Before I get into the Sociopath thing, let me give you a context. Let me frame my prcess in coming to this in the context of my art. I painted my way through this introspect, and it’s revelations, to create an organic art experience. This writing reflects the art process. Please enjoy the art that sprang from this.
For ten years, I walked the woods of Ellsworth Springs in Vancouver, Washington, teaching my young son in the way Hiawatha was taught (Longfellow poem). Together we listened to the stories whispered from the trees, the bark, the trunks and branches of the old growth that surrounded the springs. The stories of those who visited these delicate, robust woods many generations ago.
Now, as an artist, without my son, I come back to these woods, asking questions that will will be answered, again, by the whisperings of the woods.
The old growth trees told me a story of a slave woman who walked through here, collecting huckleberry and wild cherries. She chose this spot not just for the fruit, to make pies and jellies for her master, but she came seeking endurance.
She stopped by the clear shimmering pool of the spring water and yearned to explore beyond her assigned household, into this unowned Oregon Territory and all of its colors and expanses of texture and chances.
She knew she could not. Those choices were not hers. Her Will and self-determination were owned by someone else. She did not want to go back to that house, where the land speculator had brought her, in lieu of his wife who stayed back in Loussinna. She prayed for endurance, knowing she was going back to The House, and not Out There. The woods recorded her prayer.
The trees whispered to me also of a young french trapper who came to these woods seeking forgiveness. Of what crimes he had committed, the woods did not know, for he didn’t say. But there was something in the way he cradled the Trillium in his hands and bowed his head to that tri-petaled “trinity” flower that spoke of a man who wanted to be released from the burden of his choices. The wood of the trees took note.
Now, Ellsworth Springs has many facets. There is a gutted river bed, a dry tray of soil as old as Methsela, over which the roots of old growth trees are plumped up out in the air, above ground, thriving in complicated tangles.
Those tangles sculpted out sturdy chairs, tables, ladders, benches for woods walkers. And they whispered to me.
They told me of when they were young, and the riverlet was alive. A Native American Woman had flung herself down at the footstool of these trees, drowning in sorrowful sobs and wracking chasms of watery breaths full of grief and loss.
The Oregon Territory and the clash of powers to claim ownership over it had vaporized the bonds and loves of its original peoples. Only these trees and these springs, with their dancing dots of sun spots and the fluttering leaves that turn over colors could fill this woman. She had come here seeking solace.
Over the years that my son and I spent learning in these wooded springs –now the main water resource for a modern city — he soaked in the wisdom, elegance and rugged strength of which the trees bore testament.
Now my son is gone, and I come back to these woods, alone and with an artist’s eye, seeking something that had been missing for everso long that I had never questioned that it was supposed to have been there.
I come here to these woods seeking Self.
I am fifty now. Fifty years ago I was born into a family and a cult community of sociopaths. Persons with power and influence and control who were missing the personality mechanism of empathy. Persons who assumed ownership over the minds and choices of other human beings. For the sake of compulsion, control, even for the sake of hobby and sport.
Persons who used, manipulated, lied, abused, tortured and exploited their children, including myself — and later, my son — for their own narcisistic entitlement. And because seeing fear in another person as a result of their labor gave them great pleasure.
That’s a sociopath. And they bloom in the most eloquent of disguises and charades.
These persons felt no remorse or regret for their destruction in my my life or my son’s life. Only self-pity when confronted with their actions. No accountability, or feeling for the Other. Only justifiications born from the womb of terminal uniqueness.
There are many people who experience this type of childhood, and many grow up without ever having a chance to develop a Self, a sense of identity and boundary and being, with awareness and voice of their internal terrain.
Some, like me, develop a fractured Self. Pieces and compartments.
So I come to these woods, after so many years, seeking a mending of these fractures. I seek One Self, a True Self, I want to have a “Me.”
And as I walked through the woods and visited the glassy waters with the glittery silt and smooth purply stones on the bottom, and painted my way through the travels, I came away with something different than what I sought out toward.
While capturing the motion, light, richness of the tree bark, and the vocabulary of the breeze with brush and palette, I heard a certain whisper.
A strong one. I was beguiled to it. Was it coming from the woods, the trees, the secrets held in the bark? Was it from my last therapy session? Did it come from deep inside and far away?
This whisper turns out to be a huge piece of Claiming My Self: I am not a sociopath. I have empathy. Have had it all along. Through the horridness and beyond. I have empathy, and had it all along
Big deal, so what, doesn’t everybody?
Look at what I know about my family and early cult community: These were people missing the cogwheel of empathy.
The question of today’s Woods Walk is:
How did I develop empathy while growing up isolated in a group of staunch, card-caryying sociopaths? And then, going on to marry one?
When I was asked this question, I was completely perplexed. I did not know how. How was I able to nurture empathy in my son? Because he is overflowing with empathy. And so am I.
I reviewd my soul, my spirit, my heart, my choices and behaviors with my son and my friends and knew this to be so. I have always had, and still have — despite all the cruelty and coldness and abandonment and unjust acts and abuse of my life — I still have empathy. This is suddenly so precious to me. A true sparkling dimaond-studded Gold Card gift.
And this is what the woods whispered to me, that this empathy is precious, above all.
The trees, the tree bark, trunks and branches of my giant leafy fellows had been soaking up my stories and prayers for all those years my son and I found ourselves in their graces. And now, they were whisering the answers back to me.
Like any good ecosystem, what I receive must be planted for new seasons later. So I want to say a few words about how to survive growing up sociopaths, and still nurturing and preserving your empathy.
1. Rebelliousness. Silent to yourself, if it is not safe to do it on the outside, –rebel against what the sociopaths are trying to convince you of. Reject, Repel, Rebel.
2. Cling to what you have to contribute to the world, that which is so much in your cells that no one else can do, or control it, own it, or take it away. Perhaps this is the biggest secret you’ll ever keep, and one to be unleashed in the right environment, at the right time, among persons who respect, cherish and safeguard your gifts.
3. Don’t play their games. Slither out of it. Change the gameboard. Foil their plots. THis is when it is positive thing, to be tricky.
4. Dive into as much literature and art – books, movies, music, etc., — that inspires you to care, feel for and comfort others. Stuff that puts you in the perspective of other person’s shoes, and evokes the emotions the Other experiences. Pick your role models out of what you see outside the sociopathy club.
5. Accept and respect a healthy dose of guilt and regret, sorrow for mistakes, heartache for the pain you have caused others. This tells you that your empathy is still alive. Don’t go into self-abuse over it, but be grateful you still have a conscience.
6. Show your empathy to others, set it up so othat others expect it from you. This will be a beacon to stay on course with your empathy and not abandon or neglect or minimize it. Make yourself accountable to others.
7. Stop trying to fix the sociopaths — they cannot gain empathy after years of having so much fun without it. And they will find a manipulation that will punish you for your efforts.
8. Let yourself bleed. If you can feel, you are still alive. And that means you can love. Let your pain do it’s thing. Let the wounds take their natural course. Let it change your perceptions and your behaviors and choices into better ones. Over-control of natural pain numbs out empaty.
9. Create. Make something tangible — a public speech, a letter to someone, or to yourself, or to your child — or an icon of any type and of your own creation that marks the fact of your empathy. Keep mental notes on how your gift of empathy has increased the depth and breadth of the lives of others.
10. Protect, nourish, defend your empathy. Treasure it even if it is painful to do so, or you have to find new friends to do so. Fight off the raiders of your soul. Sociopaths would love to turn off your light. Go ahead and do battle from time to time.
At 50, and without my son, and not knowing how he is faring amidst his circle of sociopaths, I am youthening. Becoming what my empathy shows me.
This has got to be the most fascinating, unexpected and adventurous off-trail trek I will ever have, second place to the brilliant life of my child.
There are so many who have neither. I am the lucky one.
Turns out the tortoise does win, after all. I started out with the raw end of the deal — turns out, I got the better end of it. The sociopaths are still in their prisons, while I am free.