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.

 

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

 

Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive arts therapy/expressive therapy has been a very big part of my own healing journey and it is definitely part of who I will be as a therapist as well. I have a few personal truths about why this approach to therapy is so valuable, that is a post for another day I think. Today I want to share visually what my own healing journey through art has looked like.

I created 4 new pieces over the weekend and rather than put them away to explore deeper with my therapist when I see her again I decided it was time to put everything together. I took out every piece I currently have in my home, some pieces are in outside of my home, and put them together to see what it makes.

healing art

It is a beautiful patch work quilt made of passion AND pain AND healing AND loss AND inspiration AND frustration AND intuition AND love AND nature AND wisdom AND shadows AND spirituality and the list goes on and on, all stitched together with “ANDs”.

This is me, me and all of my beautiful parts, all that have desired to be seen in this way up to this point at least. This picture is not complete and never will be because there will always be more to express in this way.

I feel whole when I look at this picture. I felt whole when everything that came out of me laid together as one in front of me. I see my growth, the depths of my love AND my pain and I think it is all beautiful. I am capable of such amazing things.

I am capable of amazing things.

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.

 

Me Too.

shame

My self-care is at an all time high. My boundaries with family are healthy, I am doing work that feels meaningful, I am making strides in my own personal work, my husband and I have plans for travel not to mention our relationship grows deeper and truer all the time, I am involved in multiple women’s circles right now that bring so much healing connection into my life AND I have enough freedom right now to actually breathe this abundance in and truly sit with my gratitude.

I was sitting in my gratitude for all of these outlets this morning while talking to a friend. It is not that my life is perfect, I am absolutely sitting in some struggles as well; the beauty is that right now my support out weighs the struggle making the struggle feel so much more manageable.

This morning one of the women from one of my healing circles texted us (the women in the group) and shared a struggle she is currently having.

Here is the thing I love about being part of these groups that allow us to take off the mask and be seen in our darkness, our light, and all the gray that makes us who we are; we find that the thing that makes us feel the most shame, and the greatest disconnection is actually where the true connection lies.

She shared her story via group text and shared how shameful she felt. She was waiting for our judgement, judgement that did not come. What came was the most healing sentence a person in pain can hear: Me too.

My boyfriend gave me an STD; Me too.
I was emotionally abused and aware of it and did nothing for years; Me too.
I took him back; Me too.
I am weak; Me too.
I am humiliated; Me too.
I just want to hide; Me too.

I know your pain. Your pain is my pain. What if the thing that makes us feel the most unlovable is actually the very thing that will invite our greatest love in.

Here is one of my shame stories to help anyone struggling to stand in their truth:

I once left a partner after years of emotional abuse. I self-medicated for months, red wine and Benadryl every night, then I numbed in other ways- tanning beds, exercising, shopping, hair appointments. I knew it wasn’t over, somehow I knew there was something left there. I was right. Less than a year later he reached out and we started back up. Two months later I went for my annual and was told I had an STD. When I confronted him about it he admitted what I already knew. That was it. That was the last straw.

Lying, control, making me feel less than. I was so small then that I thought I deserved this. I drew a line at my physical health though. I finally told someone what was happening, the truth was I needed someone to hold me accountable. I was lost. For years and years I was lost. I had no idea who I was.

It took years for me to process the experiences of that time of my life. Emotional/mental abuse is hard to heal because of the confusion it causes. It took a really long time for me to be able to find my truth in our story. I was blamed for everything. I was lied to and then called a liar, I was betrayed and called the betrayer.

As women when we come together and share these stories we are opening a door for other women to then feel safe to walk through. If I had been honest sooner about what was happening and someone had said Me too and shared their story maybe my story would be different.

I see now the importance of this darkness though because I am sit next to women in a circle who bring their darkness and in places where they feel most alone I am able to show up and say Me too. That is powerful. Yes I have experienced darkness, yes I have brought darkness to others. This is all true AND I am grateful for it every time I can sit with a woman in pain and say Me too.

 

Gauntlet

gauntlet

When I was 17 I jilted a boy, at least that was his version of our story. My truth is that I stayed with someone out of fear and desperation and when the opportunity came along to get out I took it. My escape did not come without a cost however.

One day at the end of school I was walking alone towards the back of campus where my truck was parked when I saw it, the gauntlet laid down before me. This was the day I learned the true meaning of the phrase walk of shame.

My ex was there with his imbecile best friend and the best friend’s equally moronic girlfriend. The friend and his girlfriend (who both needed no reason to be cruel but felt that my moving on from their friend gave them a good one) were perched on top of a cement planter waiting; my ex stayed below looking sheepish and trying to appear innocent and unaware. He fooled no one, not me at least that is for sure.

They saw me and I paused. I did not know what to expect. These two goons barely shared one functioning brain between them, I had no idea what they were capable of or if they even had a plan. I considered my options:

Leave my truck and walk home, come back for it later.
Walk around the back of the art building and out the other way, avoiding them all together.
Get a teacher.
Walk into it and out the other side.

I cancelled the leave my truck idea worried they would trash it or that the gates would be locked when I try to come back for it.
Then I vetoed the back of the art building as an option because it was clear these two were out for blood and they were not going to let me get by without whatever public display of humiliation they had in store for me, surely they would follow me.
Get a teacher seemed like a solid option but unfortunately that was not me, back then when I was in trouble I would not ask for help. Somehow it seemed like that shame would be more unbearable than whatever these two had in mind.
So with one option left I took a deep breath and proceeded forward towards the parking lot.

I braced myself for anything not knowing whether to expect a verbal or physical assault. I knew the friend would not touch me, he thought himself too much a gentleman to hit a girl, his girlfriend was another story. I figured even if she did come after me I could take it though, I had been taking hits from guys twice her size most of my life, I would survive any damage she would try to do.

Then it began. I was still a ways off when it started. SLUT! WHORE! SKANK!

Pointing and screaming, saying my name for all to hear with every foul insult man has ever created about women following close behind.

People  stopped and looked. No one coming to my aid, all standing by and watching the public shaming take place. My ex just shrugged his shoulders as I passed him as if these were wild animals I could not possibly expect him to control.

The insults rained down upon me like a furious toxic rain as I hurried by. Getting louder and more aggressive as I walked away towards the safety of my truck. I could feel their frustration from my lack of response. They had hit their mark but my nonreaction gave them no indication of how deep they had wounded their prey. I would not give them that.

I left campus without looking back.

I do not remember how I licked my wounds that day. I am sure I just cried until I was cried out because that is all I ever did. Cried until it felt like my eyes would bleed from asking too much of them with my relentless sobs.

I think the thing that kept them from breaking me that day was the fact that I walked through it and survived. I did that by myself for myself. AND I knew none of it was true. When you know who you are you will never believe the lies anyone else tries to tell you about yourself.

 

Standing in the Middle of Traffic

traffic

Over lunch yesterday my mother shared with me that while on their way to the beach with the kids my brother and sister-in-law saw my cousin standing in the middle of traffic. This is not how this story begins.

My cousin is my age. She was born roughly 4 months after me and was my first best friend growing up.

A little bit about my cousin:

Growing up her favorite color was purple. She loved to dance and sing. She was super snuggly. She ate my potato skins for me at grandma’s house because she knew how much I hated them and we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we cleaned our plates. She was sweet in a way I couldn’t be because of my rough edges and loud, messy ways. She wanted nothing more in life than to be a momma.

A little bit more about my cousin:

She grew up in a household of broken plates and loud voices. She was raised by a mother who struggles in ways I will not list here. She was one of 4 and in her family she took on the role of mother and protector of the babies at a young age. She was over medicated for conditions it was never certain that she had. She was removed at the age of 9, it would be over a decade before she lived under her mother’s roof again. It would be nearly a decade before she lived with any family again. The rest of her childhood took place in a group home.

And more about my cousin:

She aged out at 18 and began living on the streets. We found her around age 20 at which time she lived with almost everyone in my extended family for a period of time, starting with my own family. My cousin struggled being back with family. My cousin struggled. Constant hand washing to the point of cracked bloody knuckles. Washing everything over and over. A constant state of anxiety and fear. She was hired and let go immediately from jobs for staying in the bathroom all day washing her hands. My cousin struggled and refused to accept help from professionals. My cousin ran away less than a year after being found.

More about my cousin:

My cousin disappeared for years. Vanished. Two years ago she unwillingly resurfaced hours north from her home town, the new mommy to twin baby girls. My cousin claimed she had no family when she was in labor, the state found the family she denied having. Her babies were taken. A year and a half later she once again resurfaced hours east from her home town, the new mommy to a baby boy. This time the state already knew her and her family, there was no denying she had any. Her baby was taken. Her babies were not taken with the intention of permanent separation, she was given a plan with a goal of reunification. The plans did not work. My brother and sister-in-law have been mommy and daddy to these beautiful babies since their earliest weeks of life and they love and protect those babies fiercely, just like their momma would.

And a little more about my cousin:

The labels came in from clinicians she was afraid to trust; schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression.. It made little difference. My sweet cousin, who loves the color purple and wanted nothing more in life than to be a momma, struggles. I believe she struggles because her momma struggled. I believe she struggles because she started mothering and protecting in a time of early innocence when she still needed mothering and protection herself but got none.

When my mother told me that my brother saw her standing in the middle of traffic it made me think how that is probably how her entire life has felt for her. The chaos and confusion of standing in the middle of traffic. Horns honking, plates being thrown, shouting, confusion, never feeling safe.

When my mother told me that my brother saw her standing in the middle of traffic while he was driving his family of seven to the beach it made me think of her babies. They were sitting in the car seats at a red light while right outside their window stood their momma in traffic. They don’t know her, they don’t know their connection to this woman in the street standing among the chaos of moving cars.

This is not my story to tell and I have very strong feelings about telling stories that are not mine to tell. One day these babies are going to want to know where they came from though and I want them to know that their momma is more than a woman standing in the middle of traffic.

Their momma was my first best friend growing up. She loved the color purple. She loved to sing and dance. She was sweet in a way I could not be. And she wanted nothing more in life than to be a momma.