Burying An Ex, Or Why I Hate Drugs

I nearly died for anorexia twenty years ago. It was stupid but maddeningly complex, and I couldn’t get out. I went to the hospital. I left the hospital. I went to college. I relapsed. I relapsed again. I spent a summer in hell, living with my parents, floating through rooms, speaking to no one. I let the phone ring. Message boards were pretty much my only contact with humanity, if you can call them that.

And then one night I went to a party. I spoke with this charming, funny guy I’d gone to school with earlier. I was sick as hell, but he treated me like I was human. We started flirting and fantasizing about getting married and having kids. We were basically kids. We became boyfriend and girlfriend. He stood by me when I was a pile of immobilized insecurity crying in the bed, terrified about my body and my future. He told me he loved me. I wanted to impress him so badly I ate a real dinner one night on a date, above the screaming voices that had kept me locked in deadly patterns for months.

He died in his twenties. He used drugs, kind of big time. Drugs were never my thing, but I looked away from his unhealthy behaviors and he looked away from mine. I got healthy. I married. I divorced. I found new love. We lost touch.

He died when I was 28 and felt like I was getting my shit figured out. He died when I was on a trip to D.C. and the mentor I idolized asked me to run on her ticket for the next NOW executive officer elections — basically the apotheosis of my dreams at that stage of my North Minneapolis, volunteer-feminist life. I came home with my suitcase on this incredible high and learned this man with the flowered sunglasses and spring in his step was dead. I sat outside and stared at a crack in the sidewalk.

I felt a sorrow I’d never known before. I saw him in dreams. I stayed in bed. I cried. I cried so hard it felt like someone had jammed a cantaloupe in my throat. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know how to grieve an ex-boyfriend in front of a boyfriend, so I shut the door and turned out the lights. Was I an enabler? What would saving him have looked like? I don’t believe you can save people; I learned quite directly that people who tried to “save” me from anorexia failed and our friendship ended. I thought and still think people who are struggling need love and not direction, but it was hard not to second-guess myself.

I attended his funeral by myself, sitting in the back. It’s been almost 10 years, but I still remember what I wore and that I thought I looked hot. It seemed like the least I could do for him. I walked by his casket and saw his embalmed body. I hated, I hated, I fucking hated drugs in that moment. I still hate drugs. I hate them with my whole being. I don’t know if drugs killed him and it’s not really my business. But I know he struggled, and I know I hate drugs.

It is possible to hate things that cause people to suffer, and to not judge people. I hate drugs and still want to decriminalize them; I think locking people up for drugs is a tool for oppressing people of color and preventing people from accessing the care they need. I’m writing about this because I don’t want stigma for anything.

I’m getting old. Thank God I’m getting old. It’s a privilege to get old.

Root Your Activism In Your Moral Clarity

I’ve been at social justice work since I was a kid. It didn’t necessarily start with my parents — though they discussed public affairs with me as if I were an adult, they were hardly activists or political people. I just liked to read newspapers and books about politics, and had a strongly felt sense of right and wrong.

My activism started out as general liberal/progressive-type stuff. I started phonebanking in middle school for what could have become Minnesota’s first woman senator, and by the time I hit high school I was dodging the police officer assigned to the outside of the school to catch skipping students (I was out campaigning for Senator Paul Wellstone).

It wasn’t until late high school and early college that my general leftist activism channeled into explicitly feminist activism. I developed anorexia and nearly died, fighting tooth and nail for my life. When I got on the other side of that, I vowed to do whatever I could to help prevent other women and girls from having to go through what I did — or at least, to make it easier for them to get out. I saw my eating disorder as a manifestation of a society that demands women and girls take up less space.

I took a wider view and went into general feminist activism. Women and girls are consistently pressured to take up less space in public life, to have bodies held to impossible standards and open to the public approval and judgement of others, subjected to violence and control, paid less, respected less. The areas where women are most praised for stepping up — presenting ourselves in sexualized ways, for the pleasure of others rather than ourselves; or taking notes at the meeting or having a really clean house —  do not refute my view of less space because they, too, support rigid gender roles that help no one, woman, man, or gender non-conforming. I should note, here, that my commitment to feminism has also kept me on track and in some ways, helped to save my life on an ongoing basis. Having the views I do now makes it pretty hard to go back to hurting my body the way I once did.

Over time, I have specialized more and more in reproductive health, rights, and justice issues, and I see strong links between cultural control over women’s bodies in the form of impossible standards of physical beauty; legal control over women’s bodies in the form of sexual repression and the shame and stigma that supports it; and medical control over women’s bodies in the form of forced C-sections, “religious freedom” with the effect of denying women access to health care in health care settings, denial of accurate medical information for fear we might choose to have abortions, and the like.

Reproductive activism can be a hard field to be involved in — our side loses a lot, the opposition is unhinged more often than not, and terrorism and violence is part of the pro-life movement’s playbook. But frankly, all activism is hard. That’s why I shared my story. The reason why I do my work is rooted in my moral clarity: I’m doing this work because I survived, and I feel a sense of purpose in advancing women and girls. I’m doing this work because if I could stand up to my eating disorder, I can certainly stand up to anti-abortion, sexist, racist, homophobic bullies who are trying to intimidate activists and ordinary people out of the discussion.

If you’re an activist, I encourage you to think about your story. Why do you do the work you do? This is the moral clarity you bring to your work. It will feed you when days and nights are long, and help you avoid burnout (though you also need to take care of your own life or you will burn out — for more on that, see my old post Time Management: Activism Without Losing Your Mind).

Your story and your moral clarity are not a set of political views. They are not an emulation of people you admire or a repudiation of people you can’t stand. They are not about what you think other people should do to move closer to justice in the set of issues you advocate. They are not even your theory of change, or how you think the work should be done.

Your story and your moral clarity are why you, uniquely you, feel motivated to do the work you do. I encourage you to take some time to think about yours, and remember to come back there every so often. This will nourish your work for the long haul. At least it has for me, for my entire adult life.

If you’ve read this far you must be an activist; so long as you’re fighting the good fight, thank you.

Surrendering To Solitude

Parenthood broke me. Not parenthood itself — I think I adjusted pretty well. During the course of pregnancy I felt mainly radiant, with the exception of the last week before birth, which was hell. Mercifully I dodged the postpartum depression thing. With the exception of one hard cry the day my husband went back to work, I was A-OK. I rocked and lightly bounced the baby to sleep. I shushed. I sang. I got up in the middle of the night and took care. Now I mimic too many of these behaviors for my naughty pug mix, but that’s another story. What parenthood broke for me was a need to get out of the house or to see other people.

Parenthood has turned me into a homebody. After a few months of craving getting out of the house at the beginning of my daughter’s life, I have fully surrendered to the solitude of responsibility. It is no Walden out here. There are endless loads of dishes to put away, and laundry to wash and fold. My daughter could yell for me at any moment to come fix her sock or help her clean up after a trip to the bathroom. But I no longer try to be alone as a performance or production, as when I used to take myself out to Sunday brunch solo in my early twenties — a bad-ass and satisfying routine, to be sure. These days I don’t know if it’s that I have too many responsibilities on my plate or am just plain lazy, but in either case, when I find myself with a rare spot of free time I do not leave the house. I stay home and do more chores. Or I sit.

It is amazing to sit.

 

Learning To Cook

Putting a pastry in the toaster used to be my definition of cooking. When I was active in the National Organization for Women, for a time the juiciest gossip making its way back to me was: She doesn’t know how to cut a tomato. I remember the older feminists I revered watching me clueless in the kitchen — and I was 31. What hath feminism wrought? was all over their faces.

I did not grow up in a family of cooks. Dad and I went to Burger King every Thursday on the way home from my cello lessons, and by my ’20s I would come home on Friday nights for ‘girls night’ with Mom — frozen pizza, Franzia, the best conversation, and me doing free laundry before heading out on the town.

My cooking ignorance could be thrown into a larger life theme of not appreciating food. I sure as hell didn’t. I nearly killed myself with anorexia a few times. Body image is something I continue to navigate, even if many days I don’t think about it.

As an eating disorder survivor with all the attendant dieting and more extreme behaviors going with that, significant portions of my life have gone by with food as an object of disdain, lust, or both. I feared food because I feared my body, and I feared my body because I feared myself.

But y’all, I’m in total ‘fuck it’ mode now. I love to eat and also, I love to cook, including from recipes with ingredients I need to Google image search before heading to the grocery store. In the last few days I have prepared several things for family and friends from recipes — goat cheese toasts with pistachio and mint, pumpkin bread with olive oil, and green lentils with spinach and chipotle. Off-recipe and just having fun, I have made roasted brussels sprouts with a hint of olive oil, pumpkin, almond milk, anise, and cardamom seeds, and a salad with baby beets and homemade oil and vinegar dressing.

Cooking is an art. It is creative. It is relaxing. It is becoming as much fun for me as writing poetry, fiction, and essays. As I have taken to following recipes, I have learned how to improvise on my own. We do not need to choose one approach or the other; we can keep trying, scrubbing our pans, and starting over each and every meal.

Cooking is also love. It is how I spice things up for my husband on a Friday night and give him ‘date night at home’ now that we stay home with a little one. It is seeing my daughter’s joy in having leftovers earmarked for her the next day. It means everything that we remember her.

The other day, I was startled with an additional realization brought to me by the joy of preparing food. Food is no longer my enemy. It is not just taste and adventure. It is literally life. When I cook, I am giving joy and life to others and myself. The act of eating a hard-cooked meal is an act of consuming and becoming one with love, creativity, and unexpected beauty in the form of presentation on a plate.

Also, by the way, feminists can cook.

Brussels sprouts

 

Toilet Paper Is Free In Public Restrooms; Why Not Menstrual Products?

Toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers are provided free of charge in public restrooms. So why are women supposed to pay for a tampon or a pad?

Just like peeing and pooping, menstruation is a predictable, routine bodily function that people take care of in public restrooms every single day.

Menstrual products are basic public health supplies that allow people to maintain sanitary health standards — just like toilet paper, soap, water, and hand towels or hand dryers.

Access to menstrual products is critical for the full dignity, equality, and participation of women and girls worldwide — in South Africa, for example, poor girls have stayed home from school because they didn’t have access to pads.

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A free sanitary napkin dispenser in the Orlando International Airport (photo mine).

Some might object that people would become freeloaders and stop buying menstrual products altogether, and grab large quantities to take home. (Which begs the question of why pads and tampons are unfairly expensive in the first place — here’s looking at you, majority of states with a ‘tampon tax.’) But Americans are innovative, and we’ve figured out how to have toilet paper in pubic restrooms without everyone leaving with several rolls in their bag. The same can be done for menstrual products.

Others might argue that women should pay for cleaning up their own periods. And yet, the routine things men do in public restrooms get basic accommodations. It’s also not possible to argue that men don’t get any special preference in public restrooms — they do, in the form of specialized urinals designed specifically for people who stand while peeing, in addition to toilets.

Are women human? Yes, we are. Is menstruation abnormal? No, it’s not. Public restrooms should offer a free pad to those who need one.

P.S. Free menstrual products in ALL the restrooms, women’s, men’s, and gender neutral! While failing to provide basic menstrual supplies in public restrooms is an A-1 classic example of a society stacked against women who are thought to have extraordinary bodily functions they must personally control and fund (hi, abortion and maternity coverage opponents!), the ability to pee and period in peace is critical for the ability of all people to participate in public life. That includes transgender and gender non-conforming people with periods. xoxo

 

 

How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Sh*t

Working from home can be the easiest way to work. It can be the hardest. Sometimes it is both.

Currently I work from home, and it’s been more than four years since I’ve held a job with a physical office. I’ve spent several additional years of my life working from home. I’ve worked from home as an hourly consultant, contractor under lump sum, freelancer drumming up new business, half-time employee for someone else, full-time employee for someone else, and entrepreneur starting my own non-profit. During these years, I’ve had a boss, been my own boss, and been somebody’s boss. I’ve worked with fellow contractors with more authority. I’ve worked with employees inside the firm that hired me — and they had an office. I’ve held multiple contracts at once, multiple jobs at once, and held full-time, work-from-home-jobs while also attending full-time school in the evening. I’ve worked in someone else’s home, too. And, I’ve worked in several offices.

Frankly, I love working from home and don’t want to stop. But if I had an office tomorrow, I’d probably say I loved that and didn’t want to stop. There are positives and negatives for both working environments.

These are my best tips for working from home without losing your sh*t:

When you’re working, work. When you’re not working, don’t work. 
The most important thing to do is to compartmentalize. Think of work as an on/off light switch. Not a round dimmer that lets you explore gradations of work and home life happening at the same time, an on/off light switch. This approach protects both procrastinators who delay their work as well as workaholics who can’t stop working. Be deliberate about your boundaries, and when you’re at home, go all-in on your work or all-in on your personal life.

*Note – Others take vastly different approaches and find it works for them. With this tip as with the ones that follow, take what works for you and ignore the rest.

Keep a timesheet.
Whether or not you have billable hours to report or a mandatory company timesheet, track the amount of time you are working. Keeping a timesheet is the next step of compartmentalizing your activity. It acts as both a safeguard to keep you aware of when you are working and not working, and also as a way to hold you accountable to actually working or not working (some of us have problems actually getting to work, others of us have problems actually having a life).

Work in a dedicated space.
Having a dedicated space, even a $20 Ikea chair on the floor of your otherwise barren studio apartment (been there) is another mental kickstart to getting in the work mode. Do not conduct conference calls from bed. You will begin to associate your bed — which should be your most sacred space — with work annoyances that should have been absorbed by a cubicle with a carpeted wall.

Take a shower and get dressed.
I wear nicer clothes on my working-from-home days than my weekend days (let’s be real, we’re talking about slightly nicer T-shirts with the same jeans, sneakers, and hoodies). Get ready. Brush your teeth. When you feel professional, it helps you to act professional.

Get out to coffee shops on occasion, but not as an excuse to delay your work.
I used to put so much energy into working from coffee shops. I had a circuit of coffee shops I went to daily (seriously, they would have been so upset if they knew I had other steady coffee shops). It feels good to get out of your house and be around other people sometimes. It’s human nature. But if you think you need to go to a coffee shop or a library in order to be able to focus, something is wrong with the way you are approaching your work at home. When you’re working, you need to work.

Put more emphasis on professional development, including attending educational and networking events.
I tend to have more interest in professional development, including attending educational and networking events, when I’m working from home. Even when you work from home with other colleagues, it’s simply not as natural to develop, learn, and network as when you’re in an office. So — sign up for some professional events, and go. It feels good and keeps you relevant.

If you work from home and have children, don’t pretend you can do both without childcare.
These days, one of the sweetest comments I get when people find out I have a child and work from home is the assumption that I can, oh, do both. Unless you’re working part-time and don’t have to be on a specific schedule or you can’t afford or secure childcare and are forced to never sleep yourself, you can’t. It is simply not sustainable to work from home and take care of young kids at the same time.  I’ve worked from home with a nanny who came to us (best advice I have is to stay out of it, let the nanny take leadership, and act like you aren’t there) and these days our daughter goes to full-time daycare outside the home.

Take extra steps to be personal with your colleagues.
Just as small talk is just about the weather but profoundly important to a person’s ability to ramp into a focused conversation with someone they don’t know well already, so is bullshit time. Bullshit time is the time you spend in an office standing around a copier that can’t be fixed even though everyone has tried what the monitor says. During bullshit time you find out who people really are, and this develops trust and impacts our ability to communicate honestly with one another, and give and receive feedback. Sending a handwritten card in the mail to someone you work with virtually takes 10 minutes but makes you remarkable. Build in time to care about someone’s weekend or sick kid. No one is just a cog behind a screen.

Don’t construct a narrative about what your boss or client is thinking.
You ever watched a friend project the universe onto someone hot they found online? (Okay, I’ll woman up and confess to doing that myself.) Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps for others — undeservedly positive or negative. We can over-inflate how wonderful someone blah is, or construct a really hostile narrative against ourselves (like, literally, I have convinced myself that a previous boss who is in fact one of my greatest champions hated everything I did and was going to fire me). When you’re working from home, you’re missing body language, contact, and context that helps you to understand better what your boss or client really thinks. Get out of your head. Don’t think and theorize, talk. The exception is that if someone proves to you in a virtual space that they are toxic — as with real life — find a way to get the hell away from them, and never look back.

Most important: If you don’t love your job, don’t work from home. You will fail.
Almost all the problems of working from home really stem from not believing in what you do. If you think your job sucks, is boring, evil, under the direction of evil people, or you’re in a dead end, you won’t be motivated to work. In those instances, be honest with yourself and get out. I say this with the acknowledgement that it’s a great privilege to quit your job because it’s stupid, and one that most people can’t swing. But that doesn’t mean that if you hate working from home you should be reading tips on how to correct the situation. Just start looking for another job. Your problem might be working from home, but it’s more likely your job being the wrong fit.

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Video: January 2017 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed repealing Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and online bullying.

You can watch a video of the show here:

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On Parenting And Being Wrong

My three-year-old daughter made her first gingerbread house, and I thought I caught her breaking candy off and eating it. “Stop it,” I said from the top of the stairs.

Her face crumpled in transparent hurt and indignation. But Mommy, I didn’t do it. She sobbed.

She didn’t. I was wrong. She has been sneaking candy recently. I was convinced she was doing it again.

I’m sorry, I said. I was wrong. Sometimes Mommy is wrong.

But my feelings are hurting, she cried.

I know, I said. I hugged her. The next time I’m wrong, tell me and I’ll believe you.

She nodded.

At the grocery store a few hours later, it appeared she was pulling open a small carton of Goldfish crackers we hadn’t bought yet. I said her name in a warning tone.

“Mommy, you’re wrong.” She said it without getting upset, and I believed her right away.

So many important lessons tucked in at once. I hope she’ll always retain a sense of fairness and a willingness to tell authority when it is wrong. I’m glad she is grappling with the fallibility of the people she loves most. Perhaps when she is older she’ll have the courage to wear her weaknesses openly when she’s in the company of people she can trust — an essential trait of leadership.

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I should take the gingerbread house off that table, however. The yellow lab is eyeing it.

 

 

Gratitude For People With Depression Who Choose To Keep Going

I am grateful for everyone who struggles with depression and related conditions, and chooses to keep going.

It’s not easy. You rock.

The radical act of self-affirmation — even when we feel like crap — is the root of all power, personal and collective. Our ability to make change rests upon our ability to believe in ourselves.

Believing in ourselves has never been more important. Our nation is on the verge of leadership by those who rule by force, lying, and manipulation. The attempts to tear people down will be many.

When we are hurting we are easier to hurt. We must resist attacks on our bodies, minds, and lives.

It should be noted that external realities are not the reason why you should love yourself.

Every day is the right day to stop taking shit from a brain that is working against you, to stop taking shit from other people, and to accept your body’s right to take up space just as it is.

There is nothing strategic about allowing anyone — including yourself — to treat you as lesser than.

Affirm your right to take up space. Embrace your right to pleasure and freedom from violence, including psychological violence.

If you can’t love yourself yet, just choose to keep going. Another day may allow you to get there. Truly this is the most radical thing you can do.

P.S. As I always say to someone I care about, “Keep pushing. It’s worth it.”

Learning From Abusive Relationships About Donald Trump

I barricaded the bedroom door with a chair and a rattan chest full of sweaters. He continued slamming and yelling in the kitchen. I hunched over hyperventilating, shaking and waiting for his next move. Maybe he would come in. Maybe making the door hard to open made me less safe, not more. Surviving abuse is not an art, it is dumb luck. You pursue one of the limited options you are given in a moment of crisis and hope to God it works.

In this case it did. He tried to open the door but when it didn’t work, he went away. He left the kitchen. I heard the T.V. turn on. I used the quiet of our bedroom with the shades drawn to catch my breath and look up therapists. I needed a fucking therapist.

I looked at listings. No one had “when he threatens to kill you” in their keyword list, but I found one who specialized in “relationships,” “marital and family therapy,” and “eating disorders.” I had spent boatloads of time in therapy for an eating disorder, so I figured this one would understand me. I left her a voicemail.

For over a year, I saw this therapist — first by myself. Naturally, he thought it was ridiculous. Eventually, after yet another blow up, maybe one where I packed a duffel bag and drove back and forth on the brittle, salt-stained pavement between Minneapolis and St. Paul on I-94 for a few hours because I had nowhere to go with eyes that puffy, I got him to agree. We began to see the therapist together.

He was hostile at the first appointment, but after some work the therapist got him to hear what he wouldn’t hear me say — if the anger wasn’t addressed, I was going to leave. We walked out onto Mears Park and he held me, told me he loved me, that he was going to change for me. I am sickened to admit it, but my heart leaps a little bit as I recall this. It meant a lot to me when someone who hurt me said he cared. I found it romantic.

It has been twelve years and I am often an open book, but this is one of just a few times I’ve written about my experiences in an abusive marriage. Two years ago, I wrote Why I Stayed in an Abusive Marriage for Two Years for Rewire after I got fed up with the coverage of Janay Rice, wife of football player Ray Rice, who posted defiantly on social media that people were ruining their lives and they would show the world what true love was. She made sense to me. As I wrote at the time, “I know [the] shame and sense of shared understanding only too well. It is why I stayed in an abusive marriage for two years, and why I am speaking up ten years later.”

I’m writing about my history with abuse now for a different reason. I’ve been thinking of this therapist very much recently. After I left the marriage (and while she never told me to, I know she wanted me to), I went back to her couch, this time sitting by myself once more. She told me first that she could not see him again. Now that we were separated, she would be my therapist, not our therapist. She was no longer trying to help me fix the relationship. She was trying to help me heal from the relationship.

At our last appointment, before I left, she asked me the shattering question: You’ve said you never could have guessed this would have happened, that you saw no signs before he became violent, but I’m not sure that’s true. I want you to think about that. I bet you actually knew before. I want you to think about what those warning signs were, and how you responded to them, so this doesn’t happen to you again.

I had no response then, but I’ve been thinking about it constantly since Donald Trump was elected. She was right. I did know. There were warning signs along the way — random cruelty to an unknown woman in a bar when we first met and I was trying to impress him, a freaky, drunken, physical fight with a broomstick and a relative at 4 a.m., a friend who said frankly that he could be pretty mean before I came around, these things I tuned out.

Moreover, I think her question was deeper than that: What is it that leads people to accept abusive behavior? What is it in me specifically? I have done this inner work, and while it’s not comfortable, I am much better for it. With experience and not just principles, I have concluded: We cannot accept abusive behavior, period.

As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidency, we’re being told over and over to respect the office and give him a chance. We’re being told that clear statements of violence and racism and sexism are just talk, when we know they are the thing itself. I have personally experienced how dangerous it is to blow off the warning signs. We should not. We know that something is deeply wrong, and we should trust that without apology.