How to Slip Your Cage

Stasi-files-building-Berlin-holding-cell-P1140435

 

For survivors of Narconon and the Church of Scientology

First, pretend to be delighted that you get to enter. If you buck and fight, it will only end in your blood spilt and a longer time until you are ultimately free. If you buck and fight, they will take the violence out of you and turn it against you so that your first couple of days in the cage will be spent on the ground (not that there is anywhere else to be) and in agony—trust me, I made the wrong choice. So you must enter willingly, will forth a tear if they don’t flow naturally, act relieved to finally be getting the help you need.

 

Second, do not look for a comfortable place to arrange your body. You will not find it. There are no chairs, no bunks, not even so much as a ledge to perch your ass upon. You have a floor and walls with the uneven roll of hand-hewn log cabin, so leaning your spine against them is no relief. You have to figure out how to sit on a dirty wooden floor in a way that doesn’t produce agony or, if like me, this is impossible—with all the bruises and scrapes—you have to learn how to sit through agony. This is probably the best thing, so in that case, if you need an extra dose of agony to create the necessity of sitting through it, disregard step #1.

 

Third, eat the vitamin blasts that they push on you through the cracked door as if there were the most delicious fucking snack you’ve ever tasted. Suck down the horse pill capsules like they are pieces of your lover whom you can only save by devouring. Feel the gritty work of those capsules in your abdomen, the slow slink of a hundred doses of vitamins into your veins. Trust not that they are good for you, not in their claims that they will silence the voices in your head or extinguish the gnawing need for dope, but trust that compliance is your only hope of escape and so swallow those fuckers.

 

Fourth, defecate and urinate in the bucket. Do not succumb to urges to paint arcs on the dark wall. It will not spite them because you will be forced to live with the stench and ultimately clean it up. Do not succumb to this also because it will make you appear yet more deranged and will extend the time you spend in your cage.

 

Fifth, when they bring stacks of paper to sign, sign. Do not ask questions and do not try to read the tiny font in the weak light that slices a rectangle around the door. Do not attend to useless thoughts about your rights, or lack thereof, or the meaning of your signature on those many pages. Refusing to sign, or asking questions or trying to read the tiny font, even, will probably earn you another blast of vitamins and another day at least to consider the foolishness of resistance.

 

Sixth, when the voices get louder, listen closer. Because here’s the thing: the voices are your own. And even if they’ve landed you in a lot of trouble in the past, when you’re locked in a cage breathing feces in the dark for long enough, jailed by people with blind faith, no mercy, ballpoint pens and vitamin blasts, the voices will begin to serve you instead of betray you. The voices will tell you the truth: that these people are not going to let you out until you deny your voices. That these people are not going to let you out until you profess that your cravings for dope have subsided.

 

Seventh, if the voices guide you, obey them. If they say to scream out in agony, do so. If they say to scream for mercy, do so. If they tell you to mutter gratitude to your captors, do so. If they tell you to remain silent for long stretches, do so.

 

Eighth, when you no longer expect the door to open, expect the door to open.

 

Ninth, when the door opens, remain still and make an attempt to smile.

 

Tenth, when they ask you if you think you are ready to come out, tell them you think you need just a little bit longer.

IF AND, NOT BUT

 

contradictions 

Dialectics: 1. The art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments;

 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: ….DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice.  

 

DBT is a burgeoning mental health treatment model that is fat with interventions and techniques for use with a host of disorders and issues.  I will be super lucky to spend four days immersed in intensive training come November.  But I’m already using pieces of it here and there with clients, in conversation with distressed friends and family and also with my own damn self.  The main thrust is this: that two opposing facts can exist at the same time and both remain true.  For example, if my client says to me, “my mother doesn’t give a shit about me,” because her mother has been ignoring the mounting scores of lacerations on her thin wrists, I might say, “could you consider the possibility that your mother is acting as if she doesn’t care about you and at the very same time loves you very much?”  Or, more to the point, “can you consider the possibility that your mother is a terrible mother and, also, she loves you very much?” 

 

Of course, most people blink at you and furrow their brows and/or laugh derisively.  But then sometimes they also grow pensive.  Ideally, of course, this opens up the space to talk about the reasons why his/her mother became a terrible mother, what influences and causes piled up to prevent her from doing well.  This increases empathy, in theory, and pushes on the door marked reconciliation or forgiveness or maybe just forward motion.  And another central, related tenet of DBT comes in: “I care about you and admire you and accept you exactly as you are and I also will support you in changing things about yourself.”

 

Lying in bed under the skein of a new moon’s light and a heavy dose of nighttime decongestant and red wine at some small hour this morning, however, I was not thinking about dialectics in terms of clinical work.  I was thinking about dialectics in terms of language and meaning and Buddhism and life and the possibility that embracing wholeness presents.  I remember reading Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein when I was 20 years old, on a hot night in urban Venezuela and coming across this line (paraphrase): “Can you feel the difference between ‘I am angry!’ and ‘I am experiencing anger.’  Through that small distinction flows a whole world of freedom.”

 

It strikes me that an entire world of possibility flows through the distinction between

 

“I love my wife but she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time”

 

and

 

“I love my wife and she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time.”

 

The implication of “but” is that while I might love my wife, I can’t enjoy her or appreciate her or really be in possession of that love until some later time when she’s not stressed out.  “And” represents the possibility that even in the midst of horrendous stress I might enjoy my wife and celebrate the love I have for her. 

 

Or a kid might mourn the mother she wish she’d had while also knowing she did the best that she possibly could.  

 

Or maybe I’m just under the influence of daytime cold medicine.  

WHAT I TOLD THE CHAPLAIN

 

When I met God he told me you’d be surprised at the way it all shakes out these days, how virtue and vice lend each other ballast.  The depths of spirit that contradiction and hypocrisy sometimes suggest if you can—as he can—just lift the silly veil of those concepts, which are, after all, flimsy, cycled so many times through our bullshit puritanical washer.  No, God told me, while he might conjure a friendly nod for adherents to black and white Good as they giddily slog their way through the pearly gates (these are useful but inaccurate symbols, of course, as they always have been: pearly gates, God as he, etc.), but it bores him.  He finds himself most passionate about border-dancing souls regardless of where the gravity and gusts of this world ultimately cause them to land: in his cloudy grove of bliss or the fiery pits below (God sounded particularly bored with this last symbolic illustration and I sensed that if he’d had the energy he might have made quotation marks in the air around it).  He experiences a rush of the sacred now only when he can usher a controversial case into everlasting peace.  The monk who spends all week on robed knees, then bullies a Harley through the hills come Saturday, a Sig Sauer strapped to his hip.  The feminist wonk cutting her way verbally through seminar rooms and news shows who submits powerfully to brutal gangbangs when she clocks out.  The pro bono abortionist doc braving picket lines, who decided at age sixteen that he’d never be party to the medical liquidation of his own seed again.  The psychotherapist weed whacking and vine chopping through dark and tangled psyches toward fragile truths, who closes his door at night to watch back to back episodes of Lost.  The vegan yoga guru and insight meditation instructor deep into her six-pack and blunt at one a.m.  The cop that thrashes abusive husbands in the squad car.  Etc.  No, it’s not rigid adherence, not dogmatic integrity, not fanatical embrace of virtue or literal acceptance of scripture that make God’s heart skip a beat these days.  Maybe he’s just gotten old, God said, but things have changed.  And he shook my hand, but also told me that despite himself he’d probably feel a certain pleasure—definitely a thrill—when they dropped the hood over me and threw that switch.

 

Jesus v. Santa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear son,

It occurs to me that as houses light up psychedelically and you begin to see fat men in red costumes everywhere you go, when the size of boxes and bags seems to swell and there is suddenly a tree in the middle of your play space, that it might be incumbent upon me to clear up what is for some children an understandable confusion about Christmas.  It is the birthday of a man named Jesus—or Jesús as mamá would say, if she had much interest in him—and, also, the busiest day of the year for a man named Santa.  I use the term “man” both intentionally and roughly, because one of the things that Jesus and Santa have in common is a lingering controversy as to whether they are—or were—truly men and not merely stories made up for various purposes. But that’s not what I meant to write about now.

 

 

Here are some other things that Santa and Jesus have in common: both can magically produce gifts, though from Jesus you are likely only to receive wine—that’s “mama juice”—and fishes (not much like Nemo) and if you’re angling for a Hot Wheels track or remote control helicopter (as I suspect you are), Santa is a better bet.  Both Santa and Jesus can do magic—Jesus, for example, can walk on a lake and Santa can make his wagon fly with the help of deer with bright red noses.  Both Santa and Jesus are kind and caring and have particular interest in making children and sick people happy.  We make offerings of food—that’s “num-nums”—to both Jesus and Santa, though in the case of Jesus it’s mama juice and crackers, and though it’s an offering, we get to eat them ourselves, whereas in the case of Santa it’s cookies and milk and…well, kids don’t get to eat them.  It’s confusing, as are many things about this time of year.

 

 

Here are some ways in which Jesus and Santa are different: Santa is fat and Jesus is very skinny, like tía Helena, but even more. Santa’s home is at the North Pole, which is made out of snow and very, very cold all the time but Jesus came from the desert, which is why the pictures of Jesus aren’t very good—they make Jesus look like papa’s friend Sean when he probably had skin more like uncle Onyx’s.  We’ll talk later on about why they do that. Jesus doesn’t like stuff very much and some people say he didn’t even wear shoes; Santa, on the other hand, really is very focused on stuff (especially toys) and spends most of his time commanding a small army of fully grown men about your size to make stuff, which he then gives away (to be clear).  Santa has a wife, who is also fat and kind but Jesus did not have a wife according to most people, though that story may be changing.  No one seems to know who Santa’s papa is, whereas Jesus’ papa is God, which is like the biggest papa of all.

 

So, what about Christmas Day itself?  Simple: it’s Jesus’ birthday and Santa helps make sure that we celebrate it by flying around in his magic sled and laughing a lot and landing on roofs and jumping down chimneys to eat the milk and cookies that you leave for him and leaving you lots of presents that his little army made in his factory up in the north pole.  He does this because he’s a “saint,” which is like a friend of Jesus except he gets to wear shoes and eat a lot.  Those are the stories anyway. Next year, probably, we’ll start talking about the truth.

 

Merry Christmas,

 

Papa