Hurricane Katrina was two years ago today. It was also my cat’s fifth birthday. Today he is seven. He has lost two fangs in the intervening time and Louisiana has lost two fangs as well. I have lost a molar to Katrina-related family tragedy, still unresolved, but I have gained four fangs by rejecting Reeducation. The following post is one more of the many I wrote in the two July weeks during which I accomplished this feat.
Here is why Reeducation was such a distraction. In essence, it said:
1. Consider the possibility that what you feel may not be what you feel.
2. Slowly – in the way that the characters in The Magic Mountain convince themselves that they have tuberculosis – convince yourself of this.
3. Decide, if you can, that what you feel is in fact something else – that you feel something far less healthy – that, in fact, you feel as we expect you to feel.
4. Now, try to learn how not to feel this thing which you do not in fact feel, but have just, on our instructions, tried so hard to convince yourself that you should and may perhaps feel.
5. At no time trust yourself.
That was the deal, and that was why it was all so strange, and so utterly disabling. It was very reminiscent of the more dysfunctional situations I had ever been in, except that now it was called the road to health. The fact that the road to health looked so much like what, heretofore, I would have called utter insanity was the most confusing aspect of all.
And I thought it could not be, and that I must have misunderstood, but the messages kept on being these. And they seemed ludicrous, but since I did not leave soon enough, I absorbed them. And I was too stubborn to leave without getting what I had come for, and too willing to believe that the reason for this was that I had not worked hard enough or waited patiently enough.
To walk around with these messages was to carry a great weight. With each step I had to lift not only myself but their enormous building. It is amazing what a light and lithe spirit one can be when not surrounded by that Gothic structure.
Now I am drawing a magic circle around myself. The world as constructed in Reeducation is gone. The lightness is amazing. I could do gymnastics. I could fly right through all my books and into the great, uncharted skies like a jet-powered, pointy-nosed aeroplane.
One could go (and I have gone) into long, convoluted speculations on how it was that I fell prey to this. On how, for instance, I managed to recreate the situation of me, the five year old, but now writ large and overly Gothicized. I was certainly frozen to the spot, and I certainly found myself unable to avert my eyes from the Horror.
One of the most essential points is how anti-feminist Reeducation was. In high school, college, and beyond we had had feminism. We learned that we need no longer believe the things we had been told earlier on about resignation to unreasonable limits. In Reeducation, however, we learned that what we had been told originally was in fact true. And not only was it reality, it was also health. Many manipulative techniques were used to beat this into us. This was the bad news of Reeducation, the true Horror.
This Horror was perpetuated through emphasis on the examination of the soul, the discovery of sin, repentance, and confession. This ritual was traumatic. It retrained us such that life became much more difficult. One could no longer simply act in accordance with ones lights and tastes. Everything had an underlying motive, and these motives were necessarily dark. Every feeling must be mistrusted and second-guessed, every decision guilt ridden and drawn out.
In Reeducation as in many forms of education for women, self-doubt and self-torture were absolutely required. If you had come to Reeducation, it must be that you needed these. It was utterly improper to have a positive self-image, to feel innocent, or to think you knew what you were doing. You must find and confess your imperfections, mourn and repent.
I was surprised and horrified by this news, but I still learned the lessons. I have spoken a great deal about self-doubt in these pages, but what I have not said explicitly is that I began to be able to distance myself from Reeducation when I realized one sunny day that I had known before that self-torture was a bad thing, that through Reeducation I had somehow installed an automatic self-torture machine, and that I could authorize myself to turn it off right then. I could pull it out by its roots.
And it is not useful to reinflict old wounds, or to inflict new ones. Nor is it a crime to live sparely, and innocently, and in the light.
Perhaps truest or deepest Horror of Reeducation was perhaps not its misogynist content but its inquisitorial form. Reeducation claimed not to be religious and indeed, although it mimics religions it would not pass muster with a real one. It was like being in a Puritan cult and Agent Orange, an analyst of the 12 steps, makes some good points on faux religiosity in his Snake Oil chapter. Agent Orange is bright, and I recommend his whole book which is not just for 12 step refugees but for anyone living anywhere the 12 steps have penetrated the culture.
And people say that the 12 steps do not have to be inflected with Christianity, but I note that they do require a belief in a monotheistic, personalistic God who watches over one, and the enactment of a series of self-flagellation rituals. I further note that many of the “spiritual” beliefs they espouse are far less advanced, although more convoluted, than what you can get from any actual religious text.
Although I have shed a great deal of Reeducation I still have noticeable trouble just doing as I like and see fit some days, remaining confident, uncrippled, innocent. Every day I must remind myself that I can and in fact should now act and respond in freedom.