The Inner Work of Liberation

Toin Adams
by Toin Adams, used with permission

“Being a victim of oppression in the United States is not enough to make you revolutionary, just as dropping out of your mother’s womb is not enough to make you human. People who are full of hate and anger against their oppressors or who only see Us versus Them can make a rebellion but not a revolution. The oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor. Therefore, any group that achieves power, no matter how oppressed, is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.”

– Grace Lee Boggs

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Autism Awareness Day: Self-Care for Activists (and its Effects on Prisoners)

I’m not going to try to explain the huge world of spectrum living. There’s others who do it much better, like Amethyst’s vlog “Ask an Autistic.” I’m going to speak about the vast variety in how Aspies and other NeuroDiverse folks are as people and something to keep in mind with your ND loved ones, co-workers, etc.

Then we’ll look at self-care and boundaries for anyone with a disability, explaining it to prisoner pen pals, and resources for Actionists who could easily burn out and resources for spectrum women, whom everyone should know something about. (I believe we need to have some knowledge of all types of people, being aware of how privilege and oppression intersect in everyone, and generalizations are dangerous to cling to. We need enough education from diverse populations to know that we need to listen and some reasons why.)

Actionist burn out is why nothing changes much. It’s the same young, idealistic, no-experience beyond Evergreen College types with theories and not much learning from mistakes because they haven’t had enough mistakes or the wisdom and hopefully humility age gives. It’s square one with most groups, because the elders (35 years old?) couldn’t find an emotionally and physically sustainable way to continue.  If you are living with a disability or in prison you have to constantly be advocating just to survive. We can’t drop out. So….

Yes. 1. There’s very little we in this spectrum world have in common. Oh, the general concepts take wide range. Sensory Processing Disorder – yes, we all have it but what’s annoyingly understimulated normally and what’s painfully overstimulated easily are really different with all of us. You can’t really assume. Our special interests that we hyperfocus into, submerged in joyfully, the pressure of “the outside world” removed from our minds – all different. Our ways of communicating whether with or without using mouth parts again are very different. The scripts we memorize to deal with other humans in certain situations are cobbled together from very different sources. How well we’ve learned to take care of ourselves with alone time, sensing the fine line between interest and overwhelmed, allowing meltdowns that don’t harm us more than horrendous, inconsolable pain and then massive exhaustion, and finding our stims that reset our brains like fiddle toys, hand flapping, rocking, twirling, and all the other “odd behaviors” that block out the blasting stimuli that hurts and helps us get a handle on balancing our inner equilibrium for living in a world not made for us because we’re a minority (1 in 66 kids are ND according to the TV commercials, so we’re a large minority). How much we understand about autism and in what context, who taught us and why, the resulting feelings about it and the core self which experiences the world differently – it’s all different. The amount of socializing, physical energy, ability to fake and pass as NeuroTypical, help needed, emotional awareness about ourselves and others, our stubbornness, our irrational -looking lashing out against a totally overwhelming world, our hiding in our own imaginations and dark rooms, openness to new things, the physical disabilities like our feet and gait issues that often wreck our backs and a million other things – we’re all completely different.

2. It’s different every day for someone autistic. NeuroDiverse folks already have less energy. It takes a lot out of us physically to navigate the NT world. We’re worn down by assaults to our nervous system and social demands. How close someone is to a meltdown or shut down changes constantly. Our levels of “proper social skills” and ability to read malice in others drastically can change. How well we can communicate how NTs want changes.

It’s not regressing; it’s usually too much NT demands and not enough self care time like 6 hours with model trains or stacking boxes “correctly” or sleep or food with the tight texture and the right lighting and sounds and clothing and turning away from other people, unless it’s factual information about a special interest.

Peer counseling where one person talks (and the other passes no judgement, gives no advice, offers no “Me too” interrupting and derailing stories, or telling us what “our problems” are based on the peer’s own work projected on others) has been great for me. A friend in North Hollywood (Toronto at the time) with a typical crazy industry schedule and I were doing peer counseling without knowing it. Naturally, we both were best at sharing the last month’s events, insights, and emotions in an hour long monologue. Somehow we’d naturally know how to switch roles. We didn’t share a lot in common yet she was one of my best friends who I really miss. She might make blunt statements based on her experiences for success in the film industry – my wearing make up was good, losing weight is important for business, stuff I didn’t care about, but really is part of the demands of the incredibly sexist film industry. You don’t look hot, you don’t work (unless an important male gave the job to you).

To others, these probably didn’t look like conversations. We barely commented on what the other said. She smuggled herself into Iraq during the war and shoot footage. In Kuwait she recorded drug deals in mosques. She interviewed older women in Jordan who fondly remembered wearing miniskirts and education before economic help was given by a conversative Muslim agency and their freedoms and comforts were greatly limited and the younger women had no idea what living with those freedoms was like. She talked about how heavy the black fabric was in the desert, how high the temperature was for women suffering underneath. The way Kuwaiti kids decked out in designer clothing (their parents owned the companies) would drop bags to the sidewalk and have “the workers” ( Indian immigrants) quickly pick them up and usher the teenagers to Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, the scorning of Egyptian kids for being from a poor nation, and the hatred of Palestinians for helping Saddam Hussein because he was the only Muslim leader to extend any help to the displaced of Palestine. Her trips to Israel where every conversation seemed to start with “I’m not racist, but I hate Jews,” ” I’m not prejudiced but I hate Christians,” and “I’m not racist but I hate Arabs.” The home of hate, she called it. Her reason for living in the Middle East was perfectly autistic: sick of the prejudice of the media, her family, she wanted first hand knowledge on both a deep and broad level.

You’d think I’d have something to say, but like a lot of spectrum people, if I don’t have firsthand experience with something or a very broad, deep “special interest” investigation into a topic, I will be silent. It’s not my experience. I can’t have an opinion. I don’t know what it was like for her emotionally or how it changed her politics unless she tells me. Give people enough time, they’ll tell you almost anything. I never had any comments except when she went from blonde to redhead, gold jewelry to silver. A sign that she’d become less mainstream. What prompted it, I wondered.

It was a really important relationship. Clear boundaries because of her work schedule. No surprises. Her typical Aspie rather blunt and rude sounding comments of total honesty that didn’t apply to my value system, I knew was her way of caring.

Peer counseling is basically the same thing, but without any suggestions. Give me 45 minutes to talk it out and I’ll have things sorted. It won’t be how someone else might do it, but I’ll know what I want, what’s upsetting me, how to deal with it, what’s good but confusing, let my developmentally delayed aspects and super advanced aspects get on the same page. I don’t want approval, just validation that my experience in life matters enough to be witnessed.

Writing letters is a lot like this. I don’t know what is “diary” information or “letter” information or “public blog” information because it’s all relevant to living. It’s information and sometimes something clicks and helps someone else, usually the “diary” level information . My letters help me clear my brain about topics I think about as if writing is a giant etch-a-sketch that afterwards I can shake clear. Because being being isolated 24/7 due to the world being put into quarantine due to the choices to poison the air that everyone makes as they wash their hair with basically dish detergent, put on highly chemical fragranced lotion and clothing with Febreeze, it’s really nice to think about someone else’s world. To research how checking accounts work in depth, including information about credit unions and prepaid cards and check cashing scam places and organize it is kinda my autistic joy. Organize information! Teach it! Discuss it! My life has meaning! My experience with the world taught me helpful things! I’m not a problem I’m trying to solve.

My pen pals know about Aspie women – they get handouts. Why? They want to understand, not accidentally upset me. Same with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. That’s a hugely popular topic in prison because it’s so scary and obvious that the government doesn’t care about its citizens, only money. A one page handout of the proven diseases causes by synthetic fragrance has them mesmerized.

Most people in prison have a disability although it’s often overlooked, so they often tell me about going through a car windshield at age 8 and the seizures ever since, or the two strokes causes by tear gas guards used on someone else and teaching themselves to walk and talk alone in prison, or cleaning up the remaining brains and blood after their father killed himself with a gun. (That’s all one pen pal.)

As I write about my struggles with self care, they start thinking about self care. What is it? What are boundaries? I have a lot due to being an Aspie which I’m learning and ones from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, the most probable cause for MCS. As I process that in letters, it gives ideas to people in prison who have very little right to boundaries. If a guard of the opposite gender takes you alone for a shower – something unheard of with the short staffing and against the rules – because that prisoner filed a complaint against that guard who states at them naked and alone – you can’t say no. So boundaries? What are they? Needs – how do you get to meet then when everything is out of your control?

Well, having a chronic illness like MCAS, MCS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, hypothyroidism, reactive hypoglycemia, extreme skin sensitivity, a zillion food and medication intolerances, anxiety, and major depression, or being an Aspie who is often at the whim of how stress takes its toll – it’s a lot like prison in how little our needs are met or taken seriously, the way we don’t control flares and “getting better” (ie like someone able bodied or NT with a ton of emotional issues they don’t address making them high special needs). We’re even morally judged for it in the Calvinist capitalism of the USA. We have to pretend to be perky and well when calling a pharmacy or medical supply center or doctor’s office because people are immediately hostile towards people who sound like they’re exhausted and sick. Trust me. The useless mazes of social services and health insurance – It’s a lot like the futility of doing things by the book with correct paperwork etc in prison.

It’s why I don’t understand why more chronically ill people don’t have a prison penpal. They’ll be concerned about you long after everyone else forgot that you being sick or exhausted or whatever is a forever thing. Compassion fatigue is something both prisoners and chronically ill and spectrum folks face in others who are tried of our problems but the problems still come and come and –

Anyway, I hope you learned a little something about autistic spectrum folks, maybe understand something better, or are thinking about chronic illness, prison, or Calvinist capitalism differently. Maybe your behavior will change knowing more. Maybe you’re thinking about self care.

The only decent activist self care book I know is: Sustaining Spirit: Self-Care for Social Justice, by Naomi Ortez, ReClamation Press, who publishes “Wisdom from Disability Communities.” If you advocate for yourself, you’re an activist. If you write someone in prison you’re an activist. And you need ways to take care of yourself. “The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self -Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor, published by Berrett-Koehler is far more radical than the title suggests, but it’s not as hands on. It’s more supportive of difference in bodies including brains which means every single reason for prejudice – all prejudice is against some physical bodies – Brown bodies, older bodies, certain gendered bodies, neurological differences in bodies, the sex bodies have, etc – so massive radical love of bodies and stopping the shame would solve it all, and of course you start with yourself. Sustaining Spirit is much more a meditative book. It’s filled with a lot of things I know but forget to do. Why I have to do them. Have to. No option. It’s by a Disability Justice activist, too, so she “gets it” if you have disabilities.

To better understand spectrum women I highly recommend “Women from Another Planet: Our Lives in the Universe of Autism” edited by Jean Kearns Miller and published by AuthorHouse, and “Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate: S User Guide to an Asperger Life” by Cynthia Kim, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

In Gratitude to Brig & How a Goddess Became a Saint

Heather Awen Photo Brig well
St Brigid’s Well somewhere in central Ireland from a windy roadtrip, copyright Heather Awen photo.

Brig saved my life once. I had been misdiagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and drugged out of my mind. In that state I married a psychologically abusive misogynist and fell apart as his control issues and lies strangled me. While on our honeymoon in Ireland I begged to Brig to cure me and give me sanity, tying a rag at Her well in Co. Clare. I’d ignored the psychologists who told me, “Heather, it’s not you, it’s your husband,” but Brig took my request seriously. Within two months he abandoned me, and a year later a rare good psychiatrist (Dr Joe Lasek) immediately said upon meeting me “You don’t have bipolar disorder. It’s ADHD. Let’s taper you off these drugs. If you weren’t hyperactive, you’d be unconscious!”

Heather Awen copyright, St Brigid well
St Brigid’s Well, Co. Clare, copyright Heather Awen photo.

In Brig’s honor I made a Mexican folk Catholic style ex voto. These are art depicting a horrible situation and the Saint who saved them. Usually the person draws the ex voto themselves but some people make a living painting them. Often the pictures are of drunk men hitting women or muggers with guns with the Virgin Mary or another Saint hovering over head. The sacred art is hung in churches as proof of the divine helping mortals.

I made mine a double face, one blue and looking up crying for depression, and one orange and looking down for mania, overlapping each other. Brig took bipolar away by getting me finally to a decent doctor who removed the 10 mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and antipsychotics and gave me Provigil instead and, much relieved, I happily fell asleep.

ex voto brighid 001
Brig ex voto by Heather Awen copyright

At the top I hung a charm of a wedding couple. I painted the bride red in blood for how suicidal I became in this nightmare of gaslighting smoke and mirrors.

A little bucket (for milk, as She is associated with the abundance of cows) held a page from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica Hymns and Incantations (1900) with a prayer to Saint Brid (pronounced “breed” the Scottish version of Her name). A pruned blackberry branch, a bush associated with Brigid, was attached with a red rag (clootie). I made an equal arm cross from Rowan, a tree associated with Brigid, as well. (The rowan was a gift from a friend’s farm after pruning.)

Brig isn’t the only Goddess to save my health. After 10 years of living with Lyme disease and Babesiosis, Freya cured me after I fulfilled a promise She asked for in return. And Brig’s forerunner Brigantia, based on a prayer I wrote to Her for recovery from PTSD, aided a transgender woman in a male prison in her rape recovery, as posted here.

Power & Religion: The Creation of St Brigid

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

“The British Ui Bairrche and Fothairt may have created St. Brigit from the Sovereignty Goddess Brig. The Ui Bairrche tribe were related to Britain’s powerful Brigantes (the tribe of Brigantia). They and their mercenaries, the Fothairt tribe, probably brought their Goddess Brig to Leinster when they migrated. The Fothairt were not originally important in Leinster, but they had the monastery of St. Brigit, which gave them some power by the 7th century. With its obviously Pagan roots of 19 female virgin fire tenders, the monastery was on the Curragh Plain, where originally Pagan horse races and religious activities had been held.

“Even before St. Patrick arrived, Christianity had a small following in Ireland, probably from Roman British tribes settling in Leinster, or through Irish families communicating between Wales and Leinster. Eventually Ulster’s powerful, new Ui Neill dynasty aligned themselves with St. Patrick and the Roman church. Meanwhile, the Ui Bairrche and Fothairt probably brought Christianity to Leinster, which used the native St. Brigit to consolidate its Christian power.

“St. Brigit gives some insight how the newly Christian Irish still understood a Sovereignty Goddess. Unlike Patrick, she never fights Pagans or their Druids. An early hymn starts by calling her Brigit, but then changes her name to Brig when asking for her protection. When Leinster was attacked she was seen in sky, defending her land. Unlike other medieval Irish saints who fasted and renounced the pleasure of the body, Brigit prepared eight miraculous feasts. She fixed the broken chalice of a king, handing it back to him whole. These are aspects of the Sovereignty Goddess and the Pagan king-making ceremony.”

 

Selected Bibliography

Bethu Brigte (Author: unknown), https://celt.ucc.ie//published/T201002/index.html

Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Four Courts Press (2001)

Huth, Christoph and Monika Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, CONNECTING ELITES AND REGIONS: Perspectives on contacts, relations and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northwest and Central Europe, Robert Schumann & Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof (ed.) Sidestone Press (2017)

Meyer, Kuno trans., Hail Brigit: An Old-Irish Poem on the Hill of Alenn. Dublin: Hodges, Figgs, and Co. (1912)

Smyth, Alfred P., Celtic Leinster. Mount Salus Press Ltd. (1982)

Heather Awen copyright, Brigid
St Brigid’s Well somewhere in central Ireland on a roadtrip, copyright Heather Awen photo. (Friend said “It looks like a Black Sabbath album cover” LOL)

 

Resource: 1 in 6, help for men who were sexually abused as children and teenagers

There’s a really important resource for those of us who work with or have pen pals in prison: 1 in 6. 1 in 6 is the (low) estimate of the number of men who were sexually abused or raped as children or teenagers by adults – including far more women than society wants to think. Actually, why doesn’t EVERYBODY check out the 1 in 6 website right now? I promise that this blog post will be waiting for you. This is such an important issue that receives so little practical support, why not get educated so you can be part of the solution? If you are a man who is a survivor or the partner of one, 1 in 6 offers actual help: Free and anonymous chat-based support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse or assault—and partners of men—who are seeking a community of support. Each group meets weekly and is facilitated by a counselor.” 

As young women, my friends and I often shared our own experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape, often with nervous laughter, a defiant look, or a dead, numb look and tone. It’s usually a sign we haven’t processed and integrated it. Very few of us at that stage will call it what it was – rape, incest, assault. We just tell the event(s) like out of context stories, often drunk at the end of Girls’ Night Out. My generation, Gen X, was taught rape was a stranger with a knife or gun in a park at night and had various ways of protecting ourselves. In reality, those ways, including self defense classes, didn’t address the biggest problem: almost 90% of those who experience sexual violence knew the person who did it – often very well. We had no language for it and then somewhere in our 30s, often when raising children who are around the age we were when violated, the word finally bashes its way into our consciousness: rape. And nothing is ever the same again.

I’ve heard transgender friends share their childhood sexual abuse truths with the same dull voice that comes from repeating it to therapists like rote memorization, too. It’s not an event that skips or chooses queer, trans, cisgenger, straight, class, lookist, race, faith or any other people.

This includes cisgender men – hetro, gay, bi, ace and whatever other labels used for sexuality.

I don’t know if I’m unusual in being the “only person that I’ve ever told” for so many men. Women tell me about their horrible experiences, too, very quickly. I think I give off a “harmless” vibe. (Male friends say I confused them with how easy it was to talk to me and feel safe, even if attracted to me.) Maybe I am so ADHD open about myself, it’s contagious. Or people can tell I don’t ever assume anyone would go through the Hell of claiming something that can temporarily destroy their life (community support for survivors is usually nil) and have it be a lie. The effects live in the survivors, while the rapists and paedophiles almost always seem to bounce back to their regular life. Maybe raping is their regular life. With 1 in 4 women raped, especially 1 in 5 raped in the US military by a “fellow” American soldier, and the 1 in 3 women who have been raped being raped by a group of men, you’d think that we’d all know lots of rapists. Add this 1 in 6 when it comes to men, we really should all know tons of rapists.

We do. It’s just that people don’t want to believe that their friends and family members could be rapists. I had a husband confess to me that he raped someone – and he didn’t even see it as rape. Evidently she was now feeling strong enough to tell people. He told me first, saying in a disgusted tone, “We were practically having sex, and SHE SAID NO, but at that point, what did it matter? We’d already done other stuff.” My heart froze and head went numb. He left the country soon after this and years later I read the online that he was sexually assaulting women, and I certainly don’t doubt them. Sisters harmed by him, I’m sorry, and I got your backs.

But did I connect the word “rapist” to a husband I suddenly hated? To someone who literally fell off of my respect radar? No, strangely, I didn’t. “She said no” were his exact words and that he didn’t care. Rapist. That an otherwise intelligent, progressive man who even did half the housework without me asking would do such a thing didn’t quite click. Maybe I was in shock. I only cried once in our break up and divorce, and always wondered why I wasn’t feeling as nearly distraught as I had been over my old boyfriend in that that break up. 

 It would not be until my second marriage, hearing my new husband – a “salt of the earth” guy – talk angrily about how he should have had sex with his passed out prom date because she’d said they’d have sex that I thought RAPE. I sat on the couch watching him clench his teeth in rage about not taking an opportunity to rape someone, and my own experience of being raped started churning deep inside, fighting to get away from him. I thought I was crazy. The more misogynistic he revealed himself to be, the more a person who wanted to rape and said felt little control around 14 year old girls (the age I was when raped by someone I trusted completely in all matters, including to respect the fact that I wanted to stay a virgin), the more my subconscious and consciousness minds fought, bringing me to a nervous breakdown.

As I did rape recovery work, I started wondering not about my friends who in their teens and 20s spoke of their rapes as if they were normal pieces in a Norman Rockwell painting puzzle that wouldn’t quite fit, but about why no guys stopped these rapes. Many girls were raped in public, like a friend who was passed out in back of a truck where all the high school kids were tailgating (except there was no game; trucks in graveyards or parked along Main Street was there all the town’s action happened). While passed out, a guy raped her as (she learned later) others cheered him on. Or in situations, like where a friend was offered a ride home from a party by two male friends when she was fifteen and was raped, where two or more guys rape a girl they know and will see every school day; how did it never eat away at one of them? Where are all these men now? Our co-workers, our neighbors, people in our religious and political communities – are they haunted? Do they try to block the memories? Are they afraid, like my rapist, that because there’s no statue of limitations on raping someone underage in that state, that at any time their victims could all tell the police now? My rape is filled with various rape related agencies. His wife, saying I wanted it in writing, collaborates with all the other evidence. The thing is, his life is so terrible, for now, I’d rather let him live in fear. The combination of crystal meth and now methadone has ravaged his body and he’s universally hated (often behind the back) by everyone I’ve ever met who knows him. His wife’s family, including a rather popular blueglass roots band, disowned her for marrying him. 

I had known a Cornell University student of poetry whose predicted brilliant career kept being disrupted by stays at state mental hospitals, then alcoholism, and finally suicide. His mother had sexually abused him. In the 80s, before the book Courage to Heal (written just for women) even was published, there were almost no resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and certainly nothing for men – especially men who were violated by women, and even less for those who lived through incest by the mother.

The Goddess Spiritually movement really helped me as a teenager to process what of my rape I’d allow myself to name. Mostly I was enraged and for a year my body – almost independently of my mind – physically attacked every man I knew who treated women poorly. This included the man who raped me. A local saying was “Where Heather goes, bruised shins are sure to follow.” But the Goddess Spirituality movement at that time never told me how patriarchy hurts men – although I can’t blame it, as women were *just* barely getting any evidence that once upon a time, we mattered. Instead, it led to women having to figure out how someone could have power and not be an abuser. It was like being a victim made you good, because having power was too male. We were still in a binary world, and thank the deities that Starhawk invented terms like “power -within”, “power -over” and “power-with.”

Now I’ve moved from blaming patriarchy to blaming kyriarchy: “derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination… Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.” – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation

Today most rape crisis centers have absolutely nothing to offer the 1 in 6 men sexually assaulted or raped as children and teenagers. Liberal Vermont has terrible services in general. The same goes for domestic violence – if a man or transwoman wants to stay at the shelter last I heard only one Vermont shelter allowed transwomen and none allowed men. Lionel Richie was the first famous man to speak out about domestic violence against husbands. (Maybe he was also the last?)

Queer people rape and sexually abuse children, too, but finding ways to talk about it without giving fodder to homophobia has been difficult. A gay friend with a gender neutral name was drugged and raped in college. He called 911 and the police arrived with the rape kit – and made jokes when they saw the victim was a man. A woman I met was sexually abused by her mother’s lesbian partner in the 80s. For liberals*, how were we to process this? Gay women were capable of sexually abused 3 year olds? Stand by the victim and risk looking homophobic, in a world that already too often thinks homosexual and paedophilia are the same? Meanwhile, domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples was causing a similar issue. Do victims speak out and ask for help – knowing that some people would call them “traitor” and remove them from their part of the queer community?

This was happening in activist circles, too. Only a couple years ago did Earth First! finally support a woman raped and manipulated by an older male guru type when she lived in a group with him protecting wolves. She lost her entire support network when she left and told.  Her story is so common, it’s why leftist groups lose women so frequently to feminist women only groups. When your male heterosexual lover values everyone in the world more than you, and everyone working for change ignores the kyriarchal, misogynistic status quo in the leftist scenes, it’s hard for a self-respecting women to remember why she bothers in the first place. (A woman who was a working member of my old food co-op said of meetings “The two men in the collective argue with each other loudly, we watch unable to get a word in, and they arrive at decisions we approve because we just want to leave. I don’t think they realize that they’re not in charge of the collective. They never make any space for how we, the majority of the working members, all women, discuss and make decisions when alone. 90% of the membership are basically tokens. If I yell and interrupt like they do, they say I’m being emotional.”)

So if it’s *this* bad for women and people in the LGBTQ community, two groups that are proven to have less equality in this society, to have people believe that we’ve experienced sexualized violence plus deal with the fall out against us, imagine how hard it is for the supposed “winners” in kyriarchy? But I’m not writing about adult men – that’d require more research. I’m writing about children who are physically small and vulnerable, and teenagers who are psychologically not adults and, like children, dependent on adults. And when they are at an age and place in life when they feel they can (or must, for their sanity) tell, they ARE men.

I’ve known a lot of men who honored me by sharing their pain with me before anyone else. Some had been sexually abused by the so-called “typical pedophile” – a person who doesn’t care what sex the child is. One was “lucky enough” that the Uncle violating him had also sexually tormented his mother, the pedophile’s younger sister, so the family was not surprised. Some classist people assume this is “white trash shit” – this was a wealthy family. Another was sexually abused as a child by his Wiccan High Priestess’s boyfriend, the current High Priest. Others had female babysitters who called the boy “gay” in order to confuse him for not wanting sex with her (these women ranged in age from 17 to mid 30s) and while his mind said no, his body responded to her touching. This can happen to women, too, and doesn’t mean that the rape was desired. It’s just a normal, basic physiological response. Others woke up after a party and found themselves tied to a bed with a woman having sex with them. (How many parents are teaching their sons about rape and the dangers of women, including girlfriends?)

It’s not “just” things done to the body. Sexual abuse includes seeing things inappropriate for the age or that the person didn’t want to see. One man told me about seeing a pornography video with older guys when he was a child. It gave him insomnia,which he still had when stressed, the images coming back. A group of siblings told me about being at a Wiccan wedding in the 80s where the Great Rite was physically enacted by the couple as everyone watched. (If Paganism doesn’t own the disgraceful aspects of its past, we’ll be like the Catholic church and have others tell the media for us. All religions have people in power who abuse it, especially sexually. Those who clean house on their own like the Episcopal church in the 1990s don’t have to deal with being “outed” like the Catholic church, in its attempts to keep things “hush hush.” The New Age movement has a lot of abusers to name as well.)

Are there any books specifically for these different men? Go to Amazon and search. Ok, now go to your yellow pages or DuckDuckGo and find the local Men’s Rape Crisis Center. Check the therapist listings at Psychology Today for therapists who are trained in working with men who were sexually abused as children. Think about how our society talks about men who were sexually abused or raped as children and teenagers.

What’s the recovery option? For a lot of survivors of all genders it’s self medicating.

If about 1 in 100 Americans men are in prison, and drug possession is the reason 7 in 8 prisoners were convicted out of the 80% there for drug related crimes, and we know that many survivors of sexual abuse and rape self medicate, do you suspect that maybe some of the 1 in 6 are in prison for possession of drugs that lots of people have tried? Or were like 14 year old me, kicking and punching every jerk I knew?

If you get the trust of someone in prison, and that can happen quickly as they’ve been ignored and dehumanized for so long, you will hear secrets. As you show that you are trustworthy, reliable and honest (including about setting and maintaining boundaries), like with any close friend, you may get the “I was raped by my Aunt” or “My family’s pastor molested me” one line, followed by “But it didn’t affect me. I don’t know why I’m even telling you since it’s not a big deal.”

And you might  learn this NOW especially, with media coverage of things like #metoo, R. KellyCorey Feldman, and Afrika Bambaataa.

A lot of the trauma of sexual assault and rape depends on how the people closest to you react when you tell them. Remember that you can make a huge positive impact if you listen, believe, and respect the desires of the person telling you about their experience. Do not explain their experience to them, tell them to confront anyone, or tell anyone. Trauma is about powerlessness, so recovery has to be in their control. Prison does not offer decent psychological services to inmates who have a psychological disorder on record. They certainly won’t offer anything for a man who experienced childhood or teenage sexualized violence. Often the few psych workers at a prison don’t even have private meetings with patients. Instead, very personal matters are yelled about through the cell door, allowing the other inmates and guards to hear. The guards have no education about psychological issues, especially at state prisons. So if you were going to say “Tell someone,” don’t. If they had someone to tell they would have already. When we push others to get help, we’re often responding more to our own (difficult to tolerate) feelings than to the other person’s needs.” – 1 in 6You’re it. You’re the only resource the person has. 

When this happens, go to the 1 in 6 website. Copy everything, print it and send. Next write with your pen pal or talk on the phone/ in person about trauma, discussing how it’s affected you and people you know (don’t use names) plus how our culture is a rape prone society. They are probably sure that they’re the only one this has happened to, and you want to let them they’re not alone, without triggering them by sharing traumatic details.

If they decide that the event(s) may have affected them, ask if you may email the organization 1 in 6 and have them mail a free copy of the book Stages of Recovery to your friend. It doesn’t have triggering content, which is something that always concerns me. I don’t want my friend freaking out in emotional flashbacks and end up retraumatized, naked in the hole without even a blanket.

Yep, that’s how Texas deals with prisoners having psychological problems. That’s rehabilitation, I say sarcasticly.

It’s important that you have dealt with your own sexualized violence issues. People who are in denial about a facet of reality will try to shut up anyone who mentions it. I have experienced this about disability and chronic illness, where people really need to believe it can’t happen to them, so they make up some spiritual, ethical reason why a tick bit me and millions of other people, or why I have a strong genetic response to pollution. This kind of social Darwinism “where we get what we deserve” was part of the Christian Calvinist predetermination that allowed capitalism to blame the poor for being poor. Rape survivors and people with disabilities get a lot of hurtful comments meant to comfort the person who superstitiously clings to karma or pop psychology they don’t fully understand. Don’t be one of those cowards. The person was raped because there are people who rape and this is a society that maintains the status quo.


* Interesting fact: a study entitled “Ideologues without Issues” looked at data from 2,500 Americans and found that both liberals and conservatives lean left on most issues from gun control to same sex marriage. Americans actually have a lot in common – except what we label ourselves! Once we’ve labeled ourselves “conservative” we won’t vote for the Democrats who actually represent the values we say we have when labels are removed!

Hail, Freya! She DID honor Her vow! I’m Lyme-free! Cured!

freyja_newwatermark
Freya by Alexandra Rena

A few years back I learned that the reason I was so sick wasn’t just a Christian church carbon monoxide poisoning my family because the Vestry never checked the furnace in the home where my mother was a Priest. (The building inspector’s report was a toxic nightmare including arsenic.) That caused the severe MCS, but I was already sick with “fibromyalgia”* which was actually Lyme disease and babesiosis (malaria like parasites eating my red blood cells).

(Lyme causes MCS, too, BTW. It’s all probably from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, something you are born with and have hassles like allergies and GERD, but then get Lyme disease or a different physical or emotional trauma and WHOOSH gasoline on the fire. Yeah, I have MCAS, which according to top researcher Dr Lawrence Afrin is probably responsible for the rise in all the new or once rare poorly understood diagnoses that tend to come in clusters such as: fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, reactive hypoglycemia, asthma, allergies, Celiac disease, autism spectrum “disorders,” Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, GERD, type 2 diabetes, auto-immune disorders especially RA and MS, medication sensitivities, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fertility issues, and more – the stuff that tends to pile on to people and make doctors hope you won’t come back. Treat the MCAS, things improve. There’s a zillion peer-reviewed medical journal papers on MCAS, and since everyone has completely different triggers (like cold temperature, bee sting or fragrance) that can cause any response including death, doctors are nicer about accommodations because technically anything I inhale, touch or ingest could kill me. You don’t mess with the little understood mast cells – which cross the brain blood barrier.)

Yep, it’s been a time of breakthroughs!

In my Hell of sickness, wondering how they’d treat the tickbourne diseases when my body is weird with medication and especially herbs, I made a pact with Freya.

She already was guiding me hardcore and kicking my ass when I didn’t listen. For me, She’s always right. So I said “Take everything over (as if She hadn’t) and make me better. Let me live. No more palliative care, no more insane fevers and terror, no more death!”

She said, “I want a book. It’s about your ancestors’ deities and make sure you include how they’re related to my Vanir family. Honor us.”

I thought “Oh, maybe 50 pages of bad poetry devotional. I don’t even understand poetry, but OK.” And, wrapped in organic linen, She received presents, including organic leeks, a found crow’s wing, amber, jewellery and grains, buried by my awesome mother, because I have been too sensitive to car fumes and smoke to go outside for a few years. (This is why I get along with folks in solitary confinement probably.) She also did it because unlike terrified narcissist Christians who actually need everyone else to validate their faith by joining it, she doesn’t think Christianity, especially Christendom, has any monopoly on Truth.

Then I was asked to write information about the Mabinogi and Gaulish deities for a book people were doing for people in prison. I think, process and write information really fast (tested faster than the machine for reading speed could go when age 7, fastest reporter at the Toronto Star, and a nifty Aspie photographic memory), so I kept going, doing various exercises, an Ogham guide –

And everyone else dropped out of the project – oddly because of severe MCAS -issues. (Not known then, but now it’s obvious.)

The book, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, became over 900 pages because I know that in prison you can’t use the Internet or buy more books. So anything from the 3 days for talking to spirits in Wales to the newfound importance of Iberia was recorded.

Then THOSE papers came out. The linguistic ones that find a sudden change in Proto-Indo-European language about 4,000 years ago probably in modern day Czech Republic. Words, especially about religion, that would centuries later turn up in proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic and often proto-Finnish, burst into use. Many refer to Lug/Wotan. The German Nerthus who becomes Njord, and Macha, Badb and other Gaelic deities come into existence. Before there even is a Gaelic language.

The word prija (the root of Freya’s name) changed from “beloved” to “free one” ie a noble. As Frey and Freya are titles Lord and Lady, this is a very ancient link. The root word that became seidR, Freya’s magic, was already alive, shared with the Celts. It comes from “string” – hence the importance of knot magic in both cultures. (Viducus experienced someone possessed by Matronae telling people to pray to Her while tying and untying knots. We ARE getting our religion back!) The sacred groves with horses, the crow Goddess with the Battle husband, angelica and holly become important plants, and words that combine into variations of shamanism, prophecy and poetry – plus new words for wagons, roads and other Vanir-type things appear. (All this is covered more in depth in the book.)

Instead of making the book smaller, we made the dimensions bigger – 8.5″ by 11″ – and left no blank space. Art and writing from amazing people was donated.

I had to learn how to publish, make contracts (thank you, Erynn Rowan Laurie), figure out the financial logistics of an always -in-the- red project and how to not have it affect my $800 a month SSI and food stamps (thank you, accountant and attorney, neither of whom charged me), WHILE drenched in sweat, semi-conscious, crying in pain. Oh, yeah, and getting emails from Pagans who all hated each other more than they cared about their deities and people in prison. (I am trying to erase the gossip from that photographic memory.) And my partner in this, the amazing artist and designer, Armi Dee, was diagnosed with cancer.

Out of nowhere, Alexandra Rena (remember her name, because she’s going to be a Big Deal artist whose Oracle deck you’ll be buying) took over the CreateSpace part. I didn’t even know her. She just wanted a book about these Gaulish and British Celtic deities for so long, she made it happen. Because, honestly, there’s been nothing for the not-Gaelic Celtic Pagan published. It’s the book I wished I had years ago.

The time while Ms Rena was finishing up with CreateSpace (the 100+ images made it a hassle), I did a 10 day Lyme antibiotic treatment and Mepron for the babesiosis. People bitch about Mepron. I didn’t feel as bad as babesiosis made me at times. Babesiosis puts people in wheelchairs and I couldn’t find one nontoxic enough, even though walking was no longer safe. Compared to that, Mepron was nothing.

Because MCAS is a hyper -reaction of the mast cells, antibiotics and anti -parasite medication are dangerous for long periods of time. I did the treatment for people with low immune functioning, specifically chemotherapy patients and those with HIV, to blast the bacteria and parasites. Then I stopped before my own immune system jumped in for no good reason, which would cause all the MCAS inflammation which people often mistake for still having Lyme.

(Now there’s finally an affordable, good test for Lyme and co-infections, by Mercy Labs, usually covered by insurance, but sometimes just $20 if you are undercovered or have no insurance. Better than iGenex’s $800 test which has a much longer results turn around. Don’t assume your Lyme came back based on symptoms – get the test! Too many antibiotic, antifungal, and antiparasite treatments with MCAS might be why after lengthy Lyme treatment people develop RA!)

The book came out as I finished treatment.

You have to wait 3 months before testing for Lyme disease after treatment. I stopped having mood swings from Hell, cognitive impairment, waking nightmares, seizures – and was bored and in pain because I just wanted to keep DOING stuff. I had energy, but a body ill prepared for that.

My results are back.

There’s nothing living in my body that shouldn’t be. No Candida overgrowth, no Lyme bacteria, and no babesiosis parasites.

Hail, Freya! I dedicated the book to Her. “Willingly and deservedly” keeping my vow. I didn’t know if She had done Her part, but I believed. And She did.

I’m testing MCAS medication and getting ready for reconditioning. Years lying in bed has messed up my myofacia in a major way, and I’m weak with terrible cardiovascular strength.

But I got my health back on track and learned all about the underlying problem, and found myself. I was able to put all my weird life experience, skills, and special interests into something that helps humans and deities and the land. I’ve made some really wonderful, close, real friends, in and out of prison, and celebrated the changes in their lives. I’m doing what a job, even with honors degrees in Community Organizing and constant “woke” training for actually doing things off of Facebook, wouldn’t let me because  that paying job doesn’t exist. I’m a person with severe disabilities and I have compassionate community. I’m creating art again and engaged in much deeper conversations about Paganism with people in prison than I ever found on the outside, while discussing other parts of my “Celtic Vanatrur” ideas with someone on the outside without an ax to grind. I’m even getting to discuss Witchcraft, Wicca and Druidry all with the same person!

I’m also providing the most desired resources my friends in prison want: psychological. The mindfulness meditation, radical acceptance, CBT and value-based living in the book wet their appetites. I’ve collected ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) information and CMT (compassionate mind therapy) information and watched them change their lives. The past makes sense; the present is tolerable and better decisions are made; the future finally feels hopeful. I spend about $40 a month of my own money sending people psychological health resources. And then I am accountable for doing my values, my defusion practices, and treating myself with compassion. I even have an African Diaspora Religion book club! Think it’s easy to find this stuff if you are unable to leave your room? It’s not.  Shoot, I couldn’t find it when I lived in big cities – everyone flaked.

Also penpals in prison value honesty because they never get to be honest in prison – it’s never safe to be real. They value human contact and ask questions about their concerns instead of attacking unlike people online, who will just freak and not discuss. People in prison don’t run from reality. And they want it to be a better place. Those are two things that are hard to find on the outside!

I’m a much stronger person now than I ever was before – Before people called me strong because I survived horrible things for long periods of time. Now I’m strong because I have so much more confidence in all aspects of myself, including my body. I learned what to leave and what to accept as mine.

Thank you FREYA!

 

* Fibromyalgia definitely exists. A good DO (MD with extra training in the body’s muscles, myofaciamyofacial, bones, etc) can feel it. People who have fibro and get flares occasionally like from lack of sleep don’t test positive for MCAS. They also don’t  have other MCAS related issues. People with chronic fibromyalgia that needs narcotic  pain relief – they test positive for MCAS.

Oh, yeah, there’s blood tests for MCAS.

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)

This is the prayer that began the PTSD recovery process for a transwoman raped in prison. Learn more here.

Prayer to Brigantia for Ruling Yourself (for PTSD recovery)
by Heather Awen

Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted,
Please grant me memory of this primal truth:
Everything between here and here* is under my own sovereign rule.

I am territory in my own possession
Where the past is merely a phantom procession,
One no longer my obsession.
My mind is my own, and my thoughts are free.
Nothing done to my body makes it less holy.

Whatever torments my spirit had, have now released me.

I’m responsible for my behavior.
That’s a truth I shall not belabor.

Who I am is within my own control,
I am owned by none within my soul, and
My psyche is mine, still and always, pure and whole.

Hail, Brigantia, heavenly Goddess most exalted!

* Put one hand under your butt if sitting on the floor, feet if sitting in a chair or squatting, or knees if kneeling. Put the other above your head. If you have only one hand, swoop it around your body. If you have no hands, move your eyes from the top to the bottom. Always adapt all ritual actions to any physical impairments or differences. No gets left out!

 

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Transwoman Rape Survivor Finds Help in Book, or, Ally is the New 4 Letter Word

A Pagan transwoman in a men’s prison was raped about a decade ago. She’s been since transferred but writes “I’m terrified of men. I’m not safe. The men think I am a whore. I like men, but I want someone I can trust.” This woman has been doing hormone therapy for two years. She gets up to shower by herself at 4:45 am. After that she’s with men who have not had a touch from a woman in decades, many of them convicted of sexualized violence.

She doesn’t have a support system. No transgender penpals. Family isn’t accepting.

She received a free copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, and began practicing the Brigantia Prayer for Sexualized Violence Survivors. Something began to change for her. She realized, really realized, she was not alone. Others throughout time and all through our rape prone society (where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are raped) have experienced the soul violation of having your Sovereign control over your SELF destroyed. Transgender people have the highest rape rates in prison. There’s a very good reason for why she’s in fear.

She began the PTSD breathing meditation. It actually turns off the hormonal flood that causes the fight flight or freeze reaction. She felt better. The “Truth” essay, with instructions for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Radical Acceptance, the most popular and effective therapies along with mindfulness meditation (which her breathing meditation is), taught her how to determine what was happening now and what was her own feelings.

Because these things worked, she joined the prison PTSD group. She likes it. Federal prison is often considered “Club Med” compared to most state prisons. If she was not convicted of a federal crime, she probably wouldn’t have a PTSD support group. (That it’s minimum security doesn’t hurt either.)

She wrote to say thanks. That without the book she would have been to afraid to get help. And having someone write for imprisoned Pagans, especially including transgender Pagans in prison, made her feel like some cared.

I put together a little list of resources that are free for people in prison. She makes $5.25 a month, so using the money for stamps really cuts into her meager income. If she sends me her list with one stamp, I’ll go online and order the free resources. Plus I’m collecting rape recovery and PTSD recovery information to send her. I’m hoping that a transgender Pagan who said they’d write her actually does.

We need solidarity in our actions. I read this a lot. Saying you are an ally like it’s your identity is considered bullshit. Either you are taking (often emotionally painful) action to support people who don’t have the option to take a break from “the issues” or you’re not. Ally is the new four letter word.

 

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