A Litany for Survival

A Litany for Survival BY AUDRE LORDE

(…) For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

Finding a voice somewhere between screaming and silence allows me to speak my truth and to be heard by those who are for me, and for those who need to hear. It will be offensive or irrelevant to those not for me. It is an effective way to sort…..For me OR not for me. I don’t get to choose, just to accept.
I am hopeful that my boys will learn to live lives rooted in self worth and courage. We are finding our way, together, learning to share our truths, and find our people– one day at a time. Allowing people to sort themselves for us.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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Making Amends

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Each of the 12-Step Programs follows these two steps to recovery, verbatim. Only in my program of recovery(Al-Anon), was I taught when and how to appropriately amend. Also, apologizing with words is not the same as amending our behaviors and working to restore trust. To amend, means to intentionally change/stop hurtful behavior. Sometimes a relationship is damaged beyond repair. Still, we can continue to heal ourselves by changing our behaviors, (even with those with whom we no longer speak) regardless of how it is received or acknowledged on the other end. Spiritual striving calls us to improve upon ourselves for ourselves. Better action leads to better living.

In my family experience and then my marriage, there is a perverse practice of dramatic and profuse apologizing for circumstantial things like running out of wine, over cooked meat, having only one kind of salad dressing, “the messy house”, street construction, a delayed flight, getting stuck in traffic, misplacing a thing….but not for acts and behaviors which are chosen.

And then there are the apologies that begin with “I am sorry that you feel….”

And, of course, the most soothing of all: “Ok, I am sorry, now can we just move on, already?” (aka: STFU)

But apologies like: “I am sorry that I spoke in in a hurtful tone, said or did a hurtful thing. I won’t do that again. You don’t deserve that. I can do better.” These messages were never communicated, in any form, like not even on the radar. Is this because people are impeccable with their behavior? Or is it because I am unworthy? Or perhaps, because some people have not learned healthy accountability and responsibility? Recovery teaches me that amending originates from a place of humility and a genuine and deep desire to repair or heal, the damage caused by our choices. When you are not able to acknowledge or admit to the existence of damage or conflict, it would be impossible to own, heal, or even contemplate reparation efforts.

I longed for the opportunity to heal with my mother. The initiatives by my sister and ex, which sustained my alienation, guaranteed the impossibility of that. It is difficult to live with. While my mother did not break the cycle in her lifetime. I believe that if she were able to understand what I seek for my children, she would approve. I see how healing is too disruptive for a family deeply entrenched, encamped in rightness, maintaining the status quo. Easier to collectively agree that only one person is broken and without that broken part of the family, everything is fine. One of the gifts of recovery, is that I now live in peace with my choices and my behaviors. I make choices that reflect my values not my feelings. I can feel like shit and still act right (morally and spiritually right).

I will continue to report my journey, so that my boys might one day read and be reminded of how my words here, consistently match my actions and my life– in support of what I believe to be true and good about love, loyalty, kindness, connection, faith, family.

For the record, wholesome=pure of heart(maybe broken and, still pure) badass=never giving up on making things better than they have been and could be without rigorous and intentional contrary action. I make no claim to being this way already, only to my daily commitment to becoming so. I am a work in progress.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

For shorter, more frequent and fun posts, connect with me on Instagram- wholesomebadass https://www.instagram.com/wholesomebadass/

Things Which Once Caused Me Shame

Buh-Bye Toxic Shame!

Recovery for me has included unburdening of generations of the toxic shame imposed on me. I now have the tools to identify what is mine to amend and for what exactly what I am responsible. I can not and will no longer be sorry for: existing, feeling and thinking differently and deeply, speaking my truth, attempting to meet my own most basic needs or taking up space.

As a girl and young adult, I was truly sorry, all of the time, for all of the things. My constant thoughts and words, attempts to seek forgiveness: “I am sorry I felt that way. I am sorry I reacted that way. I am sorry I made you feel that way. I am sorry I made you act that way. I am sorry for my skin color, my birth name, my skinniness, my height, foot size, my voracious appetite, limiting food preferences, my screaming angry family, the shape of my nose, my anxiety, my insecurity, my despair, the clothes I wear, my family’s religions and ethnicity, the weird foods served in our house, my mother’s appearance and personality, my father’s accent and Egyptianness.” I am done being sorry. I was ashamed of my shame. I felt good about one thing, my cat. I am definitely sorry for pain or trouble caused by me. When we know better, we do better. While I do affect how others feel about me, I repeat, as many times as I need to, I do not make another person lie, sneak, steal, gossip, cheat, do drugs, abuse, deceive. I am just not that powerful. 

You know what I am now sorry for, what I apologize for, what I am willing and able to amend? Those moments when I could have done better. I am sorry for things I have said and done that have caused harm(not upset or displeasure), but legitimate harm, knowingly or otherwise. I am sorry and work daily to be intentional with my words, attitudes and behaviors. This requires a lot of unlearning- dumping of learned behaviors and faulty beliefs, adopting a better way.

I learned to exist in shame and that the burden of shame was the price to be paid to and extracted by those “claiming to be right—living in a state of rightness”. Sadly, I took up the practice of shaming and punishing others for disappointing or frustrating me. I think in the world of therapy, behaving this way, is referred to as offloading shame. Unhealed shame does not go away without intention and commitment to doing the work to heal. Shame is healed or passed on and perpetuated, manifesting in— Recklessness or over-controlling of people, food, drugs, sex, exercise, cleaning, shopping, people pleasing, striving for perfection, strained hot/cold relationships, bad marriages, unresolved conflict, egg shells forever…

Striving for perfection is the opposite of healthy striving– rooted in shame, not self-love or self-esteem.

To be armed with shame resilience, a healthy sense of self, knowing where you stop and others begin, with the appropriate sense of accountability, this is an advantage I can offer my children. They get to make mistakes, amend, and move on. They need not be perfect or sorry. And fuck anyone insisting otherwise. They will not be manipulated and diminished in these ways, without knowing what is happening. For now, they are small and being placed in conflict, just trynuh survive. But they, at least, know what IT is, that uneasy feeling in their guts telling them something is not right….and that something is NOT them and not their imagination. THIS is the fight of my life, to spare my children from the legacies of shame, addiction, and very sick entanglements.

Oh and you know what else I am sorry for–for participating in my own abuse and neglect, for submitting myself to others who thought it ok. I will spend the rest of my days taking better care of me and walking TF away from anyone suggesting that I(or others) earn or deserve pain and fear, which they will righteously impose. Even as I stumble, on my way out the door, my head is high and my shoulders square. When you hit my boys or me with your shame issues and vibes, we are Returning To Sender.

“I decided that the single most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do, was to show up for my own life and not be ashamed.” ~Anne Lamott

Much Love,
Magda Gee

For shorter, more frequent and fun posts, connect with me on Instagram- wholesomebadass https://www.instagram.com/wholesomebadass/

Goddammit Magda

Friday after school, we had an unusually peaceful few hours before going to pick up dinner from our favorite BBQ place. Often, the time between after school and dinner can be trying. Both boys returned from school, busied themselves with chores, books, and playing without incident or a tantrum by me (begging to be allowed to focus and finish my work).

So, I placed our dinner, a hefty bag of BBQ, Brunswick Stew, and MacnCheese on the counter, while I washed up. The bag toppled as my younger son reached for it. It seriously exploded as it hit the floor, shattering the containers sending the macncheese and stew in all directions. My son, immediately distraught–flopped into the dog’s bed and put his hands over his face. First, my heart broke for how bad he was feeling.

BUT THEN I felt something so magical, which defies articulation, the miracle of being able to hug him and tell him: It is ok. It was an accident. If he had been agitating his brother or me or horsing around, I would have lost my shit and surely defaulted to shaming and guilting him. Old habits die hard. He was bummed that the stew, which was my dinner, was completely lost. I assured him: “It is fiiiiine, I am disappointed by my lack of stew and the reason I am not mad is because it was an accident. Accidents happen and I can eat some BBQ with you. There is plenty. I will have stew next time.”

Inappropriately, of course, I added, while scooping up the mess with a spatula into a trash bag, “Save your guilt for when you are being an asshole to your brother or me. That is something to feel bad about.” I continued by sharing that guilt is for those moments when we have knowingly made choices that cause trouble. Shame and guilt are not for– accidents, circumstances out of our hands, or things we do not yet know.

Fuck shame, shaming, and shamers. That is what I say. I used to feel so terribly ashamed for things that were said to me or about me by others. I used to feel ashamed for the unkindness which I was taught that I earned. But recovery teaches me to reserve shame guilt for only my own poor choices. AND No matter how bad my choices, I am not even a tiny bit responsible for someone else’s behavior. EVER. It is not possible to effectively impose shame on a person who has been inoculated with shame resilience. I think repeating and continuing deceptive and hurtful behavior is shameful and shameworthy.

I am working with my sons to illuminate the difference between shame and guilt. To be willing to be taught but not controlled by them. Shame says “I am a bad person and deserve bad things.” Guilt says “I did a bad thing and can do better.” Either way, amending is the best way to get through to the other side. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to amend. It always takes courage and humility and those can take time too. Shaming and blaming will lead to nothing good or wholesome. We are learning to recognize those who try to gain advantage in those ways. They are not safe.

My older son lightened the moment by saying “Goddammit Magda, this is why everyone hates you.” We laugh endlessly over family experiences that once brought me shame. My boys know and get me and love me and all the awkward painful stories which I share with them. Whenever something is fucked up and we don’t know why, one of them will always say “Magda did it”. Poor lil Magda.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

For shorter, more frequent and fun posts, connect with me on Instagram- wholesomebadass https://www.instagram.com/wholesomebadass/

Together, We Belong

My boys are still young enough that they are more interested in what feels good and right than what hurts and upsets. I love that they are always asking about our next plans with Favorite and Sweet Greg. Even when we have just said good bye to them, my sons are asking when we will see them next.

The sense of belonging they experience with them, is priceless. I suspect my boys recognize, but cannot yet grasp how they are so deeply loved and welcomed without condition– free from weird, dirty, secret emotional contracts.

My boys know, without doubt, they can call and go to F and SG for anything– always, no matter what. The emotional safety and security is greater there, I am guessing, than anywhere else in their little lives. Those bonds are not only squeaky clean, but also free from the rigors of parent/child conflict and stress. Favorite and Sweet Greg are always interested, available, and fully effing (mind blowingly so) present for all of the words and feelings– and the fun too.

Thank you Favorite and Sweet Greg for being sources of genuine and undeniable togetherness. Your lack of malice and ill-will for their father, in spite of what you hear and witness, is brilliant and healing. What a gift to US. Your loyalty to me does not require you to hate him, and I think that serves us all, quite well. The burden lavished upon my children by their father and “his people” is heart-breaking—but manageable, because of you. Thank you for being consistent and plentiful wellsprings of emotional safety.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

For shorter, more frequent and fun posts, connect with me on Instagram- wholesomebadass https://www.instagram.com/wholesomebadass/

The Exact Right Words

When you are raised having your words and feelings ignored, dismissed, challenged and twisted to be used against you, you may, as I did, dedicate much time to seeking the exact right words (once realizing volume and profanity do not work in your favor, ever) to express a thing so that you may be heard. Not realizing that the people to whom you are speaking have no intention of hearing you, and need, at a cellular level, to not hear you. Because knowing a thing, means (for most of us) having responsibility to take informed action.

There is a very consistent pattern and dynamic in households where generations of those affected by addiction are in control: A difficult or uncomfortable thing gets said but not acknowledged, and if you say it again, you are accused of nagging(not moving on) and then questioned: Why are you still saying that? If the thing is expressed with emotion, your tone gets policed while the content is discounted. That situation made me a lunatic, first with the people to whom I am related— and then in a marriage to a man who is wired identically to my relatives.

Relatives is the word I have now connected with, to identify those to whom I am linked genetically. It felt awkward calling them “my family” because of the clear lack of connection and regard I experienced with them. Saying “family” felt like a lie, a pretense. Also the word love felt similarly. “I love you” was routinely said before bed and for goodbye. But by my definition of love, which says that– love sees you, hears you and protects you, unconditionally- we did not love each other. That is not a type of love I experienced with my relatives and ex-husband. Ever. And it made perfect sense when I said “I love you” in my troubled relationships before recovery because I used the phrase according to how I had learned to love and be loved. I 100% loved my husband the same way I loved my relatives. And he loved me as they did—it was painful for all of the days in which I refused or was unable to pretend…most of the days. We all agreed if I could just be different, we could be fine and happy and together. Like a family.

I infrequently tell Sweet Greg that I love him (Because of my 40 years of shitty broken “love” with chemically dependent and emotionally stunted people(no resentment there. ha!)) What Greg and I have and do is different, deserving of a another word. Also, I refuse to call Greg my boyfriend. Not only because that word got ruined, but because I am old AF, not 12, and he is much more than a BF. I don’t say partner, because that feels awkward and to me, implies that we live together or that we are gay. He is just My Sweet Greg. And calling him my companion sounds as if he is paid or like we are in our 70s. There are no right words!

Even the word “boyfriend” was uncomfortable in referring to men whom, for years, I tethered myself. Because I noted other women enjoying thoughtful, kind love, joy, gifts and fun from dedicated boyfriends. I would label the man in my life my boyfriendy-type-person (BTP), which would at least make me laugh. I had come to believe that if I were verrrrrrry lucky, I miiiiight be able to find one man who would tolerate, ignore me, sleep, and share meals with me, forevvvver. I hoped to be so lucky.

I recall my last conversation with my mother, in which she demanded I get over the betrayal(which she insisted did not happen(ironically while it was still happening)) and just come to dinner like a member of the family. I responded to her by saying: “There was a time when I would share beds and meals with people who treat me as if I am unworthy and naughty. That time has passed. I have changed and that will not work. ” I got up to leave and she said; “I wish you well, Maggie”. I let myself out and she locked the door behind me and those were our final words, as I knew they would be. She and my sister continued to circumvent our issues at the expense of my children’s peace by meeting as a family(by their definition) with my ex and our children therefore knowingly dividing us as co-parents, probably forever. Hate is a very strong word…but in this case feels the closest I can get, to naming the feeling I have for what they do to my boys’ parents in order to meet their own needs. They are winning the war of their design and choosing, while my boys lose.

We are related, only by the co-incidence of my birth. Whatever is felt for me, is nothing that has ever been healthy for me. The behaviors and choices of my mother and her family are about them, reflective of their values, beliefs, and way of being in the world, AND not a reflection of my worth or lovability. They are her family, my relatives. And it is plain to see how they would appreciate an emotional similar-ness to my ex-husband and his divided scapegoated family.

Al-Anon has introduced me to new language and experiences of: myself, others, faith, wholesome love, kindness, family, belonging, boundaries, connection, self-esteem, service, detachment, and serenity. I have experienced each of these, for the first time, in this program of recovery, and never with my relatives. Repair or repeat. For nearly 10 of my 50 years, I have been working slowly to repair what I hope to not repeat.

Love is not easy or without pain and struggle but it, I believe, to be benevolent, a promise, and a commitment.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

For shorter, more frequent and fun posts, connect with me on Instagram- wholesomebadass https://www.instagram.com/wholesomebadass/