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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Your Voice is Beautiful: Open Statement to Survivors and Allies


*** Trigger Warning: This message contains descriptions of assault****

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By Julie Henry

“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 remembering we were never meant to survive.”   

— Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival

 

There has been a lot of specific conversation surrounding sexual assault within our community recently, and now I’m coming forward with my own voice to talk about my experience. This message is for survivors and those who want to support survivors. It is you I have in my heart as I write.

My name is Julie and I was sexually assaulted by Rod Coronado.

This assault didn’t happen in a dark alley. He didn’t grab me by the hair and shove me into a closet and put his hand over my mouth (that would be easier to comprehend, easier to forgive myself).  It happened within the campaign Wolf Patrol, while organizing in the field. Rod was my friend. I thought we had established a great working relationship. I thought he respected me as a comrade, that we got shit done together. He was my friend. That’s what makes this so incomprehensible.

He was my friend. 

Before Wolf Patrol, I had been in a nearly two-year relationship with someone I loved very much. I struggled so hard to be able to be intimate with him, even going to multiple counselors. My PTSD and trauma surrounding past sexual violence affected my relationship with someone I LOVED. Even with him, who was so encouraging, supportive, and did everything he could to let me know he wasn’t going to hurt me, that he cared about me, my trauma affected us everyday. Eventually it played a big role in our relationship coming to an end. That was the last time I remember what it was like to feel sexually safe.

So once Rod had made his intentions of wanting to pursue something with me known, I disclosed to him that I was a survivor. I’m not sure if I told him that I struggled with PTSD, but I told him the specifics of my triggers, what I needed to feel safe in an intimate relationship, and what my boundaries were. There’s no way to misunderstand “I’m triggered by sex”, “I have a lot of trauma around sex, so just don’t right now.”

But as the campaign continued, my boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more….for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no.  I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on.

Then a few nights later, it happened:  my most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.  I hid in the bathroom for almost two hours in utter disbelief. I was shocked and confused. The next morning, when I finally worked up the courage to confront him about it—to ask him why he did that to me—his reaction was silencing, dismissive, and gaslighting. He told me I was being irrational, emotional, and disrespectful, that what I was telling him was “impossible” and he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. But then twelve hours later, he came back to me with his own version. He told me that I had wanted it. That he would never do anything I didn’t want.

So that was it.  I had asked for it. His response was to tell me what I was feeling (because he said so) and that was that.

When I confided in two Wolf Patrol team members, the response I got from them wasn’t what I was looking for or needed. I began to wonder if maybe it really was my fault, that somehow I really did ask for it.  I was devastated. I was heartbroken. I was shut down.  So I kept quiet. In the environment I was in, my safety and well-being depended on me keeping my mouth shut.

And I stayed silent for months. I told myself I would never speak about what happened, that there was no point asking for accountability from someone who refused to even acknowledge what he did to me—even when I confronted him about it. I was ashamed I allowed it to happen.  The thought of disclosing what happened was too terrifying.  I didn’t want to be re-traumatized and I certainly didn’t feel like dealing with the scrutiny, victim-blaming, criticism.

But looking back, I never had any hope of having my own agency inside the campaign.  I was there to fulfill a very specific role Rod had for me. No one deserves what happened to me. I know if I had never spoken out, it would happen to someone else. This didn’t start with me, and it certainly won’t end with me either. I know I will never heal from this by silently letting it happen to someone else.

And so here is my story. I am sharing this publicly thru my own voice for the first time to encourage others to speak up. Survivors—I want you to understand that you DID NOT ask for, or deserve what happened. DO NOT listen to criticism over how you handled the situation. You did what you had to survive the territory. You did what you had to do just to make it thru each day that followed. Do not listen to anyone who criticizes you for staying silent, or speaking out. Do not listen to anyone who feels compelled to judge how you should or should not have handled your situation. You are doing exactly what you need to do: survive. You are stronger than you think, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

And allies—I want to be careful to not speak on behalf of other survivors, but to make it clear I am speaking only from my own experience.  Breaking the silence can be, in many ways, just as scary as “those moments.” It can feel like handing over the narrative for your peers to tear apart and scrutinize as they see fit. You no longer have control over what happens or what is said about you. That’s why it’s easy to convince yourself to stay silent. There’s power and control in what is secret. Once you speak up, it’s out of your hands. Power is effectively gone……again. It’s even more scary if your abuser is a well-known character in the community. You are well-aware that backlash may be brutal and cruel. Your very integrity as a human being may be torn to shreds by supporters of the perpetrator who refuse to believe that their friend could possibly do such a thing.  Doors slam in your face, and opportunities that are associated with friends of your abuser are lost. The consequences of telling far exceed the benefits of keeping it to yourself.

For all these reasons, you don’t reach out. For your own safety you begin to operate under the assumption that most people won’t believe you. Silence from friends = they must be against you. Trust was what made you vulnerable to be assaulted. So again trust = bad. Isolation feels safer.

If you know and want to support someone who has opened up about being assaulted, here are some steps you can take: gently reach out and let them know you care, because we will probably be too afraid to reach out to you. Tell them you believe them because they may assume that most people do not.  Those words are more powerful than you can ever know. Ask them what they want, and let them know it’s totally ok if they don’t know yet. If there is some kind of process happening around the incident, let them know what’s going on. Don’t make them have to ask. Reestablishing trust is about opening up communication. If you can no longer be there for someone, be honest about it, but help them find someone else they can trust. Never leave them hanging after the world has already upended for them. I can tell you from experience, this WILL cause more damage than what’s already been done. Simply put, just communicate. The most important resource a survivor can have is friendship.

Some of the worst things you can say (not including the obvious victim-blaming) are “That’s between you and him” or “I have too much drama to deal with this,” “I’ve never seen him behave that way,” “I’m just hearing so many different stories,” “Weren’t you in a relationship?” etc. If this is how you feel, then I will put you in the non-support category. It is preferable to hear silence than these condescending and very non-beneficial statements.

We are a community that likes to talk about smashing patriarchy. Here’s a real opportunity to actually deal with our shit. This is a real situation, not hypothetical. It’s not acceptable that assault is this prevalent in our movement. And it’s not acceptable that we still don’t have real ways of dealing with it when it occurs. It’s time to change that now. How many more people have to be hurt? How many more people have to be hurt by one person?

It’s time to take a stand and stop allowing our movement to be a platform for perpetrators. There’s enough danger and trauma out in the world that we’re trying to fight against that we shouldn’t have to be afraid of each other here. Let’s either stop talking about smashing patriarchy and prioritizing keeping people safe, or actually do it.

So speak up everybody. Speak up. You do not have to live in fear and silence. You deserve to have your voice heard. And your voice is beautiful.

-Julie

Survival in Practice


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By Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson

 

I’m typically a chatty Cathy…except for when I’m in pain.

When I was in labor with my children, I was sooooooo quiet. Labor was painful and somehow I intuitively turned inward to survive it. During my first labor and delivery, I remember my grandmother being very worried about me not using medical intervention. She and her bible sat in the corner. She was present and prayerful and I was grateful for her.

Cedric was right beside me and I recall when the pain got so intense I looked at him and said “I don’t think I can do it!!” He looked back at me and said, “Yes, you can”. I turned inward and I did.  I pushed out a 7 lb 15 oz baby boy. It was then that realized that I could survive what was quite surely one of the greatest physical pains that a body can tolerate. I set the terms, no pain killers, a Ghanian fertility doll as a focal point and loved ones present to help me get through. But ultimately, it was me who had to get that baby out of me and had to deal with the pain associated with childbirth.

It was no joke but I felt like a bad ass after.

During labor, it was my silence that was most necessary. I had learned the Lamaze breathing/panting (ineffective) technique, but I just wanted peace and quiet so I could listen to my body and survive the pain. With each childbirth, I refined my desire for intentional silence during labor. I learned Hypno birthing and incorporated affirmations that helped me believe that I could birth my baby. This practice is necessary only because we have been taught to fear our bodies and the child birthing process as well as deny our strength. The hypnotic state was really a deep relaxation and meditative process. It required inward reflection and visualizing a place of peace. Even the verbal prompts Cedric had practiced to help me go deeper into a hypnotic/relaxed state were distracting in the labor process because of my deep desire for silence and turning inward. I needed peace and quiet to survive that pain. No nurses coming in and out poking and prodding, no lights on, no massages. Just me getting through that shit.

Leave me alone.

I birthed an 8 lb 7 oz baby boy that day with very little pushing thanks to a very self-determined little one.  By the time the 3rd labor came along, I was skilled at childbirth and also at knowing which conditions were ideal for me. Silence and solitude during labor! I wanted my support system there, which now included Cedric and the boys. I had the boys with a family friend while I was in labor but they were the 1st ones to hold and see their little sister after she was born. Unfortunately, my midwife did not get the memo about my need for peace and quiet and got on my damned nerves the whole time. She could not accept that I was in charge of my birthing process and kept trying to offer suggestions. Irritated the fuck out of me.

What I have realized is that when I am in pain, deep pain, I hurt too much to explain myself to others. Cedric was my advocate but we could not regain control of the labor and delivery process. I felt disempowered. I recall that process as my worse birthing experience simply because I felt imposed upon and I was not allowed to just lie there and meditate til that baby was ready to come out. She wanted me to shift positions and just kept talking. I needed to just survive the ugly beauty of my pain in peace. Thankfully, a 8 lb 6 oz baby girl blessed me with another quick labor and put me out of my noise induced misery.

I find myself in pain a lot lately. My current pain is not physical–it is psychic, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It still hurts and it’s hard to explain its fullness to others. I tend to retreat into myself during these times. It’s simply too tiring and painful to try to help others get why and how a happily married, mother of 3 beautiful children with a bunch of sister-friends who owns a home, smiles a lot, and is a professor is dealing with anxiety and life long depression. My support team is ready to help—friends call, family members pray, Cedric does the heavy lifting at home and is the affirming spouse that I need in my life. I am grateful.

But I have learned that sometimes I still have to–need to– turn inward to survive my life. Especially when I feel my survival and joy are at risk or are being threatened. It is how I have survived before when there was seemingly no one at my side (go ahead, insert your “but God” here). Turning inward is how I am still here. I need to time to think, to name my pain, and at times go numb to survive it. Turning inward feels safe in this moment. Being in silent solitude through pain also allows me to spiritually ground myself and to store my reserves so I can tackle life as it is dealt. Living in solitude means not having to explain why I stopped listening to someone in the middle of their sentence, or why I am not feeling happy at “happy” moments or why I am not interested in things that typically bring me joy like socializing and exercising and eases some of the pressure. It means not having to cry in public or navigate answering the dreaded question “how are you doing?”

Prayer, meditation, silence, and out of body robot mode—have helped me survive before, in beautiful times like during childbirth and in horrific times, like during child sexual abuse.  I won’t stay forever but this is where I am in this moment.

This is survival.

 

“Survival in Practice”  was reposted in The Possible World with Dr. Nzinga-Johnson’s permission.  Readers can find this piece and others on her Blogger.com blog, I usta be monique.