Staying home from the movies: culture shock and the 2x2s

Today, everyone went off to a movie. I wanted to go. I even bought a ticket, but then I sort of hit a wall and I couldn’t. I was just really too tired. I know that watching a movie only involves sitting in a chair for a while–in this case, for four hours–but even that was too much.

I’ve had a cold, so I blamed it on that, but it’s really not that. Because after an unsuccessful attempt at a tub bath (there is a beautiful, deep tub in my hotel room, but only lukewarm water at the moment) and a cup of tea, I burst into tears.

There is really very little down town in the schedule here. When there is unscheduled time, I feel like I need to be doing something. I still have a cell phone with no SIM card and a laptop with no dongle. I have a bedframe in my house, but I don’t know what size it is, so I don’t know what size mattress to order. I don’t know what kind of heater to buy and I haven’t bought anything for the kitchen, although we’ve seen plenty of dishes and cookware.

The money scares me too. Everyone else is busily converting to dollars–whatever kind of dollars they have in their country, Canadian or Australian. But we’ll be making less than 300 dollars a month. You can’t really do it that way. We’re earning in local currency, not dollars, and so we’ll need to be spending in local currency also.

So I’m anxious about all this, but more than that I’m anxious that I don’t feel clear in my own mind. And gradually it begins to dawn on me: I’m not like everyone else. Among other things, I’m dissociated. I need more time to process new information. It doesn’t just go tumbling nicely into my head. On top of that, I feel anxious when my mind is disorganized. First, because if it’s not organized, I don’t really know if I can function very well. Second, because I feel that old pressure to always make the right decisions as if choosing wisely is still life or death.

That’s why, instead of watching a movie this afternoon, I’m sitting in bed drinking tea and crying over nothing in particular.

This is, in fact, what culture shock is like for me. Culture shock is that point when I’m overwhelmed by too much newness that I don’t have time to work out and I crash in some way, like I did today–just hitting a wall of exhaustion. It’s not shock at Bhutanese culture: we are hardly a part of that. It’s the shock of experiencing our Western culture bubble in the midst of Bhutan.

For lunch, we went out for pizza. Who goes to Bhutan to eat pizza? But it was the first place I’d seen other white people. We aren’t alone in our choice. But I don’t understand it. For various kinds of supplies, we visit a Western-style supermarket–there are several of these–and a few items other people buy you can’t get other places, but mostly they are common items available at any store and in some cases sold elsewhere for lower prices. So why here? Because it’s designed in a way that’s familiar for most people. It’s large, clean, organized, well-lit and has nearly everything you could want.

While TJ says to me at lunch time that he feels calmer and calmer here, I am more and more stressed and anxious. And it’s partly this. They look like me, more or less, but I don’t understand them. I am not like them. I’d rather have a cramped Indian supermarket where the shopkeeper would gather up my items for me. Bhutanese shops here are somewhat in-between: small and cramped, but laid out so that you can pick out your own items. For me, they don’t really take any getting used to for that reason.

At night, I watch English-language television before bed. I need to acclimate to Bhutan soon: At the moment, I need to understand the Western bubble I’m in. I watch them in hopes that I’ll come to understand.

At the same time, it seems I’ve always lived in my own bubble. Two by twos are a collectivist group: they don’t value or appreciate autonomy and independence in the same way that the mainstream culture does. Some of this is in support of a grinding uniformity that prevents independent thought and reasoning. But some of it is to fill the gaping need that wounded people have for connection. In other words, collectivism isn’t all bad.

What makes my head explode is the parts: I don’t believe that collectivism is more comfortable for me although it is. I was told too many times that I stand out to believe that I can carry it off. So I see myself as highly independent, a free-thinker, almost a loner. Consequently, I also behave that way. But I’m not sure how authentic that is.

At the same time, I do feel like an outsider in the group to some extent: I don’t know that that’s accurate or not, but I don’t think that really matters. What’s stressful is feeling, on the one hand, that being an outsider is not allowed. One must always fit in. One must preserve the unity at all costs. And on the other hand, I am not allowed to be a member of this group. They are, themselves, Outsiders. They aren’t the faithful. I should not engage.

Those are the pieces. Maybe I can start putting them together now.


Breaking the Mirror: Cult Recovery and Irrational Fears

I’m contemplating a major change in my life these days.

spring cleaningWhat it makes me want to do first is clean the house. You should always clean before starting something new. This is my motto. It has been for the whole of my life.

But cleaning depresses me. So I get a bit stuck.

Cleaning reminds me of the years spent cleaning my parents’ house when I lived there, and the despair at being a slave, a machine, someone who did things but wasn’t supposed to feel things or want things.  Which is why I’m not cleaning. And I’m also not taking any steps toward the change I want.

I am just sitting here. Feeling anxious.

Anxious about cleaning. And also anxious about the nature of the change.

I’m not, as far as I can tell, very anxious about change in general. Change in my life has generally meant good things. Change is a breath of fresh air. Change is escape.

But this change. I’m anxious about this one.

Why? I’ll tell you. Because it’s what I want.

For 2×2 readers, you’ll know what I mean. I am taking my own way. I may even be giving in to the pleasures of the flesh. I am certainly being proud.

I’m being selfish. I have not asked for God’s guidance in this. I haven’t prayed. I have not consulted any higher authority on this. It’s like breaking a mirror before you go out. Bad luck, bad luck, bad luck.

mirrorIf you weren’t raised in a cult, it can be hard to comprehend the strength of the irrational fears that linger. Pyschoanalytic theories seem to think we are most afraid of social disapproval and rejection or the judgment of authority figures. I want to slap my knee. That’s a good one. Ha-ha!

I am afraid of being hit by a car and left paralyzed, unable to work or manage my own life anymore. I am afraid of being killed in a random robbery. I am afraid not of social disapproval, but of God’s disapproval and that he will show it by destroying what is left of my life.

If you’ve ever sat around the table on a Sunday afternoon after meeting, shaking your head over the plight of some poor soul who was “led astray” then you’ll know what I mean. The warnings about what will happen to you if you break the rules are woven into the conversation so skillfully you don’t even notice they are there. Not until you start breaking those rules.

And then you find yourself wondering why you look so carefully before crossing a street, why it’s so hard to sleep, why you feel oddly afraid.

But car accidents were big when I was growing up. As was drug and alcohol use and HIV. Those were the things that might happen if you took your own way, gave in to the pleasures of the flesh, or became proud.

Those are the ways God might take his revenge. Here, on earth, where you can be an example to others.

The Long Dark Tunnel

Most of getting better for me has involved sitting with memories and simply being with them, being with myself while I relieve them in very intense and seemingly real ways. This kind of being with them can feel like ascending into the Underworld or entering a long, dark tunnel.


Sometimes, I come back from these little trips with bits of understanding. Other times I am just exhausted. But going there and coming back into normal life again, with the cat on the bed grooming herself, and the dust on my shelves and the laundry and things really not being so bad seem to be part of the process.

I set aside time for this–less as the years go by. It is a part of my weekend routine most certainly, and it used to be part of my daily routine. Not pleasant, I can tell you, but necessary.

I made one of those little trips down that long-dark tunnel into horror this morning and I came back with this little treasure. I thought perhaps others might be able to relate to it, so I thought I would share. And there is also an irony to it, so I thought I’d share that as well.

To so many people, I was only a body growing up. A hollow vessel, suitable for shoving things inside, capable perhaps of doing things also. I was, after all, enslaved. But for the people who used me, there was no expectation that anything existed inside me–no soul, no will, no feelings of my own. Only a body.

A lot of survivors of various kinds of abuse feel a split from their bodies, a distance. The body is the site of such intense pain, sometimes shame. I suppose I feel that too. But mostly I feel a profound desire to be more than simply a vessel, more than only a body that can do things. I want to be what I really am: a person, with a soul, and desires and feelings.

The irony I mentioned earlier is that the religious cult I grew up impressed upon me the same kind of split, but from the other direction. We were expected only to be soul, to deny our bodies, but also our individual will, desire, feelings, and ego. I’m not really sure what is left after that, or what is really meant by the soul in that context, but the fact is we were spoken about as empty vessels who also denied the importance of bodies. But still vessels.

I know I don’t want to be a vessel. I don’t think we were meant to be vessels. I think we were meant to be people, all filled up inside.