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

 

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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.

 

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.