Perfect Just As I Am

A few weeks ago a wrote a post called PTSD: Damaged Goods.  I had just come out of a tempestuous relationship and was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, to quote “Side Meat” in the cowboy band Riders in the Sky.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  One fasts from both food and water for 26 hours, and if you go to synagogue, you pray a lot.  In mine, here in Jerusalem, you pray A LOT.  Meaning, we started at 6:30 AM and finished up after 6 PM, without a break, standing most of the time.  Our congregation sings most of the liturgy, so we sang almost all day, and danced a lot.

Wait a minute:  singing and dancing while fasting on the Day of Atonement, the awe-filled day when one’s fate for the coming year is supposed to be sealed?  Who will live, who will die, who in their proper time, who prematurely, who by fire, who by water, who by wild beasts, who by earthquake…it gets very specific.  And yet here we are, singing and dancing.  We are rejoicing, because on that Day we have the chance to truly change our lives for the better.  We are working hard at the task of bringing light into the world and into our own lives.

I started seeing things very differently during the course of the day.  Inserted into each of five sections of prayer is a confession, or viduy, that lists many types of errors we may have committed, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and after listing those transgressions, we ask forgiveness from out Maker and that our transgressions should be erased as if they were never committed.

Somehow in there, I started to see how the relationship I recently left had brought out characteristics that exist in me that I find repulsive, unpleasant, and just plain wrong.  I don’t like those things in myself.  But you know what?  If I hadn’t been in that relationship, I would never have seen those aspects of myself that I want to change.  They were lurking in there in my character the whole time.  I just didn’t have access to the stimulus that would bring them out.  The fact that those characteristics are present in the other person in a magnified, almost caricatured form, and it was a shock to me, while reciting the Viduy, to see those trait in…none other than Yours Truly!

Things like having a garbage mouth, not being careful about how I speak to others, being haughty and arrogant, being boastful, saying bad things about other people behind their back, and other things I’d rather not go into.  I don’t like these traits in myself, and my former but no longer Beloved brought these out into the light so that I could see them.

Rebbe Nachman of Braslav teaches that if you see a negative trait in someone else, it’s because you yourself harbor that trait and the other person is a messenger to help you see it so you can fix it.

Having said all that about things I don’t like about myself and want to fix, I’m going to take a huge leap here and say that I’m very happy with who I am.  I’m happy that I have the capacity and the willingness to take a good long hard look at my own character, and be honest about admitting that I have some work to do.

We are not created perfect, for the simple reason (according to Jewish thought) that we are here to strive for perfection in this life, and if we were already perfect, what would we be here for?

On the other hand, if we are doing a good job of striving, then we are carrying out our purpose here on the planet perfectly.

So I am feeling perfectly imperfect just as I am, as I am working toward perfecting my imperfections, and that’s pretty darn good, for me.

Purgation: a cure for Purgatory?

In Ayurvedic medicine, the cure for excess heat symptoms is purgation: taking some substance (senna leaf tea, for instance) that will give you a tremendous case of “the trots” for a few hours and expel all of the fire you’ve been holding onto, that has given you anger, hemorrhoids, ulcers, inflammatory illnesses, migraine headaches, and a host of other fire-related problems.

I’ve been doing the mental equivalent: spilling my guts in print.  I’ve been writing about my life for years and years, and have hundreds of pages sitting in my Documents folder.  So I’ve begun to set about organizing them and publishing them in my new blog, http://dinaleah.wordpress.com/ Dina Leah: Story of a Teenage Runaway.

If you want to know my true story, here it is, in serialized form.  It’s painful, and full of triggers; but I hope you’ll read it anyway, and engage with me in your comments, as I would like to use it as a jumping-off point for discussion of issues that many of us hold in common.

I bless you all to have love, light, and peace in your lives, good friendships and relationships, and remember to look up!

Guest post on Soul Destruction blog by Ruth Jacobs

I’m so very honored to have been asked by Ruth Jacobs who is a strong voice in the fight to dispel the “happy hooker” myth and get the story out there about what it’s really like to sell your body and with it, your soul.

I really went out on a limb with this one. If you have the intestinal fortitude to see why, click the link http://souldestructionblog.wordpress.com/voices-of-prostitution-survivors

Ruby Tuesday wrote this eloquent post for World Suicide Awareness Day, over on Canvas of the Minds. I could not possibly say it better, so here’s the reblog:

Homeless in the Holy Land PTSD

Don’t get me wrong: there is no place I would rather be.  Jerusalem!  The holiness of the place is breathtaking.  I don’t have to even go anywhere, just sit still in one place and bask in the holiness of the Holy City, to feel whole and content.

Therein lies the rub: I don’t have the luxury of sitting still in one place, because I don’t have a place.

The original plan was to spend ten weeks with He Who Shall Not Be Named.  But, as I have previously explained, that blew up into violent confrontation, and I fled from that place.  Luckily I have many friends here, having lived in Jerusalem for four years before I had to return to America to help my aged parents.  There is one in particular who would do literally anything for me, and he vacated his master suite and slept on the couch until my guilt feelings at displacing him overcame me, and I rented a vacation apartment for a week, to be followed by a studio apartment sublet for the six weeks remaining to my stay here.

I was looking forward to that studio, cozy and sweet with a rooftop garden.  Then I got a tearful phone call from the girl I was to sublet from: she has bedbugs.  Aaaargh!  I had to hand it to her, she is an honest person.  She could have just left me with the awful problem, and then I would have been stuck with having all my luggage contaminated in addition to getting bitten and having to find a new place, with the worry of transporting the little demons into the bargain.

So I called my loyal friend again (actually we text and phone constantly all day anyway) and as soon as he heard the news he insisted that I come back to his place.  At least now his roommate has moved out and there is a bedroom open for me, and I don’t have to feel guilty about displacing him from his room, no matter how much he insists he “loves sleeping on the couch.”  There’s a limit.

So what have I got to whine about?  I have a place to stay, with a good friend, and in fact I am surrounded by good friends and love on all sides.  My problem, dear readers, is that even now while I am typing this, I am exhibiting avoidance behavior, because what I should really be doing is packing to leave this vacation apartment and go to my friend’s place, two blocks away.

You see, there was once a big block of time when I had no place to live.  The only way I could avoid spending the night on the street (which meant no sleep because sleeping when you are on the street is a very dangerous thing to do) was to hook up with a man and spend the night at his place.  Which I did, over and over and over.  At first I counted them, but when I got over 200 I stopped counting.  Actually I lost track.

I must say that the vast majority of them were really good sorts, and did not abuse me.  Some were kind to me and fed me, and some even gave me a dollar or two to go to the Taco Bell and get something to eat.  I never “did it for money” because I had been raised with a horror of such a thing.  So I did it for a roof over my head, safety from the dangers of the streets, and (hopefully) something to eat.

I rarely had the courage to ask for a shower unless the guy wanted to shower with me, which fortunately was often.  Otherwise I just went without.  It was a miserable existence.  I was always on the run from the police because I was 16, 17 at the time and they would have arrested me for being a vagrant juvenile, and I would have been sent “home,” which I dreaded more than anything, which was why I was on the run to begin with.

Home is where the heart is

Home is so remote

Home is my emotions

Sticking in my throat

Let’s go to your place

–Lena Lovich

So it was: moving, moving, moving, almost every night.  Once in a while a guy would want me around for two or three nights, until he got bored with me.  Then there was the awkward moment:  “Um, Lady, I love you a lot, but….” and I would pack up my spare pair of underwear and toothbrush, and head back out to the street.

If I didn’t score with a guy, I had to wander all night, staying on the move, watching out for predators and cops.  Not safe to sit down anywhere, had to keep moving, keep moving, until morning, when I could lie down in the park and catch a nap in relative safety.

Not safe to go to a house with a bunch of people having a party: recipe for rape.  “Just don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt,” hissed in my ear by some oaf who had planted himself on top of me while I was dozing.  After a few of those, I learned to steer clear of the party crowd.

Yeah.  So now, forty years later, I still don’t have a home.  And every time I pack I get flashback upon flashback upon flashback, and nothing helps.

I have to get back to packing now.  My friend is coming to help me haul my bags the two blocks to his house.  At least now I have more than a change of underwear and a toothbrush.  Lots and lots of baggage.

Truth? Or Consequences?

One day as I walked with my holy teacher and physician, Dr. Sundar, along a monsoon- soaked path in South India after the afternoon shower had abated, we came upon an earthworm wriggling desperately in the middle of a shallow puddle.

Now, I have always wondered why earthworms always decide to cross paths in the rain, then find themselves stranded in the middle when the sun comes out to dry them up into little leather strings, to their demise.

Dr. Sundar did not answer my question, but hurried to find a twig on the ground. He slid this under the formerly hapless worm, and lifted it gently to safety in the grass beside the path.

I confronted him: “Doctor-ji, both your religion and mine believe in reincarnation. We both believe that our souls are sent into physical forms in order to complete rectifications that can only be achieved in that specific form. Now that worm that we just found was on its way to its death, which means that its job on earth was completed, and the soul that dwells within it was about to be released. I have often wondered whether I should interfere with that process, as you just did, or whether I should leave the worm to complete its mission so that its soul can return to its source. What was your reason for saving the worm’s life?”

Dr. Sundar regarded me gravely. “That is a very good question, Leebi. You see, God opened my eyes so that I can see the worm. If God does not want me to save the worm’s life, then he does not open my eyes and I do not see it, and the worm can die. But if God opens my eyes, and I see the worm, then I know that God has put me in this place at the right time so that I can act, and then I must save the worm.”

I am thinking about that lesson tonight, in the Hebrew month of Elul. This is the month before Rosh haShanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh haShanah is most famous for apples dipped in honey; but in reality it is also the Day of Judgement, when our merits and deficiencies will be weighed in the Heavenly Court, and it will be decided whether or not we will be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.

For observant Jews, this is the time to make a Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of one’s soul, to examine one’s own life minutely to try to find the places where rectifications are necessary. It is a time to deal honestly with one’s self, and leniently with others. In fact, it is said that if one judges others harshly, then one will be judged harshly; and if one judges others on the side of merit, so one will also be judged before the Heavenly Court.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, in his famous Torah 282 in Likutei Mohoran, taught that in every person, no matter how evil they might be, there is a nikudah tovah, a good point. Even if a person didn’t intend to do a good deed, he points out, there is no one who has not, albeit perhaps accidentally, done a good deed. Let’s say that a thief helped an old lady across the street with the intention of mugging her (this is my example, not Rabbi Nachman’s!). Even though his motive was evil, he nevertheless did the good deed of helping her across the street.

So he teaches that we should search for the good points in every person, and look only at the good points; and if we do so, then in the place where an evil person once stood, only good will stand!

And then, he goes on to teach us that once we learn how to see the good points in others, we can go on to do that for ourselves. And if we can learn to concentrate on our good points and ignore the bad, we will in time become only good.

But first, we must ask God to open our eyes. Just like when we saw the worm! If God had not opened our eyes, we would not have seen the worm, and it would have perished. But we saw it, and that gave it more time in its worm life to accomplish the rectifications that it needed to complete, in order to progress to a higher plane of existence. Surely if God saw fit for us humans to see the worm in time to save its life, certainly, as my Nanny of blessed memory would have said, God must have had plans for it.

And if God has plans for a worm’s life, what plans must S/he have for ours?

PTSD: Damaged Goods

Everyone knows how “tough” I am. I walk around cheerful most of the time. I cheer everybody up, whatever it takes. Everybody knows they can count on me at the last minute. Call Dr. Laura, she’ll patch up your hurts, listen to your tragedy, diagnose and treat your illness.

But….

Then there are the days, weeks, months or years that you don’t hear from me. I don’t pick up your call. I don’t return your text, your email, your hand-written invitation….I don’t answer the door.

Or: we are having lunch on Emek Refaim (posh Jerusalem street). It’s a lovely day. I pick up my purse and head to the Ladies’. You wait a long time; the check is on the table. You realize I have gone: out the back door, and it might be a while before I permit you to see me again. It was the panic button that you hit with the sharp elbow of your mind. Never mind that the words were pointed: you meant nothing by them. But I saw. And I left.

I think there must be a kind of man who likes to take on the challenge of Damaged Goods. Or maybe it’s not a “challenge.” Maybe there are men who look for women who are damaged because damaged women are vulnerable to that kind of man. Women who don’t know what a healthy man looks or feels or smells like. Maybe there is a special breed of predator that waits for a damaged one to come along, waits patiently or impatiently for one to happen along…

See, I don’t know much about sexually traumatized men, so I can’t write from that perspective. Why would i want to? Because i am eternally apologetic, is why, and I don’t want to seem like I’m leaving them out. Sorry, damaged guys, you’re on your own for now. All I know about is damaged women, women who have had their natural healthy sexual part of their being snatched away, clutched and groped and grabbed and punctured over and over until every remnant of its original joy song has been squashed and smashed and smeared across sticky floors until it lacks any memory of itself, especially any glimmer of hope of rematerializing as the innocent dewy posey it began.

So you saw me as a fascinating project. An exercise in stealth: don’t scare the skittish animal off. Offer her delicacies you know she likes. Feed her mango on the tip of your razor sharp knife. Get close, really close, before you strike. Hard, fast, without warning. Ah, that feels good to you. You have mastered her, no? You know what she loves, what makes her melt, what will keep her coming back after the sting subsides.

Oh, but I’m not like that anymore. True, I fall for it, I fell for it again this time, and it makes me feel like shit, like…damaged goods. But I got out a lot quicker this time. Yes, it feels like shit, I did it again. I should have known….why? Because it was some guy that knew what I loved, fed it to me, stroked my soft spots before striking like a snake? Or maybe it was all in my imagination, maybe i simply imagined that he knew me in that way, because I wanted so much for it to be true, for him to be the one….Ah, there is no way to know. I am too damaged. This is my tragedy. Call Dr. Laura, please, somebody….what? Shit. She’s not answering her phone.