Guest Column: Dating Online Series. Cleaning out my mind’s closet?

by Ms. Jennifer

The 17th century French author, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, once observed that – grace is to the body what judgment is to the mind (La bonne grâce est au corps ce  que la bon sens à l’esprit). 

The past months as humanity hunkered down, with history as our guide – politicized protestors using their mask-less faces protested what they judged as “tyranny” and painfully missed their target – as people with much to lose have taken the pandemic with remarkable gravity, that is, if we get sick we may make someone else sick. Death is unaware of your station in life.

So I reflect and catch-up on some unfinished business that has haunted my psyche. Suddenly, I’m binge watching –  “Grace and Frankie” (hilarious) and dating shows (since I can’t date, but, sigh, they are always about Millennials).  More importantly, I’m obsessing…about house and mind cleaning. I wish I had more energy to actually clean my house, but instead I’ve turned my attention to mind-cleaning. What does that mean? To initiate the process I looked up the definition of “obsessive-compulsive.”  I know it’s a cluttering of the mind, but wanted an official definition.  I think at times I have been, not in the classic -wash-your-hands-a-thousand times-way, but I’ve either obsessed or repressing things.  Is it a matter of which is worse? 

Over a week ago I sent an email to an anti-discrimination, harassment and violence task force at a university I attended. After too many years I decided it was time to clean out that closet.  I heard right back from the office asking for details and offering to talk over the phone.  I told the person that I would send her something in writing.  I did and have yet to receive a response. I suppose if everyone, both female and male, decided to clean out their closet, what are the expectations? Is it more a matter of awareness of who I am now as compared to a generation(s) ago?

I realize when you share something that was challenging you take the risk of no response or a response that you weren’t expecting.  Each person brings their own history to your story and their own unique interpretation.  Another friend I told went on to report she took naked photos in college with a teacher so that’s another thing that happens–your memory stirs up their memories.  I know I’m guilty of doing this of adding my story to the mix, but I thought it was a way of connecting with the storyteller, now I see it can diminish the other person’s own real-life narrative.  

I shared what happened with my friend “Rodney” and initially felt his judgment – something like “seriously,” but I swallow my strong desire to shut down.  “Oh, you were afraid” he figured out like HIS interpretation or assessment was the only one that mattered most?  You were afraid if you didn’t suck your professor’s dick you wouldn’t get an A… something like that.  But seriously if I can’t explain the Mind Fuck to myself how can I justify it to someone else?  I mean why did I do something I didn’t want to do or did it have a lot to do with why I kept quiet: Is it merely shame? I thought I was so mature and poised putting myself through college, but inside I was confused and scared. I didn’t tell “Rodney” I got pregnant and the anxiety of not having the money for an abortion. I was getting tired of sleeping with other people’s interpretations of what happened and their judgment about how it ranked on their trauma scale. What are the measurements of mine versus yours? 

When we share with another human being we take the risk of either “giving our power away” or being “witnessed.”   But why is this so?  Maybe for some, God is enough, but what about confronting your perpetrator’?  Most times this isn’t an option so we open our mouths and tell someone we love.  But that is a risk, too, maybe we should try and find closure on our own?  In my case, it was a bit murky because my faculty advisor, didn’t rape me, but that’s what made my shame all the more embedded and complicated.  I mean there was no gun to my head, so what was my problem?  I was enrolled in Mind Fuck 101 (“what are you really talking about”), but in the end if we hold onto something too long then we have learned to mind fuck ourselves.  

It reminded me about something I read in the book “Unbroken.”  When Louie got home all he thought about was revenge.  “If we get consumed with getting revenge we still aren’t free.”  It’s the perfect book to read during these remarkable times.  The book is based on the real-life story of Louie Zamperini a WWII vet who survived 49 days living on a raft in the Pacific being attacked by sharks only to be caught by the Japanese and Interned in a POW camp with a sadist by the name of “The Bird.”  Louie survived and spoke about his recovery.  I figured whenever I’m having a bad day to think about him.  After he was saved he became “born again.” That was the miraculous answer for him.  

The book also highlighted each person (who survived) how they recovered (or didn’t). The path to healing (or coping) not surprisingly is not one size fits all.  There is a war between “living in the moment” and “history matters,” because “Unbroken” truly show how trauma never dies even when the trauma is over.   Most of us don’t know that extreme form of abuse, but that is not to say our struggles with pain and suffering aren’t real and how it lives in our bodies….long after the trauma occurred.  

So how do we heal (and how, or can we help others) and “sheltering” at home seems to have left me with some time to ponder this.  My birthday is nearby and the anniversary of my latest “trauma” of finding out about my ex’s (David) cheating.  The anniversary is bringing a lot of this stuff back up and I’m looking at the “victim/perpetrator” play in which we were both actors.

As a woman, I’m particularly sensitive about being a victim. Has a perpetrator ever been a victim at some point?  What power do I get in playing the “victim?”  I think it’s about needing to be seen and hear or getting attention.  This is not to justify anything it’s just for me to get off my “pity pot.”  This last round broke the spell that I could control/protect myself like some sort of had-enough-shit-happen-in-my-life so don’t hurt me warning.  The key is to find your way back to empowerment, but what exactly does that mean?   Maybe it’s more just knowing/loving yourself as you work though whatever crazy shit you’ve been through?  

If I keep talking about myself as a victim without looking at my own thirst for revenge then I’m not reading the entire book. I recall when David called and said “I have something to tell you.”  I’m surprised at my lust for revenge still. My latest is sending either a letter to David or a letter to Pat’s boss (my replacement –she’s a Jungian therapist). I would take great delight not in stalking or shooting her (that’s a bit too much), but simply embarrassing the shit out of her and the surprise attack would be a great way for her to get a sense of how I felt when I learned about her.

It’s the cognitive dissonance or Mindfuck 101 that I want to unwrap, but again if I’m looking for a certain response that puts me either in the “victim” category or the revenge category.  As  a victim I become dependent because I need my “perpetrator” or people to respond a certain way and what is the chance of that happening?  Revenge is so much more fun, but is that the way to really move on? Doesn’t revenge only multiply revenge? As Martin Luther King Jr. said in part, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” The truth is I HAVE to reconcile my own mind.  Everyone has been heartbroken and betrayed.   It’s what we do about it that matters and that’s what I’m in the middle of sorting out right now.  

When we “go public” are we contributing to healing the planet like staying inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19… or are we just adding to the chaos?  If I open my closet door, and others open their closet door, is that a good thing?  The social worker in me would say “yes,” but now I’m not so sure anymore.  There are other ways to find hope, healing and peace.  Some turn to God, some play music or paint pictures, others write or speak out.  For me I must get out of this obsessive-compulsive loop…the Jerry Springer need to reveal, spill, splat.

Gratefully, and sadly, in some ways I feel like I’m starting to slowly disconnect from the world.  Online dating (as we know) has come to a standstill, but I learned it was more entertainment than anything else.  My little encounters ultimately weren’t all that satisfying (at all or after the night was over) and whenever I met someone I was interested in it never went anywhere.  I think a lot of it is my age.  Most men deal with their mortality by looking for something younger. Yes, there is the exception, Rodney, is one of those exceptions, but he seems to be more about “relaxing” (and sex) then waking up.   Still, maybe I need someone more “chill” in my life right now? 

I don’t know if I’m full of shit and just trying to protect my heart, or my tolerance has diminished, but I’m finding I would rather read a book or listen to music and have less and less interested in engaging the world.  I know this is hard, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I miss the outside world particularly being touched by a man, but it’s been so long know I’m getting used to sleeping with my dog.  Maybe this is something all older people go through “they get set in their ways” or maybe it’s just a condition of being single it gets harder to make room for someone else.  We’ll see where I’m at whenever COVID-19 is over. 

So with this time I continue to sort, I’m trying like hell to clean out the closet and throw out all the stuff I don’t need anymore.  This way I can see what’s left in there – what I still have to work with.  My hope is this isn’t just some splendid, navel gazing on my part… this is really about self-discovery and, maybe, my sharing will help someone else if nothing else to get their closet in order or take out the trash?