Yesterday, I called “Uncle.” I was done. Over. Wounded. A tearful, salty mess on Valentine’s Day, when I thought I was long past those days. It wasn’t my husband or long lost secret crush that brought me to that place, but strangers. Yep, freaking strangers on the Internet.
I know, someone call the wahmbulance. Mary Tyler Mom got her feelings hurt. Boo to the hoo.
Truth is, I have been at the receiving end of some fairly hard core Internet hate for weeks now. And for the record, I use the true definition of hate as it was intended, “intense and passionate dislike,” that results in malicious attempts to hurt or harm others. Disagreement is not what I mean. There are lots and lots of folks who disagree with me and my POV and that is always welcome. Hate is irrational, disagreement is rational. And welcome.
When a piece I wrote about adoption was featured on the Huffington Post last month, it attracted the attention of a particularly rabid subculture of haters. Ones that I didn’t know even existed. That was a wake up call. And the hate was significant and brutal enough where I severed an agreement made with my editors over there to publish any future post I wrote about adoption. That hurt, as I had fanciful hopes that our next child coming to us through adoption might be found through my writing, and The Huffington Post is a national platform where my words are exposed to a whole new set of eyes.
This week the hate has been much more contained, and with less volume, but no less personal and biting. I dared write about my feelings related to the language used to describe sick and deceased children. My feelings on my blog. Well, 1,300 of you “liked” it, and man, did that feel validating, as many that I heard from were other parents of sick and deceased children who felt the same way.
What didn’t feel so good were the parents of sick and deceased children who did not feel the same way, and sadly, felt shamed and criticized by me. Yeah, that was not my intent. Ever. What works for me does not work for everyone. Of course, that is the case, but because I have a voice and use it and that voice is recognized, it carries some weight. My intent with “Angels and Warriors” was to cast a bright light on words and language and to explain how the words and language most commonly used to describe my Donna never felt good or right or comforting. End of story.
Honestly, I knew the “Angels and Warriors” post would cause a stir. I did. I knew it was a risk because I was removing a defense. As a trained clinical social worker, I know that a cardinal rule of therapy is NOT to remove a defense if you have nothing to replace it. My words did just that: I trashed the defense that employs metaphors and romanticized imagery of angels and warriors to describe children with cancer. I knew and accepted that risk going in, knowing that it would most likely hurt some parents I know and respect who take comfort with those metaphors and imagery.
Because I write so openly about Donna and pediatric cancer, I get a tremendous amount of support from those near and far. Many, many of the kind notes I receive refer to Donna as an angel and me as a warrior. Each time I read a note of support I feel grateful, but each time I am called a warrior or Donna is called an angel, it stings. If I am a warrior, that means I am some sort of super hero that can handle each and every thing that comes my way. If Donna is an angel, it means that she is flitting amongst the clouds, happy and peaceful as a clam.
Here is the truth. I am a mom. Right this very second I am sitting at my dining room table writing these words. My dishwasher is humming in the next room, the clothes are moving through their own wash cycle downstairs. My boy is playing with some Lego trains about ten feet away. I am a mom. No more, no less. I have no weapons, no shields, no super powers. I am a mom with a keyboard.
Now I get that that can be a powerful thing. Clearly, or neither of us would be here, right? And I work hard to honor the power my words hold for folks. I always employ respect. I have grown that way. I used to trash Gwyneth Paltrow for fun. It’s not fun anymore, since I realized that when I trash Gwyneth in a clever and pithy way, others take it as a cue to call her a word used to describe female genitalia that I choose not to use. Me making fun of her calling Chicago BBQ “meat heavy” was suddenly translating into a whole lot of heavy, ugly hate. I stopped that. I am happy I did so.
Me writing about the defenses we use to cope with pediatric cancer also lead to a whole lot of heavy, ugly hate. My beautiful Donna and other children whose parents had commented to offer support were being exploited and called horrible, twisted things.
That is not okay. And, yeah, dammit, I have feelings about that.
Apparently, having feelings about Internet hate that is being heaped and piled on me is a silly thing to do. I am told time and time and time again to ignore the hate. Move on. Embrace my supporters. Rise above. Don’t let the haters win, blah, blah, blah.
That’s all fine and good. Honestly, I wish I were a better, stronger writer that could do that. Truth is, as already pointed out, I am a mom at her dining room table. Not a warrior. Not a super hero with deflective powers. When people suggest I am a cold, thieving, narcissistic, heartless, self-righteous, baby stealing mother of worm food, yeah, guess what? IT HURTS.
Don’t feed the beast, I am told. Don’t respond to the hate, is the rule. Here’s the deal. I don’t make the rookie mistake of feeding the trolls. I never responded once to the Huff Post hate, which is it’s own premium, top shelf brand of hate. Not once. I was, though, guilty of reading the hateful things about me. Yep. Guilty of that. And made to feel stupid and weak because of that. Just walk away, I was told. Don’t read it.
I gots to say, I have a whole new level of empathy for kids bullied through social media. It pulls you in, it does. I am trying and learning, but my first time as a target of lots and lots and lots of hate, I failed. I read every sick and twisted word about me. Yep, I did. And I kept it to myself for the most part. Just me and the hate. Opted not to write about it. Opted not to send the amazing followers of this here blog and Facebook page to the site to defend me. Nope. Didn’t do any of that. I am guilty of just reading it and carrying that shit around with me until it wears off. My defense with Huff Post was to opt out of publishing anything that makes me or my family too vulnerable. The sad truth is that I haven’t written a single thing about adoption since. I am still feeling bruised and battered.
In my own safe place, here at MTM, I ban and delete when I see offensive remarks, as soon as I am near a device that will allow me to do that. But if I am out with my boy and waiting for him to get out of school, and happen to check my comments in the car and see some hard core, hateful garbage written by a pathetic stranger taunting me? Well, I have no way to deal with that on an iPhone. This here MTM enterprise is me. Just me. There are no other admins, no one managing the fires at home. Just me. And as has been made patently clear, I lack the super hero street cred and yep, have pesky feelings that get hurt.
But damn if I will stop. Writing is release and connection and probably the single healthiest thing I do for myself. It hurts like freaking hell when people shit on that. It does. My go to response is to withdraw, hole up, and seek comfort in chocolate and a down comforter. My haters would love that, wouldn’t they? Such is the price I pay for exposing my vulnerabilities on this here Internet.
Cowardly haters love to say that when you put yourself out there, as I do, you best expect folks to have a response, and it won’t always be pretty. Problem with that logic is that the same rationale is used to blame the victim in rape cases — “She asked for it,” “She was dressed provocatively,” “She was walking alone at night,” yada yada yada. That is not acceptable. I do not mean to diminish the pain and suffering of rape victims, nor to equate my hurt and bruised feelings with those of a rape victim, only to demonstrate how hate works in our culture and on the Internet. People who violate others, either tangibly or intangibly, will always suggest they were provoked, that their hateful actions are justified.
By writing about my family’s wish to adopt and by writing about how I cope in my grief, I do not ask to be sliced and diced on the Internet. But I am and it hurts. My words cost me, expressing my opinions and POV cost me something. The question, then, becomes, how much am I willing to pay? How much am I willing to share? How much am I willing to expose? I hate that the onus is on me, but truth is truth. The onus is on me.
I am figuring it out. In the meantime, fuck you, haters. Seriously, fuck you.