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Unwelcome Guests

So-called New Mexico | Mescalero Apache Territory

The wind kicked up around 2am and blew the lid off our Thanksgiving dinner that I’d left on the roof because the fridge is full. We’re parked on some BLM ground near Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico attempting to escape the full brunt of a cold front to the north and get some solid down time. Again, I feel the rawness of this place and time. Here the over grazed Chihuahuan Desert is little more than scrub with only the toughest and thorniest species willing to make a go at life.

We’ve stopped for a few days because we are raw from traveling. My friend who teaches Ayurveda says it antagonizes my Pitta, Vata constitution. She isn’t wrong. Yet, I find myself drawn to continued travel. The new spaces and places offer a reset from my his-story, from the triggers born from the past, and for fresh perspective. On this breezy morning, there is little to do but hang tight in a heavy wind and feel my feels, then pound them out on a keyboard.

The upside is down and the downside, up. I have come into contact with the part of me that needs to lose control from time to time and I can feel the structures within me that drive a controlling disposition because if I am in control, then no-thing in the dark, repressed spaces can touch me.

In the end, so much of the conflict we feel in our hearts is because we’ve split ourselves off from the very life we are living. We partition ourselves from the things with which we are at odds, treating them as unbelonging even as we live them. We vaguely imagine some other place, some better job, some other lover–but the irony is that so much of what makes us unhappy is our own rejection of the life we have made. Eventually we must take our life into our arms and call it our own. We must look at it squarely, with all its unbecoming qualities, and find a way to love it anyway. Only from that complete embrace can a life begin to grow into what it is meant to become.”

– Toko Pa Turner, Belonging

On mornings like this I want only to curl up in a ball in bed and emerge only for coffee cut with dandelion and chicory and cigarettes. I’m reminded of an inebriated encounter with my step-’mother’ twenty-five years ago. She was q-tipped at the time with peroxide and a nasty perm that, when enough alcohol and paranoia were applied, formed a full moon halo when backlit by interior lights as she attempted to see what my friend and I were up to through the house windows. I had recently bought my first pickup truck and the windshield wiper motor was toast. My friend and I were replacing it in the garage. She came out and drunkenly accused us of stealing her stuff. She got more belligerent when she couldn’t find anything or get us to admit to stealing her wallpaper and carpet samples, and launched into a rather brilliant critique of my upbringing with, “You’re MINDFUCKED! Your parents have MINDFUCKED you!”

This is brilliant because, despite the Southern Comfort, it is true. My parents did mindfuck me. Like my choice of bitter drink and Drum tobacco that smells and tastes mildly of horse shit, I get to reflect on the unwelcome guests inside of me that were inherited through my birth family. Two parents, one with the emotional maturity of a self-centered, antagonistic five year old and the other a 13 year old girl with an astonishing volatility. Both of these supposed parents did their best to use their kids to malign the other parent, and to mold and shape my brother and I in order to fix their character flaws. I was blamed when my grades dipped as the conflict in one or the others’ homes grew to a violent crescendo. I was the families’ secret keeper, the one who knew the difference between what Sunday morning looked like and what Sunday evening felt like. They did their very best to protect themselves from the back splash of denial and unprocessed rage, grief, despair and abandonment. I was not safe because they were unsafe. I was not seen because they were equally invisible to themselves. How could I love a parent knowing what malicious, deceitful things they had done, and yet how could I not love them as my mom and dad, they were literally the world of my little one?

Their voices ring through my inner landscape consciously and unconsciously. The tired, often repeated sayings of my childhood are easier to master because of their blatant untruths, however the deeply worn patterns from this unreality take more focus and attention, abandonment and dissolution, patience and self-care than I feel I have within me at times. This is where the symbolic meaning of words fails me, where I can no longer work in abstraction or analysis, and have to turn to feeling to understand how I was conditioned into accepting the maltempered lies of my family and upbringing. Up is down and down is up, remember? Part of the down being up is the demogorgon of self-blame and shame. The legacy of learning to abandon trust in myself and defer authority to another.

Imagine you’re walking down the street and someone knocks the wind out of you with their fist. As you’re bent over clutching your stomach the same person who hit you tells you that you can breathe just fine, that you’re making it up, that they didn’t harm you in any way. Reality denial, substitution and pure unadulterated gaslighting manipulates children into accepting the toxic soup they’ve inherited by birth and proximity. While the psych side can diagnose that interaction as gaslighting, the energy perspective looks at the give and take of positive/negative energy, we could write pages about. . . yet none of that gets down to the feeling of getting the wind knocked out of you intentionally and then having that same person betray you again by denying your reality by injecting untruths and their own maligned wishful thinking.

Now, imagine that that fist was from a person you loved dearly, that you simply wanted positive support from? Imagine that they did it to you because you were ‘bad’ and needed a lesson. What if you were simply a child that didn’t understand the silly rules adults had created for children that didn’t make any sense and now you find yourself being, quite literally, domesticated by force.

“I’ll teach them how the world is, I’ll show them what’s really real. How could I have a child that only questions my reality?” Truth telling: that’s where there is a doubling down on entrenched ideas about reality within toxic family systems. When one member of a family demands that others confirm their reality as the one true and exclusive way to be, all else dies. The shouting starts, then the fists come out, maybe the parent uses silence as a weapon, maybe one or another orifice is raped. All to teach a lesson. . . my way is the only way.

Fear based control.

I was raised by a sociopathic, grandiose narcissist for a father, and a deeply depressed and anxious covert narcissist with more than a touch of histrionic and borderline personality disorders.

Yet these mental health labels fail to touch the feelings residing in maladaptive, toxic family systems. It is sometimes easier to describe a toxic parent by their presenting age of emotional maturity. My father, for example, has the maturity of a five year old with equal selfishness and willingness to bully and manipulate any situation to their own benefit and advantage. My 13 year old mother, at first glance under the covers, seems to be bi-polar in her expression, but this is a false front. She has a hole of loveless inadequacy that stretches into her depths and comes out in fits and rages.

These two humans were a perfect match, and neither were particularly thrilled to hear that fact. These opposites attracted, but failed to co-mingle into a cohesive blend. They doubled down on their dysfunction by having children and then the pipe bomb that was their relationship found its spark. After twelve years of marriage, two kids, and the death of my paternal grandfather, my parents imploded. They took two young kids with them and built decades of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual violence for their children to live with or unbox when strength became abundant.

Hurt people hurt people, and when hurt people have and raise kids their collective legacy is transgenerational trauma. For better or worse, there are windows out of this form of hell when we have the energy to seek them out, when we are strong enough to turn towards instead of away from the supposed source of our his-story. Some pathways to remediation are well known, and others require the unknown for a bittersweet incubation that can lead to authentic initiation. Known or unknown, it takes a great deal of strength to wind one’s way through the miasma of childhood and transgenerational trauma.

I have my places where I choose to dive into my pain and malinger. With each cigarette I consume, I call all of the places and spaces and reasons and feelings back to me in what Melissa Ethridge poetically called ‘precious pain.’ That deep groove of pain we cling to because of its familiarity. Yet, each time we dip into the dark of these unwelcome inner guests we throw a lever arm under the boulder we are dealing with. That lever arm can be as simple as questioning whether the feelings coming up are familiar or new, based in the present or the past.

I’m raw and tender after passing through a space where the pain of the past has lost its hold, where I can see how my past has shaped me into the person I am today. The person who shows up for his kid and holds space for them to blossom into who and what they are. The person who takes seriously the use of his words in every interaction. The person who does his work, learning along the way to become the teacher (and student) to a young wildling he’s proud to call his kid. The person who knew he had a bunch of trauma buried in the back 40 and used that drive to become an Earth & food activist and feed people healthful, sundrenched vegetables. The person who sold off his farm and built a new, off-grid home in a Red Cross blood donation bus in four months. Then looking back at the positive that has come from my upbringing, re-entering that space and re-membering how to feel and remaining open and willing to Spirit for remediation, grace and gratitude. And, still, with all the ways I might pat myself on the back, I still find myself in a sacred inner space where my former drives have passed on and a new fire is beginning to enkindle new possibilities.

So this mad north wind is blowing across the high desert, sweeping over sparse ocotillo, my bus, the cows and me. Again, I dip into the unknown within myself, prying up old stones from the dry lakebed of my his-story and looking for gems on the backside of the excavation of these boulders. The irony of these unwelcome inner guests is the potential for liberation and inner revolution from worn out pathways. The reward of the inner work is no longer being held captive by his-torical, impotent pain and being brave enough to seek out the insight of the past with better tools in the present. Yet, accepting patience and time as allies can take some adjustment and re-calibration. The discernment of when, how and what to say and do can be a long game or a clean break, internally and externally.

Whether and how we choose to malinger with those who have been our greatest teachers through violence and manipulation is our choice. It is equally possible to cut the cords and process the withdrawals from whom you once believed yourself to be, or we can choose a less direct, meandering route. Some of us still like to tease a bandaid off a hairy arm, feeling each of the hair roots pull out as a form of inner drama we choose to be in relationship with.

Where are the voices in our heads that are not our own?

What might happen if we choose to chase those voices down to the root?

How might we find a new day, a new dawn of gratitude after seemingly lifelong struggle?

I’ve found my answer not in the conscious mind that is entrained to old systems, habits and deeply cut grooves of the past, but by building direct connection to my subconscious and unconscious mind. These parts of my whole don’t speak rational English language, but thrive in a space of feeling and archetype. The well worn patterns in my life expand into the depths of my being and out, above and beyond into collective patterns repeated throughout human culture and history. To see one’s self with new eyes and ears, discovering the support of knowing one isn’t alone in this struggle and that many, many, many have worn this same path of liberation from the unwelcome guests of our entrained upbringings, toxic or supposedly healthy. There is a new day dawning. We are no more our his-stories than we are a morning cup of coffee or horse shit laced cigarette. We get to choose how we show up in every moment. . . the challenge is to find that inherent spark of liberation and strength within. . . having seen it we know what we are chasing, seeking, finding, rediscovering.

about author


A dad, a kid, a kelpie and two cat brothers rubbertramping around the country doing our best to live authentic lives while awakening to our birthright. 

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