Scattered Wonder-storm Saturday.

As is often the case when I don’t take the time to do daily journaling or writing blog posts, I end up with a random repository of spaghetti (mmm, pasta) thoughts squirming around in my brain and I end up feeling and acting like a squirrel. So here we are, for Brain Dump Saturday. I decided this morning that maybe for the month of June – you know, when I’m knee-deep in wedding planning and starting back to school again – I’d carve out the time to blog every day. No guarantees it’ll be anything worth reading, but it will certainly help clear up some brain space, which is always a good thing.

I also think I’d do well to wrap up whatever I’ve written with a reflection on gratitude, whether it’s related to the writing or something else entirely. End it with, “I’m grateful today for…” – just because I think I need to retrain my focus. More on that later. Without further ado… here’s some things.

 

  • Where is the line between a good person who’s done (or who does) bad things, and just a bad person? Is it a line that moves based on a moral judgement on the part of the observer? Because some of us seem to be okay with certain things while others of us aren’t, right, but where’s the crossover between not letting a person’s mistakes define them, and then absolutely viewing a person based on their actions? Say, for instance, someone uses the “n” word to refer to a person of color. Some might be inclined to forgive it and chalk it up to the person’s upbringing or whatever; others are more likely to view that person as a racist bigot. Or say, for instance, a politician on the eve of the election shoves and assaults a reporter for asking a question. Some might be inclined to overlook that as a one-off event, chalking it up to stress, whereas others would view it as not only part of that politician’s character (if he’s so easily moved to resort to violence), but a bigger indication of white privilege that he could do that and still get elected into such an important office. Does it all come down to the perspective of the person making the judgement?
  • Also, why are we all so forgiving of shitty behavior? I know I have been in the past, and it’s what has led me/allowed me to have some pretty terrible relationships. Like, what is it in us – maybe it’s a woman thing? – that makes room for so many transgressions and microaggressions and just aggressions in general? I made allowances for a LOT of bad behavior. Certainly I’m not above reproach in that regard, and I know that, but when I contemplate the actions of people in the past, I’m blown away by how much I put up with, in the name/for the sake of “love.” Looking for it, hoping for it, trying to force it… I don’t really know. But I DO know I’m at the point now where the pendulum has swung the other way and I’m having to learn how to be a little bit *more* forgiving with people instead of feeling like I need to hold everyone’s feet to the fire. I assume there is a kinder, softer way somewhere in the middle.
  • I keep thinking back to a counselor in my first round of treatment who told me she was concerned about me because I seemed to soak up negativity like a sponge, and I needed to learn to be more resilient to it. She was absolutely right. Lately there’s been a LOT of negativity in the world – stress, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, divisiveness, upheaval – and I’ve been carrying a lot of it around, whether it directly affects me or not. Doing my best to not contribute any further, but I found (and continue to find) myself pointing a lot of angry, judgey fingers and telling (or wanting to tell) everyone how I think they need to handle things, how they need to behave, etc… and I realized that by allowing all of that negativity to affect me, I was living in/coming from a place of fear and scarcity. Nothing will ever be okay or enough when that’s your baseline.
  • Which leads me to think back on epigenetics (how your genes express themselves). What you’re born with, and the switches you have the ability to flip. If I was born inherently negative, I like to think I have the ability to change that, if I choose to. Or, like with my complete lack of interest in eating healthy or exercising… I can change that (and really, is that genetics or just feeling lazy?). Anyway. I like to think I can exercise a lot more control over feelings and moods and behaviors than maybe is realistic, but maintaining that awareness around my existence and engagement with the world around me certainly can’t hurt.
  • Allowing fear to drive my beliefs and behaviors is probably the main thing I’m working to reverse right now. We’ve had some significant financial stressors this year, and especially in the past month or so (ahem AUDI ahem). Dealing with those on top of planning a wedding on top of managing my existing debt on top of going back to school on top of some other personal considerations I’m having to navigate… it’s a lot. I see it in how I’m responding to the world and life around me. Resentment, fear, anger, judgement… all of it. I keep having knee-jerk reactions to things, and find the “fight or flight” being activated because of it. The reality is, we’ll be okay – MORE than okay – and I know that. But man, is it tempting to look for who and what to blame, and then BLAME THEM. And then try to hold them accountable. It all comes from feeling helpless and powerless, which leads me to worry that it’s all going to fall apart. Everything. And that leads me to worry that the world and the people I value most will view me as a failure. I’ve spent a good part of my life managing everything so that it wouldn’t fall apart and I wouldn’t fail, which is a good chunk of why I can be such a control freak, and I am not great at asking for help. I also loathe being held accountable for the actions or behaviors of others, which is why I am not always the best team player. I’m working on that, too. Trusting that I can let other people in and the world won’t implode because I’m not managing all of it… that sounds pretty nice.

Anyway. Lots to unpack there with all of it, and just by writing it out I can see why my brain feels so busy. I have to wonder if that’s at least part of the reason I’ve had such crazy dreams lately. If I never dream about C projectile-vomiting after eating Domino’s or earthworms coming out of my 3-legged cat’s butt again, it’ll be too soon.

And since I don’t want to end on such a gross note… here’s one of our engagement photos. ❤

Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.

Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

Trust and truth.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Assuming you want to know and hear the truth, I mean. How do you know the truth when you hear it? What is “truth,” anyway? I guess that’s a better place to start. You kind of have to agree on what truth is before you can have a conversation about it… so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster

Simple Definition of TRUTH
the truth : the real facts about something : the things that are true
: the quality or state of being true
: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true

And then to take it one step further… one of the definitions of TRUE:

a (1) :  being in accordance with the actual state of affairs <true description> (2) :  conformable to an essential reality (3) :  fully realized or fulfilled <dreams come true>b :  ideal, essential c :  being that which is the case rather than what is manifest or assumed <the truedimension of the problem>d :  consistent <true to character>

So, for the sake of this post, when I say “the truth,” what I mean is a factual account, whether of an occurrence, that person’s feelings for you… you get the idea. What really happened, how they really think or feel about you (at that moment, since those things change and are way more fluid than an event or occurrence), stuff like that.

Oh, and (what I think is) an important reminder/clarification: Opinions are not facts, and feelings are not evidence. 

Back to the original questions. Those people you trust… why do you trust them to tell you the truth? Why do you trust them at all?

I started thinking about this after the events of the last week and a few days (ahemELECTIONahem). Temperatures are running so high, everyone is so sure they’re espousing truths and condemning the liars – you know, basically anyone who disagrees – that I had to stop and evaluate some things. Like, why do people believe what they believe?

 

I just watched a really good video about how we decide what to believe. He talks about the four things that go into testing/examining a claim being made: intuition (gut feeling); authority (relying on credibility of source); logic (systematic reasoning); and evidence (verifiable information). What’s interesting to me is that only one of those four things involves actual facts; the other three are basically dependent upon you, your brain, your feelings, and your own past experiences.

How reliable are your gut feelings? Where do they come from, and what life experience colors your perception there? Are you aware of the emotional and mental lenses in place when you’re evaluating a claim?

Why are certain sources more credible to you than others? Why does one person trust Fox News implicitly, while another person places their confidence in PBS?

Is logic inherent in human beings, or is it learned? Is what’s logical to you, also logical to everyone else? Or is that a personal thing based on experience again? I mean, I know there have been many times when something I did – a project I developed, a route I took to get somewhere, the order instilled in my closet by hanging things in a certain way – seemed completely logical to me, but it may very well make no sense to anyone else.

So, then we’re left with evidence. Verifiable information. On the surface, this seems straightforward (ZOMG FACTS), but then, I guess we have to lend credence to the fact that if there are two witnesses to the same event, what they’d each report back could very well be completely opposite from the other depending on their personal spin. So, then, does evidence mean what we see with our own eyes? How can we be sure we’re witnessing something and evaluating it without prejudice or bias?

I’m not getting too far into that here, though, because what I think happens is that most people are relying on gut feelings and what they deem to be credible sources in order to decide what they believe. Whether it’s due to information overload, a lack of time for conducting their own research, a lack of interest, a lack of ability (or desire) to do the work themselves, and instead rely on their feelings, and they rely on people who strike them as trustworthy to tell them what’s true and what’s real. People are reposting things online without verifying validity, and it’s all because of that bastard called confirmation bias. There is SO MUCH OUT THERE… how in the hell do wade through it all to find what’s real, and what’s true?

You see the problem here. And this isn’t a partisan statement, either; everyone is guilty of it, myself included. I have decided which side I’m on, I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, I’ve decided what and who I believe. And not because I’ve done a ton of research and have deemed these sources the most credible, either. I’ve decided what to believe based on my own gut feelings, based on who I’ve deemed credible sources, and based on my own logical conclusions resulting from mild to moderate critical thinking skills.

Which, by the way, isn’t a skill we’re born with; it’s something that has to be taught, and encouraged, and nurtured, and maintained. Critical thought allows you to evaluate effectively, and ideally, get your feelings out of the way to land in a justifiable and reasonable place.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the huge disparity in beliefs in our country. The division is palpable, and the difference between someone like me and someone who heartily embraces DJT and his proposed band of merry bigots feels enormous and overwhelming. I would even go so far as to say, insurmountable (and I am totally okay with that).

Everyone has ideas about why we’re divided and what would fix it, but in my opinion, there’s no fixing it. There’s managing it, there’s overcoming it, there’s governing people into acting right whether they want to or not… but the division, to me, reveals some distinct groups: people who only care about themselves; people who care about others; and people who just don’t care at all. There are people who approach life from a place of love, community, and equity; and there are people who approach life from a place of hatred, fear, and division.

These qualities, these temperaments, these personality types… they drive how you engage with the world. Who knows how we would turn out, what personality traits and world beliefs would come about without the influence of those around us? Are humans born good? Or are we born hating and then hopefully have it loved/nurtured out of us? Or, conversely, are we born loving, and have that abused out of us emotionally, mentally, physically?

I think most of this is taught. Human beings are blank slates when they’re born.  We teach them to love, to respect, to embrace the world and everyone in it… or we teach them to fear, to fight, to find fault in those around them, to compare and to be “better than” instead of “equal.” Or, to deem anyone different as an “other” and certainly “less than.”

And so I guess I’m coming out of this long, rambling train of thought with two things:

  1. A reminder to do better with my own fact-finding and evidence collection with respect to my own beliefs. I’ve got a pretty solid gut reaction, my logic could use a little work, I’m sure, and those credible sources? More of those, please.
  2. A reminder that there’s a lot that goes into what a person believes, and why they believe it, and I would do well to remember that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand, nor does it mean I won’t challenge what I believe to be wrong, but I guess I’m hoping this will help ME from inserting some of that “better than/worse than/less than” language in my head. Or, at least, keep from inserting it into conversation.

Remember, kids: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

A devil in wolf’s clothing.

Once upon a time, I dated a liar.

He wasn’t just your average, garden variety liar, though; you know, someone who lies to get out of trouble, or someone who lies to spare feelings, or someone who lies because they’re ashamed of who they are, or maybe they just haven’t learned the value of the truth. Nope. Every single word, every utterance that came out of his mouth was some form of manipulation or deceit.

If breath or a burp could be a lie, his would’ve.

He lied about his age and, when called out on it, he lied about lying about it. He lied about owning his home. He lied about where he was, and who he was with, when we weren’t together. He lied about his online activity. He lied about his relationships with other people – specifically, other women. More specifically, the other woman he was dating/sleeping with when he and I were purportedly dating/in a relationship. He lied to her about me, too. He lied about his travels. He lied to everyone about the nature of our relationship, and what he told them varied by who they were. He lied about himself, his nature, his past… every possible thing he could lie about, he did, and no one in his life was immune. He lied to his parents, his friends, his other girlfriends, his ex-wife, complete strangers… everyone.

About everything.

And it wasn’t just lying, either; the lies were coupled with methodical manipulation via every possible avenue. He’d get information and then use it to his advantage to keep people tied to him in some unhealthy way. Say things you want to hear, and then make you feel like shit for believing it. Or say terrible things and tell you you’re imagining that they’re terrible. One minute you’re his favorite; the next minute, there was something so wrong with you he’d never be able to get over it. He would find the things about yourself you valued most and in one breath reaffirm those things, but in the next breath, he’d berate and belittle you for them. One minute you’re dating, the next he can only be friends – but as soon as you start treating him as a platonic friend, he’d revert back to treating you like an intimate partner, and as though the previous situation never happened. One night he’d yell at you and shame you into staying small; the next morning, everything is fine and he has no idea what you’re talking about.

I think they call that “gas-lighting.”

Groundwork was consistently laid to confuse, to keep you off balance, to deny, deny, deny – and to ensure you would never pursue the lines of inquiry that might expose the clever ruse. The only way I learned for certain of his “affair” (read: ongoing infidelity, despite his protestations to the contrary and his insistence that I was obviously just insecure and suspicious and imagining things; that he had no interest in those other women but if I want to look crazy by reaching out to talk to them, that was on me, etc. etc. etc.) was a message exchange with the other woman. She reached out to tell the truth, and I appreciated that, regardless of any underlying motivations on her part. It was the affirmation I’d needed, that I wasn’t imagining things and I wasn’t, in fact, crazy.

Topping all of it off was an impenetrable and distinct lack of remorse, and an apparent delight in the manipulation of others. No real concern for feelings or well-being, no second thoughts about behavior or consideration of impact, although he would occasionally pretend to care. Everything was self-serving, and he spent nearly every waking moment playing puppet master, as though he thrived on the power he felt in controlling other people. When confronted with the truth, the ease with which he either lied some more, or turned it around to shift the blame and focus on someone else (usually me) was, for lack of a better word, remarkable.

With some time and distance allowing for further reflection… it was frightening.

Almost immediately after meeting him, I suspected something was off. A few months in, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I started to distance from friends a little; some of them dropped me completely, and I began to shut down and withdraw. Anxiety was ever-present, doing its best to call attention to the bad situation I was intentionally keeping myself in. I put a pretty damn good face out there for public consumption, but the reality was chaotic, unhealthy, damaging…

And yet, I stayed.

FOR A YEAR.

I was kept so confused and off-balance, I stayed thinking it must be me; there must be something I’m not doing right, or there must be some way to make this work, or maybe things are just meant to be this messed up, because we also managed to have some fun in there, so it wasn’t ALL terrible, right? There were promises of greatness, hints of something better… but it was all part of the deception he reveled in maintaining. And I played right into it.

Suffice to say, I stayed in it as long as I needed to in order to learn the things I needed to learn (I don’t recommend that if you can help it), and thankfully, I don’t ever need to go there again. Severing those ties was certainly one of the best and healthiest thing I’ve ever done for myself. Tough lessons, but so very good, and necessary, and permanently etched. There were continued attempts on his part to keep me tethered and engaged, but as with most bullies, when you stop paying attention and refuse to engage, they get bored and move on to something else.

So then, why am I bringing this up? Because I think it’s important to differentiate between a person who tells a lie here and there, and a person who is constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves or anyone else, to the point where it could very well be a diagnosable mental illness/personality disorder. The difference between someone who maybe made poor decisions in the past but has the potential to make it right, and a person who is clinically ill and incapable of doing anything but lie, cheat, manipulate, and harm. The latter isn’t even remotely harmless; anyone and everyone impacted by that person’s behavior is left altered in some way. There is no way to have a healthy interaction with a person like that, regardless of effort on your part.

And why else am I bringing this up?

Donald Trump.

I’m not even sure I need to take it any further than that, but I will just say a few things about this would-be President of the United States:

  • Watching Donald Trump stand/hover/loom behind Hillary Clinton at the 2nd debate was like watching a caged animal, or an attempt at intimidation, and it was scary.
  • Knowing he brought Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate as a means of belittling and shaming Hillary – using their pain for his gain – was scary.
  • Listening to him so easily lie when confronted with things he’s said or done (things that have been documented as truth) is scary.
  • Knowing he’s intentionally hiding information about his own financial situation in an effort to maintain a certain reputation is scary.
  • Hearing the way he talked about how he can take advantage of women because of his celebrity was scary.
  • His complete lack of remorse or willingness to own his part is scary.
  • Watching, reading, and hearing people leap to his defense because “he says what we’re all thinking,” to justify  – nay, celebrate – all of these behaviors, all for the sake of “shaking up Washington,” IS SCARY.

Don’t get me wrong. HRC is nowhere near perfect (nor was she my first choice, nor does that matter because that’s not what we’re talking about here), but you can be damn sure I will vote for her if it means keeping a sociopathic/narcissistic/anti-social personality disorder out of the office of the presidency.

Y’ALL. You know we have the power to change this, right? Nothing has to be the way it is, and everything can be different, if and when we decide we’re no longer okay with the way things are. I’ve been marveling over that truth: that if we weren’t so damned determined to hold on to our beliefs and so convinced that they are correct, or so convinced that we are powerless to change things, we might see that what we believe is what we’ve been taught and shown, and how things are isn’t how they have to be. We absolutely have the freedom AND the power to change that. Like racism: it’s not innate, it’s learned. Imagine what life would look like if no one had ever been raised to think of another human being as “less than?”

Anyway. I don’t claim to know much of anything about politics, especially with as convoluted and partisan and covert and messy as things have become… I don’t even know who or what to trust anymore, or where to start looking for reliable information. You know, the actual TRUTH, not just biased half-assed reporting.

But I have finally learned to trust my gut when it comes to humanity and human beings. I’m a pretty good judge of character, thanks to years of experience and lessons learned, and I can recognize when something is WRONG that has nothing to do with whether or not I like you as a person. When something is off about someone, I can sense it; when they’re sick, or toxic, or even just unhealthy, my hackles are raised all the way up, and the protective shields go up with it. At this point, that’s enough for me to go on.

Donald Trump is toxic, in every sense of the word.

Dangerously so.

Yet there are people who still fervently believe he is the better choice. That the stories coming out about him are false, or that they don’t matter, as long as Hillary doesn’t win. There are people who RELATE to him (I think that’s the worst part for me). They’re willing to turn a blind eye to his lies, manipulation, misogyny, and explosive temperament for the sake of teaching Washington and us bleeding-heart liberals a lesson.

Right now, our country feels so polarized between those who maniacally value flags and songs and ideas of nationalism and personal freedoms more than they do other human beings, and then the rest of us who want everyone taken care of, no matter their color, sexual preference, gender, or religious beliefs. Bootstrap mentality vs. the need for empathy and community. I never looked forward to a Bush presidency, or a Romney presidency, but I never actively feared them, either. This is different. I can’t imagine what a Trump presidency would look like, but if I have to find out, I just hope we emerge relatively unscathed, that the lessons we learn come with a long-lasting side of empathy and act-right, and that we never, ever have to go there again.