Certain days mark a before and an after. You go to bed being one person, living a certain life–thinking you know things. You wake up to a new reality–sometimes, literally–and suddenly the entire world is different. And then you spend years figuring it all out. For me, this is one of those days. A worst ever day. The start of a whole new life. Eventually, the day that ripped you apart becomes your healer.
Two years ago, I started a concerted battle for my own happiness–which was part of a longer journey. I had been at war with myself for dozens of years and had fought the good fight. But, at some point, I realized I had no more tools. I had reached a point where, despite the personal progress I made on my own, I just accepted that my life was going to be about suffering. I thought it was just part of my DNA. I couldn’t change it. I just had to find some way to move on and stop the suffering that came from not being able to change. So, I started working with the best therapist ever–someone who intimately understood where I had lived emotionally for my entire life. She was someone I admired instantly because there was no lie in her story. She didn’t believe that suffering was mine. She believed in my ability to be fully myself and created a path out of the misery I just lived with. I did the hardest work I’ve ever done–facing myself. Telling the truth about my life and about the things I endured–the people I loved–about the stuff I made up and the things I minimized. While I went to every session and fully committed, half the time, I wasn’t sure if this was working. I often didn’t want to make the investment in myself. I felt like I was talking to a friend more than I was getting on with it. But then, I’d have breakthroughs and I realized that each session brought me closer to the person I always was and wouldn’t allow myself to be. Earlier this week, it was amazing to review the progress of the last year with her. We celebrated because that stuff I always claimed as mine is now so clearly not mine. Who I am has opened up. I am honoring myself. I am setting boundaries. I am operating from a place of self-love rather than duty. I will probably never be fully healed. Trauma isn’t like that. But I am not broken or maimed. I am in a place of authenticity and vulnerability more often than not. I am closer to freedom than I’ve ever been. And I’m ready to climb the scariest mountain to get past even more of the trauma I’ve lived through. Therapy works, y’all. I’m truly scared to tackle this next challenge. But I’ve also never been so excited to see how I surprise myself.
I’ve come full circle. I wrote the following blog entry 7 years ago, when I was starting the journey I had toward realizing I couldn’t do this work alone.
In six minutes, another anniversary will be in full swing. A few days ago, my heart started shutting down a bit–like it does every year. And I decided I had nothing I really wanted to say. Or, rather, I just wanted to talk to people who knew me well–or who I wanted to know me well. Because anything–anything at all beyond that–was just too much. And, so, I took a break from Reverb and my blog and Facebook…and I focused on work and school and getting through. Like I used to, when I was a kid and never felt anything. But it isn’t so simple now.
I was six years old on December 11, 1984. I remember I was sitting in Mrs. Martinez’s classroom. And I remembered a certain fleeting, sinking sensation as I lost control of all my bodily functions. And I remember Zelda being horrified, pointing at the puddle on the floor. I remember the teacher’s aide walked me to the nurse’s office. And I remember they didn’t have any clothes that would fit me. And I remember them calling Mama. Mama was at the hospital–that cold, scary building where Daddy lived that week.
An hour later, Mama was at the station–her face red and drained and not right. And the first thing I said was, “He’s dead, isn’t he?” But it didn’t come out as a question. And I never heard her answer–though she told me later what I said. I don’t remember that, either.
Death when you’re a small child is an odd thing–kinda like a kaleidoscope. Both fascinating and disorienting. You can’t stop looking at it, but you’re afraid to touch it–because it…you…might break if you do. And so, you stay away…but you always keep one eye on it.
I was not a child that grieved. I was not a child that cried. I was not someone who felt things. I was a child who lived. I did things. I set high standards for myself, and I worked. And I took care of everyone. And I convinced myself that the world rested on my shoulders. Mostly, because my world did.
The truth is my father dying didn’t ruin my life. If anything, it saved it.
If you’re a child of an alcoholic–a man like my father–someone who went to the end of Hell and back and still sank–someone who slowly died every single day I knew him–you understand this. You understand that, once again, my father helped me be born. Even if he taught me, better than anyone, how to die.
I grew up feeling like an alien. For a lot of reasons. I was one of the few white girls where I grew up. I was poor and had hardly anything. I didn’t have family, and I didn’t know how to be part of anything. I knew how to put my head down–how to stare at my shoes–and how to disappear. I was an only child of older parents, too. What do you do about that?
For me, I spent a lot of time exploring things…finding out how things related to one another…and watching. I was obsessed with learning. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I was always listening in on people’s conversations…looking for clues about how I might fit in. I did this for a really long time. And, then, when I was 13, I sort of stopped trying to adjust so much. I think I started to like myself, just a little…but it was enough to make me believe things.
And when people would tell me I couldn’t do something, I’d put my head down and work hard…as hard as my Papa worked to achieve the American Dream. I am stubborn just like him, and I wouldn’t stop till I proved your ass wrong. And then, I’d probably keep going. And one day, I found that I made it. That I was at some school, and it was all paid for. And so, I fought to stay. Even now, I’m always fighting to stay…or to make you stay, just a bit longer.
It’s taken me a really long time to like myself.
There are many things I struggle with. Like I get impatient with my impatience. And I hate my calves. And I have big feet. And I wish the boobs didn’t always get in the way of something. And no matter how thin I am, I will always think of myself as just a bit bigger. Like I know I’m smart, but I hate even the idea that someone might think I’m stupid–and so–I will try very hard to make sure you know I have a brain. And while I’m funny–sometimes–I’m funny because I’m making fun of myself…and, sometimes, it’s not a joke. And I’m afraid of you. I don’t trust you. And if I really like you, it’s easy to convince myself that you’re just being kind. And deep down, I question why anyone wouldn’t hate me. Because I so often do.
But, sometimes, I’m okay.
Sometimes, I am them. Sometimes, I am more than they could ever be. Sometimes, I’m the daughter they deserved.
And I am brave. And I am vulnerable. And I am hysterical. In the good way.
I am smart, but not obnoxious–in a way that uplifts me and everyone I know. I do everything with intention–like I mean it–like my life depends on it…whether it’s walking or talking or laughing or crying. I’m there, and there’s no other place I’d ever want to be. I am the person you will always rely on because I always come through because I want to and I can. I tell the truth, even when I feel dumb…even when it hurts like Hell…even when it means my world will collide with shit. I am bright and shiny. I help you fly.
So many of those pieces of me are my parents. And so many of those pieces come from their deaths. So much of my shit–of my crap–my stuff–exists within all of that. But, sometimes, I don’t mind it because it helps me recognize them in me…and it makes me realize I have changed and can change and will change. And that this is absolutely up to me.
As a photographer with an iphone, I take far too many selfies. A ridiculous number, really. Most of which I never post or even look at again. I’ve always been very hard on myself. There are only a handful wherein I feel explicitly me–or even feel remotely pretty (oddly, they are usually the same photos)–where who I am is written all over my face. No defenses. Just me. Lately, most of the photos I’ve taken have been this way. So, I thought I’d share them all in this post. 🙂 Mostly because self-love has been a long journey, and I feel like maybe I’m closer to where I want to be.
For as long as I remember, I’ve just wanted to be loved. While I have been loved in varying ways throughout my life, there has always been this immeasurable hole that never seemed to be able to be filled–no matter how much someone said they loved me.
I’m a meaning maker–a connection seeker–who really just wants to be seen and to see. That’s the gist of who I am and what I’ve always done. My main motivation, always. And while I’ve loved the men I have been involved with, I’ve never felt that deep sense of belonging that I’ve always sort of ached for. I wanted to–desperately–but at the end of most days, when the lights were out and he was sound asleep next to me? I’d walk out to the couch or set up on the floor instead of settling in to him. And he probably never even knew.
I was always afraid that me just being me–even in sleep–would hurt him somehow. So I went back to being alone in the ways I do.
Yesterday, he told me I’m a hole poker. I’ve been called Chuck Norris before, so the concept wasn’t lost on me or even much of a surprise. The way he said it and how he said it? It fit. “Oh, yea. I am.” Made sense. Because I had done it this week. This beautiful man tells me how much he loves me, and instead of just accepting it–I tell him why he shouldn’t. I tell him about all my bullshit. And worse? I try to protect him from it. But like me with him–he just wants to know me. And he actually loves me. The person I am–not the one holding up the entire world. All the holes. All the crap. He just wants to see me.
My ex told me something like this once, and the way he said it stung. Actually made me do it more. Made me test him more. Because I felt us unraveling, I guess. Even as I told myself some other story that I wanted to believe more. The way he said it was mean. And I felt more unseen than I ever had been. Instead of helping me open up, as he probably intended in his comment, it made me close up tighter than Fort Knox. Mostly because the way he said it made me feel like he had no idea who I was or why I was like this. I was just some fucked up girl he couldn’t love.
It was different this time. Because there was empathy. An–I get it, and I love you anyway. A please don’t do this anymore. So, I heard him and started the work again of being present instead of debunking.
This whole relationship feels like healing from the damage of my last major ex. I don’t think I realized how much that relationship broke me until I starting loving this man. But I’m grateful for it because I am not that woman that other man didn’t love enough anymore. I am a woman deserving of this love, and that’s kind of stunning.
I am actually hopeful about this. Sure about it. Serious about it. Happy. Because I fall asleep with him. My arm is still up, but it’s coming down. I feel safe. We just fit. He is just as silly as I am, but achingly sincere and forthright. We struggle together and are better together. I want to crawl inside a little ball with him wrapped around me forever. Sometimes, it feels like we share one big heart. I don’t need to fill up the entire Universe with words. I can just be there with him in the dark. Just me. Just him. None of the crap I’ve always been. It feels completely different from anything I’ve known, and I’m just sorta amazed that this is actually mine.
So, many of you might be seeing these posts on social media today from women in your lives. Some people explain what it means. Many don’t. What is it about? Well, we are sharing that we were either sexually harassed or assaulted in our lives. There are varying degrees of that. And if you’d like to have conversations about these things, I’m open to it. But mostly, I just want you all to be aware that these things happen every day to women just like me who did absolutely nothing wrong.
It’s been a couple months since I first became aware you existed. You started the clock then, and we haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. I don’t think we will. Somehow, we’re here–in spite of all of the obstacles and shit we’ve gone through to get here. Every day, I look forward to saying good morning and hate saying goodnight–even though you’re usually so cute and groggy that I oddly also look forward to it.
Finding someone to love, who somehow (miraculously) loves you back? Sometimes, it feels like some kind of goddamn miracle. Of course, loving someone is just the beginning of the story. There are layers to scavenge and holes to plunge. Knowing someone and loving them for a while takes guts and time. And it can be hard.
Years ago, I wrote this thing on my blog–not to anyone in particular, really–but it was a way for me to cliff note who I was for guys who wanted to be someone to me. A way to save time, mostly, because that’s my way. So, this week has been one of those magical weeks that have left me smiling like a ninny. This good thing that somehow showed up in the darkness I was living in just a few weeks ago. You.
Maybe it’s silly to write something like this…maybe I should just tell you to read the blog–as I did when Mama died. But meh. I’ve never done the conventional/wise shit. So here’s your crash course in me and how I am sometimes.