befores and afters

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.

mama

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.

 

 

Advertisements

very much myself

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.

fits and giggles

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.

me, too

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.

letter to a someone, 2017 edition

Mr. You–

Hi.

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.

  • I am terrified of most everything, but most especially? Myself.  I rarely, if ever, trust myself–and I will always seek confirmation from someone that I am doing the right thing.  But I am actually getting better at this.  For years, my Mama was my sounding board for everything.  If I ask you for your opinion, I’m usually just trying to figure out what I feel about it–by gauging how you feel about it–because I respect you.
  • I sometimes make choices based on fear, but I am the girl most think of as brave because I constantly face my fears–even when I’ve faced them fifty times before.  The fear I’ve faced the most?  Heights.  I’ve been challenging it ever since I was a little girl–climbing up on slides and jumping–screaming “Wonder Woman” so I wouldn’t be so afraid.  I’ve done things like skydive and bungee jump, but I don’t know if I’ll be doing them again.  Still scared.
  • Speaking of that word–people think I’m brave, aloof, and a goody-goody–despite all my efforts to convince them I’m not.  So maybe it’s actually true.  I kinda hate that.
  • I am an intensely honest person, but it’s a constant commitment for me and one I’m stubborn about.  Mostly because it is such a hard thing.  I believe having hope and being vulnerable is the bravest thing you can do.  For a very long time, I had no idea who I was or what I actually felt–and I certainly couldn’t express it or stand behind it.  I don’t want to hide anymore, and I don’t want you to hide either–mostly because I know that suffering.
  • While you should always listen to what I’m saying, pay closer attention to what I don’t say.
  • I still blame myself for a lot of things, including both of my parents’ deaths and the suicides of other friends.  I tend to immediately assume responsibility when things go wrong, and I am excellent in a crisis.  I have a savior complex.  And I am a hard core perfectionist-in-recovery.   All of these things torture me, sometimes.  Usually during grief season.  A big anniversary is coming, and I am steeling myself for it.  Still.
  • I often need space.  While I will shower you with affection and will want frequent contact, I always want the option of little contact and time alone.  I know you’re like me and that loving someone the way we love can be this seemingly hopeless juggling act.  But I will support you in setting boundaries for what you need while doing the same for myself.  I know it just makes us better.
  • Large crowds make me hate life.  If I hole up in my bed, it’s not because I’m depressed.  It’s usually because I need to think.
  • I frequently indulge in what I call Introvert Paradise. It’s supremely geeky.  Maybe, one day, I’ll let you visit this enchanted place.
  • I can watch cooking shows, design shows, makeover shows, murder/court shows, and bad reality television all day every day if I let myself.  I often let myself.  Save me.
  • I hate riding in elevators with people and have been known to push the close button just to avoid it.  This probably makes me a bad person.
  • Sometimes, I will be overcome by giggles.  I swear I’m not drunk or high or tired, even.  It’s just me.  Note: cheese, candy, and lotions often inspire such things.
  • I am a writer–not by choice, either.  I hate that I’m a writer.  I am grateful for it, but it’s also hard on me.  For years, I took an extended break from it–except for blogging–which I never deemed real or good enough.  What this means is that I think too much, am slightly–okay, fine–crazily–neurotic, and a bit of a voyeur.
  • While I’m a hard core introvert, I actually love people.  I like watching people and listening to them.  While I don’t always enjoy my interactions with some of any city’s brand of crazy, I do always learn from them–and I do enjoy chatting with most people I meet.  I actually need these interactions, and sometimes, you may have to kick my ass and get me out of my hermit cave.  I will love you more for it.
  • I miss my Mama every single day I’m able to wake up, in varying degrees.  It never ever goes away.  I don’t think it ever will.  I do not know what will trigger that suffocating feeling of being lost.  It comes and goes.  Certain months (like December) will be filled with it.  When I am sad, I will probably not tell you–though I’m better at that now.  But you will feel it because it will hang heavy in the air.  I am not good at hiding emotions anymore, thank God.  I will probably eat a lot of takeout then.  Sometimes, I’ll be quiet and will lay in my bed for hours–reading self-help shit that probably makes your eyes roll.  And, mostly, I will not let you comfort me until I completely break down–though I will want you to and will accept it if you do.  And, when I do, I will cry so hard that my entire body will shake.    But I won’t cry that long.  When I stop, my eyes will be so puffy I won’t be able to see and I won’t be able to breathe.  And I will hate it.
  • I am extremely restless and will often feel the need to go somewhere–some somewhere that I cannot name–for no good reason at all.  I am currently in a crisis state of restlessness.
  • I am NOT a hermit (mostly), but I can be scarily introverted.  I am content to stay home–and I’m definitely a homebody.  However, nothing delights me more than connecting with random people.
  • I love to cook and will cook you anything if you ask me to, but keep in mind I do go overboard always.  And it will probably take a long time.  And I may burn myself and cut myself.  But the kitchen will be spotless when I’m done.
  • I desperately want a sous chef and an intern.
  • I am a survivor.  I have an unshakable will to live and to heal.  I will likely give you lots of homework and will probably share big revelations with you and research all the shit that hurts you.
  • I am an information sponge.  I have so many tabs open that my computer always sounds like it will explode.  My wish lists are miles long.  I am always sharing ideas or stories or things I love.  I want you to love them, too.
  • Art is so important to me.  I am often moved to tears.  That includes books, movies, etc.
  • If you want to make me cry, get me a gift or make time for me.  I don’t even care what it is–no, really.
  • I am not a religious person, even though I’m Buddhist, but I do believe in miracles and angels–only because I’ve witnessed them.  I am fascinated by religion in terms of its social construction.  But I’m the religion I am because I’ve lived my life and that’s what makes sense to me.
  • I’m nostalgic as fuck, and it may be embarrassing.  I will make a meal just because my Mama made it for me when I was 12. My favorite dates are ones where I share my life with people.
  • I am a fucking activist.  I fight for what I believe in–including us–and rarely give up on things once I care about them.  I will riot in the street and risk my life for what I believe. I’m extremely open-minded, however, and will only argue with people who attack me for my beliefs.  I always understand opposing views and fight for the opposite’s side to be heard, too.
  • I’m loyal to a fault, and I hate that about myself.  It has hurt me a lot over the years.
  • I am learning to love Christmas again, but I will likely never want to be around more than a couple people during the holidays.  This still makes me immensely sad.
  • I am ridiculously obsessed with Halloween.  I become the biggest kid, even though it’s smack dab in the middle of grief season.  I love it because it acknowledges the darkness.
  • I am only a neat freak when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens.  In either case, you should stay out of my way if chicken’s involved.
  • I have a very thick skin about most things, but I get upset and sensitive when someone questions my intelligence.  I am actually surprised by how much this hurts me because I usually don’t get upset by attacks.  But that will always do it.
  • When I’m really mad, I tend to yell and slam doors.  I have a way of cutting people with my words, and I’m very good at hurting people badly–so I usually leave if that’s an option.  If it’s not, I will almost always suggest time outs.  It takes a lot to make me angry, thankfully.  You should only be afraid if I stop talking.
  • I can be a grumpy bitch sometimes–especially if I’m sick or hungry.  I apologize in advance.
  • When I’m sick, I get very needy and will require hugs all day long.  I also will be feisty and annoying when I start feeling better.
  • I absolutely hate being tickled, but apparently this is funny.  It’s also funny to make me angry, too?
  • I have an uncanny intuition and usually rely on my gut instincts to guide me.  I may be a little psychic.
  • I have an addictive personality.  But I have never smoked in my life.  I don’t drink that much, and I’ve done very few drugs.  I never wanted to become my parents.  But I recognize these things exist in me.
  • I am sometimes a jealous person–but not in a smothering, possessive way.  It usually only comes out when I’m in a difficult relationship or if I’m struggling with myself.
  • I am sometimes selfish.  I care about what I have, and when I was little, I didn’t hav much, so sharing was big.  I usually am generous, though.
  • I’m not into open relationships.  I don’t like sharing my someone.  I don’t trust anyone easily.  I can, and have, forgiven cheating.  But I will not forgive dishonesty or cruelty.  I’d never entertain a threesome simply because I’d cut a bitch. I have a hard time being attracted to others when I like someone.
  • I forgive very easily, if I get an apology, but it will take a while to heal the relationship. If no apology happens, I will still forgive, but you probably will never be an active part of my life.
  • I am hyperaware of my health.  I’ve personally dealt with a lot of shit and still go through trauma related to it.
  • I’m a goddamn hippie.  I hope you like crystals and incense.
  • I adore my pets and will cut anyone who hurts them. They are my family.
  • I have an intense need to be seen, but I hate being seen–hate being looked at.
  • I’ve miscarried before, and I often wonder if my Mama’s history of infertility will be something I’ll share.
  • I would rather hang out with kids or animals than adults any day.
  • I am extremely confident about the things I can do, but extremely insecure about who I am.  I will never call myself sexy or beautiful or a hottie–unless I’m joking.  And I hate being called cute. It’s a thing.
  • I’m the most stubborn person you will ever meet.  If you tell me to do something, I will challenge you.
  • I’m a tease.  I’m a flirt.  I love pushing boundaries, unless they matter.
  • I am a listmaker and often spend too much time on plans I later throw away.  Spreadsheets and to-do lists are crack to me.  I color code.
  • My spontaneity is extremely random and jarring to most people who know me.
  • I’m an extremely sensual person, but I think that’s surprising to most people because I tend to be a bit too subtle unless you’re the one I’m screwing. I really do have a reputation for being innocent.
  • It took me a very, very long time to be a sexual person.  It’s a very vulnerable part of who I am.
  • I’m a hopeless, hopeful romantic who believes in love to an insane degree but also is terrified of it.  I have alway balanced optimism with insane cynicism.  But I consider myself an optimist–who overanalyzes.
  • I question everything, and I will push you–hard–sometimes–and test you–hard–and I will ask dumb questions simply because I don’t have a filter like most people.  I don’t read certain things like most people.  I’m always looking to confirm that I’m on the right track.  People have mistaken this for many other things, and well, it’s me just trying to understand.
  • I expect the worst case scenario, and I plan for it. Obsessively.  And then I throw out the plans and go with my gut.
  • I am way too much for a lot of people.  I’m overwhelming sometimes in terms of how much I love people.  I have been involved in many one-sided relationships, and I will never accept it again.
  • I love to make people happy, and sometimes, I overdo it.  Like a lot.
  • I am an orphan, but I don’t want to adopt your family.  Maybe the opposite.  Being independent is a big deal to me.
  • There is nothing you can’t talk to me about.
  • I need security, but I hate it too.
  • There is nothing worse than me dealing with failing technology.  You will hear much cursing and probably laugh at me.
  • I am not a PMS-y sort of girl, but I need all the junk at times.
  • I have a crazy memory that may actually scare you at times.
  • I write alone. Mostly because I cry and I hate crying in front of people.
  • I really, really want someone to take care of me.  Which is weird because I’m independent.  Not because I require it, but because I just need it.  It’s the orphan thing.
  • I am such a communicative person, but my face is maybe more expressive than all my damn words.
  • I pay attention and see all the things most people miss.  Sometimes, I won’t reveal that I noticed.  But I did.  Believe that.
  • My curiosity will kill me one day.  And that might be okay.
  • I love questions.  I love answering and asking them.  Nothing delights me more.
  • I love letters and long, protracted voicemails.  If you don’t leave a voicemail, it actually kinda offends me.
  • Gummy bears will fix nearly anything.
  • I appreciate being told I’m an idiot–in a nice way.  I will never, ever be a “yes” girl and don’t want you to be a nice guy or a yes guy.
  • I do not care how your hair looks or what you drive.  But I may try to spoil you sometimes because you deserve it.
  • I will judge you if you take longer than me in the bathroom.  And please smell good.

Love you.
Me