codependents are addicted to addicts, taking care of addicts, being angry at addicts, taking out revenge on addicts, getting abused by addicts, leaving addicts and finding new addicts. Codependents can even act out this addiction with other codependents, just to make things clear as mud here. Because no core identity really exists (apart from SHAME perhaps),codependents need the mirroring approval, acceptance, and needs of other people to give themselves a face or identity. Addicts love codependents because the codependent morphs into whatever being the addict requires him/her to be. If the addict needs money, the codependent can provide that. If the addict needs you to love him/her and not ever mention the addiction, codependents can do that. If the addict needs someone to defend and justify their behavior, codependents will do it! Codependents are blank slates upon which addicts can write out the person they need.

Codependents are as variant as the many ethnicities of the human race itself. They do not all look nor behave exactly the same. Some are bitter, unlovable people. Some are successful in their work (probably in a caretaking career, such as nursing or social work!), yet burn out or have multiple boundary and ethical violations on the job and are forced to do something else. Being a codependent is very hard and exhausting work. This is why in addition to the magical morphing trick they do, nearly all codependents beg for help from others with all the caretaking they do. If they are too proud to ask for help with the caretaking, they may play the martyr, do it ALL completely alone (without complaint, mind you) and wind up physically ill, mentally ill, or dead.

The life of a codependent is a tiring one and full of stress and misery, but there is hope! Codependents can heal and get well. They can overcome past wounds, develop a relationship with self, and soon the addict magnet stops working. I feel I've rambled on quite a bit for tonight, so maybe we'll get to that in another post! So, I guess the moral of this story is-- if you're not nominated as captain, then politely decline the co-captain position and just enjoy the away games and the pep rallies!

Photo above found at:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

For Nina

A fellow blogger, sweet Ms. Renita at posted this video a few days ago. I was so moved by it, I wanted to try to share it here. After watching this performance of Nina Simone, I was moved to write the poem below.

Whatever you do, do it with
your full heart, lay your very life
across the keyboard as your hands stretch the song
we all have known but lacked
the courage to sing. Do it with
your full soul, when you pack your lunch.
Pick the apple whose reds and yellows stripe and
fuse into a shout that says Glory be to God!
String your words together like diamonds that
adorn the queen's throat, say what you say like
you mean it
make us believe it.
Whatever you do, do it without shame
do it while you catch your breath
do it whether tears or rain cover your face
do it because it is what you were created to do
do it when you don't feel pretty,
when your way is wrong.
Do it through sweat
through racism and
sexism classism and ageism.
Do it again and again and
when you do
we will believe it.