Tales of a wandering lesbian

So high school

This is a little theory I’ve been testing out.  It’s part 2 of the Emotional Non-Violence series.  Let me know what you think.  Also, I’m not a psychologist, but still…

Psychologists say that when a person suffers trauma, a part of them freezes at that point, trapping the person in that moment and forcing them to relive the trauma over and over until it’s dealt with.  It’s a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Really.  If someone is emotionally or physically abused as a child, part of them stays a child until the abuse is dealt with.  (I know I’m simplifying, but bear with me.)  For me, and I think for a lot of people, some of the worst emotional abuse I’ve suffered came during junior high and high school.  It’s almost laughable – except that it’s not.

Think about how many times in our grown-up lives something happens with friends, or with co-workers that makes us think of high school.  How often do we use those exact words: “this is so high school”?  There’s a reason.

Once I realized that we’re all having some giant, collective form of PTSD, it started explaining a lot of the bizarre interactions I kept having.  Ones that didn’t seem to work for me anymore.

For a long time, I related to women (and probably men too) the same way I related to them in junior high.  I was the outsider – the uncool one who didn’t fit in.  Only, as an adult, nobody knew it.  And I didn’t want them to.

In my grown-up life, I was the lawyer, the athlete, the woman who was going to run for president.  The one who was in a ton of leadership positions.  I was.  Only the fear I had of being found out or left out dominated my interactions with coworkers.   So I’d sell people out.  If I saw someone getting thrown under the bus, that was fine.  I might even help, because at least it wasn’t me.  But it didn’t feel good.  And I didn’t really understand why I was doing it, which was frustrating.  It’s not like I wanted to be a jerk.

I finally realized what was going on when I found myself projecting onto a coworker who felt left out of lunch invitations and happy-hour get-togethers.  I stood up for her; wanted her to feel included.  Even when I didn’t want to invite her, I didn’t want to be the one not inviting her.

Because I was her.

Yes, if people were talking about each other at work, I’d join in.  I was afraid to be left out of that social experience.  But when it came to the actual invitation to be included, the exact type of emotional trauma I suffered in high school, I was put powerfully back into my 16 year-old self, afraid of not being included, and at the same time not wanting anyone else to feel left out.

And I started to understand.

It happened with my friends, as well.  Every time I was left off of an invitation it was like walking past the photo station at my Junior Prom and finding every one of my friends taking a group shot without me.  All of them smiling at the photographer that I’d hired, as I shuttled the punch and the cake and counted the cash, trying to forget that there was an unclaimed ticket waiting for my date at the front door.  I was Junior Class President.  Not so different from being chair of a city commission or a political committee, really.

The more I saw this happening with me, the more I understood that we’re all stuck there in a form of collective PTSD, reliving our high-school wounds.  Torturing each other the way we did in high school.  Or torturing each other the way we were tortured.  Talking about the neighbors, or selling out co-workers.  Doing whatever it takes to be included, to feel part-of.  Even at the expense of others.  We’re stuck – until we realize what it is we’re doing, and why it is we’re doing it.

And then we get to choose.

Because there’s something that happens when we see each other as “cool” or “uncool,” as “part of” or “left out”.  We buy into a dynamic, a power-structure that has been set up long before we get there.  One we’ve been a part of for a very long time.  One that’s an accepted part of our daily lives.  And one that’s violent.

That’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow.

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March 15, 2010   1 Comment


Alright, people.  I know I haven’t been posting much.  Part of the reason is that I’m starting the book-writing process.  I’ve got one little segment done, so I thought I’d share it.  Enjoy!

Choose.  Every day, choose to live in love.  Choose to trust yourself, and others.  Most of all, choose to choose.


I planned to be President.  It came about pretty rapidly, really.  One day I was receiving a college scholarship from the local homebuilders organization.  The next, a reporter from the local paper was asking me what I thought of the First Lady, Hillary Clinton.  And then it happened.

“So, would you ever run for president?”

“Yeah, sure.”  With that flip answer, I did a quick calculation, determined when the earliest feasible time would be for me to run, and made up my mind.  I would be President.  I was 17.


“Daniel!”  The girl from the school newspaper was shouting at the group of us posing for a picture.  I was back in town from a series of extended travels.  One of the High Schools I’d worked with over the last 4 years was presenting a $11,000 check to the charity I’d worked for.  I was tagging along to congratulate the students, and see the completion of my work.

“Daniel, get out of there, you’re too tall!”  Daniel’s shoulders hunched as he jogged out of the picture.  His linebacker’s frame oozing disappointment as the smile slid from his face.

“Here, Daniel, come kneel in front,” someone offered.

“Nah, I don’t want to make the picture ugly.”  He said it as though he truly believed that his presence would destroy the memory of this great day.  The tone in his voice was absolute.

The 6 adult women holding the oversized presentation-check gasped in unison, “NO!”  Daniel was covered immediately in a hurled web of reassurance.  “You have to be in the picture!”  “You’re part of this, Daniel!”  “We want you here!”

Daniel found his place on the ground in front of the check, and we all breathed a sigh, glaring at the totally clueless photographer who was clicking away, her unnecessary flash blinding us.

I’d known Daniel for a couple of years.  I’d seen him as an awkward teen, too tall and too big to do what we all so desperately want to do in high school – fit in.  The first time I met him, he assured me that he was a dumb jock.  But the questions he asked during my presentation betrayed his words of self-doubt.  He was engaged and funny, asked intelligent questions, and served as a great role model for the other students.  His deep voice and heavy brow couldn’t mask his keen mind and personality.  By the end of the year, he would find himself in a statewide leadership role with the Future Business Leaders of America.

Now, a year later, he was just as engaging, outgoing and talented.  And just as willing to believe that he wasn’t good enough.

Standing in the entry to the school, we all said our thank yous and good byes.  I reached up to hug Daniel.  When we stepped away, he looked at me with curiosity.

“You know, I can’t even guess at how old you are.”

“Thanks, Daniel.”

“No really, I can’t.  But it seems amazing that someone your age can live such a fulfilling life.”

When I left my job with the charity, it was to change my life.  I sold my house, quit my job, left my girlfriend and my dog, and took a leap.  The kids I worked with knew this.  Daniel knew this.

“It’s amazing,” he continued, “that you, at your age could be living like you are.  There are so many people who don’t even try until they’re 65.  And then they can’t even enjoy it because it’s too late.”

“Thanks.  That’s exactly why I’m choosing to live this way, Daniel.”

“I know, but who gets to do that?  I mean really, who gets to do-“ I cut him off.

“Anyone who chooses to.”

He looked at me.  And then he blundered on, “Yeah, but It’s really incredible.”

“Anyone who chooses to.”  I caught his eye with my hand and brought him to my eyes.  “Internalize this, Daniel.  Really.  Anyone who chooses to. That’s who gets to live like this.  End of story.”

The beautiful boy stopped.  And he listened.  Still looking at my eyes, he nodded once.


I smiled, nodded back, pulled my visitor’s badge off my shirt and tossed it in the trash as I walked out the door.

Once in the rainy winter air of Portland, I breathed.  Maybe – just maybe – if I was lucky – he’d heard me.  And maybe that would be what he remembered in 10 years when he looked back to this day, and not how he’d ruined the picture.  And maybe – just maybe, he’d remember that he gets to choose.

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February 18, 2010   4 Comments