I am Going to Write Something True.

secret chapter

Let me first clear the air about the title of this piece. Me sitting down and saying I am going to write something true does not mean that everything I have written before this post was false. Tonight I felt the familiar tug to write and when I sat down to start this is the title that flashed across my mind. In that moment I knew it was time. I am ready to be seen in a truth I have not shared.

In this post I am going to share a chapter of my story I have never read out loud before. I have held this pain, I rescued this piece of myself many many moons ago, and now I am ready to share this small piece of a guarded part of my soul.

When I was 23, almost exactly this time of year 10 years ago I was raped.

I was raped by a friend. I did not call it rape, I called it complicated.

Complicated in that I blamed myself, complicated in that I knew him personally so who would believe me?, complicated in that when I told one of my best friends the very next day she also blamed me and minimized it – you should have known better, you know how he is.

He was excused and I was blamed. I never spoke of it again. I threw away my ripped shirt and bra, I made peace with the fact that I was never getting that missing earring back, and put healing ointment on my ripped ear that the earring had been torn from.

I got tested a month later and every month after that for 6 months to ensure my body was safe from what happened. He used a condom but still, this felt like the one way I could control something when everything else that had happened that night made me feel powerless.

By 23 I was so skilled at disconnecting from my body in times of trauma that it did not take me long to adjust and “get back to normal” as if nothing ever happened.

As if nothing ever happened is the lie I have been telling myself since childhood, I knew how to play this game.

I don’t know what my feelings are towards him. He shared his darkness with me that night, AND I know he is more than just that moment, he is more than just that darkness. AND I do not ever have to be okay with it.

I can know all of this AND I am not obligated to forgive and forget. My healing does not depend on my forgiving him or forgetting anything. My healing does not depend on him at all. My healing happened when I finally went back to that moment and rescued that girl who I abandoned that night when I was scared and in pain. It happened when I allowed myself to finally hold the pain, and shame, and fear, and rage I had spent a decade ignoring.

I am one of countless women who have experienced sexual trauma. We each narrate and make sense of our story and experience in different ways. This is the first time I am sharing this piece of myself so openly and while I am not sitting in shame about allowing myself to be seen in such a raw form, writing it and this sharing feels clunky.

Many of our stories we tell so often that they have a natural flow and ease rolling off the tongue or falling from our finger tips. My truth is: trauma stories rarely do. They feel clunky and misshapen, sometimes uneven and without that flow. I believe that is because these are our unspoken truths, we have never given these experiences words so when we finally try I think it takes time to find the words that fit, and sometimes there just aren’t any words for experiences – that is okay too.

This is my raw, unfiltered truth:

I was raped by a man who I know now was never my friend. I was shamed into silence by myself and (knowingly or unknowingly) by my friend. It may have taken me a decade but I went back for myself and I saved that girl. I took that shame and like an alchemist transformed into love. Nothing that I have ever done or that has ever been done to me in this life has made me unlovable. I am love.

 

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Nelsonian Knowledge

I am alternating between two books right now, both from the little free library near my home. Both Sides Now was my book of choice last night mainly because I accidentally left my other book in the car and I was not in the mood to go retrieve it in my nightgown.

Both Sides Now is an enthralling read, it is the kind of book that makes you lose time because you are so in it, AND it is intensely anxiety producing for me. Last night I could feel the palpitations wanting to start, my levels of panic rising with each mini chapter I would complete.

It is a memoir that details the intimate moments of excruciating loss. Loss on a level that most of us hope and pray never to experience. Loss that we do not want to even recognize can exist because then we have to see a truth no one wants to face: if it could happen to them , to could happen to me.

This morning I woke up thinking about how I do it, the thing we all do. I sit secure in the knowledge that I am going to live to see the end of this day, that everyone I love is going to live to see the end of this day. That my health will be with me for years and years and years to come because I am only 33 and have my whole life ahead of me.

I do know better.

I have worked with individuals and families that had their lives uprooted by a new reality when death and illness came to their doorstep in unexpected ways. I have been of the front lines of a cancer diagnosis, I have been in the fox hole with the families and individuals during certain aspects of treatment, I have co-facilitated caregiver support groups for other terminal illnesses, I have experienced the fallout – sat in the emotional aftermath of loss with family members and loved ones.

I have also experienced much of this first hand in my own life with family and friends.

So I do know better.

I know better because I have sat in the hospital room with my 20 something year old family member who was about to undergo treatment when just a few days before the news came that the cancer was back. I know better because I carry the stories of a close friend who lost all her hair because of the meds she had to take, I know better because time and time again in my young life I have witnessed and experienced my own suffering stemming from this broken illusion of time, and control, and certainty in a future that none of us have ever truly been promised.

Still, I sit in my willfulness ignorance as often as possible because I am not ready, and I am not sure I ever will be ready to face the truth: All we have is now. That is all we ever have. This exact moment. That is it.

This morning I sent my husband to work with a silent prayer on my lips that the Universe will bring him home to me this evening. I prayed for this today and that everyday this will continue to happen until we are old and ready to face our mortality with many happy full years behind us. I said this silent prayer to the Universe all the while secretly knowing that there will never be a time in my life that I will feel as though I have had enough, I will always want more from life no matter my age or experience.

So I will go on making plans, and planting gardens, and dreaming dreams of things to come. I will look to the future with hope and certainty AND I will be thankful right now, this very moment, for all that I have. Love, connection, the privilege of knowing what it feels like to be wrapped in my husband’s arms, every experience I have had in this life of mine because none of it was promised, not one day, not one minute. To argue with my husband is a privilege that I take for granted while another person might be willing to give up everything to argue with a loved again. When we both return home tonight I will remember this and I will  be grateful.

Sitting with this uncomfortable reality, allowing myself to set down my willful ignorance about life’s harsh truths, makes it so clear just how truly entitled we all are every single day. One of life’s fundamental truths is that nothing is ever promised yet we walk around every moment of every day so sure of the next.

now

 

I Will Never Cut Another Dress

That’s a good look.

I lifted my head and peered out at my husband from behind the scarf that was covering the majority of my face.

Oh yeah, think I should leave it like this?

Oh definitely.

We both laughed as I continued to tie my head scarf and put my glasses back on.

My husband and I have a rule in our relationship: no body policing.

That means I am allowed to be in my body however feels comfortable without worry of non-acceptance and so is he. This is one area in our relationship where acceptance is not conditional.

So I can shave or not, wear make up or not, do my hair or put on a hat or scarf, dress however I feel etc etc.
He can shave or not, get a haircut or not, dress however he feels etc etc.

This is an important rule to each of us in our relationship because we have both been in relationships where we did not feel this freedom and we agreed that not having this freedom makes for an unhealthy relationship. We have to belong to ourselves first and one of that fastest ways to autonomy is through feeling full ownership of one’s body.

That is not to say that we never say anything about one another’s body/appearance. When my husband’s finger nails start to get long he sometimes scratches me on accident, I let him know so either:

A. He can choose to trim his nails OR
B. He is more mindful when embracing me.

Me saying something about his finger nails does not mean he has to cut them, he can make that choice, I am allowed to set a boundary stating: Hey that hurts please be careful how you touch me when your nails are that length.

This morning as I got ready and was thinking about this aspect of our relationship and silently counting my gratitude for it I thought of the times in my life when I did not feel in control of my body/appearance and acceptance was conditional on meeting the expectations of someone else.

As children we experience this all the time. For me it was my mother doing my hair the way she wanted it done while I cried under her comb that was piercing my scalp.

I started shaving my legs in 5th grade because two of the boys in class made fun of the hair on my legs. I had never given it any thought until suddenly I was made to feel ashamed for something my body does naturally.

As a teen it was all about trying to fit in order to stay invisible and survive. My face was marked with noticeable scarring after my car accident freshman year so I was already getting some harsh unwanted attention, I did my best not to stick out by way of appearance.

And in my twenties when my identity was usually wrapped up in whoever I was dating I followed their lead. My boyfriend said he likes brunettes better than blondes so for the first time in my life I dyed my hair and played the role of brunette for a few years.

There is one instance that always come to mind first when I think of why this (whole body ownership/autonomy) is so important to me: my ex and the dress.

I have a few great loves when it comes to dresses over the years. In high school I had this denim jumper dress that I loved so much I have it saved in a box to hopefully give to my one day daughter. In my twenties it was the Joni Mitchell dress, so named by my then boyfriend. Now it is my long blue wrap dress.

These dresses were my go-to dresses during these periods of my life because they all possessed the same magic: no matter how I was feeling before putting the dress on, the second I was wearing it I felt beautiful and grounded and myself.

I remember when I bought the Joni Mitchell dress, I got home and put it on to go out with my boyfriend that night. I felt invincible, like the most luminous, stunning version of myself. I got to his house, walked in surrounded by the energetic light I was feeling, and was immediately verbally shit on.

What are you wearing? You look ridiculous. You look like a hippy. You look like Joni Mitchell (which was totally meant as a dig – but she is fucking fabulous so jokes on him)Did you bring a change of clothes? I hate that dress. Never wear that around me again.

Honestly I loved it so much that as hurt as I was in that moment I still felt beautiful. And this was during a very insecure time in my existence, so for me to be able to rebound so easily from this verbal attack when my feelings about myself were completely wrapped up in how others feel about me.. that just further speaks to the power of this dress.

I was faced with a dilemma though. My boyfriend hates the dress and never wants to be seen with me wearing it again and I love the dress and never want to take it off. I was desperate to find a way to make this work. I was desperate. Those three words pretty much sum me up back then.

Acting on this feeling of desperation I did something that I immediately regretted, I cut the dress. The dress was long, white, and flowy with explosions of color splashed all over. It looked like art on a blank canvas. When I cut it all the magic was gone. I was Delilah cutting Samson’s hair. It was awful.

My boyfriend loved it. He thought I looked amazing. I suddenly realized just how much that does not matter. I did not like it and every time I saw myself in it all I could think was how I ruined this amazing piece of art. I think what I was truly feeling but was not ready to see was how I had once again abandoned myself. No amount of outside love and validation will fill the void created when we abandon ourselves.

I kept the dress for a very short period after the alteration before gifting it to a friend with the condition that I never have to see her wear it, ironically enough. I did not want the reminder.

Clearly that relationship did not pan out and I had time to myself before meeting my husband. That time was spent getting to know who I am outside of other people, that time is when I took myself back to my foundation and started rebuilding. My husband has only ever known me as a builder, as a woman under construction, as a being of growth and transformation.

Certain boundaries were set very early on in our relationship to ensure we would always belong to ourselves first:

No body policing.
Our books will have their own bookshelves.
Time apart is every bit as important as time together.

More boundaries were added as the years went on and adjustments are made as needed. One of the underlying messages in our relationship being: freedom to be exactly who we are and that be enough. And with that freedom I hold this truth sacred: Never in my life will I cut another dress.

joni mitchell dress

 

I Choose Shadows AND Light

shadow work

Last night I was having a conversation with my husband and this morning there it was, my exact feelings put out into the world by another. You can read the post I am referring to here.

I strongly identify with this writer’s perspective on spirituality and life in general because what she is talking about is the AND. I had a hard time in my younger years with my experiences in formal religion because there was no AND allowed, even then I knew that was not my truth.

There are times even now where I struggle in interactions with individuals who claim to be spiritually enlightened. I show up with my shadows AND light and I feel shunned. I have been made to feel on occasion that there is only one right way to experience myself this way, and again, I know that is not my truth.

My version of spirituality, my whole life, will always include both. I will always choose my shadows AND my light. All parts welcome, no parts left behind. That is how I will love and how I will heal and that will be my life’s work.

Self-Love Can Survive Any Drought

self-love can survive any drought

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time in quiet meditation creating. From that came the inspiration for a piece I painted this afternoon.

Cactus came up during my creating over the weekend and when I started thinking on what symbolism I see, this is what I came up with.

Cacti are like all other plants in that they need water to survive, that need looks different for them compared to many other species of plant however. Cacti are able to survive barren conditions and drought thanks to their ability to self-sustain by storing water inside. Cactus are not only able to survive these harsh conditions, they grow. They grow in conditions that would cause most plants to wither and die.

I related this back to inside love versus outside love. We have no control over the love we receive from others, much like plants cannot control the weather and when it will rain. In times of emotional drought/disconnection those who depend on that outside love and validation may struggle while those who can self-validate and experience love from within/self-love will not only survive these times of solitude, they will continue to grow and bloom because of the love they are able to show themselves.

In this way self-love is this self-sustaining property that allows us to operate with little fear of outside disconnection for we know all we need to thrive and grow lies within us.

For a long time I was much like Gerbera Daisy, finicky in every way imaginable and very dependent on my environment to provide me with everything I need to feel love and connection/survive and grow.

Now I know I am evolving into my own breed of cactus. I still enjoy being showered with love AND when drought comes my way I am able to self-sustain with my own inner supply of love stored up just for me, my own special gift from within.

My prickly spiny exterior is equivalent to my boundaries and assertive attitude, protecting me against all who would mean to harm me.
My root system underground is my way to connect with others who are willing to go deep rather stay merely on the surface.

At the end of the day what keeps me going is me. I am the love that keeps my heart beating, I am the love that will help me grow. If water is the source for life to grow and love is equivalent to water, I am the source from which my biggest growth takes place.

Holding On to What’s Mine

pain

I gave myself time this weekend to further process my feelings around the events I outlined in my last post. I checked in with my mentor, the person who first showed me what holding space looks like and who held space for me as I found my own voice as a clinician in that space he provided. Then I checked in with myself. As mentioned in my prior post there was a lot of counter transference taking place in that session, both the other clinician’s and my own.

I have no way of knowing if the other clinician is aware and doing her own work on this AND that is none of my concern. I am only responsible for me and my work. I know I am still sitting in my shadow of judgement. In my last post I led with that judgement because that is where I needed to start, now I would like to process a little deeper and go to where these judgements are coming from.

The reason I allow myself to show up in my shadows of self-righteousness, and arrogance, and judgement, as well as any other shadow that pops up based on how I experience the world and myself, is because that is where my work is. I can deny that any of these shadows exist so that way I appear pretty and palatable to the outside world and become consumed by them OR I can allow them to exist out in the open, allow them to bring me my work, and learn to love myself there. I choose the latter and my truth is if my shadows are too much for some to stomach, that has everything to do with them and very little to do with me. I will do my work to love myself wholly and worry not what the world thinks about it.

While sitting in the space of heavy judgment I was feeling towards the events that unfolded in front of me during this session I was able to identify where some of my feelings were coming from.

Above all it was this: I am someone who is doing my own healing work and I projected my truth about what that means to me onto this situation.

Being held in your pain is sacred. I have allowed myself to be held in my pain. Since I started my own healing work years ago what I have not done is allowed anyone to hold my pain. There is a difference.

When I am being held in my pain that means I am allowing myself to be supported while I hold my pain. I am not asking anyone to hold it for me. I have to be the one holding it or the healing is not happening.

Here are some examples of what that has looked like for me:

Sitting in the ocean. Allowing the sand beneath me to hold and support me, allowing the water to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting on a front porch swing next to my therapist. Allowing my therapist to energetically hold space for me, allowing the swing to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting in my walk in closet next to my husband. Allowing my husband to energetically hold the space for me, allowing the walls and floor of the closet to support me, as I hold my pain.
Sitting in a healing circle with other women. Allowing each of these women to energetically hold space for me, allowing the floor and the wall to support me, as I hold my pain.

This is what being held looks like for me. This is how I learned to hold space.

I do believe that you can be both energetically held AND physically held while holding your pain. I have absolutely curled into my husband’s lap and allowed him to physically hold me while I hold my pain. Whenever I allow myself to ask for support in this way it comes with conversation – that is what was missing from the situation I witnessed. When I allow my husband to physically hold me while I hold my pain I am clear about what my needs and boundaries are first, I tell him exactly what I need from him and then ASK if he is comfortable with my specific request. He has a right to say No AND if at any point I feel like he is trying to hold my pain rather than hold me while I hold my pain, I have the right to disengage. If there is ever a time that I am allowing anyone else to hold my pain then I am not healing. That is my truth.

In school when we talked about counter transference and becoming triggered while working with a client I think there was this idea for some that this only relates to trauma or our biases based on how we were raised to view race, religion, sexuality, etc. I believe it goes far beyond that. I experience it all the time with clients. It happens in moments when my client reminds me of my nephew or my husband based on something they say or a mannerism they possesses. It happens when my client is struggling with a part of their healing that I previously struggled with. And it certainly happens when I see something that goes against one of my personal truths.

There is nothing wrong or shameful about being triggered and experiencing counter transference. My admission of this does not make me a bad or ineffective therapist. My truth is: the counter transference itself is not as important as  what you do with it.

In that session both myself and the other clinician experienced counter transference. My truth based on what I saw and how I experienced the situation is: when I became triggered I sat there with the piece of myself that was experiencing the counter transference and I HELD HER. The other therapist did not hold her pain. She did not hold the piece of herself that was triggered by our client’s emotion. She got up, crossed the room, and essentially made the client hold it for her. It was never about how the client was feeling, it was about how what the client was feeling MADE HER FEEL.

Each therapist has there own style and approach to practice. I feel very deeply connected to my way. That does not make me right. That does not make other therapists wrong. Part of my practice will always include showing up for myself like I am right now so at no point am I ever trying to hold my client’s pain for them or energetically asking them to hold anything that belongs to me, including my opinions on how this work should be done. Even my approach to practice belongs to me alone and I am responsible for holding that piece of me.

 

Love and Support

Yesterday morning my husband was laying on top of me as we talked before he left for work. This is a pretty common scene in our home in the morning, what was different yesterday was that I was laying on my stomach so he was laying on my back. This did not bode well for my back. When I attempted to get up a few hours later I had issues. My back was tweaked  and I was stuck in bed.

It took me 5 minutes to gently roll myself out of bed. I proceeded to apply Bengay to my lower back and pop Advil, then I laid on a heating pad for 30 minutes. At noon I had a business call that I attended to from my heating pad on the couch, by two o’clock I was medicated enough to be able to move somewhat normally and at least be able to stand and sit with moaning and wincing in pain.

After I was finished with clients for the day I applied more Bengay and went back to the heating pad. When my husband came home he massaged my back for a while before I decided Epsom salts and hot water sounded good.

Laying in the bath tub I practiced breathing into the pain and stretching while in the hot water. The whole time thinking about my truth around healing: we all have the answers to healing our wounds inside us already. I meditated on this for a while always coming back to the mantra of trusting my body, she knows how to take care of herself.

The fact of the matter is it is great that I am embody this philosophy of empowerment in healing AND I know a wound does not heal over night. Bengay, hot water, and meditation is not going to magically heal my back (I wish!). My muscle has been pulled and it will take a few days for it to get back to normal. The Bengay, hot water, and meditation are just ways for me to love my body well and support it as it does its job.

Our bodies are truly amazing organisms, capable of so much, AND they can always use a little support and love.

bath