Archive for the ‘real life’ Category

Welcome aboard! Please stow your baggage (emotional and otherwise) in the overhead compartment or completely under the seat in front of you. Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride as we fly through the randomness that pours out of a writer’s mind when she has spent too many hours sitting on planes…

 

***

 

I always thought I would be a good mother because I had such an exceptional example of a mother to follow. My mother made many mistakes along her way, but her love and sacrifice for her children were flawless. I did not seem to inherit those attributes.

Now, I am aware that I am far superior to the crackhead who births her baby addicted or the resentful woman who leaves her children loveless or even the hypercritical mother who can never be pleased. However, at the most simple, I am just too selfish. There is too much ME in my mother-child relationships.

Maybe it was because my mother loved me too well, implanting the seed that I mattered so much. Maybe it was because my mother’s love cost her so dearly, her sacrifices so grand and painful that I refused to duplicate them.

I do love my children, completely and whole-heartedly, but I also do sometimes resent the demands of being their mother–mental and physical. I think I would have made a much better father with the elimination of the physical requirements and reduction of the social demands of motherhood.

I wonder if the guilt I feel at this maternal deficiency indicates I care or only signifies what I’ve been told I should feel. I wonder how my mothering style will shape my children. Will it teach them to maintain and prioritize themselves even in the troughs of love, like I hope it will? Or will they internalize my lack of obligatory doting and masochistic self-sacrifice and blame themselves?

At the bottom of it, I think about aircraft safety procedures. Perhaps because I just had to listen to them recited yet again. Put your mask on before you put on theirs. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. I also think about how children learn by watching more than being told. I want to live a life I would be happy to proud to see them live, a life where they always mattered and advocated for themselves, a life where they did what they needed but also made sure to do what they wanted.

Or all of this is what I tell myself to help swallow the lump of mom guilt that has swelled up in my throat with each day of this business trip.

 

***

 

This has to stop. It has been too long. I am too fucking old and smart for this to continue. I did not work my ass off to tame bipolar unmedicated to be dismantled by a bullshit eating disorder. I did to adapt so far as to expertly manipulate myself and others to be seduced and swayed by a sad, shallow cultural flaw.

I refuse to continue to define myself by standards I do not ascribe to other people. Cognitively, I get it. Logically, I know the truth. Yet something about my deformed emotions and that scar tissue in my brain keeps me imprisoned in this utterly fruitless cycle of self-loathing.

My body does not help as it relentlessly undermines me. I am continually undone by its incessant betrayal. I had figured it out. I had successfully decoded dieting and slipped the noose of bulimia. My body decided to reward me by heaving a large wrench into the machine–into me.

Fasting was the answer. My body granted me an entire year of success and freedom before invalidating the accord. The weight flooded back on and the madness, the fixation, the obsession that it inspires. Causality no longer aligned. Unearned consequences twisted my perceptions into deformed figments. Right back down to the bottom, sinking like a heavy stone.

I tried all the things–past failures and successes. I went to the doctor and a nutritionist. I went back to binge-enticing restrictive diets. I returned to injury-demanding levels of exercise. All roads slammed into the same fat wall. Yet I can’t relent or abandon any of them for fear that I will continue to inflate.

So, I am back to my Hell–starving myself, punishing my body, scrutinizing my reflection, fixating on the numbers. I am back to obsessing about things that do not matter.

It has to stop.

I realize I cannot control my body, so I, once again, need to tame my mind. I need to remove my damage from the equation.

As age continues to wear on my body at an accelerating rate, I realize that youth has nearly entirely slipped from my grasp. I will only steadily continue to wrinkle and sag and reform. Do I want to waste the preceding time wishing I was something else, the way I regret hating my many youthful states before now? Do I want to reduce my assessment of my body to the numbers on a scale or measurement of any circumference, dismissing the dance vocabulary it has learned, the strength it has built to climb mountains, its bizarre flexibility? Do I need to forsake everything to be “skinny”…

And WHY?

What does it matter against a clever and successful mind? What does it get me as I am already loved?

When I ask the questions, I know the answers–without hesitation. Yet these old and perverse trains of thought still snake and steam through my mind on distorted tracks. My emotions trickle and pour through the canyons worn by my eating disorder like bad habits. The core of me always reels for the familiar comfort of hating myself.

But I cannot claim that I will not waste a moment of chronological life to then squander my emotional life like this. The words and compulsions and habits of my former mind are not true; they do not need to be heeded.

I can let it go. I can exercise because I love it and it balances me. I can eat clean because it is beneficial to my body and makes me feel physically better. I can make these choices for my own wellness rather than an aesthetic.

Because this has to stop.

It is killing me and poisoning my days. It gains me NOTHING. It has to stop.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling
Advertisements

Exposure

Posted: May 28, 2019 in real life
Tags: , , , , , ,

Sometimes, I think I need to learn to shut up. Just a little bit.

My aunt died last week. Her death was rapid and largely unexpected. We, as a nuclear family, hurried on a plane and attempted to race the reaper out there. We did not win. Instead, we were there to say goodbye before she was cremated and to help absorb the initial impact with our extended family.

My family is bipolar. Not in the sense of the actual disorder but in the extremes of the emotionality of its members. We have one extreme who cannot keep their emotions in, who talk too much and share too much, who misdirect their anguish into inane irritations better left ignored (read: me). And we have the opposite extreme who cannot let their emotions out. At times like these, the space between these poles seems all the wider.

When I was in Iraq, I openly and publicly blogged about my sadness, confusion, and rage. This did not shock or alarm any of the guys who were stuck with me in the trailer every day because they heard me singing those same notes loudly beside them. However, stateside management assumed that I struggled in silence, packing my emotions like an IED, wiring myself to combust at any time. This made me a liability and resulted in mandatory meetings with my boss anytime I posted.

J: Did you post a blog today?
C: Yep.

J: Are you OK?
C: Yep.

And on we would go. That kind of transparency, that aggressive emotional expression was uncommon in a war zone. Perhaps it was inappropriate there too. Maybe all of those words were better sealed in my paper journal, unseen and unread.

I have been hesitant to write anything about this since biding the hours in Minnesota, since my flight home. I know my compulsion for expression and my emotional transparency and needs make times like these more difficult for my family who is not that way. I can read it off of them, yet I cannot stop myself. When I try, I end up doing the same things, only larger and sloppier. The only thing that makes the tragedy sting more is the idea that my constant words and waves of feelings make it worse for any of the rest of us grieving.

I worry that my family would not want me to publicly air the events, that it is something she would not want me to post about. Granted, if she was here, she would probably be too busy living her full life to be concerned with what her niece was rambling about on the internet. While some prefer to fold into themselves, I am the annoying bard, documenting everything and sharing too often.

Instead of publicly processing this family event or analyzing the differences in my family, I will shift the spotlight solely to myself, preserving family integrity through unabashed narcissism.

So, this experience, like so many before it, has left me questioning if I should reign it in, put a cork in my emotions and expressions and start keeping some of them inside.

I question this with my children. Am I too honest with them? Do I tell them too much, expose them to things too early? Is this one of the many ways I will damage them?

I question this with my job. Should I say less? Share less? Should I draw a harder line between professional and personal? Should I keep my complaints or irritations more quiet?

I question this with my writing. Should I stick to fiction and keep myself out of it? Should I put myself out there less, promote and push less? Should I write under a pen name? Should I separate my work and my life?

I wonder if I should insulate myself from the world a bit, retract back from other people a little. Perhaps I need to try to grow a filter, in all aspects of life. Truthfully though, I don’t know if I can anymore. My radical honesty, unfiltered demeanor, and emotional sharing has been steadily increasing as I age. Like a runaway train.

Likely, many things might be easier, maybe even better, if I was able to temper myself. It could simplify my life, avoid certain issues. Maybe I would be easier for some people to deal with, more palatable. But it wouldn’t be me. People frequently ask me why I write horror, why I would pick that genre. My answer is always that horror is what was already in my head and I just have to let it out. The same is true with all of my emotional expression, sharing, and exhibitionism. I have to let it out. There is no room in my head and my heart for all that flourishes there. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it if it was all trapped within me.

As far as why I have to share it, I think it makes it feel real. With so many figments in my mind, I almost need another witness to confirm the experience. And I crave connection and community, both virtually and tangibly. I have been opening a window to my mind on the internet since blogging first started.

In the end, I don’t know. The way I am may be helpful in some situations, hurtful in others. It may comfort one person, irritate another. I don’t know how to manufacture a demeanor or tame the one within me, so it doesn’t really matter. We are stuck with what I am and the volume at which I express it.

As far as my individual experience with my aunt, she was a strong influence in my childhood. The last time I saw her was last summer. Hard to believe that has spiraled into nearly a year ago. I was in Minneapolis for work. She insisted on picking me up from the airport and having me stay with her, even on driving me to my meeting the next day. And that is where she and I end and my memory of her lives on. Not beside her last hospital bed but as she gave me sage woman wisdom about work and life, things I should have long figured out already, as we shared a beer and a meal.

Typing it out makes that moment feel more vivid, documents it somewhere outside of myself.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

Go with It

Posted: January 10, 2019 in military, nonfiction, psychology, real life, survival

As our plane began to land in Baghdad, it went dark. The crew extinguished the cabin lights, floor lighting, exit lights, indicators. The resulting black consumed us, startling and unnerving. It felt so unnatural to be floating in a darkened aircraft. If it weren’t for the engines still vibrating under the wings, the plane could have been mistaken for coasting dead. A few passengers tugged their window shades down to solidify the darkness.

The more experienced contractor beside me leaned over.

“They go dark so hostiles can’t target the plane from the ground as we land. They’ll use any small bit of light,” he whispered. “Oh, and be prepared for the evasive landing.”

He eased back into his own seat, gathered up his phone, and brought the bright screen to his face, a tiny beacon of light broadcasting to the open window. Confusion contorted my brow as I stared at him, dumbfounded. If a seatbelt light could get a rocket launched at us, why did he have his phone blazing in his face? It near-blinded me against the dark. I just kept looking from him to the open window beside us.

The plane descended toward the small lights below as my heart ascended into my throat. The shapes on the ground dilated in size. Pinpoints of light grew into buildings and roads; the dots articulated into the darkened city. My body automatically braced itself out of practice, habit from so many plane landings. I knew what the final descent should feel like, the way a gentle suspense gripped the air until the ground hopped up into the tires. Instead, the plane glided down then banked sharply. I groped startled at my armrest.

Anxiously, I glanced around me. No other passengers reacted. No one spoke. They sat as if nothing happened. The man beside me remained glued to his glowing phone, inviting the enemy to shoot us down.

The evasive landing.

No one else reacted, so I took a deep breath and went with it.

As I stepped out of the plane and onto the gravel in the surprisingly cold Iraqi night, I smelled only shit and burnt fireworks. I stood alone, unsure where I needed to go next—a 25-year-old female civilian contractor in an active warzone.

A week later, after I had been placed in my freezing trailer, been orientated to camps Victory, Liberty, and Slayer, and began riding the first unfathomable wave of homesickness, I headed to lunch with two fellow software trainers. Bored with the low level of service requests in the training trailer, Charlie and Ed decided we should venture away from the main dining facility (DFAC) and burn time traveling in the dented, dusty Mitsubishi Pajero to one farther from our trailer.

In the DFAC, we sat on metal folding chairs at plastic tables. Charlie hunched across from me, a tapestry of tattoos crawling from his jaw to his hands. Ed rest beside me in a bright blue polo shirt and fauxhawk. I nibbled on my grilled cheese and cantaloupe as they attempted to dazzle or unnerve me with their military stories, as always.

A siren shrieked through the air. The sound snatched my breath, tangled it in my throat. The piercing tone was followed by a flat voice repeating, “Incoming imminent. Incoming imminent.”

I threw wide eyes at Ed then Charlie. They continued to eat uninterrupted as if they had heard nothing at all. The third country national (TCN) workers came flooding out from the kitchen and huddled under the flimsy tables. Soldiers sat on the floor and crouched beside the buffet lines. I looked around at all the people on the floor, waiting.

“They do that because the kitchen doesn’t have any T-walls,” Charlie said, still chewing. “A while ago, a rocket landed on a kitchen. Killed all the TCNs.”

Ed sat casually, gathering a bite on his fork as he watched the TCNs unaffected. My heart battered my ribs. I tried to force out calm breaths and keep my face slack as my eyes roamed. My back tightened, and my posture stiffened.

Charlie looked at me.

“Look, there’s not a damn thing sitting under this table is going to do if a rocket hits this DFAC. If it’s our time, it’s our time,” he said, shrugging and looking down to his food.

They both resumed eating. I sliced my melon with shaking hands and shoved a bite into my mouth, unable to taste it. I took a breath and went with it.

The all clear sounded, followed by an annoying series of tones. Whining smoke detectors replaced the noise to complain about the unattended food left burning. Gradually, everyone got up and returned to their stations. Back to normal, like nothing ever happened.

Later that shift, I sat at my desk in the trailer, letting my fingers dance on the dusty keys of my laptop. I typed away, jamming software procedures into a user guide when a whooshing sound rippled past the trailer, nearly indistinguishable from the sound of an incoming helicopter as it crossed the wire and passed over us.

A boom echoed off in the distance; then a small vibration rumbled against the soles of my boots. Another deeper sound erupted in response, closer and louder. A ripping burst then a pause followed by crackling explosions in the air. I tensed and looked toward the ceiling as if I could see something of what was happening.

“C-RAM,” one of the guys mumbled.

A second rocket hit, far away. A second C-RAM answered.

The trailer fell silent, thick with anticipation, waiting for more. Another rocket, another C-RAM to rebut it. That burnt smell swelled in the air, so thick it spread onto my tongue, that same smell that assaulted me at my first step off the plane.

A voice in the distance declared the all clear, transient as if broadcast from a helicopter. Soldiers arrived in the trailer for accountability, to ensure we were all present and still alive. As we stood in the dark beside our T-wall lined with a single strand of Christmas lights, our jingle T-wall, we heard the sirens traveling in the distance. The rockets had hit something.

In the dark, I took a breath and went with it.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

2018 was a wild and busy year for me. Most of all, it was the year of the horror anthology. Take a look at what 2018 looked like for my publications.

Publications

January: “Jack Frost,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Grand Slam” in 100 Word Horrors
June: “After the Screaming Stopped” in Graveyard Girls
August: “Upgraded” in Demonic Household
ChristinaBergling_Upgraded_DEMONICHOUSEHOLD.jpg
August: “Personas” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (nonfiction)
August: “Look What You Made Me Do” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (fiction)
August: “Whole” and “Under the Rapids” in Ink and Sword Magazine
September: “Duende” in Collected Christmas Horror Shorts 2
October: “Zoltara” in Carnival of Horror
October: “Freaks” in Carnival of Nightmares
CON Banner.png

Festivals

I attended my first author book signing event, Behind the Mask in Nashville, TN.
IMG_20180224_092557_244.jpg
As has become an annual tradition, I attended the Telluride Horror Show.
IMG_20181014_195501_940.jpg
My reviews for The Dark, Terrified, and Mega Time Squad are published on Daily Dead.
My other festival reviews are on my blog:
The year also saw me launch into some collaborations with other authors, a horror photographer, and an artist and return to performing as a belly dancer. It was a full, busy, and successful year.
Looking to 2019, I hope to add more books to my publication list, including a new novel. I also hope to be able to release more from my new collaborations.
I cannot thank you all enough for the support you give me. I wish you the warmest holidays and the best new year. And if you’re in the mood for some festive horror, check out my 12 Days of Christmas Horror

This is some kind of white girl in a horror movie shit, I thought to myself as I crunched down the dark path through the woods, marching toward our cabin to fetch my daughter a blanket.

The waves of girlish screams of the Girl Scout bonfire faded behind me as the trees seemed to embrace me in solitude. The sounds of the camp dissipated at my back, and the swish of my jeans and crunch of my sneakers became the only sound in the darkness.

I pointed the penlight flashlight ahead of me, chasing its halo over the gravel. A vague anxiety scratched over the length of my skin, a physical echo of the bad idea I was currently consummating.

This is how dumb bitches like you die, the rational voice in my head echoed again, sending the anxious tickles on my hair follicles on harder edge.

Look, crazy, the other half of my brain chimed in, there is no random hobo living under the cabin. This camp is so high traffic and loud there is no way wildlife is hanging out here. Did you hear those girls screaming? You are fine. You watch too much fucking horror. Stop being crazy.

I breathed out deliberately, forcing the weight of my exhalation down to suppress my heart rate as it climbed foolishly in my chest. I reminded myself I was a horror writer. I evidenced to myself all the horrendous things I voluntarily watched. And read. And wrote. And told myself it was not foreshadowing of how I was going to die but rather healthy desensitization to not freak out in mundane situations like walking alone in the dark in the woods.

Yet my heart punched against my rib cage nonetheless.

Don’t be stupid, rational me began again. You can walk to a cabin in the dark at Girl Scout camp. You will be fine.

I continued scraping down the road, swinging the beam of my flashlight across the length of the road. I listened acutely to the how loud my denim pants had become in the void of the night. I articulated the twisted branches and fluttering leaves against the light of the moon. Suddenly, the brief hike seemed so long and wide.

Between the dark trees, I was finally able to make out the circle of lights from our cabins. I ambled down the small hill to make the turn and ascend into our campsite. Then I saw the large, shifting black shape.

That is not a bear, rational me said. You can’t see for shit far away. You’re just being crazy. Go get this damn blanket.

My muscles quivered half-tensed below my skin, but I pressed my own breath down on myself again and kept walking. What horror writer didn’t have an overactive imagination? Wasn’t I just thinking about all the ways I could die tonight? Wasn’t I just talking about all the horrible life decisions that should have killed me over dinner?

As I approached the farthest, lower edge of the cabin circle, the smell filled my nostrils. The odor was thick, wet, feral. It was not unlike the aroma of a cage at the zoo. Yet the pungency assaulted me in a wave. Then I heard the shape moving, foilage bending to its shape. From the symphony of bending branches, I could tell it was large. Its movements echoed around me, riding its smell into my twitching brain.

Then I saw the shape again, clear even in my hazed near-sightedness. It was a bear, low and wide. The culmination of the sight, sound, and smell lobbied a convincing case to my skeptical denial.

Fuck, it’s a bear, both sides of me decided in unison.

I stopped moving and froze in my last footsteps. I stiffened to silence my heavy steps and scratching jeans. I clicked off my flashlight as if the darkness could obscure me from the animal. My feet twitched forward toward the structure of the cabins then back toward the grouping of humans abandoned behind me.

It ran off, one side of me said. Go to the cabin and get the fucking blanket. You’ll be safe in the walls.

You don’t walk toward a bear, the other side countered. It was a fucking bear. Don’t be the dumb girl in the horror movie. Go back. Go back!

I hesitated and stuttered on the gravel another stupid minute before turning hard and walking fast back up the trail. I did not hear the trees creak behind me. I did not hear the audible angry breath of an animal at my neck. Yet my steps slammed quickened against the dirt, until I could hear the happy giggles of Girl Scouts in the swirling smoke of an fledgling campfire.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

I’m officially in my mid-thirties; I should be professional and appropriate by now, right?

Um…

…right?

Honestly, I don’t know that I fit into the average subjective definition of either term. However, it has been an idea that has been wriggling around on the skin of my mind lately.

I am the parent of two young children. My partner and I are both very “outside the box” people, so he and I struggle with constantly trying to teach our children to behave inside the social box. This is the sort of contentious relationship I have with social norms and expectations, but by some miracle, I have managed to balance my rebellion into measures of social success thus far in my life.

Yet, as I delve deeper into being a horror author, I find the questions surfacing again. Most specifically, as I post images of me half naked and covered in blood on the wide internet.

Professionally, I have never had much of a problem. I’m reasonably intelligent and have done well through my career. I’ve performed high at my various jobs, though the jury is still out on the new role I just started. The issue is never my work or my work ethic; rather, I might be too much “me” at work. I’ve been scolded by a Master Sergeant in Iraq for cussing too much. I’m simply a very open person. So, my other career of dealing in horror is perhaps a little too public.

I see no issue with someone executing their day job then going home to dabble in any kind of deviant art. That does not mean everyone feels the same way. Our culture is very strange and hypocritical about female expression and nudity. We are bombarded with the imagery of naked women but then told a woman who is naked publicly is morally bereft. While I have yet to encounter any negative consequences for my blatant exhibitionism, I am ever aware of the threat.

I consider what employers, clients, or future employers might encounter when they Google me. I would like to think they could separate the art from the artist and focus on my qualifications, but I simply do not have that much faith.

Am I unprofessional because I am publicly and unapologetically me outside of the “office”? Do I get to be taken seriously when I am comfortable enough in myself to lay my mind and skin bare?

Working in IT, I harbor no illusions about the internet. After working with the government and military for so many years, I am well aware of how much of a delusion “privacy” is now. I know anything sent or shared or even simply residing on a computer with wireless capability is not private. I deal with this reality but simply having no secrets, having nothing that could be uncovered and used against me.

Plus, I have an exhibitionist streak about as wide as half my personality, so I would voluntarily be advertising it even if no one would ever have access to it.

Maybe I can be professional. I can do my job well entirely separate from any extracurricular activities, even if I do post them very openly, very accessibly to employers or clients. What about “appropriate”? The word appropriate itself causes my neck to flex and my lip to curl in a hint of a twitch. I have never wanted to be appropriate because of the many ways the society that manufactures the definition is simply…wrong.

But I’m also older now. Hi, Middle Age; yeah, I see you right there over the horizon. And, more importantly, I am raising children. Get into the box, kids, so you can understand it (and hopefully then jump right out of it and set it on fire).

Is it appropriate for a 35 year-old woman to pose for pictures naked and covered in fake blood? Why not? After pregnancy and gravity have had their way with me, it is the time I have felt most comfortable in my body, given the least amount of fucks. The question sounds a lot like, am I skinny enough to wear a bikini? Now, is it appropriate for a mother of young children to do so? And more than that, be open with her children about it, share and explain the pictures. I am too observant to have not noticed the judgement on parents around me.

Is it appropriate to expose them to horror and art? I let them participate in their own bloody photoshoots, obviously without the nudity involved in some of mine.

My instinctual answer to all of these questions is: hell yes, it’s appropriate. It is my body to live in and reveal as I want. I provide my children with a safe and happy home and do not expose them to anything carelessly or without evaluation.  Yet I remain acutely aware of all the consequences I could be tempting in the distance. Maybe they never come, but it would be reckless to plunge through life so carelessly. I insist on living deeply, not stupidly.

Then, maybe the most poignant question: am I safe? I hate that I even have to write that, that it is a question that has to occupy such constant real estate in my mind, but the real world is dark and full of terrors. Like I said, realities of the internet. When will I interact with the wrong person? When will I post the wrong picture? When will I share the wrong detail? When it will be too much and the consequences will be more than social?

The more I find and express myself, the more I question what it will cost me. Everything in life has its price. My brain, especially the depressive mind, quietly catalogs all the ways it could go wrong in the background. I am happy being myself. Writing dark and twisted stories. Taking pictures soaked in fake blood. Dancing on the stage. Posting about the inner workings of my fractured mind. It feels right, within MY definitions of professional, appropriate, and (hopefully) safe.

I will continue my path unaltered and see where it leads. Sometimes, I just need to stop and unpack the doubts from my head.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

When I started “modeling,” I think I was chasing a way to feel positively about my appearance. In the wake of my most self-destructive phase, I needed to manufacture some semblance of confidence from the shattered pieces of my sense of self. I knew I could never be classified as conventionally pretty or skinny, but I wanted to make that art. I wanted to see myself differently, from the outside.

Over the course of this clumsy dabbling, I worked with photographers with whom I could collaborate, and our visions collided and amalgamated into what I considered my visual style.

But I never did feel better about myself.

My pseudo eating disorder raged. I would starve myself and not eat on days I did nude shoots, as if lunch or water made a perceivable difference. I would turn the pictures on myself, use them to catalog my flaws, use them as a qualifier of my worth. For as much as I have never prioritized aesthetics for any other person, the toxic tentacles of the damage in my brain always made me one-dimensional to myself. It was as if my physical body was an entirely separate entity from the rest of me, judged meticulously by only its appearance–by ever-sharpening criteria. I was never going to be “thin” enough or “pretty” enough because it was never about how I looked. Self-destruction had been driven out of my heart only to make a hidden home in my eyes and my flesh.

Yet I continued to play in front of the camera. The symptom was never the disease. I modeled until we moved back to Colorado from Tennessee. Then I was no longer dancing, I had no established relationships with local photographers, and I had another child. By this point, I resigned myself to simply being too old and the pictures being a closed chapter in my life.

Then I mentally evolved again.

Two major changes happened. Most importantly, perhaps at the root, I finally made peace with the damaged and self-destructive persona in me. I have been analyzing, flirting with, writing, and being her half my life. This time, I actually forgave her, forgave myself for what I did to us. I released that blame and those consequences that it felt so safe to hold.

Perhaps as a side effect to this or maybe as a tangent effort, I put my atypical bulimia to bed. In vain attempts to restore myself after my son, I spent years obsessing and fixating, starting and torturing myself, punishing my body to the point of multiple injuries. Then I discovered intermittent fasting.

I had attempted numerous diet and fitness paradigms, yet fasting slipped on like a glove. For all my anxiety about not eating and hanger, it was just what my brain and body wanted. Needed.

And impossibly simply, food was no longer an issue. The numbers were no longer an obsession. Just like that. It seems utterly unrealistic. I am neither the weight or size I “want,” yet I don’t care. I am happy. I am comfortable. I have finally grasped that confidence that launched the entire endeavor.

It is possible I have simply outgrown some of the fixations. Life continues to get bigger. Maybe I am old enough to just give no fucks anymore. Yet a part of me still fears this is a trap set by that self-destructive girl, a false summit. Feeling authentically good in my skin feels alien, so forgotten it’s almost foreign. I have reservations over so many years of struggle culminating in so seemingly simple a fix.

But I’ll ride this wave until it sends me crashing onto my face.

In this place, I have returned to modeling. Yet this time is not motivated by a search to find something in myself. This time is not a band-aid over the tear in my mind. I am not trying to prove to myself that I look worth something.

I am trying to look scary and disturbing.

I have launched into a new collaboration with members of my “commune.” The photographer is establishing her visual voice, and I am happy to play test subject. We both love horror and have already collaborated on one of my novels. With the addition of a blood minion, we are collectively chasing beautifully disturbing images.

Successfully so far.

The difference is where I am coming from. I no longer feel infected by that pervasive insecurity. I am no longer worrying if the wrong position creates a bulge; instead, I am making sure the fake blood is dripping right. I am able to look at the pictures and see the image rather than all the things I am not.

I have worked with some amazing photographers over years (and plenty not), but there is something unique about laughing your head off as your “sisters” ladle chocolate fake blood on you, about collaborating with women who have held you up most of your life.

The fact that the pictures are turning out is just a bonus.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

As an author, you do have to crawl into the skin of your character. Often, I simply use myself as the boilerplate. However, when I crafted Emma for The Rest Will Come, I definitely took character study to the next level.

Not only did I base this character on a person in my real life (and her life experiences on several people in my real life), when I was belly dancing in Tennessee in February, I performed as her.

It is always fun to assume a persona on stage, liberating and exciting; however, it was even more entertaining to become a character I had created in my own story. I spent so many months inside her head, crafting and developing her. It was somehow cathartic to put a shovel in her hand and let her undulate and hair toss around the stage.

Not to mention I miss undulating and hair tossing on the stage in general.

I debated whether I ever wanted to publicly share the video of the performance. The internet can be…unforgiving. Ultimately, I decided f— it. It was my first time choreographing anything by myself, and I do like how it turned out, amateurish as it may be.

Ultimately, the performance is probably if Emma met Ronnie but close enough.

I recently had an otherwise innocuous experience dig up some very old and relatively unrelated trauma. Considering the disconnect and the disproportionate emotional surge, I considered this a warning sign and an indication that I should probably finally go and address the issue. I have effectively avoided actually discussing it in 15 years of sporadic therapy.

So I brought it to my current therapist. We exhumed the 17-year-old skeleton and its nearby relatives in the strata of my emotional past. Now, I have been tasked with “forgiving” 17-year-old Christina.

What does this have to do with horror? you may ask. Or writing? Or horror writing? In short, NOTHING. A sane person would probably do all this processing privately on hidden paper. I, however, am an extrovert and an exhibitionist. Besides, if I write something and no one reads it, did I even write it at all?

The idea of forgiving 17-year-old me is oddly unnerving. I think largely because my entire identity and concept of self at that age was defined by self-loathing. My pain bred self-destructive behaviors that caused consequences that inflicted more pain, a little self-fulfilling cycle. And I blamed myself for all of it. I turned all that hate and pain in on her.

But what are her crimes? What do I need to forgive her for?

Sexual assault. This is the beast that was awoken by a doctor bending me over a table to administer my plasma injection. Even now, I hesitate to classify that long-ago incident as a sexual assault. In all honesty, I do not remember what happened. My memory was fractured and hazy then, and it has not improved in 17 years. I know I got very drunk with an older guy I did not know. I know we ended up having some kind of sex. But I do not know what I consented to or did not, and I do not know the extent of what happened. I would not feel comfortable using words like “rape” or “sexual assault” if I wasn’t sure, and I’m just not. But I also don’t know what else to call it.

I knew something was wrong in my reactions though. The guy pursued me heavily afterwards, and whenever he called, I experienced uncharacteristic anxiety. Not nerves, not shame or regret, something near physical panic. Then, when I did actually see him once after, I trembled so uncontrollably that I spilled a shot all over the kitchen trying to take it. This was not embarrassment. This was something else.

Why is this my crime though? I obviously blamed myself. I should not have been there. I should not have drank whatever it was he gave me. I should not have put myself in that situation. But beyond that typical reaction, I think the ambiguity of the circumstances always turned on me. Since I never really knew what happened, I could never resolve if I was a victim or just a stupid girl who consented to something she regretted.

Ultimately, it does not matter. Whether I put myself in a position that got me assaulted or I got blackout drunk and consented to something I did not want to do, it’s not a crime. 17-year-old me made stupid, naïve decisions. She made mistakes, which she learned from. Neither scenario is unforgivable.

Miscarriage. Let’s just note upfront that this offense is unrelated to crime #1. Same year, different circumstances. But I did miscarry a child that same year. I did not know I was pregnant, and it had to be relatively early in the pregnancy.

I blamed myself entirely for this unplanned and unknown accident. I told myself I must have drank the baby to death, that it must have rejected me for some reason. Nevermind that I could barely keep myself alive at the time and would have made the absolute worst mother. It was just another, much larger transgression to beat myself up over.

I did make peace with this one long ago. Maybe even before having my children. I matured into more perspective about pregnancy and circumstances. Occasionally, I will do the mental math on how old my child would be, but largely, I have buried the loss.

Self-mutilation. I would love to say this was a coping device for the previously described traumas. It was not. This behavior predates the majority of this list. That first lighter to my stomach in the parking lot honestly feels like the catalyst to all that followed. The pain was first. The overwhelming, soul crushing, swallowing pain I could not explain or identify. The burning then the cutting was how I coped. And that always felt like a weakness.

And that is always what my father and my friends told me it was.

The practice fractured my personality, creating personas for the victim, abuser, and bystander. Injuring myself turned me on myself, made that self-hate part of who I was. I have not deliberately charred and sliced my own flesh in 15 years, but I would be lying to say that it was not still with me. Right before my recent hamstring injury, I felt a dangerous flirtation with the idea of being hurt.

I got what I deserved for thinking that.

Substances. In the spectrum of drug use, even at my worst, I probably still rank relatively low and mundane. However, it is relatively undeniable that I tried to drink myself to death when I was 17. And even more undeniable that my pursuit of alcohol resulted in a lot of the problems and crimes I’m discussing here.

I was drunk for an entire year. Every single day, no embellishment or hyperbole. I managed to find some way to indulge every day, and sometimes the cost of that resulted in more of the consequences previously discussed. I made extremely stupid and dangerous decisions in pursuit of these substances, and I am fortunate that more awful things did not befall me.

Alcohol and pills were another crutch, another weakness. And so they were another thing for me to judge and condemn myself for. I couldn’t handle my perfectly acceptable life, so I was just a weak addict.

Being crazy. The crux. I think this is what underlies it all. I think this is the ultimate root of this entire list of crimes and infractions, mistakes and regrets. At the time, at that confusing age of 17, I had no idea what was going on in my mind. I did not understand why my emotions raged so extreme and in directions opposite of my stimuli. I could not see when my perceptions were fractured or distorted. I had no perspective on myself, my life, or really anything.

All I knew was that I was broken over nothing. And that seemed like a perfectly reasonable cause to hate myself.

I fought my diagnosis with all I had. The idea of “just being crazy” like my mother, like my family upset me to my core. Everything I was feeling, everything I was had to be more than that. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of being reduced to chemical reactions and learned behaviors.

Now, that I have accepted and integrated the realities of my mind, it seems silly to harbor such resentment at myself over something I have no actual control over. Yet I feel that somewhere deep it still lingers. Maybe under it all, always under it all, I am mad at myself for being crazy. How can I make my insanity such a part of my identity now while resenting myself for it? Perhaps this duality, this contradiction is what binds me to my 17 year-old traumas.

I blame crazy for all the bad things that happened to me, and I blame myself for being crazy. It feels stupid to say yet somehow rings true.

So I guess, in the end, I need to forgive myself simply for being me.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

 

Last weekend, I took myself on a little miniature tour through Tennessee. As with all things in my life, it was a whirlwind.

Initially, this entire trip was planned around attending the Behind the Mask Author Event. I had never previously done a mass book signing event, so when the organizer invited me, I figured, why not? I might as well try it out, investigate and experiment for myself. I selected this particular event because it was located in Nashville, so I could pair it with a visit to Chattanooga.

I lived in Chattanooga for about five years. It has now been five years since I returned home to Colorado. We moved for my husband’s job. I briefly deployed to Iraq with my job then returned to working from our new home, knowing no one. Eventually, by several clever turns of fate, I found the morbid cabaret belly dance troupe (yes, such a thing does miraculously exist) the Corpsewax Dollies. These girls became my community, and dancing with them became my passion.

I leaped at the chance to pair an author event with a more nostalgic visit. Plus, having that time with the Dollies served as a safety net. Even if the signing was a complete, depressing bust, the trip would not have been for nothing. The Dollies then sweetened the deal by planning a show for me to perform in with them and allowed me to dance as my own serial killer Emma (from The Rest Will Come).

Undoubtedly, I have missed the Dollies themselves the most. The sisterhood, the community, their devilishly individual personalities. Yet the lack of the stage and performing in my life has also left a vacancy. A vacancy I never really confronted since I have not performed with them in five years (since my farewell show) and have only done haflas with the teachers I have taken up with back in Colorado. My performance life was never grand or exceptionally successful, but there is simply something different about dancing on a stage versus dancing in a classroom.

Between the book signing in Nashville and performing in Chattanooga, the trip became something of a mini author/dancer tour.

I flew into Nashville on Thursday night. The travel in itself was quite the adventure. I ended up stuck in traffic mere miles from the Denver airport when a truck ahead of us overturned. Then I spent almost two hours on the tarmac waiting for the plane to be deiced. Once we actually flew and landed, the Nashville baggage throwers jammed the carousel with our bags. A semi trailer blazed in full flames on my drive down to Chattanooga in the fog. A surreal comedy of minor errors.

But I did make it.

Even from the first steps off the plane, things felt very strange on this trip. When we lived in Tennessee and traveled, my husband used to say that the minute we hit Tennessee airspace, my disposition changed (read: I became a bitch). In this same way, when I exited the airport, it felt almost as if I had never left, as if I hadn’t left a life in Colorado to return. I have returned to Tennessee before this, and it has felt like picking up where I left off, but nothing like this amnesic feel. However, I dismissed it and carried on.

On my first day back in the Dirty South, I met my first and former running mate (the Dolly I was staying with) on the Riverwalk for a run. After I had my daughter, she had been the unfortunate victim who took up running with me. We spent countless mornings and an untold sum of hours jogging up and down that riverwalk. In the dark. In the rain. In the heat. Like dance with the Dollies, the activity became foundational. Running remains so for me now.

After the run, I met with Ricky Davis of TRD Photography to get new author headshots. After all, I have not been orange for some time now, so my current ones seem a bit like a lie. I figured might as well get them refreshed with a photographer I knew from back when I utterly sucked at “modeling.”

That night, dress rehearsal. Back in the studio with the Dollies preparing for the show, just like old times. The experience was strangely gut-wrenching. Simultaneously, I felt the vivid joy at being back and the searing pain at knowing it was fleeting. I felt welcomed and included yet inevitably on the outside. The contrast, the duality was visceral. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I also wanted to cry. I simply savored every moment of it.

Saturday was the epicenter of the trip, the author event itself. One Dolly and I got up painfully early and drove back to Nashville. Navigating the venue and parking and unpacking and locating the event was laughable clusterfuck, but, again, we made it. She was instrumental in getting me where I needed to be, especially when I kept sending her back to the car for everything I forgot.

When we walked in to the ballroom and looked over the other tables, I knew I did not belong at this event. Most tables boasted huge standing signs advertising the author’s name. From the macro pictures of chiseled male abdomens and pink calligraphy of the font on these signs, from the chapstick lined up and chocolate strewn over the tables, I knew I had stepped out of my genre. Somehow, I had ended up at a romance author book signing.

One might argue that The Rest Will Come is a dark romantic comedy. One could say that sexual tension is at the root of Savages. One might even try to argue that The Waning offers an extremely twisted love story. I would say that a romance reader would not agree on any of these points. I knew I was incongruent; I just did not know if it would be a good thing to stand out or not. I did not know what to expect from any of it.

In the morning, the readers steadily trickled through. I sold a book here or there. Many potential customers wrinkled their noses and walked faster once they realized that horror graced my table. I did have some delightful conversations regardless.

The crowd dwindled around lunch time, and instead, restless authors began roaming the booths. These romance authors seemed quite excited about what I offered in The Rest Will Come. I ended up selling more books to other attending authors or their support crews than any person who bought a ticket.

The afternoon monotony was salvaged by the arrival of more Dollies. They arrived to buy a good chunk of my books and keep me company. By this point, authors had abandoned all professionalism, walking between booths to talk other events, drinking bottles of wine or eating at their tables. I elected not to wander but still connected to a few kindred spirits and was annoyed by others.

The book signing event finally rounded to a anticlimactic close; however, it went better than I anticipated. Not as well as I could have hoped or dreamed, but I ended up selling about half of my books, enough to not have to ship them home. I had feared I would not sell a single book, so I considered this result a win.

The Dollies and I retired to our hotel room to drink and prepare for the masquerade ball that was a part of the author event.

The masquerade ball was terrible. We arrived an hour late to find less than ten people sitting idle at tables in the dark, barely even speaking. The provided food was minuscule, and the drinks were grievously overpriced. We ate the miniature food and had a weak drink. We watched the DJ fail at enlivening the crowd. By the time we bailed, there were maybe 20-30 people there, but the entire thing felt like a flat wedding reception. Free booze and sleep at the hotel was much more appealing.

Sunday, back to Chattanooga! Admittedly, my brain was a bit raw from the event. After so much unknown and anticipation to see if it would break my author heart, I felt overstimulated, maybe emotionally hungover. Then, I also spent some time driving around the city by myself, which allowed strange feelings to swell over me. The nostalgia became paralytic at times. In the quiet, I was confronted by shapeless emotions I had not anticipated. I did not know how I felt, only that I felt. A lot.

Yet there was no time for all that. Sunday night was the show.

This serial killer show was held at the same venue where I participated in the majority of performances during my time. Despite the name change and some fresh paint, it remained largely unchanged. Once again, this was somehow both comforting and upsetting, forcing my mind to awkwardly straddle the past and the present.

After crawling into someone’s head to craft the character of Emma, it was ridiculously fun to pick a dark anthem for her then fetish her up into a costume. I ended up looking like some gothic lumberjack with a bloody shovel, but I don’t think I would have cast her any other way as a Dolly. With my bloody shovel, I danced to a solo I choreographed myself. More nerve-wracking than dancing to someone else’s!

It was a blast. All of it. I managed to not completely mangle the dances I was in, even those learned over a tiny screen and Google Hangouts. Even if I did mess up, I didn’t care. I just laughed and kept dancing, kept watching, kept cheering.

Afterwards, the Dollies put on a fire show in the parking lot. I definitely wish I had been around when they started playing with fire. It was amazing to watch.

Then it was tearful goodbyes in the parking lot and a midnight run to Waffle House.

On Monday, it was over. All the Dollies were at work and back at their lives as I packed myself up and headed back to the Nashville airport. From the moment I woke up (after not much sleep), my head was an absolute disaster. Though I had imbibed the night before, I do not think I was hungover. I managed to rouse with zero physical symptoms, and I did not feel drunk at the time. However, my memories for the previous night were scattered and fractured. I would say definitely drunk except this effected lasted until I napped on the plane.

This oddity was unnerving in itself, but it was also coupled with the most crippling depression I have felt in months. The emotional surge went so far as to affect me physically. I felt like I could not breathe, like I should not move. This is not entirely unfamiliar, but it has been so long since the depression reached so deep. Again, this could be attributed to alcohol, but it hinted once I hit Nashville and had no accompanying hangover.

I drove past my old house and managed to make it worse. I am not sure why. I miss the Dollies, but I do not think I miss living in the South or that house in particular. Though my husband and I had my daughter and became a family there. Perhaps it was the swell of memories on a vulnerable mind. Perhaps it was that many of those memories are edged in pain and depression akin to what I was feeling. I cannot accurately say because my mind’s narrative was so splintered as I was experiencing it.

Whatever was happening made my travel home excruciating. The logistics themselves were fine. I arrived to the airport early. My flight was on time. I had a lovely friend willing to pick me up. All of that was easy, but my experience of it was terrible. I felt like I was barely holding it together the entire time.

Again, I am honestly not sure why. I used to feel somewhat similar (turned WAY down) when I would visit Colorado while living in Tennessee. I have returned to the Dollies before and do always feel these feelings (turned WAY down). I don’t have an explanation as to why emotions ran so high this time. Did I dissociate? Did I depersonalize? What happened? I only know it has taken me almost four days to resurface.

All told, the trip was a rollercoaster. Emotionally more than anything. Yet I would not trade a single moment. Even the darkest moments made the pleasant ones burns all the more bright. I am still glowing. And maybe crying too.

As far as authoring, I think I learned some valuable lessons. My first publishing contract included a marketing class, to teach us to sell our own books. One basic premise was to not do BOOK things. Don’t do book events or book venues or anything centered around books. The idea being that you place yourself in direct competition with other books. Instead, it would be more advantageous to be the only book where your target audience might be.

After this experience, I can see it. I think I agree completely. But I needed to try it. I needed to experience it and learn for myself. Now, I know. Now, I have other ideas of what to do and try.

Tennessee the mini tour, totally worth it.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling