Sleeper, Awake.

So, no poetry again today (I hear some of you cheering). The butterfly metaphor was great for a time and yielded much fruit in terms of verse, and I liked how the universality of poetry let me tell MY story and allowed readers to apply it… however they wanted, or not at all. Poetry is cool that way.

Today requires more.

Today I’m digging into my story specifically (I hear my mother cringing – if a cringe can be heard) because that’s what I feel I need today.

Look at those last 7 words “that’s what I feel I need today”.

You may end up learning or benefiting from this entry, but this, today, is for ME. Do you know how many times I’ve pushed what “I need” and “I feel” aside (for any number of good and bad reasons) in the interest of others’ needs, feelings, fears, and insecurities over the last 52 years? Legion. Myriad. Uncountable. Well, I suppose technically countable (we’re not talking grains of sand on a beach), but you get me. You can do a lot of stuffing and denying in half a century. But I’m learning things:

A healthy person is never truly selfless.

You can’t give of yourself if you don’t have a “Self” to give.

Even Jesus wasn’t selfless.

Just one Jesus example, and then I’ll move on, because I know I have a lot of Christian readers, and I don’t want them hung up on that last sentence.

Mark 11:12-14
12 The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry13 From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs14 So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

(bolded italics mine)

I have watched Biblical scholars and neophytes alike contort themselves over this one ALL. MY. LIFE. Even Matthew, whose gospel is likely building on Mark as source material, tries to make more sense of it than seems to be here. I’ll let you do your own hunting if you wish; the interpretations are plentiful and diverse. Here’s mine (you can step away from me if you fear the coming lightning bolt):

Jesus was hungry. He was so hungry, he didn’t even stop to think for a second that the tree wouldn’t have figs because it wasn’t fig season. When he found no figs, he was HANGRY and cursed the heck out of that tree. He said it within earshot of the disciples. Mistake? Intentional? I’ll let you decide, but I’m going with “intentional”.

As Snickers® so accurately points out, “You’re not you when you’re hungry“.

As with David’s psalms in the Old Testament, I find a great deal of comfort and permission-giving in realizing anger and sadness have a real place in our hearts and lives which need to be felt and expressed, not denied and pushed down.

That’s it. End of interpretation.

But back to ME. ME, ME, ME. That was the point of this entry.

I’ve denied, pushed down, buried SO deeply my feelings and needs for SO long, excavation is proving to be a difficult task. And I’m no psychologist (although I’m well-read and play one on TV), but I have a hunch I have a bit of PTSD and/or dissociation going on. I am currently calling us “Awake Ben” and “Sleeping Ben”, which (because I’m so clever, you know) works on a number of levels, both literally and figuratively.

Let’s take the literal first:

“Awake Ben” is literally awake most of the 24 hours in a given day. He eats, works, interacts with people, and lately, is really, REALLY intentional about letting people know what’s going on inside his head and heart, because years of being less than authentic have become consciously unbearable. You’ve seen the attempts of literally “Awake” Ben trying to get in touch with what has been pushed down and denied in the form of writing, poetry, tattoos, clothing and accessorizing choices, changes in religious expression, outright proclamations, and some seemingly “selfish” actions (they’re called boundaries – look into it). A lot of these things he has done while (literally) awake have felt really, really good, and he thinks he’s on track for some important inner work to be accomplished.

“Sleeping Ben” (on nights when he hasn’t forgotten to refill his prescriptions) is literally unconscious for 7-9 hours in a 24 hour period. He snores and dreams, his body restores itself for the waking hours, and lately he wakes up a couple times in the night to use the bathroom (not sure yet if that fits the metaphor or not, but it’s reality, so… there you go). Additionally (and not coincidentally, I think), his dreams have become intense, even violent, with rages that cause him to shout out loud, frightening and even threatening to physically harm his bed partner (bless her heart). After awakening, within hours (even minutes, sometimes), the nightmares are almost completely forgotten to “Awake Ben”. He only remembers them if he writes them down or tells his wife. More on that in a bit.

Now the figurative:

I know the term “woke” is becoming tiresome for many, and I’m working to find a different word, but for the sake of metaphor, it’s perfect right now. White, male, Christian, professional, upper-middle class, straight-acting Ben is waking up to injustice of all kinds. He is awake to the ways society has cruelly marginalized and demonized the “other”, as well as the ways he himself has done the same to “others” (and himself) in a much more personal sense. He is also “awake” to the realization that it’s ok to have and express needs and feelings that might not necessarily keep the peace or the status quo. But it’s hard. “Awake Ben” is finding limits to how much he can feel and still be “OK”. There is a lot of fear, and it is blocking. It is buried. Even figuratively awake Ben hasn’t uncovered enough yet. So “Sleeping Ben” goes to work.

Sleeping Ben doesn’t possess the self-control that Awake Ben does. Sleeping Ben finds inroads to the subconscious through dreams and nightmares. He had one therapist shortly after hospitalization who discounted this entirely. But Ben’s experiences have pronounced him wrong, and he is no longer his therapist. You can’t argue with experience, right? (I say this with my tongue firmly implanted in cheek). The dreams and nightmares are occasionally recollections of real memories but often fabrications or a synthesis of both. The difference in the dreams is that Sleeping Ben doesn’t push down feelings like Awake Ben does. He reacts. He lets loose. He rages. He even engages in physical altercations. Things Awake Ben would never do. Has never done. BUT HAS TO DO (maybe short of the actual punching of people in the head).

So, figuratively “Sleeping Ben” is trying to reach literally and figuratively “Awake Ben” while he is literally sleeping.

I’ll pause while you digest that one. It’s a lot, but I re-read it several times, and it’s exactly what is going on. So make sure you get it (at least a little) before moving on.

Now I’m going to commingle the literal and figurative and switch to first person. I think it will make sense. If not, as I always say, this blog is for me. If you get something out of it – bonus.

I’m pretty sure awake me is scared shitless to express what sleeping me is trying to express in the nightmares (I swear more now, by the way. It’s actually pretty fucking healthy). As my therapist so accurately pinpointed, my entire life has been oriented around the avoidance of pain, and I know expressing anger and grief will be painful.

I’m afraid.

But the work is necessary, and so I press on.

My goal now is to have Awake Ben meet Sleeping Ben. Fully. Literally and figuratively. I’m working on it here. I’m working on it in therapy.

I’m working on it. And it IS work.

Wish me luck.

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