Transition poem

At last I’m on The Sweeties! My transition’s underway
My nipples are getting sensitive, and my heart is blithe and gay
But my feelings have gone haywire, they’re quite beyond my ken
for most of the time I’m twenty-nine, but some of the time I’m ten.

The changes in my body feel so wonderful and right
but my mood can change in an instant, from misery to delight
From despairing tears to tears of joy, the only question’s when
for most of the time I’m twenty-nine, but some of the time I’m ten.

I’m in my second puberty, as confusing as the first
I’m clingy yet independent and I don’t know which is worse
I want to be rational, for I was the most sensible of men
but most of the time I’m twenty-nine, and some of the time I’m ten.

Written after five months on Ovran

On 1 December, I went blackberrying. I found none ripe, but some red and hard, which might ripen.

Step four part one

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Someone says the original AA older guys were narcissists. They needed taking down a peg. I could use this as a tool to beat myself up. First I need to love myself. So I decided to start with what I hate about myself, how I might value it, how I might love it. Has it any beauty in itself? Is it clumsily seeking a worthwhile goal?

I told a Quaker this, and was affirmed. Later in the chat, someone wrote, “You are heard and seen and cared for! You have a face beaming light!”

On Tuesday 9, I started my list. I hate:

1. The inner conflict itself. It paralyses me. And it is powerful parts of me, each trying to advance my interests, parts trying to protect me, a real me which will not be suppressed.

2. My anxiety. I despise it. It is wrong- there is no need to fear going to Aldi. And- there has been so much to fear, with my attempts to hold my feelings out of consciousness as well as deal with the world, that-

there is something to be anxious about. If I go to Aldi I might become conscious of a feeling. I might run into something unexpected or unpleasing. But then part of the suppressing things out of consciousness is denying that that might make me anxious.

So I am glad of the anxiety because it makes that way of being, suppressing feelings, impossible. The feeling grows until it cannot be suppressed. It affects my actions. It is part of the process of my liberation. And it is my feeling. I will not hate my feeling.

There Is no “I” separate from my feelings. Anxiety is uncomfortable, and I will Love it, not because it is useful, but because it is me.

In the NYT, I read, ‘According to Lisa Genova in “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting,” chronic stress “inhibits neurogenesis in the hippocampus,” damaging the brain’s ability to create new memories”.’

When I read that I started wailing hysterically. It is vindication: remembering Dad saying to Mum “He lives on stress”, not remembering much from childhood. I need vindication because I doubt myself completely. The levels of stress eventually made me incapable of work. It started in my teens, or before.

People who demonstrate the qualities of enthusiasm, kindness, focus, calmness and openness are seen as powerful by others, says psychologist Dacher Keltner.

Jamie suggests one response to anxiety: “That makes sense”. Breathe into it, being with it. Say “Hello old friend.”

I love my confusion because I am confused. It is me, where I am. I reject the idea of self-improvement and self-correction. Untangling might be good. The problem is self-rejection.

By Thursday 11th, I realised it was not enough to try to find some value in uncomfortable traits- whose values? I will love myself. I will not love myself instrumentally, in order to gain something or change myself. I will simply love myself, in all my confusing beauty. I need love. I will give myself love.

I love my desperation, my hard work.
I love my anxiety.
I love my sulk, stopping and protecting myself.
I love my confusion. I admit I do not know everything or perceive everything instantly.
I love my perceptiveness and intelligence.
I love my beautiful body, and all it can feel and do, and if it is hurt I will love it and care for it.
I love that I can speak from the heart, from my inner truth.
I love my desire to be safe.
I love my need. I will not curse it or suppress it.
I love my failures. I love my successes. I love my attempts to judge.
I am a trans woman. I have not worked for eleven years. Because of anxiety, I rarely go out, except to particular places that I particularly want to go to. There is nothing the Accuser can say which makes me unworthy of love or incapable of loving myself.

I love my self-suppression, seeking safety where there was none. I was constantly stressed, and I survived.
I love my true self, never entirely suppressed.
I love my human perfection:
I love my unknowing, unseeing, finitude, uncertainty,
which allows me to love my uncertain knowing, my conditional perception.
I love that I am enough.
I love my error and failure, which are a sign of my trying.

I love my hurt. I love my pain, which shows me the truth of the world. I love my “negative” emotions- there are no negative emotions.

I love my playfulness.
I love my creativity.
I love my appreciation of beauty.
I love my courage.
I love my generosity.
I love my desire to connect.
I love my openness.
I love my willingness to hear and see others, and to love them.
I love my desire to learn and grow and express authentically.

I felt worthless. I am not worthless. I created an illusory powerful self, which I thought was the centre of the universe. I am not the centre of the universe, and having lost that self-image through experience I resorted to bullying blaming exhorting and whipping my worthless self. And now I am that real self.

I love myself. I will love all of myself which is too scared or shy to show itself. I will love all of myself that delights me, and especially any of me that does not. I am loving and lovable.

Step One

It is time, I thought, to work on my Fearless Moral Inventory. I will make myself sane. Then, carelessly and thoughtlessly, I did something wrong, and am ashamed of it. I hope it will not hurt the people I wronged, and guiltily hope it will not have adverse consequences for me. There is one thing I could do, but considering it, it might not help the others involved, or even me: it would remove my current uncertainty, but replace it with a different uncertainty.

So I thought, I need to work on step one:

We admitted that we were powerless over our emotions- that our lives had become unmanageable.

There are three heavy words there: admit, powerless, unmanageable. I decided I would write about them, to make them real for me. This is as far as I got:

“As I move from blaming another, through blaming myself, I see the experience more clearly. It was intense. Then wounds and pressures collided in a clusterfoul, and I lashed out. I no longer blame, and feel I have learned something. There was a huge amount of joy in the whole complex experience.”

That is about acceptance.

K’s mental health review tribunal was set for 13 July, but could not go ahead as no psychiatrist who had treated him was available. He attended worship on 14 July from hospital. He wrote in the chat, “When I told a junior psychiatrist that I thought I was about to become the Albert Einstein of psychiatry he just said, ‘No you’re not. That’s why we’re treating you’.”

In the worship I felt such sadness, then hurt, fear, love. I could name these feelings. They make me feel more vulnerable but be less vulnerable: I fear them, but if I am aware of them and accept them they do not burst out of me in embarrassing ways. My body convulses with the feelings. My camera is on and I do not care. I see my dear Friend in tears. I feel joy, though I doubt and question it.

K’s camera showed what looked like a metal wall and a binbag, then cut off. Perhaps zoom is transmitting from another universe.

I am not, of course, overwhelmed. I am still sitting. My body has moved in waves. My face has expressed. I have shed tears. And I have always been conscious of my Friends.

I wanted to write on Tuesday 19th, then Wednesday 20th, and did not. I shared, with one other then with the LG, on my wrongdoing. I said I need to embrace being an arse sometimes, and hope I do not do too much damage. J called this a deep vulnerable share. I wrote,

I seek safety in perfection
but perfection is impossible
I seek safety in hiding
but there is no hiding place
I seek safety in understanding
but I cannot analyse this
I want to be safe
I cannot be safe.

I want to connect.
I want to be seen and heard.
These things are not safe-
not predictable, manageable, explicable
I am so scared

What may I do, with my one, wild, precious life?

I want to analyse “Accept”, “Powerless”, “Unmanageable”. I can’t, I can only accept them. I felt the terror I had been blocking out. I want to be safe, and safety is impossible, and that desire overwhelms any other desire I have.

At another Quaker zoom, K enthusiastically shared his delusions. Before, I have felt irritation at this. What will people think? Then, I just felt sadness. I am responsible only for myself. Understanding Powerlessness does not come from analysis, but from within. I only see God when God has passed by.

In another, we talked of violent death and of terror, where people we knew were involved but we were not personally, and I noticed I was listening less authentically to my Friend. I was instead thinking of what I wanted to say. I needed to get it out of the way. So, I asked my Friend for a moment, permitted myself to feel my own Sadness, and let my body convulse. She finished her story, and asked me what had happened. I am feeling Sad, about that and about other things, and I so fear and resent my sadness. Surely I should be over that by now! And, if I block my sadness it curdles in me, becoming an ever greater burden. Telling her, with long pauses and with tears, I saw my sadness and my struggle with it more clearly.

Probably I should arrange to see a psychotherapist again, and concentrating on this stuff for an hour terrifies me.

That body-convulsing thing is really not British. I so want to contain the feeling without showing any sign of it, process it instantly so there is no interruption of my listening, and I can’t. The way I can process it, which I might not do even with all Quakers or 12-steppers on zoom, and feel would be problematic for me in the street, is to convulse. Maybe closing my eyes and breathing deeply could work.

Welcome and entertain them all

I am interested in this man, and we talk. He tells me of his life, work, and power, and I am tongue-tied. I might retreat into small-talk, and cannot bear to: just to pass time, until the time is passed. I want to open my heart and be real together, and my heart prompts me to say, I have not worked for eleven years, and I rarely go out. Shame stops me. My brain comes up with various things I could say and stops me saying any of them.

What is this shame? What good can it do me? It might have been introjected to bind me. It might be my own. I retreat from the world, hoping to heal, hoping to get to know myself and be able to face it again. I am not sure but I might be making progress.

In that moment, the shame was fully conscious. I feel it now. Is it shame because I ought to face the world manfully, and bestride it? Have I a right to protect myself in this way? Well, right or not, I protect myself. What now?

I sit in my room, numbed out, noodling. The Feelings are there, all the time, mostly out of consciousness but not quite- fear, shame, anxiety, perplexity, sadness. Occasionally one leaps out and floors me, paralyses me, overwhelms me.

The only thing that can free me from Love is Love.
I see you. I imagine you active, happy, determined, triumphant
worried, perplexed
and resent you have no thought of me.
Cursing myself for being ridiculous does no good.
Wanting nothing from you, I might feel free to love.
Loving, I might let go and want nothing.
It feels like a virtuous circle too far above me to reach.
The resentment is mean, small, ineffectual.
It has my worst qualities, and my face.
I reach out to touch its cheek.

Then what?
It sucks me, screaming, into it?
It enters my heart, and my heart expands?

The resentment is not a problem to be solved
or dross to be transmuted.
It is a companion, a guide from beyond.

Can I love myself?
I was taught which parts to love, and which to fear.
Fearing, I held my heart down until it changed shape.
How can I love it as it is now?

I do not know what I might be.
I only know I must love as best I can.

On Monday, five of us wrestled in conversation. It was the right people at the right time. We did some good. I played my part. I gave myself wholly and entirely to a problem which could be easily solved by hurting someone, searching for a better way, and in the process learned something about myself and about boundaries. I was taught to discount the good. I must recognise and celebrate all the good.

Facing the shame and the guilt:

-What are you doing with your one precious life?
-I am healing myself as best I know how. Sometimes I take action which seems good to me. It never seems enough to me, and I doubt I am making progress in healing, and sometimes a feeling seems to hit me like running into a wall.

I want to be sure, and I am unsure of anything.

Rumi says, “You have to keep breaking your heart, until it opens”.

A sonnet of Love

In In search of lost time, Swann has aristocratic friends and is welcomed in the salons of Paris society, until he marries Odette, his mistress.

She glowed. “Ah, what a pleasure to receive.”
Odette’s sweet radiant delight caressed
Swann’s virgin heart, awakening it. She blessed
his touch-starved hand with hers, began to weave
in him a passion he would not believe.
Unknown wellbeing faded, as you guessed.
The man, the lover, undertook a quest
the salon raconteur could not conceive.
The valued, welcomed, connoisseur of art
might keep a mistress, quietly. Men have needs.
He marries her, and has what once he craved.
A rule is broken. Monsters will be freed!
His friends are friends no more. Each shields her heart.
Convention reasserted, they are saved.

Life stories

Someone I know faced death. He is alright, but his house may be demolished.

People are disturbed by the war in Ukraine. There is the sense of horror and sympathy. Streets like ours are bombed. People show courage, standing in front of tanks to block their path. Vladimir Putin calls sanctions “akin to an act of war” and threatens nuclear weapons. I look on from my comfortable life, powerless. Polish people welcome refugees. People here give things, to be taken in lorries to Ukraine, and possibly they cannot be distributed or used when they get there.

We make stories of our lives. This is who I am. This is how I have got here. It gives me a feeling of safety and control, and always there are reminders of how human lives are upturned or ended in an instant. And I know of things that might overturn my life.

I am not who I thought I was. I find what I want when I see what I do. I find out who I am when I see how I react in particular situations. It becomes clearer to me that I hold myself, my actual attributes, desires and actions, in contempt, and how difficult it is to live with that. So I feel my stories are harmful to me, and I should live in the moment, forget the past. Accidents change people’s lives, and the old stories no longer apply.

Or I wonder how my equivalents are doing, in parallel universes. Is one a partner in a firm of solicitors, married, children now graduated and beginning professional careers, producing grandchildren? How many are dead? Surely they must be doing better than me! If Only stories are a way to beat myself up, or to experience my full hurt and resentment at the way things have turned out.

I lie to myself to make myself feel better- in order to see myself as a good person, to see myself as something other rather than expand my understanding of good. To imagine that I have the control and understanding I crave. My whole life is about control.

And, I am on a spiritual journey, where I understand more about my world and myself, where I become conscious of my internal conflicts and progressively resolve them, where I can more and more speak from my heart and know my own desire.

Stories can be turned different ways. I hate the thought of people sending stuff to Ukraine which cannot be used, and is dumped. Why did they not work out how their efforts and wealth could make a difference? Or, I could see the gifts as self-giving generosity, or unite these two perspectives.

I still say, “This is who I am”, but my understanding is completely changed, and I know from experience I may surprise myself.

Solzhenitsyn is quoted as blessing prison, for teaching him that the object of life is not prosperity but “the maturity of the human soul”. Someone might have made that up, to make their meme go viral, and Goodreads says it is from The Gulag Archipelago. It is not easy to bless ones difficulties. What has not killed me has often weakened me. I shall not cease from exploration, or from trying to make sense of what I see.

You have to go the way your blood beats, wrote James Baldwin. Be the unique human being that you are! Then stories and false beliefs get in the way. But, depressed people are more rational, less prone to magical thinking, than happy people. Possibly the happy ones have just been lucky, or possibly magical thinking helps one live, by seeing possibilities of good, and not thinking about the bad stuff until it happens.

Many stories could be fuel for my contempt. If I tell myself stories of possibilities, my contempt will say, why are you not doing that? So I will tell myself the story of my spiritual growth, learning, becoming able to listen to my heart, and speaking from my heart. I will tell of my ability to get things I desired, and my pride in my No. Then, perhaps my heart will find more desires. I will tell stories of my femininity and how it delights me, my beauty and value as a human being, but not of safety, because safety is impossible. I am safe enough, for now.


15 March: This is my life story, as I will tell it:

God is Love.
I am made in the image of God
so I am Love.
Love is my being, my essence, my heart.
Love is my motivation, my energy and my strength.
Anything I do, Love must do.
And I was unconscious of it,
using it heedlessly, beating it, demanding impossible things.
I could not hear it or see it so I broke it.
For so long, my Love could say nothing but “No”.
No. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t want to.
I was bewildered and at war with myself.
Then I heard it speak.
It said, “I am”.
Now I know I am the heart of Love.
I no longer think I am anything else.
From Love, my heart,
I will love all the hurt in me,
the pain, anger and fear, long forgotten and suppressed,
and even the contempt.
And I will make myself whole.

Love and Poe

How could I Love, and want to cause you pain?
You truly saw me. I felt such delight
I knew if I could blossom in your sight
I would have all I ever strove to gain
And then we talked, that morning in the rain
My words flowed beautifully, calm and right
and yet our conversation was so slight
you soon forgot it all, and my insane
obsession with the thought of you was vain.
The ghost of you now haunts me in the night
I know I can no longer bear the strain
or flee you though my only goal is flight
I’m innocent, but bear the mark of Cain
The world will have no pity for my plight
and now I have no stomach for the fight
I saw you as you fell from that great height.

Petrarchan sonnets are difficult, but not because of the rhyme scheme. A “stretched sonnet” has sixteen lines or more.

What is love?

You cannot understand love through words, only experience. I still can’t get my head round Je t’aime meaning “I like you” and “I love you”. There are four words for Love in Ancient Greek: storge, family love; philia, friendship; eros, romantic love; and agape, the unconditional love of God. We are commanded to love God, and “Love your neighbour as yourself”- “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.

In 1979, Dorothy Tennov coined the term “Limerence”, which is an intense desire for a person, hoping they will reciprocate. Saying “I am in love” when not aware of being loved always felt wrong to me too. In The Makropoulos Case, a man sings “I am in Love, like a soul in torment”. Evolution is a source of suffering: all a bacterium has to do to reproduce is eat until it splits, but humans need to parent someone for twenty years or more, so the drives making us take on such responsibility have to be strong. Evolution cares not that your limerent object does not love you- at least, not yet.

Love is a human need. We are a social species, dependent on our society. Love bonds us together, and if someone is unloved they are vulnerable. There you are, lying on your back. Suddenly the nutrition that was flowing through your belly button has stopped. You cry out for sustenance, warmth.

So later the phrase “I love you” can be reassurance, but also a demand, a question, or a hope- “You love me too, don’t you?” Co-dependence arises when we cannot love ourselves and depend on another. Qoheleth says, “If two lie together they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?”

A child loved and accepted develops healthy self-love and acceptance, but this is never complete. Everyone’s parents hand on some misery to them.

So, other people are having a hard time. Thus, the Commandment. Love your neighbour as very best you can. People need all the gentle kindness we can muster. It is almost like Keynesian economics: our wealth is not in love we can hold, but how fulsomely love flows among us. Feeling loved, I am enabled to love.

I agreed to start off a conversation on Love today, and then join a group where the invitation was to write and bring a love letter/poem to self and share it. I found myself writing a sonnet:

How can I love what I was taught to hide,
even from myself, behind a great pretence?
The feminine soft soul whom I denied
and buried in a quicksand, dark and dense.
My fragile, wounded, narcissistic pride
in intellect unfeeling rose immense,
Beneath the weight of its desires it died
Till I was left with nothing but a sense

of something seeming weak and badly hurt
All I could hear it saying was, “No, no”
and so I tend an ember in the dirt
and mourn it. How could I be brought so low?
But there’s the beauty. That is what is real
My source of love and truth is what I feel.

“A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,” I thought to myself, dissatisfied. But sonnets are hardly worn out, and my problem with it was it was too direct. The ember in the dirt clings on to self-love and survival by my fingernails. I grow to love what I was taught to despise. This is hard work. Strong love and support from others never seems enough. And yet I am getting there.

Love is the way to freedom, but loving myself feels like pulling myself up by my bootstraps. If self-love is based upon what I admire in myself, then it is fragile. My belief in what there is to admire varies. To be stable, my self-love has to be based on a commitment to myself: this is my one life, my one body, my one set of gifts and characteristics, so I want to make as good a go for that self as I can. So loving myself is as much of a commitment and an effort as loving anyone else is.

I did not want to write I love myself because. I have these good qualities therefore I am lovable. No- what if I am deluded? Then my hope for survival hangs on qualities I must assert against all evidence to the contrary. All qualities fail. I am lovable, simply because I am human. I am human, therefore I love.

I love you

I cycle on quiet roads.
Buildings cast shadows on buildings opposite.
The Light
on trees, stone, skin, purple clouds
makes me cry in de-Light,
sigh in delight.

Love is one thing.
Limerence, wanting them to look at you
Storge, family love,
all one thing.
It is radiance, and the need for it.
Darling- let your bewitching attention
Shine on me!

The hunger is terrifying. My sensitivity is terrifying.
So I have my deepest desire,
to hide away alone and not be seen.
Might I be subsumed, like a male Angler fish?
Ah. There’s the self-contempt.

Your light is an earthquake in me.
Your voice is warm as the Sun.
Broken open,
the cracks are where the light shines Out.
My breasts are full.

Love is one thing.
It flows like water
so that who gives and who receives cannot be known.
Or a dream of water in a desert
making thirst more painful.
Take every chance to express love
however mad you seem.
I love you.

Storge is an ancient Greek word, στοργή, for love within families. Part of the inspiration for this was this voice message, which you might not be able to hear as it is substack, and which led me to write a fangirl reply. Written on an exceptionally warm, sunny 2 January.

Should I visit Edinburgh?

The sadness comes upon me, like a predator.
At its touch I stiffen and writhe.
I must collapse on my bed, weeping, wailing,
possibly screaming.
It will prove its mastery of me.
And then, a change.
The sadness is in me. It is me. It fills me,
chest, belly, fingertips
I know I am big enough to contain it.
That knowledge is relief and delight.
I hold the sadness, dance with it:
I am aware of its fulness,
and, satisfied, it flows through my heart.

Not permitted to show my sadness
I fought it, and it curdled into sorrow,
a weight I could not bear.
And now it flows like water.

But what of my love?
My breasts are full,
and I have no-one to suckle.

Yes I could go there. It would be lovely.
We would walk by the firth.
I love the way you live your life,
your courage and tenacity, meeting the challenges.
I would see him, and her, possibly her, and him,
whom I wish well.
I might call up she
who was cursed to see my full beauty,
and love me for thirty years.
When, too late, I saw it
Her love warmed and perplexed me.
She has got over me at last.
She might not come.
I might meet a wise woman.

We faced the traumas side by side
but walled apart.
We did not have each other then.
On two islands, we wish each other well
but to reach you, I must cross that sea,
the pain of the past,
the terror of death.
It is easier to wave at you and smile, then turn away.

You want to meet me too!
Would we be blown apart, or sink?
or would we hold the terror,
adults together,
at last, enabled to touch?
We would dance with it.
It is us.

If I can feel all the overwhelming sadness and terror,
might I feel joy as well?

I imagine you asking,
How is your life? What have you been doing with yourself?
I have wrestled my dragon
but not yet climbed on its back.
We watch each other warily.
We want to fly together, and feel land bound.
Nothing, I say. I have stayed in my room for ten years.

You have such presence! they told me. You’re just there!
They missed me when I did not come.
One sees “a lovely air of authority”.
My bafflement increases their enthusiasm.
At last, they make me smile uncertainly.
Could they be right?
What might I do, if they were?