Rage Against the Machine (YOUR BELIEFS ARE NONE OF MY BUSINESS).

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Social Work and Social Welfare Policy, wherein we learn about policy analysis. As a (future) social worker, or even as a person simply interested in social justice, it’s important to stay informed and to get involved, whether at the local, state, or national level – anytime there’s something going on that threatens the rights (or lives) of a marginalized population, or threatens the freedoms and equity afforded and deserved by everyone who lives in this country.

Admittedly, up until now I’ve done a bang-up job of avoiding policy and involvement in politics, even as a passing interest, because it all felt way too overwhelming and depressing. Powerless, even. But the wrong people benefit when that’s the position you take – by doing nothing, you’re taking a position, y’all.

So for this class, we had to find a policy that’s been introduced (and/or passed) within the last year that goes against the spirit of social work, and then most of our assignments are centered around that policy and analysis thereof. After perusing the TN General Assembly site (and getting REAL frustrated that someone like Mae Beavers was ever elected into office – keep your hands off my uterus, lady!), I found a policy recently introduced into legislation that does, in fact, go against the very spirit, nature, and ethical code of social work.

Well, to be fair, there were several that fit the bill, but this one made me angry, and I learned that it’s just been passed by the state Senate. SB1556 / HB1840, as introduced, “declares that no person providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.” In other words, these bills will allow for a therapist or mental health professional to actively discriminate and deny services to anyone they deem objectionable, based on the religious beliefs held by the service provider.

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all, let’s start with the definition of “belief.” A belief is not the truth. A belief, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; something believed; especially: a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.” To take it a step further, Dictionary.com defines a belief as confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.”  

A belief is not a truth. Just because you believe in something, that does not automatically make it true, real, valid, or worthy of infliction on anyone else – much less EVERYONE else. What you believe is your business. What you believe has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Yes, our country was founded in part to protect religious freedoms, affording every single person who lives here the right to practice the religion of his or her choice. That said, when your religious beliefs render certain peoples or populations “less than” or “wrong”, then your beliefs are going to butt up against all of the other rights afforded those people.

We cannot be considered a country of freedom and equality when your beliefs-that-are-not-truths deem certain people or populations unequal.

Every mental health profession, whether psychiatry, psychology, counseling, or social work, has a code of ethics to which the practitioners agree, and those codes include some variation on the same theme: we seek to help ALL people, in whatever capacity we can. If we find that we are limited in our scope of knowledge, it’s reasonable to refer to other practitioners, but the expectation is that we will always seek to expand our knowledge base in order to help MORE people. And it is on us to set our biases and personal beliefs aside in order to help as many people as possible. Mental health professionals are not religious advisors, and clients seeking help navigating life issues or public services or treating mental health diagnoses are not looking for the provider to inflict religious beliefs on them.

Again: what you believe is not an actual truth. Your beliefs exist to guide YOUR life, not the lives of others.

So, let’s assume the primary driving force behind this legislation is to allow mental health professionals to deny service to the LGBTQI community because they disagree with their lifestyle choices. (It’s a pretty safe assumption, taking the bigger picture into account.) And let’s say that a client comes to you, experiencing difficulty with his or her relationship with someone of the same sex/gender. Let’s say your religious beliefs tell you this person is bad, wrong, going to hell, etc. because they’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex/gender.

That set of beliefs needs to get set aside, because it has nothing to do with anything. The sex or gender of a person and his/her partner has nothing to do with the bigger picture of human connection between two people. The client is not coming to you to ask you what you think of their relationship choices or sex/gender preferences, nor are they asking you whether you think it’s right or wrong. The sex/gender of person you’re treating and his/her partner have nothing to do with the service you’re providing, nor do the private parts and where they fit.

By providing services to that person, you’re not condemning nor condoning anything; you’re helping that person navigate, recover, and move forward. That’s all.

You can still practice your beliefs in your own personal life. You can still choose not to pursue a same-sex relationship because 1) you’re not attracted to people of the same sex, or 2) you are, but you believe it’s wrong and so you’re denying yourself the possibility at true comfort and happiness with someone because of what your beliefs tell you (ahem). What someone else does, and with whom, should pose no threat to what you believe and how you comport yourself accordingly. Unless, of course, the cognitive dissonance becomes too much to bear when you realize what you believe – those beliefs you hold so strongly to that you cannot and will not budge – flies in the face of what looks, feels, and sounds like a better way to live your life.

It’s my understanding that Jesus was all for loving everyone, helping everyone, being good to and compassionate towards EVERYONE. If your beliefs are rendering you incapable of setting yourself aside and humbling yourself enough to serve others no matter what, then maybe you should reconsider either your beliefs, or your chosen line of work. And maybe the government should be in the business of protecting ALL people, instead of allowing for the discrimination of some based on the religious beliefs of some others.

ThxFriday, All My Valentines Edition.

Vacation time from work (not only allowed but encouraged!); family trips to Mexico (Missouri, that is); the frequent happy contact, with smiles all the while; charming B&B’s and scoring the sweetest suite; finally seeing my nephew proud and in his element; getting gussied up for a Gatsby-themed event; watching the girls navigate their beautiful ways; another day’s buffer for studies and sleep (and recovering from another back outage); a quick little visit to brighten up the night; returning to work to find no fires to fight; a belated and lovely Valentine’s dinner, complete with roses, wine choices, and homemade crème brûlée (talk about swoon); open conversations about all of the things; people who show you who they really, truly are, affirming reservations and hesitations as they show their asses on the way out *punt*; powering through the readings and more 100 percents; when challenging yourself opens new and necessary doors, and when policy analysis actually sparks your interest; getting woke and staying there; warm chocolate chip cookie delivery; the freedom and willingness to speak up and out: asking clarifying questions, being receptive to the answers, and basically just saying what you need; a well-timed “TWSS” that makes a co-worker blush (and snort); the arrival of the weekend, right on time; and the excitement that comes from planning a special-made dinner for a special-made someone in return.

ThxFriday, Well Whaddya Know Edition.

All-nighters that beget 100 percents; Monte Gras and celebrating sweetest hearts; darts, snacks, hot tubs and fire pits (complete with a whole lot of laughter plus a Spider Pig); productive Sundays; Beyonce in Formation: afternoons spent out of the office, connecting and progressing through the lists; Taco Tuesdays that turn into Burgers, Booze Shakes, and Beer Tuesdays; six of the best and fastest flying hours in existence; a repeat performance the following night; marveling at the good, indulging in the goofy, reveling in the gratitude; coffee dates and random run-ins; co-worker check-ins with nothing but good to report; twice in a day, taking all the time you can; dinner with old friends at new restaurants; and looking ahead to a few chilly days with warm-hearted loved ones, every last one my pride and joy.

The devil in nostalgia.

With the advent of my oldest nephew turning 18, I found myself thinking back on the last 18 years. As you do. Where I was in life when he was born, which is to say, on the verge of homelessness and complete physical and emotional devastation. It would be another nine months or so before I’d accept a lifeline, and things would finally change for the better. So I find myself thinking back on all that has transpired since then. The person I am today compared to the person I was 18 years ago, and all the stops in between. I think back on jobs I had, places I lived, friends I made, men I dated, and all the work going on underneath the surface to shift my own emotional landscape. All the “life” that has happened for me over the course of my nephew’s life, because he came along at such a pivotal time.

And while in the midst of all this reminiscing, I find myself battling a not-so-subtle shift from nostalgia to regret.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing – or at least, it can be. You think back on good times, you reminisce about happy memories and events… that stuff doesn’t have to take away the present moment, it just means you can look back on your life and enjoy the highlight reels, you know? But for me, at least recently, it seems like that nostalgia can take a wrong turn and before you know it, you’re wondering where you went wrong and wishing you’d done things differently. You’re thinking things were better back then, and wishing for times gone by. You’re sometimes even forgetting the bad or not-so-awesome parts and only remembering the good parts, maybe even as being better than they were.

And I guess maybe that only happens if you’re not finding the happy with where you are right now. (Note to self: remember to keep finding the happy in where you are right now.)

Regret is one of those things I’ve always promised myself to guard against. I’ve seen how it destroys people – in particular, someone very close to me; I’ve seen how it can permeate every waking moment, and how it can tarnish even the happiest of times, turning it all into one big pile of “not enough.” I’ve seen how it can make you turn against yourself, lamenting choices made, paths taken… all of it.

And now, I know what that feels like.

(All the more reason to battle against it, then.) 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a family of my own. Maybe it’s because mine was blown apart when I was a kid, and I’ve been trying to get that sense of security back ever since. Maybe that’s why I’ve never truly felt at home anywhere – not for very long, anyway – because it’s just been ME. But whatever the case, I have recognized in me the desire to have kids, the desire to find a partner, the desire – a need, almost – to pair up and settle down and have a life and family together. And maybe it was just the *idea* of these things – although my body was always yearning to know what it felt like to grow and carry a human – but whatever the case, that desire has always, always been there. It was never strong enough to make me willing to settle, mind you; to have a kid in less than what seemed like ideal circumstances, but it’s definitely been ever-present.

Unfortunately, I think that desire was coming from the wrong place. And I should probably put quotations around the word “wrong” because, you know, we all just do the best we can. But when you’re being driven by a desire to fill a void left behind, the results you net probably aren’t going to be what you really want, and, more importantly, what you really, actually need. Instead, it causes you to be a whole lot less selective in your race to the finish line of “happily ever after.” I spent a lot of time and effort on liars, cheaters, manipulators, addicts… you name it, all for the sake of trying to fill that void and get that happily ever after.

That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of wasted years – if that’s how I choose to view it.

To find myself, at the age of 43, still single and without a kid or two of my own, still not having experienced a thing that, to me, is one of the greatest representations of what it means to be human and to participate in that life experience… it’s hard. To know what a solid human I am and all that I have to offer someone else, all that I would have had to offer a little human as a parent, and to have spent the last 18 years growing and changing and working towards that “better person every day” thing and to STILL have never found what I’ve wanted with someone else…

I think I might just be mourning the loss. And I think I have to be REAL careful to not fall into the trap of blaming myself somehow for all of this. Wishing I could have grown and changed faster, or gotten myself ready to receive those gifts when it was still a possible thing. You know?

Nostalgia takes me back to Minneapolis, when I dated one of the sweetest, kindest, smartest, most generous and thoughtful men I’ve ever known, until he moved back to Boston to finish school. Neither of us was prepared to navigate a long-distance thing, and I know that. We lost touch not long after, and I was left with a lot of happy memories with him, as well as the knowledge that I could, in fact, open up to someone good (after spending a lot of years falling prey to not-so-good). But that nostalgia turns into regret sometimes. Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I stay in touch? Why didn’t we try again? Why couldn’t that have been the one?

Nostalgia takes me back to Portland, too. To another sweet, kind, thoughtful, emotionally-present man who was ALL IN with me… and I loved him enough to break things off when I realized I wasn’t there yet. He deserved and needed more than I could give, and it wasn’t fair to pretend any other outcome was possible then. We’ve also lost touch, and I think that was more of a protective measure for him than anything, at least in the beginning. But again, nostalgia has turned into regret there, too. Or at least a whole lot of “what if” and “why not.” Why couldn’t I have been ready? Why did I have to miss out on someone good who was all about it – and me?

And maybe it’s just that neither of these were the right time, right person, right situation, and that happens. Maybe none of it warrants regret, because sometimes things just don’t work out. I’d imagine they’re both happily with someone else by now, if that’s what they wanted, because they both had such good and willing hearts. I don’t begrudge THAT at all; if anything, I’d be happy for the women they’ve found to spend time (or their lives) with. They’d be some fortunate women.

But I see where nostalgia can go with me, at least some of the time. Nostalgia turns into lamentations of wrong turns and bad calls and all the other things that, at this point, I have no control over other than how I choose to remember them. I’ve continued to make “interesting decisions” in who I spend time with, but I’m pretty sure those days have also come to an end. I’ve finally, finally had enough; I just wonder sometimes if it’s too late.

I mean, I know. There is still plenty of time to meet someone and to have that partnership, barring some unforeseen tragedy. If all goes well, I still have another 40 years of life ahead of me, and that’s a hell of a long time; a lot can happen. And, truth be told, I’m finally in a place where I am happy on my own, too. I’ve got a job that I love again, I’m in school and learning about things that fascinate me and it’s got me on the right career trajectory, I have a roof over my head and loving family members and friends nearby… what it means to be alive is however you define it.

I think I finally get that.

So I guess I’m just making room for mourning the loss – of past loves, sure, but also the loss of hope surrounding certain things coming to pass in my life. Acceptance. And then, too, making room for appreciation of everything else that’s come to pass instead. Engaging in active gratitude, and maintaining perspective about all of it. When you regret, there’s no room for anything else; it tarnishes even the brightest and shiniest of things, and adds a whole lot of weight to the burdens we already bear, just by our very human nature. If nothing else comes to pass in the next 40 years of life, I just want to keep on shining.

And so, no more looking back with anything other than a fond thought and a small smile. Onward and upward, y’all. ❤

ThxFriday, Nephew’s Edition.

Getting all the necessary sleeps; early morning productivity with a massage reward; checking things off that list like a boss; carving out the time to laugh, drink wine, paint some mason jars, and share in upcoming nuptials excitement; instant clarifying phone calls; riding the nope-asaurus all the way home; laughter as a stress response; unexpected reprieves; people who think you’re funny; feeling actual heart movements; having the nerve to make that move; old men on treadmills who sing (terribly) while they walk; friends who reach out to say hi or they miss your (unfiltered) face; upcoming plans for tacos and boss-turned-friend reunions; and a weekend ahead of celebrating others, taking care of others, and handling… well, everything.

Today is my oldest nephew’s 18th birthday. When he was born, I was still in the throes of one of the most challenging times in my life; it wasn’t long after when I turned it around, but it was only because of my family. His arrival was my introduction to finally understanding unconditional love, and he broke my heart wide open. A lot’s changed in the last 18 years, but one thing has never wavered: that love and gratitude. I couldn’t be more grateful for that, or for him. ❤