written by AMANDA GROSS
Dear Readers of the Mistress Syndrome Blog,
It’s been a while. It’s not you, it’s me.
If you hadn’t already heard, I’m working on a book, a long one. After several months of blogging here, I realized there was so much more I wanted to say. I wanted to connect the dots between blog posts and put my weaving skills to literary use and so I got the incredibly original idea to write a book.
At that point in my writing, the ideas and the stories were flowing freely, and I gave myself one year to complete this 100,000 word oeuvre. Now it’s going on three years. I have been learning so much.
I’m learning about myself through reflecting on childhood memories and through reading a lot of challenging books about racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. I’m learning too, what it means to write about real live people and to learn how they may have experienced a moment quite differently than I. I’m learning about how they might not be as excited as I am about the vulnerable glance into my (and subsequently their) life.
I’m learning about my own process, too, especially noticing what feels easiest to write (things further in the past) and what feels desperately difficult (things that I’m experiencing now and dynamics where I don’t feel clear).
I see my perfectionism getting in the way. It knocks things off of shelves just as I was grasping for them. It peers over my shoulder censoring my truth. It builds almost instantaneous walls of denial when I am afraid of not knowing what the “right” thing is.
I’m writing a (very long) book about Post-Traumatic Mistress Syndrome, about my Post-Traumatic Mistress Syndrome and as my accountability partner recently reminded me, there were some very big themes I had been leaving out. I’ve been afraid to touch upon them because of the painful emotions they bring up for me, even though I was justifying my avoidance to myself as things that might be hard for others to read. To be more specific, I’ve been trying to write a book about Post-Traumatic Mistress Syndrome without delving into white women’s relationships with Black men (well, specifically my own), without considering what it means for white women to raise Children of Color (because I don’t have my own), and without going deep into the complexities of intimate relationships with Women and Other People of Color (again, specifically my own experiences).
When I stop avoiding avoidance then I know exactly what it is: I’ve been avoiding feeling.
I’ve been avoiding feeling pain.
Today, I received a painful email. Someone my age in Atlanta — who I’ve only known tangentially — just passed away due to complications from Covid-19. Her death is tragic and, most likely preventable given the incompetence of our government and public health systems to contain the spread of the virus. She left many people who loved and depended on her and will be deeply missed.
This final email which announced her passing was the last in a long line of prayer requests sharing about the moments she had been on the edge and the moments she had begun to recover. The email was, subject line and all, framed as a celebration of her home-going. It is important to say that the email I received was not initiated from her family, instead from a white colleague. It is also important to note that her death, as someone who was racialized as Black, will go down as statistically consistent with how racism is causing Black people to die at highly disproportionate rates in this pandemic.
I am not privy to whether or not her family was using the hours immediately following her death as a celebration of her home-going, but it occurred to me as I began to feel enraged at the pollyannaish tone of the email and swift reply-alls, that heaven is a form of denial. (Please bear with me if you’ve already had this revelation.)
Several of the emails followed a similar format: First, acknowledge her passing and give condolences. Second, glorify God. Third, acknowledge that in her last breaths she may have found Jesus and/or that others might find him through her suffering. Fourth, glorify God again.
In my head I have composed and recomposed several drafts to metaphorically body check these anonymous and inconsiderate God-glorifiers on their ill-timed positivity. It seems an incredible offense to project one own’s beliefs onto a freshly grieving family. It seems a veritable disrespect to not offer them, their own space for grief, their own space to have their own experience with it, even if the imposition is coming from an email chain of tangential strangers which they might never read.
I realized then that the email chain said far more about the emailers than about this particular person’s life, death, or family.
I also realized then that denial is a form of heaven. The emails indicated how the people sending them were choosing (or not choosing) to grieve. Were these people not sad and enraged about the injustice of her death? Were they not destitute in the loss of a unique soul who could never be replaced? Were they not empathetic to what this might mean for her family’s emotional and economic well-being? The evolution of a white conservative Christianity has come into its glory. Pain does not have to be felt, struggle does not have to be gone through, vulnerability does not have to be opened up because God is good.
Also, feeling might mean having to make a change.
I think too about the violence this attitude of required praise does to people navigating depression and what it meant for me when I was in the midst of a severe eating disorder. God was supposed to be good all the time. If I didn’t feel that goodness of God in the moment, that meant something must be wrong with me.
But what if God being good was not a cop-out for being in and with the hard things? Less of a “God is good” and more of a “God is”… Don’t quote me on this one, I learned the idea from the Buddhists and it’s probably in the Christian bible too, hidden beneath the layers of contemporary interpretations of atonement theory and the evils of sexual sin.
I am still resisting the urge to carve up the (probably white) emailers with the deft blade of my words in a Reply All response (they called me Dagger in college for a reason… which had nothing to do with writing or violence). But non-violence, etc., blah blah blah, and all that jazz. For the moment, I am dealing with my painful feelings by writing this blog post instead.
While I might not be able to change the behaviors of the emailers who come and in and out of my life, what I can work on is feeling my own pain in the moment. And I have been working on that, especially in delving into writing about some of the feelings I’d rather bury in the sand or pretend went to heaven. As I’m practicing this new feeling-in-the-moment tactic, I’m beginning to notice some interesting changes in my body. There is more ease and movement in my shoulders, which has served as my dumping ground for where I store pain and trauma for future moments of feeling and processing it.
Of course, the progress isn’t as linear or as shiny as those words may appear. There are also many days when my shoulders tense up as tightly as they used to.
Either way, God is.