Figure

Notions in my nervous system leak out from time to time

Potions in my stomach leap back up from time to time

I zombie-shuffle around the hospital on a 24-hour shift pulled between urgencies and emergencies, my ID badge clipped to my scrub top, dangling like a nipple tassel, swaying immodestly with each step.

Despite the stress of my current life, I feel deeply blessed

In the dark of winter, I feel the sun rising below my feet, supporting and uplifting me

The sky’s the limit

I feel it all- my invisible mental illnesses concealed by my silence and my simultaneous self-healing chipping away at the the plastic false-front I put up for survival, replacing it with vines organic growth that I hope will one day blossom with radical authenticity.

‘Did you come?’ he asked me, I didn’t know what he meant by ‘come’ but I was used to faking it when I didn’t know the answer so I said yes because I was raised to tell people what they wanted to hear, and never appear flawed, weak or wrong. I believed my ‘yes’ was the truth because I didn’t know what ‘coming’ was outside of arrival, so I figured that my coming had happened without my knowing, and I said yes because I figured it was the right answer- the answer he wanted to hear. It didn’t bother me at the time that I hadn’t wanted him to put his penis inside me- I was hard-wired to do what everyone wanted of me, and still am. I had suddenly entered a world of new vocabulary and new unpleasant sensations. We were kids, barely adolescents, yet he knew things I didn’t and had done things I hadn’t. The honest, informed answer would have been a resounding ‘What does it mean to come?’ followed by a ‘No, not even close’. Jersey boys grow up fast, didn’t even seduce me before they induced me grow up fast; the recovery is slow. Trauma lasts; a few seconds echo across a lifetime.

‘Don’t go in there- he’s a bad man’ was the stern and tremulous forewarning from an elder woman on a stoop watering her urban flowers. I wish I had followed her suggestion or asked for an explanation. Ever the workaholic, I brushed past her, attributing her words to eccentricity, and knocked on her neighbor’s door. I had told this man I was coming to visit, and I follow through with my word and maintain utmost punctuality, on principle. Hungry from a lifetime of poverty, I was determined to make my fortune on the high seas of the internet by socializing with rich men who I later learned were impoverished in spirit and cost me far more than the pittance I garnered. He locked me in his apartment and shouted commands at me to take off my clothes and get on my knees. He proceeded to rape me in every orifice and slapped me hard across the face, choking me as silent tears streamed down my cheeks. I had mastered the art of silent crying in early childhood. The man and I were both deeply disappointed by the events of the evening. He was furious when I hesitated to follow his commands. He asked, ‘didn’t you read my profile?’ I hadn’t, but I figured he wanted me to say yes, so I said yes. He followed with, ‘what did you think of my profile?’ I replied, ‘I liked it’. I never read his profile, but I imagine it might have read something like ‘heinously unattractive morbidly obese abusive alcoholic with tiny, foul-smelling penis seeks young woman to verbally and physically abuse through rape and violence.’ Hours after I initially wanted to leave, he released me from the hell-hole of his apartment. The city air never smelled so sweet. After fearing for my life that night, he motivated me to quit sex work. Silver lining. I wonder if the truth would have set me free sooner- if I had simply said ‘no’ when he asked me if I had read his profile or told him that I didn’t like it if he had paraphrased it. How much waste can one haste make. Speed made me sloppy. It still does from time to time.

Despite the horrors I have survived, I feel most distressed by those closest to me- my explosive nuclear family who I care about deeply and who hurt me deeply. I didn’t imagine that my own happiness could cause so much upset amongst them. They take what is beautiful and make it so damn ugly, shitting on my truest joy- my union with my life partner- with their dramatic accusations in which they mistake their feelings for facts and make my ‘special day’ about them and their insanity. They already ruined all the special days of my childhood- I shouldn’t feel shocked or even mildly surprised. It seems they only celebrate alongside me when I fit into their vision of vanity, when it is convenient for them. The frustrating part is that my partner is a good person who loves me and we are happy together, although he doesn’t fit into their narrow ideals for race or finances. The aggravating part is that we got married in part for them, to keep our love proper and kosher and acceptable. I figured it was what they wanted. The enraging part is that we got married in part for our future children, after I aborted my first three pregnancies partly for my family’s honor, without stopping to reflect how they dishonor me. I am now struggling to become pregnant at an advanced age. My uterus has suffered untold abuses. There is nothing I can do to make unhappy people happy. All I can do is cultivate my own inner glow and shine.

As usual, I am frozen in fear and anxiety, and also exhaustion. I’m tired of the indentured servitude of residency, tired of battling on the front lines of the pandemic, and tired of a lifelong pattern of catering to the emotionally labile who believe I owe them my life and that I am responsible for their unobtainable happiness. For the longest time, I believed them. My bleeding heart didn’t know any better.

I choose to collect my thoughts before responding without reacting from a place of hurt. Overwhelmed with emotion, this will take time. I want certain family members to think more thoroughly and compassionately before spitting venomous words at me. They want me to speak on demand, yet are quick to give me the cold shoulder and now that I am older I want to cut the cord between us like surgery to free myself from the malignant tumor of their energy.

May I stop trying to figure out what other people want of me- it has only lead to my misery, over and over and over and over.

Back at work, I hear the whip crack. I haven’t met most of the people who are getting rich off my back.

I observe people’s bodies with judgement even though it tastes bitter- ranking them in attractiveness- what an unattractive habit. I remind myself to stop imagining their thoughts, to focus on the flame instead of the candle, to behold the melting wax in awe- the interface between spirit and physical form.

I’ve put forth an immodest amount of effort in my life, pushing through severe anxiety and depression without accepting help, least of all from myself. I did seek help a couple of times during childhood when I told my mom in my little voice that I was depressed, to which she reprimanded, ‘you are not depressed’. If she only knew how frequently suicidal thoughts have dropped in to visit me. I no longer invite them in for tea- social distancing. My mother taught me to replace my feelings with everybody else’s feelings.

I feel emotionally ready for retirement even though there are many moons before I will receive my first real paycheck. I have come to treasure quiet peaceful moments. Doing less is my goal, even if I rarely allow time for it. Simply being present in the now, basking on the soft moss of inner calm, feeling that I belong, that I am lovable just as I am. I hope the same for you, and not because I figure that is what you want to hear- I sincerely wish that all beings be happy, healthy and free.

My Man

My man wants to know how many men I’ve had sex with.

I tell him the truth: I don’t know.

I don’t feel the need to know how many times I’ve been raped. I have no desire to quantify the horror, shame or mistakes. I might explode with rage if I focused on those who eagerly traumatized me for their own pleasure.

During my employment as a happy-ending masseuse, I ended up giving much more than the hand jobs I signed up for. Now I’m trying to create a happy ending for my own life but my man keeps asking me about the past. His questions awaken violent emotions in me.

The customers who paid for hand-jobs knew that I wouldn’t call the police when they raped me because I’d be incriminating myself.

My only crime was being born below the poverty line. Self-abuse and self-neglect were ingrained in me by my parents.

I was hungry and trying to get an education I couldn’t afford. I was told ‘here is the ladder you must climb to reach a better life.’ I set to climbing. I solved my financial problems creatively.

My man fixates on the absence of the number of men. I’d tell him if I knew, maybe.

His questions feel invasive and probing.

I used to be valued by men for what I could give- my young, beautiful body.

Now I am devalued by my man for what I have given men.

Men only value women in relation to other men.

When will I be seen as my own person, my own human, inherently invaluable?

My man bemoans what I don’t know; the quantity of traumas too numerous to count, too common to stand out in my blurred memory.

Yet he doesn’t complain about the food I put on his plate, the home I make, or the bills I pay.

I implore him to wait, let me tell my story when I feel ready. I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready. When he asks me about my sexual history I feel ill, anxious and hurt.

I find my breath, reassure myself that he didn’t mean to inflict suffering, and flirt with forgiveness. I remind myself that my spiritual groundedness is stronger than even my exaggerated stress response, my current perceived crisis.

He knows that I was a pushover, pretty and poor. For all of his scheming, jealousy and time spent thinking about me, you’d think my man would connect the dots.

Tension

Maybe I can sing to my tension to put it to sleep

Sweet crying child, mama has things to tend to

It doesn’t matter how much you know; what matters is how much you grow

I like to think that I allow time for transformation as I race to cram knowledge into my head. Perhaps giving myself permission to be less busy will be a milestone of true transformation.

Even the most awful moment is still just a moment if you let it go.

PTSD comes pounding on the door with complete disregard for personal space

‘I’m trying to put my baby to sleep’ I hiss at that deaf, indifferent faceless face

Everyone has something to teach us, and we have something to teach everyone

I thought that I was the only one who had learning to do, that I was unique in my innate deficiencies and that if I worked hard enough, I could trick others into believing I was normal. What a struggle.

Getting my MD was ego driven and ego destroying. At the end of the journey instead of wearing my hard-won crown I want to throw it to the ground because I know what really matters now.

I approach the veil even though my greatest fear is revealing the truth about myself.

You fire bullets at me, then ask me for more ammunition

In the hospital I admit the ghosts of clinic visits past

My forefathers poured gasoline onto the opioid epidemic, now I am asked to light a match and do the math

Prisoners on hospital holiday, homeless in need of shelter

I hunger for my own health and feel that it is just a sprout away

I keep my cat in the bag next to the elephant in my room

Money grows like a tree. I’m trying to plant seeds while my man tosses them in the breeze like Johnny Appleseed.

I wash off layers of alcohol-based sanitizer from my drunken hands.

Just because you feel superior to me does not mean that you are my superior.

I loathe you for calling people out on their bullshit because I don’t call you or anyone else out on theirs.

Words of truth stay trapped in my mouth and are transformed to tears which pour out of my eyes like a spout.

I’m beginning to notice that my avoidance of confrontation at all costs is no longer worth the price to my body.

My body is strong, carrying tension so far for so long

I’m ready to lighten my load

I stumble upon enlightenment on the rocky road

Closet

My closet holds an avalanche of dress-up clothes
Costumes for all occasions
I am the teacher and the seductress
My closet holds a harvest of skeletons
Big-boned men, backstage women, and first-trimester fetuses
I am bi-curious in my closet
I locked myself in long ago
I am buried under a whirlwind of unspoken emotions
Terrified to let a breath of truth seep out from the crack below the door
It is getting crowded inside my closet
Yet I gather more
Peering out, I wonder what it would be like to show myself to the world
Instead of burying myself under other people’s expectations
I have great expectations which remain frozen in fear
Seemingly motionless year after year
Yet there is growth within stillness
I put on the uniform I need to play the part
Only then do I step out from the dark

Trapped Truth

He demands the truth from me

I want to tell him but I don’t think he wants to hear
That his fears are both false and true
What’s a battered girl to do
You prod and poke
I divert and joke
Gasping for air under the heaviness in my heart
You want to know my story, where to start?
You can learning everything there is to know
Without asking questions, simply observe
I’m trying to move on from the past
Why do you bring me back
How many times will you bring me back?
I know he knows in his heart
The truth of the depths of my womb
Truth trapped in my mouth like a tomb
I’m sorry
Please forgive me
I love you
Thank you

Flame

Your rage strikes my heart like a lightning bolt

Cracking it open and setting it afire
I am at a loss for what to do, so I warm my hands over the embers and wait
To transform, part of me must die
I cannot rush, only trust
How many times can one heart break?
As many times as it takes
To learn the sacred lessons
To consciously unite with the divine
Time and time again
Pain is pain, sensation is sensation
No matter the form or formal education
Lucid dreaming just before waking
I see a sea of broken hearts glowing in the dark
Each a floating lantern offered up
Burning with the same flame

Off My Chest

I need to get you off my chest

I’ve never felt relaxed in my life because you raised me in the war zone of your wrath
Bombs of panic explode in my mind all day every day
Choking me with your smoke and mirrors even though you are far away
My ears ring with your shouting
You were the biggest little tyrant
Not even two years my senior
Yet always more needy
Mandating, yet begging
I didn’t realize the power I had over you, and still do
You were the one dependent on me for affirmation, not the other way around
I didn’t have a choice then, but I do now-
To live a life without your storms brewing on my horizon
I’ve never slept well in my life because I thought you were going to murder me in my sleep throughout our childhood and adolescence
I used lie in bed wearing a cross around my neck with a note attached to it asking you to think before acting, waiting for dawn to break, dreading another day with you, feeling trapped and hopeless with no end in sight
I never felt protected, respected, seen or heard by our parents
In moments of desperation, I wish you had killed me
Instead you continue to torture me passive aggressively, and I am passive passive aggressive
Silenced, as if buried alive
I toss and turn, tormented between insomnia and nightmares
I’m trying to think before I act
I am upset that I’m even thinking about you now
I am upset about how you get upset ‘at’ me: you throw your rage at me and have me clean up the mess, time and time again, left to calm your ass down as if your reactions were justifiable or somehow my fault
It was never my fault
I am not responsible for how you feel
Leave me alone you evil bitch
I want to scream at you with the force of 35 years of repressed anger and tears
At the same time, I am trying to let go of the hot coal which burns my palm
I am trying to let the rippling waters of my pond be still
I am trying to not be irritated, for only then will you no longer be irritating
I am trying to take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings
I am tired of trying so damn hard
I am ready for ease
I am ready for peace
I am ready to breathe
Please, get off my chest
I don’t need to ask- I am responsible for how I feel
I’m not sure what to do next
I’ll probably meditate and self-medicate with raw emo poetry
Like the note pinned to my cross-necklace, you will probably never read this
But maybe those who matter will
Those who feel they are suffering alone
May find healing in this onion peel
And breathe just one breath more freely
For this I humbly pray
Namaste

Workaholic

I went into medicine partly due to heartbreak

The exhaustive training of medical school and residency was a welcome albeit ineffective distraction from my sorrow and loneliness
24-hour shifts are a convenient justification for not keeping in touch with loved ones
Even though the real excuse is my social anxiety and sense of inadequacy
Living within hospital walls, I suspect that I am not the only physician who became a medical doctor to try to forget unrequited love, to escape the world of human relationships
My older colleagues work far more than they need to to make ends meet, far more than any reasonable person would work in a week
Who needs friends or feelings when you have patients and science?
Our skin grows pale under fluorescent lights
Our vision becomes shortsighted as the screens stare unblinkingly
Our hearts forget how to feel carefree
Our muscles atrophy as our brains hypertrophy
Our minds become boxed in with facts, our mental filing cabinets overflow
I am a recovering workaholic working alongside workaholics who do not appear to be in recovery
Perhaps they suspect the same of me
Heads down in the trenches, none of us can know another’s heart
We can only know our own heart, if we listen
We carefully administer medications, surgeries and therapies
We measure progress in numerical metrics of lab values, calculated scores and vital signs
We arrive early and stay late
We work day and night without a break
We always have too much on our plates
We deprive ourselves of sleep, fresh air and food
We know why we have irritable moods
Practicing medicine is an unhealthy, imbalanced lifestyle and we know it
We can only ever heal ourselves
I’m ready to show it
I am finally healing my broken heart
I found that I had to begin at the start
Childhood wounds tangle and bloom
Trauma begets trauma until we change our thoughts, words and actions
Breaking old patterns even as we hold traction
I am love itself, I am the source of what I sought
My cup overflows, it was not all for naught

Take it Back

I feel the knots you’ve tied within me

Stains on my energy
Pains in my body
I observe the damage
Tension, nausea, sensation of suffocation
Insomnia, dizziness, diarrheal defecation
You made me feel powerless for too damn long
You beat me up but my spirit is strong
This shit isn’t mine
This was never mine
This is yours
Take it back
Take it all the fuck back
The trauma and the drama
The hurt and the dirt
Keep your hands and your mind out of my skirt
Don’t tell me what to do
Your mind games were never fun for me
Were they fun for you?
You can win the prize, I offer it freely to you
I won’t play anymore
Your ego will have to deal with the fact that I’m letting my sanity heal
I’m learning to put myself first
Through radical acts of self care to restore my happiness and health
Your energy is yours
Take it back