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.

 

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

 

Labeling

light and dark

This theme has come up quite a bit within the last week or so. This might be the first of multiple posts on this topic because I feel the direction I want to go is only half-baked, I may have further insights at a later date. Let’s call this a first draft.

It came up first when discussing an ex with other women who were also discussing ex’s. One of the women labels her ex a narcissist and while she and I discovered similarities in how we both experienced our ex’s this is one place where we differ. I do not label my ex anything other than an ex. Maybe that is not true. I label him a liar, and a manipulator, and a betrayer of sacred trust, and a phony, and insecure – AND at the end of that sentence I say: Me too. If I label my ex I do so knowing that anything he is, I am too.

I did not express this to her because I felt no need to. People have different reasons for why they do or do not choose to use labels, my truth about this belongs to me and I felt no real need to voice it in this instance.

Later we talked one on one in further detail, her separation from the ex is recent so I know she is still processing. My separation occurred over a decade ago. I am still processing as well but my processing is coming from a different place. My processing is less about him and more about me. There are unresolved emotional wounds from that relationship that have been left unresolved because:

  1. In the moments where I was experiencing his darkness I abandoned myself.
  2. I was not yet ready to experience my own darkness that I brought to the relationship.

So now my work is going back and picking up all those pieces of myself that I left behind and have not wanted to see because they feel/felt unlovable AND now loving those parts of myself well.

It is not about the other person, it is about the pieces of you that you left behind. This is my truth and my first reason for not labeling him in this way. Because at this point it is not about him so what difference would a label make? None.

Here is my bigger underlying truth about labeling:

Labels are used for lots of different reasons. For example it feels to me (I could have this wrong) that the woman I have been speaking with is using a label with her ex because it is helping her detach and make sense of what she experienced with him. Labels can absolutely help understand something that feels confusing.

Related to that detachment is another reason I believe people use labels, to create a sense of separation. Us and them. In this case narcissist and empath.

This is where I get uncomfortable. I do not believe in us versus them. That concept eliminates all the possibilities that exist in between and that is just not my truth about the world at this point.

I do identify as an empath. That is a label I choose for myself, that does not automatically make this person who I was emotionally wounded by a narcissist though. He is no more narcissist than I am and I am no more empath than he. We both possesses qualities of each.

In that relationship we both experienced the darkness of the other. Empaths are not just beings of light. They are not only as capable of manipulation as narcissists, they are masters of it. That is what comes with the power of feeling others on this level, you can misuse that power and go into a shadow space with it. There is this notion of a divide between empath and narcissist..

That divide says:
One of us is good and the other is bad.
One of us is the abuser, the other is the victim.
One of us is light while the other is dark.

I am sorry but I call bullshit on all that. It is just not my truth. Narcissism is a real thing, absolutely. And if you have ever been the victim of a narcissist than you know how painful their darkness can feel. I am not meaning to minimize anyone’s trauma or experiences. I only mean to underline one of my personal truths and that is: in adult relationships we ALL show up in both shadow and light, some of us lean more one way than the other, sure, it is always both though. I know individuals who have been emotionally wounded by diagnosed narcissists, I am not trying to take that experience away or make it invalid; I am merely trying to bring to light a fuller picture which includes those who have been emotionally victimized by empaths as well. If you think that is not a thing I know my ex would disagree with you.

Another place where labeling has come up recently relates to how labels can make us invisible. I am going to continue with this example of my ex and the label narcissist to avoid outing the other people I spoke to about other labels they experience in their lives. It all applies just the same regardless of the example I use.

So relating to labels and how they make us invisible:

Calling someone a narcissist allows us to strip them of their humanity rendering them invisible. He is no longer (insert name here) he is my ex the narcissist. The moment I say that I no longer have to experience him as a complex human being made up of both shadow and light, I get to detach all of that truth and see him just as a monster. Well I do not believe in monsters. And my truth is if one person in this world is a monster than we all are. Whatever one person is capable of, we are all capable of.

The reason labels exist in the first place is to help sort and understand commonalities. It is not black and white though and that is why it is so important to never lose sight of the person.

Think about all the different labels you identify with- truly take a minute and bring these labels up in your mind – now imagine if you were only seen by everyone else through that lens:

I am someone’s wife AND I am not just someone’s wife.
I am a social worker AND I am not just a social worker.
I am someone’s sister AND I am not just someone’s sister.
I am manipulative AND I am not just manipulative.

I am light AND shadow.
I am grateful AND entitled.
I am you and you are me AND we are no different AND we are completely different.

It’s all of it, everything in between and then some. There is more than one way to add to nine, the possibilities are infinite, and one measly little label will never be able to contain the vastness of a human being. That is my truth.

 

Alpha

A while back when talking with a friend she said something to me that really caught me off guard and that I did not exactly know how to take at first. She called me an alpha-female.

My initial reaction was like Whoa whoa whoa, I don’t know about that.

She went on to explain that she did not mean it in a bad way. She said that I was confident, assertive, and someone who people look to, someone who people want to be around and listen to.

I know that part is complimentary. The alpha part did not sit well with me though. She said alpha and I started thinking first about what little I know about pack mentality. I do not experience myself as an alpha, more like a beta.

I am a very reluctant leader. I had one bad experience trying to lead a team of women while working under a toxic male boss and that put a bad taste in my mouth about leading. I guess my confidence was shook. Being in college definitely restored my confidence in my ability to lead though. Every class had at least one big group project and more often than not my friend is right, my colleagues looked at me to set the pace and direction. Still, when I think of leading it is almost always in the context of a professional environment and the truth is I have always preferred a balance of cheerleader and lone wolf at work. I like to empower colleagues and offer support AND when it comes to getting things done I like to be solely responsible for my own work.

The next thing I think about when I hear the word alpha is the way Lucy tries to assert herself when playing with other dogs. She has play dates every once in a while with our friend’s dogs and sometimes we even dog sit for a few of these dogs. Lucy is super dog friendly AND she absolutely tries to assert herself as the alpha, sometimes with zero success. I watch her and the other dog jumping on each other, each trying to be the dog who can hold their head over the head of the other: I am in charge!

That is NOT me. The word alpha feels masculine and aggressive, and while yes I possess these parts, they are not dominant parts in any way. I just was not seeing what she was seeing.

I have been sitting with this for quite sometime and finally I reached a point where I was ready to write about it and process it further. I read a few different things that gave me perspective I did not have and I explored what my truth is about the word alpha and how I show up in this energy.

I see myself as an alpha in the following ways:

I am not a follower. I follow my own rules and question the status quo.
I am assertive and speak my truth freely.
I am confident. I know my worth because I define that, I do not allow the outside world to define my worth for me.
I have a strong energy field on my good days.
I am a big idea person. I may not always know how to execute it but I can supply the inspiration.
I know who I am and am grounded in that.

The thing is I thought that being called alpha meant something about power or control or trying to assert my dominance and putting others in the role of submissive.

In wolf packs maybe some of that is true. That is not how I experience any alpha personality characteristics I possess though. For me being alpha means not looking to others for what I already know. I know my truth. I know my worth. I know who I am.

The other part of this that I know to be my truth is that I am alpha AND I am beta AND I am omega AND I am a lone wolf. I possess all of the these qualities at different times. They are all mixed together in here.

alpha

 

Womanhood

tired

I painted this picture today that made me feel completely overwhelmed. It brings up all these emotions around sexuality, and passion, and this energy and power I am supposed to have as a woman. Standing in these energy spaces do not make me feel strong and empowered, they make me feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

Suddenly I felt that flash of passion rise in me, it was frustration and resentment.

I sit in these women’s circles and allow myself to wear certain social labels such as feminist, and the energy behind all of it is a celebration of womanhood. That is just not my experience though, not completely at least. There is an “AND” there.

I am proud to be a woman AND I believe women are powerful AND I feel overwhelmed by my experiences as a woman.

My truth is that womanhood is not something that I stepped into, there was no sacred, beautiful right-of-passage. For me it felt like womanhood/becoming a woman was something that happened to me.

Before I even had the opportunity to process the fact that my body was changing the boys around me were taking notice. I never got to experience these changes and try to understand my new self before I was being grabbed at and taken from verbally, physically, and energetically.

I think of the idea behind the Red Tent, it was a place of sanctuary where women could take counsel with one another and celebrate their magic and be free from the shackles of womanhood placed upon them by society during their sacred cycle.

I grieve for the time I was not given. I grieve for the space that was never there. I grieve for all the parts of myself who have never gotten to call my body home. I feel like a child that has been trying to play catch up in a land of women.

I am tired of running, I am tired of having no where to call home. I am tired of being tired. I am just so breathlessly exhausted.

Even in Our Dreams

My husband opened the curtains this morning as he does every morning so I am able to wake with the sun rather than an alarm. After he crawled into bed to cuddle. Laying next to me he teased me about the pillow I had wedged up against my butt ( I think it ended up there due to all the shifting I was doing in my sleep last night). I told him it was to keep me safe from one of his wild donkey kicks. We both laughed and laid together for a while.

I talk in my sleep, my husband fights in his, and what I realized this morning as I teased him about his kicking is just how deeply ingrained our gender roles are into our psyche.

I have nightmares, less regularly than before but still quite frequently. When I have these nightmares my breathing becomes rapid and I begin to talk in my sleep. This talking I do is typically more of a beg or a plead or a cry. In my dreams I am being attacked, I am being violated, and each time I am helpless. I cannot fight back, all I can do is beg for mercy and cry for help.

My husband has nightmares, less regularly than mine but from time to time. In my husband’s nightmares he is fighting someone usually. He is being attacked or someone he loves is being threatened and he fights which results in arms and legs flying around in his sleep.

In my dreams I am being attacked and even in my dreams where my mind could manifest the scenario anyway it wants, I am submissive.
In my husband’s dreams he is being attacked and even in his dreams where his mind could manifest the scenario anyway it wants, he is aggressive.

You could chalk this up to our different fight or flight responses, and I am sure there is something to that. I believe it speaks to how deeply gendered our brains are as well. From a young age boys are taught to be masculine, aggressive. In the 80’s my husband had toys like GI Joes – the Real American (War) Hero-, and Ninja Turtles who do karate and fight bad guys. I had Cabbage Patch Dolls and Barbies.

I was programmed to be passive and nurturing, he was programmed to fight and claim dominance over another – “the bad guys”-.

And now 25 some years later I cry and beg in my sleep and he fights in his. We have society to thank for our nightmares. It makes me think twice about the messages I want to send my future children.

I Show Myself Love When

I went on a really terrible walk today. It is the second time in a week where an attempt at self-care has gone wrong.

This morning when I was getting ready for a client appointment I put on the pants I had picked out only to discover they would not close, at all. These pants that fit with a little extra room two months ago are now so tight I was no where near buttoning them, it was a total lost cause. I almost cried. I tried to make myself feel better, It is okay that you have gained a little weight, what matters is how you feel, not the number.. You washed these pants recently, maybe they shrunk.

I got myself through that moment and moved on with my day.

By this evening I still felt the cloud of self-loathing hanging over my head. I did not want to turn to food to fill this feeling of emptiness so I went for a walk with Lu. I always feel better when I meditate at the park, out in nature I would find my connection and come home feeling more balanced and grounded.

When we left the house I heard my neighbor across the street scream-talking to another neighbor. Oh God, No… I am not a big fan of the scream-talking neighbor. She seems to have trouble with appropriateness and has done things in the past that have made me uncomfortable. Luckily she was very engaged with the neighbor she was talking to so I just waved and walked on.

When I got to the park Lu pooped. Good girl honey. I took the poop bag from her leash and bent over to clean it up; while I am doing this I have both my cell phone and her leash in my other hand (I was wearing a dress and had no pockets for my phone). Right as I am bent over her poop Lucy pulls on the leash which results in me losing my grip on my cell phone, with that my cell plopped into Lu’s poop pile. This is my life folks, I could not make this shit up if I tried.

On a normal day when I am not under an emotional cloud and feeling more myself, I would laugh at this. The phone can be cleaned off, it is not the end of the world, it will make a good story. Not today. Today I wanted to cry. That was not very nice Lucy.

I picked up my phone, wiped it off on the bag, and proceeded to dispose of Lucy’s poop.

After the poop debacle we went over to our bench. It was sunset, the ducks were swimming in the pond, I could already begin to feel myself relax. I started my breathing to help clear my mind and sink into my meditation. Just as I am starting to drift away into nature I feel Lucy go rigid on the leash, a dog was coming towards us with its owner. I asked Lu to sit, which she did, and thought nothing more of it, Lucy is dog friendly and usually has good manners. Not this time. I have NO IDEA what got into her but she lunged and barked and acted like a lunatic. WTF Lu, seriously?

That was it. Clearly meditation at the park was not meant to happen. Lu and I walked home and when we came back by my scream-talking neighbor’s house she came outside. I do not want to rehash the entire situation because it was exhausting enough the first time but the long-story-short is: She asked me if I was pregnant, I said No.  Then she told me that I haven’t looked happy lately and that she can tell I have gained weight.

This woman does not know me. I was literally sitting there analyzing my recent behavior as I have been getting into and out of my car in the drive way because that is the only time she sees me. Have I looked any less happy as I get into the car? It is not like I was ever skipping and singing to begin with. Not to mention the comments about my body. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

I was so hurt, her timing could not have been worse. Really.

And as awful as all of this was, the worst part, the part that really broke my heart the most is that I did not show up for myself. She injured me so deeply, she said very personal things without right to do so – to be clear, NO ONE has a right to speak to me that way- and I not only took it, I agreed with her. I AGREED WITH HER. Yeah well I have gained a little weight and I did just start a new job, maybe I am a little stressed, maybe that is what you picking up on. THAT IS NOT MY TRUTH.

I have gained weight AND my body is no one’s business. I have been stressed AND it has had nothing to do with my new job. I have gained weight AND I have been stressed AND I am happy AND none of it is anyone else’s business.

I wish I could go back and say exactly what I needed to say to protect the part of me that she was hurting: That is a really personal question I am not comfortable answering.

I came home, let Lu off her leash and went into my closet and cried. I don’t feel like I loved myself well today and I am having a lot of judgements.

It is not too late for me to love myself. Last year I wrote one of my favorite pieces of writing I have ever done: I Love Myself Most When. It is all about celebrating the parts of myself that I love deeply and feel connected to AND it is a reminder to show love to the parts of myself I have a complicated relationship with and feel disconnected from. So now I would like to sit in that energy and love myself well.

I will show myself love when I feel out of control in my relationship with food.
I will show myself love when my clothes do not fit me the way I think they should.
I will show myself love when I am putting the feelings of others before my own.
I will show myself love when I feel abandoned.
I will show myself love when my attempts to show myself love do not go as planned.
I will show myself love when I want to give up.
I will show myself love when I feel empty.
I will show myself love when I am afraid to speak my truth.
I will show myself love when I back slide and lose conviction.
I will show myself love. I will show myself love. I love you.

Already I feel so much better. My well being does not depend on the weight I lose and gain, it does not depend on the messages I receive from the outside world, it does not depend on whether the ways in which I attempt to perform self-care are successful or not. My well being depends solely, exclusively, 100% on me. How I feel about me. When I am not loving myself well every part of me feels that. When I am loving myself well every part of me feels that.

Tonight I am grateful.

i will love myself