love poem to the monsters under my bed

I am trying to wrap my mind around an aspect of Adverse Childhood Experience Scores. Ace scores.

Raised in war or chaos or an addiction household or a crazy household, kids do their best to survive and thrive. I acknowledge that first. “You survived your terrible and terrifying childhood. You are amazing. You have crisis wiring in your brain. You had to wire that way in order to survive.”

And what does that mean? High alert, high adrenaline, high cortisol, reactive. One veteran says that the military loved him being able to go from zero to 60 instantly.

“Yes, and how is that serving you now?” I ask. “Do you want to change it?”

“No.” he says.

“Why not?” I say.

“Because I know I can protect myself.”

He can protect himself, as I can too. But being on the alert for a crisis, being good in a crisis, being able to fire up like a volcano, is that what I want and is that what he wants? If not, how do we change it?

I think of it as being able to see monsters. Other people’s monsters. My crisis childhood wiring is to pay attention to the non-verbal communication: what people do not what people say. The body language, the tone of voice, what the person is not saying in words, when someone is being polite but the body language is a shut down, a rejection, a dismissal, posturing, aggressive, they don’t like me no matter what the words are, belittling. But if I or my high ACE score patients respond to the body language and emotional feeling, we have named the monster. And the person is being “polite” and will not admit to the monstrous feelings. Those feelings are unconscious or at least the person does not want to admit if they are at all conscious.

In clinic I have learned to dance with the monstrous feelings. I don’t always succeed, but I keep leveling up. It’s a matter of delicacy, inviting the person to admit the monstrous. Some do, some don’t, some don’t the first time or second or third, but the fourth time the monsters are brought out. And they aren’t monstrous feelings after all. They are normal. All I do then is listen and say that the feeling sounds normal for what is happening. It’s like letting off a steam valve.

So how do I and my high ACE score folks learn to do this in social settings as well? When someone is talking to me with a monstrous feeling, meanly, I challenge it. Because I am not afraid of that monstrous feeling. But I have then broken a social contract and the person will like me even less then they already did. And maybe that monstrous feeling is not really about me at all. It’s about their own current life events and the feelings that they try not to feel, are ashamed of, are afraid of. It’s not polite of me to challenge that feeling in a social setting, I am not this person’s doctor or therapist and they didn’t ask me. It’s hard because I feel so sorry for the monstrous feeling and for the person feeling it. I am moving to compassion and love for that feeling rather than taking it as directed at me, taking it personally.

That is my intention. We will see how well it goes.

A natuopath told me to have the intention to release old grief. It’s not old grief though. It’s ongoing grief. Grief for all of the monstrous feelings that swirl around daily and the monsters that are not loved. Most people try to ignore them. I don’t. I love them, because someone has to and because they are so lonely and sad. They are crying. Don’t you hear them? That’s what love is, when you can love your own monstrous feelings and other people’s too.

And our own are the hardest.

ACE study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html

I took the photograph in the Ape Caves, the lava tube at Mount St. Helen’s.

Tickle me, dear

One of my favorite halloween and nonsense poems ever is The Lugubrious Whing-Whang by James Whitcomb Riley.

I don’t remember the first two stanzas very well. I think that someone, my mother, my father or my maternal grandfather, would read it to me starting with the third stanza. I loved the sounds and the mystery of the rhymes from very young. When we are very young, many words are mysterious. At some point I gathered that the Whing-Whang was a monster and was imaginary, but to a small child it’s hard to tell what is real and what is not. And then there is Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and the Great Pumpkin and religion and what is one to believe?

The rhyme o’ The Raggedy Man’s ‘at’s best
Is Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs,–
‘Cause that-un’s the strangest of all o’ the rest,
An’ the worst to learn, an’ the last one guessed,
An’ the funniest one, an’ the foolishest.–
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

I don’t know what in the world it means–
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!–
An’ nen when I _tell_ him I don’t, he leans
Like he was a-grindin’ on some machines
An’ says: Ef I _don’t_, w’y, I don’t know _beans!_
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!–

Out on the margin of Moonshine Land,
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
Out where the Whing-Whang loves to stand,
Writing his name with his tail in the sand,
And swiping it out with his oogerish hand;
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

Is it the gibber of Gungs or Keeks?
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
Or what _is_ the sound that the Whing-Whang seeks?–
Crouching low by the winding creeks
And holding his breath for weeks and weeks!
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

Aroint him the wraithest of wraithly things!
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
‘Tis a fair Whing-Whangess, with phosphor rings
And bridal-jewels of fangs and stings;
And she sits and as sadly and softly sings
As the mildewed whir of her own dead wings,–
Tickle me, Dear,
Tickle me here,
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

I love the idea of lonesome ribs, longing to be tickled. And the Whing-Whang is a monster or something lonely and frightening, but he too longs for love, even with fangs and stings. He longs for a monster to love him, even with mildewed and dead wings. Aren’t we all afraid that we are monsters and that we cannot be truly loved?

I took the photo in 2006, our family summer cabin from the early 1940s in Ontario, Canada.
Also published on everything2.com.