Lesson Learned: How False Spirituality and Toxicity Ruined a Friendship


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

The issues started two weeks ago when my former housemate, Kelleigh, told me that I had to move out.  And I was given two weeks.

The reason, she explained, was that I became too comfortable, that she and her partners, Alan and James, were enabling me by letting me stay longer, and that I was prevented from reaching my highest potential.

At first, I thought about what she said, actually believing to some extent that Kelleigh may be right. The time period I was allotted was, of course, not enough, so I asked if I could stay until August 1st so I could at least get everything situated.  “But will you be able to pay,” she asked with slight concern.   My unemployment ran out at the beginning of June so I was unable to pay the $300 needed to pay for the room me and my cat Tobias shared (I thought my benefits would last until October—around the same time I was terminated).  Until then, I was told that I could stay for an extended time as long as I paid rent every month—which I did until the benefits dried up.

Now I was given a two-week notice to “reach my highest potential.”

With very little money to my name, this sudden change caused me unnecessary anxiety and depression that made me emotionally shut down for the two days (I usually do this to process anything negative going on).  My coping mechanism instigated further tension that resulted in me and Kelleigh distancing ourselves from one another.

It all came to a head when I found out from a lawyer friend of mine that, because I was not served eviction papers by a marshal, then Kelleigh and Alan were legally obligated to grant me thirty days to move out—not two weeks as originally requested.  When I told Kelleigh this, that was when her true nature and feelings about me revealed themselves.

“So you’d rather stay someplace where you’re not even wanted?” she asked aggressively.

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied, feeling my own agitation. “I still have thirty days according to New York State law.”

“If you’re not out by Friday, your stuff will be on the lawn.”

“You can’t do that either because it’s against the law.”

“This is my fucking house and I can do whatever I want.”

When I stood my ground, her voice became louder and her tone more aggressive. She eventually declared the conversation over with and I left her room.  I retreated to my room, my entire body shaking as I began dialing numbers absentmindedly just to talk to someone.  The verbal assault and the feeling of being unwanted pushed right back into my childhood.  All this because she was informed of state’s tenant laws?

I was sitting on my bed when she opened my door and starting accusing me of yelling at her.  When I denied doing so, Kelleigh screamed:

“SO NOW YOU’RE WANTING TO PLAY THE VICTIM??  I WANT YOU TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE. YOU YELLED AT ME DOWNSTAIRS, YOU SLAM DOORS, YOU TALK SHIT ABOUT US ON FACEBOOK, YOU BANG ON THE WALLS–”

“No, I didn’t!”

“YES YOU DO!  I HEAR YOU ALL THE TIME DOING IT!  YOU’RE A VIOLENT BITCH!!”

She then slammed the door and pulled on the knob, preventing me from leaving.  “FUCK YOU!! I barked, banging on the door.  I’M NOT VIOLENT, BITCH!!!

Kelleigh quickly opened the door once again.  “SO NOW YOU’RE BANGING ON MY DOOR??  YOU SCARE THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME!!”  She then hurried to her own room and shut the door, leaving in tears and reaching out to friends and family on Facebook.

Fuck the thirty days, I thought while I frantically typed my vitriol S.O.S. call.  I wanted out and wanted out right then and there.  Whatever it took—job or no job.   A few minutes later, I heard a knock on my door.  I opened the door with a shaky hand and found myself nearly face to face with not one cop, but two.  Kelleigh told them that I lunged at her and because she’s blind, she feared for her safety.  What?  Last time I checked, she displayed very little fear while standing at my door calling me a violent bitch and hurling false accusations.  And now she’s playing the role the potential blind assault victim?

That alone was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For the rest of the week, I was on guard and extremely standoffish.  If I did address Kelleigh or Alan, it had something to do with what I needed to take care of before I finally left.  Even as my friend Lilah and I loaded her car with my belongings, they displayed bouts of subtle disrespect—especially her husband Alan, who kept observing my every move while doing nothing to help.  When Alan did speak, he made comments like “At least you got the attic cleared out” or “How many more trips do you have?” in attempts to rush me out.

Tobias and I are currently living with my friend Phill and his cat daughter, Princess, until I get on my feet again. He’s a fellow Nichiren Buddhist who immediately opened his home to the both of us and I feel a difference emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Now that I’m settled for the most part, I can finally process the debauchery that was the last week.  In fact, ‘debauchery’ isn’t the appropriate term for this experience.  It was basically an example of an immense abuse of power involving socioeconomics, economic abuse, disability-shaming, mental illness, the misuse of positive psychology, and religious/emotional manipulation.

That’s a mouth full, right?  But bear with me and I’ll explain what I mean.

Before I moved into their home, Kelleigh and I had already connected as friends and spiritual beings. By “spiritual beings,” I’m referring to the fact that we share similar beliefs regarding mediumship, energy, and anything pertaining to the paranormal. I do not speak about that part of my life often, so it was a relief to share that aspect of myself with someone.  It was because of this that I also connected with her emotionally, disclosing to her my distrust of most people while crying on her shoulder.  So I moved in truly believing I had found a kindred spirit.

They all knew that I had no job and living on unemployment, but also me and my cat to stay in the spare room because we were all under the impressions that I would be gone within two weeks.  But when my housing plans fell through, Kelleigh comforted me by saying that it was ok because she appreciated a having a spiritual woman in the house—even if only a for short period.

Eventually I was given the opportunity to stay there as long as I paid rent because I couldn’t find a place.  She told me that was a member of the family and became enmeshed in their household culture as far as helping around the house.

Though I was grateful for their help, there were some red flags—especially in regards to finances. They had more of an income than I did, yet took the majority of my benefits for rent.  I was initially supposed to pay $400, but that was too much, considering the other expenses I had.  I even said that if $400 was the price, then I will have to find another location.

“Where are you going to go where you can stay for free?” she asked.  I told her that I could reach out the Care Management team at Trillium, but no other immediate option other than a shelter.

We finally agreed on $300 a month—or $75 a week.  Though it was still a little steep, it was better than being on the street and it included everything. But I soon began falling behind on other expenses such as my cell phone bill and storage fee.  Despite me sharing this concern, Kelleigh and Alan still expected to pay the amount agreed.

Speaking of concerns, there were also a few times when Kelleigh criticized my use of mental health services.  She stated more than once that, though completely blind, she managed to maintain her independence without the services.  Therefore, she didn’t understand why I couldn’t do the same, wondering what I would do for myself once mental health services were no longer an option for me.

I became defensive immediately, explaining to her that this was my first time ever focusing on my mental health and trauma since graduating from college!  Noticing my distress, Kelleigh told me that she and I were “the same person” because “we are both emotional people.”  I want to point out that she made this comment a few times whenever I was upset about something she said or did.  In retrospect, this was classic gaslighting, a form of emotional manipulation utilized by abusers to make their victims question their own reality.

But I refused to internalize her words, knowing that they only reason why I became pissed: she compared her reality, her experiences, and emotion irregulation to mine when they were dissimilar.

For one, Kelleigh not only collects disability, but has two employed partners supporting her and the household financially.  She has enough income to pay a mortgage, care for a menagerie of pets, and buy spiritual books online.  I, on the other hand, was homeless and heavily relying on unemployment benefits to rent a room and care for Tobias—while searching for employment.  And until recently, I was not prescribed adequate medication for my mental illness and Inattentive ADD so I was dealing with suicide ideations, chronic depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms—in addition to not possessing the wherewithal to maintain focus and motivation.  I’m the complete opposite when on the right meds and I know this about myself.

So by making such comparisons, my fellow “spiritual being” was erroneously implying that I heavily rely on services as if they were a crutch. Even if that was the case, my receiving assistance—and what that entailed—was really no concern of hers as I was taking the initiatives necessary to better myself.  Therefore, Kelleigh’s assessment of me using social services I needed was inappropriate, extremely shaming, and psychologically violent.

Her need to give unsolicited pseudo-spiritual advice involving positive psychology soon put me on pause.  Two days after telling me I had to move, Kelleigh accused me of “having an attitude.”  “Either you can make the next two weeks miserable or it could be positive,” she said calmly in front of her silent partners.

“You gave me two weeks and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” I snapped.  “So if I have an attitude, it’s because I’m scared.  I’m trying not to go off, which is why I’ve been silent for the past two days.  Ok?”  I then went upstairs to my room, suddenly feeling sickened by what just occurred.

I stopped believing in positive psychology years ago because its main purpose is to completely dismiss individuals’ negative emotions.  Practiced by many metaphysical spiritualists, this school of thought is not only detrimental to those struggling with mental illness and emotional issues, but there is no scientific evidence supporting its validity.  Not to mention that positive psychology is NEVER about the individual dealing with negative thinking, but ALWAYS about someone else’s discomfort.  And in this case, this “choice” pertaining to my emotional state was about Kelleigh and her partners’ discomfort with confrontation.

So telling me to “be positive” when I was being disposed of was nothing more than her slapping me in the face while praying for me.  This alone is why I’m officially distrusting of those practicing metaphysical spirituality, for Kelleigh was the third practictioner to show their true nature once realizing that they have no control over me.

Long story short, I am glad to have distance myself from such a toxic situation.   For the being, Tobias and I are living in a safe place until I find employment that will support me, my furry ball of a son, and my dreams of being a full-time writer and public speaker.  But living with Kelleigh, Alan, and James also revealed to me how I am too nice to individuals who are all too willing to dispose of me.  I experienced this with people I’ve dated, worked with, and befriended.  I wasted so much energy and time striving to prove myself to those who don’t deserve anything involving me.  So regardless of how hurtful and abusive the living arrangement was, I now know that from this moment on, I will give time and energy to not only care for myself and spirit, but support those who show me genuine love and support.

 

Author Bio:  Shermeeka M.L. Mason is a self-published author, blogger, and volunteer radio show host.  She recently published the political science-fiction novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under the pen name Octavia Davis.  She is also the creator of and contributor for two blogs, The Possible World and The Chuck Taylor Buddhist (both available on WordPress.com).  In addition to being an active author, Mason is currently one of the co-hosts of The Bonfire Talks on WAYO 104.3 FM.  In her spare time, she reads, performs with the Rochester Womens’ Community Chorus, binges on Facebook, and spends time with beloved cat-son, Tobias.

 

 

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Life As Is: Three Years Later


Hey ladies and gentlecats,

 

It’s been a couple of years (maybe three) since I’ve posted and I thought the last entry would be the last time I’d ever post in The Possible World.

I have told myself that I no longer want to focus on my shortcomings and be “more positive,” therefore discontinuing the blog in order to move on from speaking about trauma.  However, so much has happened over time and I realize that I am keeping the worst of it to myself or posting it on Facebook instead of writing it down. In fact, it has taken me being terminated from two jobs in 2015, an emotional break and missed opportunities to see the truth:  that I have been avoiding the inevitable in order to deem myself a “good social worker,” “good volunteer,” “woke activist,” and so on. That I feared accepting the good, the bad, and the absolutely horrendous as is.

The truth is that I’m falling apart.  My mental health has grown steadily worse over the years. This is what happens when you avoid your trauma head-on by engaging in all things unhealthy, be it relationships, friendships, excess food, compulsive sex, hair pulling or whatever your vice may be. Due to pursuing my education and engaging in radical politics, I could keep my Dark Passenger at bay.  I am able to get work done to some degree and act like a functioning human being, but by the end of the day, I have known that I have been playing a role and have lost myself.

After graduating with a Masters in Social Work, I fall into a deep depression because I cannot find a job in my field.  With the combination of unemployment and the inability to concentrate on anything, the first action I think of involves taking my own life.  If it were not for my Nichiren Buddhist practice, I would be dead.

In other words, the armor that has protected me for all these years have begun to rust and slowly fall to pieces.

Not all my experiences are abysmal:  in January, I have published my very first novella, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under my pen name, Octavia Davis.  On Wednesdays, I host my own local radio show, The Bonfire Talks (which can also be found on MixCloud).  I’m opening my own online business called Bennie Hats & Company, and I’m the proud mother of a cat named Tobias McCoy Mason.

Despite the handful of positivity present in my life, the anxiety still churns in the pit of my stomach, followed by this feeling that someone or something is after me.  That some strand of darkness is reaching out to entrap me to strangle the life out of me.  I’ll explain in other entries, but I’m going to be real here:  my mental illness does not want me to live and I know that.  It’s almost to the point where the Dark Passenger—the negativity brought on by my mental health issues are on the verge of killing me.

On the flipside, I know that sooner or later, I am ready to truly face reality—MY reality for what it is.  My reality as I know it is imploding and there’s really nothing I can do but accept it.  And I figure that writing about it and chanting for my own sanity will help—and even encourage me to believe that there’s an eventual end in sight.

I hope you read and understand.

I Am Here: Being There for Someone Who Is Grieving


“Sometimes, when you see a person cry, it’s better not to ask “why?”  Sometimes, it takes only three words to make them happy again.  And those words are “I am here.”

–Author unknown

I just found out this past Monday that a friend of mine committed suicide last month.

According to the one person I spoke with, she began drinking again after seven or so years of continuous sobriety.  I don’t know why she began drinking again or why she even took her own life, but that is what she did and I just found out about it.  I met her when back in Rochester, NY after a year not drinking (I have seven years of sobriety now, by the grace of Spirit).  I was at an AA meeting at the time when I spoke about something that people seemed to agree with–my friend included.  I don’t even remember what I said, but she ran up to me and started talking with a speed that became her trademark in my opinion.  Since then, we would talk on the phone the majority of the time, met up at meetings and talked about the benefits and detriments of AA.  Granted, we had our falling outs, but we seem to get it together to some degree.

I lost all contact with her when I moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college.  Up until a few months ago, I didn’t know how she was doing and what was going on with her until she found me on Facebook.  When I friended her, we started talking again via chat and I would read her posts on my wall and vice versa.  Suddenly, I didn’t see her posts anymore, but I figured she dropped off to finally live in the real world instead heavily relying on Facebook for human interactions (as I have).  The last time I heard from her, it was during this past summer and I didn’t call her back because of the nature of the question she left on my voicemail.  I didn’t realize that that would be the last time I would ever hear her voice.

When I heard the news about her death, I couldn’t even speak or type.  All I could do is cry.  My arms–my whole body–felt heavy and I could not do anything other than turn off the lights and bawl.  I don’t know if anyone in my house heard me and if they did no one made it known.  I posted the news on Facebook when I could gather some mental and physical capacity.  I got a few responses, but not many unless I said something in person.  One of my friend’s closest high school friends came after me on Facebook today, “yelling” at me for posting on Facebook the fact that she committed suicide.  But after messaging her in private about how I didn’t appreciate her actions towards me and why I did it (my friend and I had mutual Facebook friends), she apologized for her outburst and told me that she and our mutual friend have been like sisters since high school.  I reached out to this woman and told her that I am here if she ever needed to talk.  So far, I received no response.

I have since deleted the post announcing my friend’s suicide.  In retrospect, it wasn’t the smartest move, but I was not in my right mind.  I’m STILL not in my right mind.  But more importantly, I was hoping that her high school friend reached out to me because I seriously have no one to talk to.  As I said before, I reached out to people telling them what happened.  Yet, I have not received a phone call and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been hugged.  So far, the only people who have reached out to me were my two professors when I told them what happened.  When I told my sponsors, one said that I can cry, scream and that this too shall pass.  The other one told me that, because it already happened, there is nothing I can do about it.  Now, let me explain:  in their defense, they didn’t know my friend and I don’t expect them to cry with me and, in their own way, they meant well.  But I wasn’t asking for an answer.  I wanted open arms, a shoulder to cry on and the three words that tells me that I’m not alone:

“I am here.”

The way I feel now (angry, depressed and alone) I felt when my grandmother passed way.  She died the day AFTER my birthday and when I heard the news, I broke down crying.  But I was told to not display my emotional state and to come down to the hospital.  As I looked at my grandmother’s lifeless body, no one hugged me, touched my shoulder and told me that she was in a better place.  If anything, I felt like the older family members washed their hands of her and proceeded to go on about their business.  It was as if my grandmother’s legacy ended that day in everyone’s minds.

I look back on it now and realize that I have not grieved Grandma’s death and because I was drinking at the time, I never allowed myself to grieve.  I don’t handle death well so not only am I grieving for my grandmother but I’m grieving for my friend whose mental illness may have caused her to take her own life.  I don’t know what to say or do other than grieve.  To sit in my room and be angry at the world because two of a few number of people in my life are gone. To be angry at the fact that friends and even roommates can go on about their business when I reach out to them for solace. And in some cases, I found out in the most fucked up of ways (i.e. Facebook, via text message), so I am not only angry and depressed but hurt.

I am writing all this to tell you, Readers, that if someone is hurting and you get that gut feeling that they will take their own life, don’t just say “I’m sorry you’re going through all that” and keep it moving.  Sit down and talk to them (if they let you).  According to the  National Center for Health Statistics (2010), “suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States” and Approximately 105 people commit suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2012, n.p.).  I am not saying that words alone can save a person, but being there for the suicidal person is better than not being available at all.

The same would go for those surviving suicide.  With all due respect, it is not enough to say “I’m sorry,” only to give advice or walk away uncomfortably.  I only wish that people would ask me how I’m doing instead of giving advice or walking away. I don’t expect people to be my therapist, but by not saying much of anything, it shows that you do not care, even if that’s not the case.  If you would talk to the grieving person, you would quickly see that we more than likely don’t know which end is up or what to think next.  If anything, we have nothing to say.  We just want to cry, so please just be there.

We have to be there for people and not run away from grief.  It just bothers me that many of us have become so desensitized to the pain of others (perhaps due to technology) that when people are hurting, we spit out one-liners and “pull it together” advice. Don’t give advice.  Give that grieving person your shoulder, your time and your ear to listen to.  And maybe ice cream…peanut butter swirl.

And now I leave you with the same quote I started with.  Read it. Internalize it.  And please do what it says.

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Resources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2012).  “Facts and Figures: National Statistics.”  Retrieved from http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=050fea9f-b064-4092-b1135c3a70de1fda

Yes Means Yes! No Means No!: Fighting Against the Redefinition of Rape


“However we dress, 

Wherever we go,

Yes means yes,

No means no!!”

–Take Back The Night chant

When I was a Senior at the College at Brockport, I participated in and volunteered for an event called Take Back The Night.  For those who aren’t familiar with Take Back The Night, this historical event took place in Philadelphia in 1975 after a woman was fatally stabbed while walking home from class.  Decades later, Take Back The Night has called for the safety of all women–especially those who were sexually assaulted.

I bring this up because not only is it a cause I care deeply about, but because sexual abuse of any sort leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  So when I read stories about the Republican party attempting to redefine rape as a “method of conception”, the rage that boils within me eats me alive and I fear that I’ll just blackout and end someone’s life.  Take Paul Ryan for instance.  He recently conducted an interview about Representative William Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican Congressman who states that when a woman is raped, her body “shuts down” thus making itself unable to become pregnant.  Oh, here he is:

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Douchebag Number 1

I know.  I also said “What the motherfuck??” when I heard about this. But then he initially receives support from Paul Ryan, the human wad of wet tissue paper running as Vice President alongside Mitt Romney.  In case you don’t know who the hell he is, here’s a picture:

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Douchebag Number 2 AND he doesn’t blink.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I could care less about the two-party system and the drama that comes with it.  Furthermore, I am NOT the type of Radical Leftist who hate every Conservative that crosses the frequency of my radio when I listen to NPR (though I’m very much a Radical Leftist).  But what infuriates me is that what Ryan and Akin are saying and doing is nothing new or shocking.  Rape is one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against any person–no matter the age or gender.  In regions such as the Congo and Afghanistan, rape is used as a weapon of war or ethnic cleansing method against women and young children.  In the Middle East, young boys are raped by men old enough to be their fathers, but it’s not not called rape but bacha bazi–meaning “pretty boy” in the native language.

Yet rape–and the concept of it–is not even taken seriously.  In every part of the world, the victim is always at fault, no matter the circumstances.  In fact, it is more difficult for a sexual assault victim to receive support from law enforcement, the judicial system, society and, in some cases, their own families than one who has been through any other sort of trauma.  And the governments make it no better when the majority of the Representatives and their supporters rally against laws that would bring justice down on perpetrators.  For instance, the Child Victims Act has been rejected by the New York State government since 2005.  If passed, this law will allow adult survivors of sexual abuse to press charges against their perpetrator five years after the state’s statute of limitations.  This is an important law because it would give survivors the opportunity to seek justice as well as give them a voice.  However, organizations connected to the Jewish and Catholic community successfully rally against this law, stating that those now coming forward should not be allowed to press charges years after the crime.

I have other examples, but you get the point, Readers.  I just want to point out something and then I’ll let you go. This Republican war to redefine rape is not just about the violation of someone’s body.  Rape is about breaking the spirit of the person it’s happening to.  It’s about controlling that person’s entire way of living and how they view themselves as a human being.  In terms of rape being deemed “another method of conception,” that’s basically saying that the child should come into the world at any cost–even if it means that the mother may not want the burden of explaining to that child how he or she came to be.  Or worse, placing that child in the position of being abused because he or she is the constant reminder of what happened.  It’s not fair to either mother or child.

I am writing all of this because this bullshit has to end.  This redefining trauma for the sake of not wanting to deal with it has to end because it won’t help matters.  If anything, it perpetuates the cycle of violence and the only way to break that cycle is to educate ourselves and others.

And to fight.  Always fight.