Not in the Clear Yet

So my last post I talked about being in the in-between of survivor and something else.  I talked boldly about letting that part of my identity go, of being something else, something more.

The fact is, Survivor Girl is still a huge part of my identity, along with her sister, Victim Girl.  Survivor Girl looks out for Victim Girl, identifying every single thing that could possibly wound her and laying waste to it with her violence and rage, then erecting walls of granite and steel around her to keep the bad guys out.  And Victim Girl… well she just goes along with the story, wailing about how and why and what for do all these terrible things happen to her.

I am reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  The one that is the latest Reese Witherspoon movie.  It’s a great book and I won’t spoil it but, inevitably, our dear heroine encounters strange, unknown men on the trail and her instincts tell her things.  Just remembering this passage I can feel my heart begin to race – it’s funny how quickly that can happen.  How suddenly your heart rate can seemingly double, just from reading about something that terrifies you.  Knowing that this is a memoir makes it all the more upsetting.  It’s real.

I actually had to put the book down and walk away.  Sigh.

So, what to do?  I mean, I don’t think I could ever get to the point of being nonchalant about reading rapey stories, or seeing it on television even as “entertainment” (whole other rant there).  And I don’t really want to be “ok” with reading these things.  Part of me appreciates the sensitivity I have around this subject.  However… part of me wants to be able to read a book, watch a tv show or movie and remain calm enough to see a violent or uncomfortable scene to the end without the attending panic of Victim Girl and the mounting rage of Survivor Girl getting in the way of my every day life.

This is the problem with wrapping myself in a singular identity, I have one response to everything in the world that goes boo: smash it the fuck to pieces and then run the fuck away and then build the fuck out of a massive solid impenetrable wall to keep me safe.  Which can be useful some of the time in real life situations but in imaginary life situations… I mean really am I just gonna not finish the book at all?  Am I gonna fast forward through every movie that has a scene of sexual assault in it?  Or never ever watch The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo because it’s too scary?  I hear it’s a fantastic movie!

Part of survival for me has meant avoidance.  That is what surviving things has entailed, being able to identify the scary or the dangerous or the uncomfortable or the unpleasant and protecting the soft, scared, small and vulnerable part of me from the big bad world.  Keeping that part of me stunted.  It makes me think of a line I have heard recently that has been bouncing around my head, in paraphrase.  It’s something like, what will the world be missing out on if you don’t show up?  If you hide yourself away out of fear of rejection, what awesome thing about you will also be lost to the world?  The reverse of this sentiment is… what am I missing out on if I try to hide the world from view?

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Survivor Rising

I have started and stopped several blog posts here.  I’m in this kinda weird middle space, the floundering around space of figuring out how this next bit works, how to be the person that owns the role I’m embarking upon.  I’m changing, again.

I’ve been struggling with stress at work, changes at home, and an inner shifting and rearranging that is the discomfort of growing out of an old skin and into a new one.

These started and unfinished blog posts are evidence of my work to grasp this shift.  It is not subtle and yet… it is not entirely tangible.  Part of that is because I have realized that I am growing out of the role of survivor.  It’s an identity I wore for a long time without knowing it; I hardly noticed I was a survivor, that I was surviving, that I was moving through these incredible trials of my life like it was no big thing and yet it was absolutely everything.  Much of my life felt like it was bigger than me and yet I I had to climb it’s highest peaks anyway because the alternative would be to lay down and die.  Truth, I did lay down a few times and hope for death but, second truth, one can only lay down and hope for passive death for so long.  Eventually you have to be active which means make a choice; either do it yourself or do it yourself.  And every time I chose to do my life, my self.

I kinda feel like I missed out on the chest thumping and fist pumping and yelling out loud in the streets and the taking of ownership over being a survivor.  I missed reveling in the power of claiming myself from victimhood and telling everyone about it.  I was too busy being completely bewildered without really grasping why I felt so damn lost.  Too busy ignoring the thing that was so firmly in my way.

Part of me wishes I had started this blog 2 or 3 or more years ago.  Part of me wishes I had invited you all on that early part of my journey, when I finally turned around to look into the mirror that had been following me all that time, waiting patiently for my attention.  I feel like… that was the juicy part.  That’s really kinda silly though because all of it is the juicy part.  And the fact is I started this blog a few weeks ago, not several years ago, so… here we are.

Almost on the other side of survivor.

I am really aware that there are still a lot of people who hold that identity so near to their hearts.  I’m really aware that I am still tangled in survivorship.  Survivor is an identity of being a champion and y’know, it is still a part of my identity.  It’s the part of me I call upon when I have hard things to do and I don’t seem to have the gumption to just love myself through it.  However “survivor” is growing too small.  It is too narrow an identity to fit all of me in.  It’s a sliver of space compared to the vastness I am growing into.  It is not a place of love; not for me, not anymore.  And a place of love for myself is where I am going, is what I am growing into.

Like yesterday.  I had a hard thing to do.  It was a hard thing I’d been needing to do for probably a few months but, because I got so good at ignoring being a survivor and thus, ignoring the monumental tasks I floundered my way through, and ignoring all the messages my body and heart and mind tried to tell me about the tasks I had to do, I didn’t do the hard thing I had to do for several weeks (a few months, really) until just last Wednesday.  2 days ago.  I had to have a hard conversation with my boss.  I had to tell him how I was feeling.  How the conversations with him left me frozen with anxiety and then horribly disappointed in myself for not saying the things I needed to say or falling into “please and appease” mode whenever I did say the things I needed to say.  Especially if they were things I knew he didn’t want to hear, didn’t like to hear or would be upset by.

So I stalled and hummed and hawed and waited and paced and finally found myself in the bathroom looking into my own eyes in the mirror.  And I just stood there and remembered a video I’d watched earlier in the day.  In it the woman spoke about a self love exercise she had been recommended to practice.  To place your hands on your body and say I love you.  She said it was powerful for her and in that moment I thought oh why not?  I looked into my eyes, into the pupils.  They are just little dark holes behind which a bunch of nerves and brain junk interpret wave lengths of light bouncing off of the world and into these little portals.  They are portals.  Looking into my eyes I said “I’m going to take care of you.  Because I do love you.”

And then I thought to myself, well now I have to do it.

So I went into his office and told him what I needed.  And then we had to talk again the next day when I just spilled it all.  Cause I was feeling things and trying to keep them in had lead to anxiety and sleeplessness and feeling depressed and just blah.  So I told him everything; I had some critiques for things that I saw him doing that I thought were errors, I told him that the way he had talked to me upset me, I told him that I felt like I was supposed to be happy and I wasn’t and I didn’t understand why until the night before.  I laid it all out.

And you know?  It was ok. I got what I needed out of it, I was heard and was able to say the things I needed to say and I was heard.  But more importantly, I loved myself.  I integrated being my own champion/survivor, with being my own lover, my own best friend.

Survivor is too small an identity to have, it is just a small part of all of me.

Next to me, my love is watching the movie Silver Linings Playbook.  In it the character Tiffany says this: “There’s always gonna be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty but I like that. with all the other parts of me. Can you say that? Can you forgive?”

The victim/survivor dichotomy is the sloppy dirty part of me.  But right next to it is this new creature that is growing, this creature that loves me, that loves being me, that just can’t get enough of the whole damn messy beautiful puzzle.

This is what it means to be a survivor rising.  Once just surviving, but now rising and soon… thriving.

Story Time: A Ride on My Shame Train

After writing that last article I went to the bookstore and low-and-behold, they actually had some of Brene Brown’s books.  I was kind of shocked because this is a smaller bookstore and they NEVER have Brene Brown’s books.  And that day they had 3 of them which was faaantastic.  I already own The Gifts of Imperfection, have been waiting to get the paperback of Daring Greatly and could NEVER find I Thought It Was Just Me.  Well, they had all three today, and ITIWJM was there for reals, in paperback.  SCORE!

So I bought it and have been reading it til the point of headache and beyond, since.  I’m halfway through and I’m really witnessing a lot of things about me, things I used to do to myself and things I maybe still do but am getting much more aware about.

I just read a whole section about one woman’s personal journey through coming to understand her shame triggers around appearance.  There’s a whole critical thinking thing in it that I won’t get into because what it really made me think about was this particular episode I had about this very thing and just how sick I got over it.  (You can download the worksheet  for the book from her site brenebrown.com and I highly recommend you get the book as well, either from Indigo or Amazon)

I’ve struggled with body image my whole life and there are probably a lot of reasons for that.  Being violated is surely one of them, but also simply being a female in a culture that dictates to the tiniest detail what acceptable femininity and beauty is, is another big part of it.  Considering what had happened to me, how my body had basically been stolen from me, it is no surprise that I might be more susceptible or vulnerable to the messages in our media about how I am supposed to look.

So… Story Time.

I was newly dating a guy and was really raw from the last relationship.  He, the new interest, was (and is) a pretty fit guy.  And like every guy, somewhere, there is a collection of photos of “hot chicks.”  And as every woman who has ever lived with a guy, at some point you find this collection, maybe by accident (in my case), maybe he shows it to you (douchebaggery?  Maybe… Maybe just idiocy…), or maybe you go snooping for it (not really your best move).  To be honest, I had come across it accidentally the first time… the second time was kind of by accident because I was looking for something else but I decided to look *there* just in case and then, knowing full well what I was seeking would not be in *there* I looked anyway.  I spent perhaps the next hour clicking through photos of super fit chicks with perfectly perky breasts, straight teeth, tight everythings posing with their muscely muscles doing muscular things like holding weights, or dressed in boxing gloves, booty shorts and a crop top that shows the titillating underboob.  And with every photo I said to myself, “see you don’t look like that so what do you really have to offer this guy?  Clearly this is what he likes, not fat, frumpy, doughy thighed saggy boobed limp armed girls like you who don’t have ANY tattoos accept for the one shitty one you got in someone’s basement while the artist was drunk.” 

For at least an hour.

And there was a moment when that little voice inside me said “this is stupid and hurtful and you’re doing this to yourself.  You’re hurting yourself with these lies on purpose.  All you have to do is turn off the computer, walk away, go for a bike ride, hell, pick your nose I don’t care, just anything but this.”  And I said… no.  Fuck off.  I deserve to feel like this because I’m an ugly woman.  And I carried on with the self abuse.

Eventually, after I’d crossed the threshold of pure shame exhaustion, I stopped and wrote an angry rant on facebook about why guys have pictures like these and beauty standards are bullshit and fuck you media and how am I supposed to believe a man when he tells me how beautiful or sexy he thinks I am when none of his collections reflect women who look like me?  Or women doing things other than just almost showing their vaginas?  Is this what we are supposed to be?  Which message am I supposed to believe?

And it reminded me of all the other times I had done this exact thing.  This ritual of finding an endless parade of women who look perfect and comparing myself to them and practically salivating with self loathing for all the ways I did not measure up, would never measure up and would always be less than a good enough woman because I would never be a fit, firm, petite muscle beach babe with a perfectly flat stomach free of stretch marks and loose skin.  I had already ruined my body.  It was broken and ugly and therefore worthless.  This behaviour had started around the same time I began reading teen-girl beauty magazines (go fucking figure…).  Frankly, reading those magazines only lasted maybe a few months, but it was enough to start the process.  And I would hold myself up against every female I saw, judging if I was better than her, more valuable than her, or less, based purely on a beauty standard that was dictated to me by someone who stood to gain $$$ off of my poor self esteem.

Later, after some reflection and realizing that my rant had more to do with brushing off my stupid behaviour, trying to shame others for the shame I felt (look up shame screens by Brene Brown…) and using my loud angry facebook voice to do it, we talked. I confessed to him that I just felt really ugly and chose to participate in the ugly behaviour because I really thought I deserved to see why I wasn’t good enough for him.

And that’s the thing about shame.  You believe you deserve it.  You believe you are unworthy of connection, support and love because you have no value as a person.  Brene Brown draws that line between shame and guilt; guilt is thinking you have done something wrong but you are still worthy of compassionate treatment.  Shame is thinking you are something wrong and deserve punishing treatment.  I would suspect, that to achieve a position of greater power over yourself, you become the punisher, which is a more powerful position than the punished, almost like you are attempting to climb up over yourself.

I wish I could say I don’t do this anymore but I do.  I just don’t take to that level anymore.  I wish I wasn’t still as mired in the shame web of female beauty standards, but I am.  I will likely always be vulnerable about whether or not I am beautiful enough to be of value, and it really has so little to do with what I actually look like and so much more to do with what I am told I’m supposed to look like.  Everyone, by now, has seen that meme of the shifting female beauty standards and even of those women who do measure up… The tricksy thing about it is, she may never feel like she “measures up.”  Frankly, that she, we, I have to measure up to someone elses standard of beauty is really fucked up to begin with.

But, here I am, concerned about it and so I do still compare myself, automatically, to women I see in the media, on the street, on the bus…  I measure myself up, without really intending to, and mark the stick for how short I fall.  While I do not allow that to enter my conscious mind without some very firm self talk about how useless and degrading it is, not just to me, but to the women I reduce to a bunch of body parts, too; that she and I are equals not based on our physique but based on our common humanity, I still catch myself being afraid of and angry at women who pull beauty off easily because they have the “perfect face, perfect body, perfect teeth” and are even really nice people.  I hear myself getting judgey “she’s probably a bitch anyway; you’ll never be as good as her; if only you could afford braces to straighten your teeth; you need to work out more; she’s better than you.” 

I wish I had an answer to why I do this to myself and to how I can free myself completely from this habit.  But I don’t.  Not yet anyways.  Shame is an incredible beast; it makes you feel so loathsome and alone that you actually want to be alone to continue looking at the ugly under the microscope as if to prove to yourself it is the only truth; that you deserve this status as reject.  Currently the best medicine I have is to be compassionate and empathetic with myself and acknowledge that feeling ugly, outcast, unworthy and rejected from the community is a hard and unpleasant way to feel.  And I am most definitely not the only one.  That this story, even this very habit, is one I share with millions of people all hiding in their bedrooms huddled over a computer or a mirror examining themselves, collecting the evidence of why they are so deserving of their private torture.

And I guess all of that is why I am sitting on this article right now, thinking… hmm publish don’t publish… do people really need to know… I unpacked this with my friends… But something I just read in Brene Brown’s book ITIWJM is this:

“When we strive to understand the context or bigger picture, we don’t give up responsibility.  We increase it.  When we identify a personal struggle that is rooted in larger issues, we should take responsibility for both.  Maybe it’s not just our job to make things better for ourselves; maybe we have a responsibility to make things better for our children, our friends, for our community.

If we understand how larger systems are contributing to our shame and we choose only to change ourselves, we become as negligent as the person who says, “I’m not changing myself, because the system is bad.”  Context is not the enemy of personal responsibility.  Individualism is the enemy of personal responsibility.”

So the context is this; I live in a society that says valuable women have plump lips, cat-like eyes, smooth skin that is not too white and not too black, long legs, long hair that is of a very caucasian quality, a slim waist, flat stomach with 0 stretch marks, a big round firm butt, large, firm perky breasts and just enough muscle to be considered “fit” but not so much to be considered powerful, and just enough fat to be considered feminine, but not so much to be considered fat.  There are a whole bunch of industries that make a lot of money off of my belief that I need to achieve this quality of femininity to have any value or status in society, as a woman.  The target is a shifting one so that I am never quite able to reach it and thus must continue to spend time, money and energy to chase it.  If I were to quote Naomi Wolf here, I would follow that up with the purpose of all this is to keep me distracted from my own personhood and the inherent power and value in that status.  But that might be for another discussion…

So, in light of that contextualizing, and in keep true to myself and my desire to help us all unpack this bullshit and and show one another we are worthy of support, love, trust, care, compassion and empathy, here we go.  Publication.  Let’s see if we can’t all work together to shake this shit up.

Super Powers

Several months ago I picked up the book The Courage To Heal.  It was written some 20 or 30 years ago but honestly is still extremely relevant today to survivors of sexual abuse.  While it was initially written for women survivors, I’m quite certain men survivors could also use it, and its companion, The Courage To Heal Workbook.

One of the first writing exercises in the book was to list the things I gained from the abuse I sustained.  At first glance the reaction is that nothing was gained, and I think that most survivors will have that kind of response for some period of time after their abuse/rape.  It may be that it will take a number of years, maybe many many years, for a survivor to be able to see what they may have gained from the experience.  I would suggest that one likely needs to have an incubation period for those super powers to develop more before one can really even notice them.

It took me nearly 30 years.  And I don’t think that was for lack of looking so much as a necessary time period (for me!  It will not be 30 years for everyone, I hope) for those powers to be put to use, to develop and become more effective in their functioning and eventually, shiny enough or me to notice them.

And even so, when first approaching this it was with a certain emotional detachment, this sort of begrudging attitude of “well I guess there must have been something…”  It was not a hard exercise to do, or me, likely because of the time and distance between myself today and the experiences of then.  But even still, a little part of me wanted to resist it, held on to the idea that it was all just awful and nothing good could have come out of it.

Part of me wants to say that it’s a choice to get something good out of something so lousy, but really… That goodness comes anyway.  I think the choice is in a) being able to recognize it and b) being able to use it effectively.  And both of those things are likely only to happen when we have gotten to a point of being able to look at our injuries with a certain objectivity and a huge helping of compassion and empathy for ourselves.  Which is hard because both of those things mean taking in the pain and suffering and touching on those places within ourselves.  Being empathetic and compassionate towards ourselves can be the hardest thing to do because it directly puts us in the place of our shame, fear, anger and pain.

So… my Super Powers…

Strength.  Believe you me, I can survive just about anything.  That I found ways to literally stay alive while being injured so young, and not only stay alive, but found it in myself to identify that what was happening to me was wrong, that it scared me and someone needed to help me and that I had to figure out how to tell people what was wrong demonstrates nothing short of a super human strength.  With that strength is perseverance, endurance, determination and unbreakable Will.  The last article I wrote about Hard Days and Bird Watching, a mantra I came up with was “I have survived so much worse with so much less.”  And it is true.  Surviving that experience demonstrated that whatever life has to throw at me from then forward will pale in comparison to the seemingly impossible thing I endured.

Excellent communication skills.  If I know it and tell it to you I will make damn sure I am speaking in a way you can hear me.  You may choose not to understand me, and that’s your business, but I will know that I have spoken as clearly as possible.  in my last relationship the one thing my ex has said being so grateful for was my ability to communicate.  And if I did not know, then that would be clearly communicated.  This has translated into not only being able to speak clearly within my relationships, but also to be able to write well.  People enjoy my writing (I know this because they tell me so and I believe them ha).  I have written creatively, I have written to convey information, I have written with opinion.  Verbal communication is a huge super power of mine, one that I am grateful for having as it is this blog.

Acceptance.  I have learned how to accept others, as they are, readily.  No matter who you are, where you have come from, I can accept you.  It may not mean I like you, but I can accept you.  And more recently, I have begun to learn how to accept myself.  That may have actually been harder which brings me around to those earlier concepts of compassion or the self.  Self acceptance starts with compassion and empathy for the self.  It means looking at the things that have happened, the things you have done, and all the warts and what not that you are not proud of and accept them as part of yourself.  Acceptance is possibly the first milestone in the path towards integration.  And I have been working to refine that super power for the last few years.

Humour.  I can laugh at almost anything.  I can make a joke about almost anything and they are not always good jokes, nor appropriate jokes but I can make them.  I can look back on some of my own stories of humiliation, over-reaction, temper tantrums or full blown crying fits and laugh.  Sometimes, maybe all the time, I am laughing at you as you tell a story that resonates so clearly with a story of my own that I have learned to laugh at.  That last part can be hurtful though so I have also learned how to hide my mirth.  But humour has managed to save me from some of my darkest moments; the reality that, in a few days/weeks/months/years, I will likely look back on this moment and have a chuckle some how brings a chuckle to the moment, as though my future me is standing with my present me, arm around my shoulders, head thrown back laughing saying “ah kid, you’re always good for a great story.”  It’s also allowed me to brighten the moods of others when they are so caught up in their stories of not-good-enough that I can redirect the energy of the moment from self abasement to something a little lighter.

Courage.  It’s strange to me to say that because I don’t often feel courageous and I don’t think courage is really something one can feel anyway.  When one is doing something courageous one is usually terrified and possibly shitting their pants or throwing up in the corner.  But they are demonstrating courage because despite the poo and vomit, they are going forward anyway.  Telling my mother what was happening to me, what my father was doing to me and knowing full well that what WE were doing was wrong and bad and the reality that I likely did not separate my actions from his actions and saw us as co-conspirators to do this bad thing was a demonstration of a Herculean courage much larger than any 3 year old ought to ever need.  I’ve been told that telling this story, my story, so publicly, is courageous and yet… I felt more this sort of… sub-level fear and anxiety that I mostly tried to just ignore.  Pay no attention to the vomit pile behind the curtain.  Carry on soldier!  And now here I am… I dunno, a couple of months I guess still telling it and it’s almost addictive now.  I feel like I HAVE to write this blog and keep talking.  I feel like I have to expose it because, if this is courage, maybe somehow you can use this as an example o what can be done, that you too can be courageous despite your terror.

These are the Super Powers I have identified thus far.  I suspect there are many more, maybe everything is a Super Power, I don’t know.  But at the moment these are the ones I am not only most aware of but also most actively refining every day.

I would like to assure you that you also have Super Powers.  Some you may share with me, perhaps you have developed others.  It may be hard to see them, you may not have gotten to a place yet where you can see and accept whatever trauma you have been through as a source of some of your better qualities too.  But they are there – if they weren’t you wouldn’t be here most likely.

Here’s to us and are incredible super abilities!

Hard days call for bird watching

This morning started out fine, a snuggle with some of my favourite furry friends, clear blue skies with the first rays of actual warm sunshine streaming in through my windows, a delicious cup of coffee and goodbye kisses as my love left for the day.  Delightful, really.

And then I decided today was the day to look at my finances.  And it really was.  Because OH MY FUCKING GOD WHAT AM I GONNA DO I’M FUCKED I’M FUCKED I’M FUCKED HOW DID I GET MYSELF INTO THIS MESS OH YOU STUPID STUPID AND YOU CAN’T EVEN FIND THE PROPER PAPERWORK WAY TO GO – and throw in some snot and sobbing and general flipping out and self bashing.

And you know, despite that… just as I was launching into a litany of not-good-enoughs I stopped myself.  Dead in my tracks.

Something I have been coming across in the last couple of days is this idea of derailing the Shame Train as soon as it starts to turn it’s wheels.  It is the least helpful train of thought I have, and you have, and effectively renders us incapable of dealing with shit.

The first time I came across this idea was in Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please in which she describes herself saying to the Shame Train, “hey, don’t talk about my FRIEND Amy like that.  She’s my friend and I love her and I don’t tolerate that kind of talk about her.  So shut up.”  Or something like that, I’m paraphrasing (she’s so much more polite than I… in her book anyway…?).  I liked it so much though that I quoted it on facebook.

Later, I heard about it from Brene Brown and her approach was to say to the inner critic, “thanks for your opinion, but you’re not in this with me so your opinion is not valid.”  Again paraphrasing but you get the drift.

Most recently, it was in Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith, a book I have had for maybe 2 years and only read the first two segments because that was plenty to work with.  I am now in the third segment which deals with personal will power and healthy ego and self esteem development (it follows the analogy of the chakra system which we are all welcome to take as literally or figuratively as we want).  In it she discusses the role shame plays in the thwarting of developing a healthy ego and self esteem.  The internalized shaming of past experiences becomes the mantras of our personal Shame Train and we stoke it’s engines whenever we find ourselves in a problem that, at least in my case, could have been avoided by different behaviour.  Her shut down phrasing was along the lines of “hey, I’m doing this for the first time and it’s not gonna be perfect and I’m allowed to make mistakes.  This is how I learn to do it better so lay off.”

These three brilliant women have the right idea and, to return to my story, I’m so glad that I have been exposed to this concept because my Shame Train was getting ready to drag me down to shitsville for the ENTIRE day.  And it was a beautiful day – first day that has felt kinda like spring in about 6 months.

As I wandered around my livingroom helplessly, uselessly, trying to find the necessary documents that I knew were inaccessible to me in that exact moment, documents that wouldn’t actually make the problem go away at all but were the evidence of how badly I had “fucked up” and could maybe mitigate the damage just a wee bit, my mind raced forward with the above statements.  Worthless.  Stupid.  Lazy.  IRRESPONSIBLE.

And then out loud, to my bookshelves and half dead house plants I said “No!  No I’m not going to let you talk to me that way!  I made a mistake and that’s fine!  Mistakes happen.  And this kind of abusive talk does NOT help me fix the problem it makes it worse.  So YOU go and SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

It was kind of amazing.  It actually shut right the fuck up.  And for a few seconds there, that tiny little voice inside me said… Ah, she’s starting to get it!  Putting it into practice!  Good work Jenny.  I didn’t really feel any better, and I kept crying and looking but at least I was on my own side which is the side I should always always ALWAYS be on.  No matter what.

Eventually I spoke with a friend and low and behold she had been in almost the exact same predicament as me, but with a whole heap of other, much more pressing “life and death” matters surrounding it and she said hey, been there, dealt with it and look?  I’m still here and I’m ok.  You’re ok too.  She had some great advice for me but more importantly, she had CALM for me.  Calm and the sort of Wisdom that says, ah honey, when you’re 60 like me you’ll remember this day with a certain kind of fondness.  You’re fine.  No sweat.  (Thank you and munay ❤ I hope to be 60 and rocking it like you 30 years from now.)

I attempted to go back to “dealing with my financial slump” and realized that nope.  Nope nope nope nope nope.  Enough for one day.  Sometimes you have to know when to disengage from a negative stimulus and seek something much more pleasant.

So I borrowed my love’s camera and went bird watching.  I was tender and raw and they were tiny and sweet.  I flirted for 3 hours with Chickadees, Nuthatches and even a Woodpecker.  Cardinals hooted and flashed their fancy colours in the distance and Dark Eyed Junco’s stayed all capped and mysterious at the edges of the bird seed island that was my palm.  I was even graced with aerial displays by Red Tailed Hawks and, in the distance, I suspect I saw my second Vulture (for me these guys are a SURE sign of spring.)

So I guess the point of this story is this; the Shame Train has its own, strange allure.  There is something kind of addicting.  Maybe it’s simply because it is the familiarity of failure and familiar feels safe and secure.  Maybe its just masochism.  But it has had the habit of running roughshod all over everything I have ever attempted, whether or not I was successful, and it is always always the first in line at the shit flinging party when I make a mistake.  The Shame Train is a fucking asshole and my day-to-day is MY party and I get to decide who shows up.  And The Shame Train is officially uninvited.  I know it will show up but today I learned something really important; its not difficult to kick it off the rails.  A firm stance, fists clenched on my hips and a loud, outside voice boldly proclaiming that it’s opinion is not welcome and yes please it can take a hike and no thank you but I have better things to do with my time than listen to you because I’m LEARNING right now how to do it better and this is VALUABLE.

Here are some of the better pictures I took of my cute feathered friends.

Woodpecker DSC04018 DSC04006

ChickadeeDSC03929

NuthatchDSC03943

Art Saves

A few weeks ago I almost wrote here “I wish I could say that my art has saved me but the reality is it did not save me at all.”

I went on, in my journal to explain how that was true until I realized that… no it wasn’t.  There was one period in my life when my expression was limited.  I was 19, had just flown the nest and was living in a new city all by myself.  I was writing for a little while and truly, it was just so damn painful that I couldn’t anymore.  For many years, actually I stopped writing.  I didn’t even keep a journal.  And for a few months there was nothing.  And I was over full, brimming over with pain I could not face alone, with no one in my corner to face it with me.  And I could not write it down because the words were too sharp and pointy and cut in ways I did not like.  Writing was like eviscerating myself and picking through my own guts… just to look at it.  There was no one I felt I could share what I wrote with and so… it would sit in a notebook untouched and unloved and I would feel so hollow that it felt better to keep the hurts inside.  Like company.

That was the only time art didn’t help me.  Not that it couldn’t though; had I had enough courage to seek out the community here that would have embraced me, I would have been able to keep going.  But that courage and thought didn’t exist for me so I sat alone in the dark with my hurts.

And then that was just shitty.

So I started dancing in my living room.  I would put on this tape (I still have it, yes, a cassette) called Percussive Environments and I would set up my altar of candles and tarot cards and notebook and I would dance like a wild woman in circles.  The point?  Just keep moving.  Don’t stop moving.  It doesn’t matter if it looks beautiful or not, it doesn’t matter if it’s graceful or not because the appearance is not the point.  Follow the feeling.

For hours I would do this until dizzy and tired, and I would sink into the circle of sweat and energy and candle light and pull tarot cards, concentrate on the 4 directions and the animals I associated with them, fill myself up with the energy of everything around me and all the other things inside me I did not yet recognize and write in my journal what I saw.  What I felt.  What I knew to be true even without facts or evidence other than the inside of me resting on the knife edge of knowing and not knowing.

Those evenings, pouring myself into a cauldron of imagination became my art.  Using tarot and interpreting them to try and understand the inside of myself better became my art.  And the journal I used was added to the box of journals I had lugged with me from my home in Toronto to my new home in Hamilton.  Magic became my art.

Shortly after that I sought out dance classes.  Or maybe they found me, I’m not sure.  I began attending an Belly Dance studio and it was like I cracked open.  All those other things in me, the not hurts, began to stand up to attention.  Belly dance was the expression of my joy, my love, my strength, my beauty, my courage.  And it became my art.  I would wait with such anticipation each week for the next class, practicing in between, following dance videos I borrowed and working on my drills.  And for a couple of years, belly dance was saving me.

When I decided to go to college, I felt that it would have to be one or the other.  I wouldn’t have the time to go to dance classes which took me almost an hour to get to, since I would need the time to study.  So I decided to leave dance and just focus on school.  That worked for about 5 months.  The stress started to get to me and I still was not writing so I decided fuck it, I need a dance class.  And sought out another dance studio.

This was when I met hoop dance.  I’d never heard of it before, thought it sounded ridiculous and signed up for the belly dance.  Through some divine guidance, after sitting through a hoop class waiting for my class to start and realizing, oh, that’s what I am here for… shit…. My class got canceled as I was the only student.  It was offered to me that I could just attend the hoop dance class and without really even thinking about all the nuances and synchronicities of that moment I said well yeah of course.  I bought my hoop at the beginning of my second class.  All through college hoop dance saved me.  It was how I dealt with the stress of studying for tests and exams, the stress of having my heart broken, the stress of having to work and be a successful student all at the same time.  Hooping was the outlet.  The way to get the feelings out of me.  The writing I did was for study, it was my expression of my intellect.  I did eventually begin keeping a journal again though I don’t think I wrote in it all that frequently.  Hoop dance remained my main means of expression for quite some time after college.

After college, my writing had everything to do with business.  How marketing worked, business plans, more marketing, strategies for marketing, marketing content… marketing marketing marketing.  I remember once, walking to the grocery store thinking, I used to be a poet, now my poems are business plans.  I even have at least one journal (plus a whole binder) that is devoted exclusively to business and marketing.  And I began to realize that I missed writing poetry.  It was hard to make it come though.  Occasionally I would be struck with inspiration but it was rare.  Most of my creativity was poured into hoop dance choreographies or business plans.

It wasn’t until relatively recently, maybe the last 2 years that poetry began to come back to me.  Private journalling was flowing readily and I was realizing that I had a lot unsaid and it was hard navigating the waters of my mind.  It had been so long since I had allowed the wilds in me to speak.  Movement was the only currency I gave them but voice… voice was beginning to return.

It’s funny because now, I almost never dance.  Not nearly as frequently and frankly… I don’t miss it yet.  Because writing has returned like a whale swimming me to the bottom of the ocean, promising that I can hold my breath long enough or maybe even learn to breathe.  My creative energy has shifted outlets and I write frequently.  Both in one of my… what 2? 3 journals?  On wordpress, on facebook, on napkins when I forget my notebook….

So my original statement, that my art didn’t save me, is wrong.  It’s wrong because I think I didn’t really understand what “my art” actually meant.  I had this thought that my art could only be one thing, hoop dance or writing.  In a conversation with a friend I said this, “I saw the cabaret… It made me feel weird and sad and disappointed in myself.  Like my art should have gotten me through that hard time but instead it was too hard to do art.  That somehow that made me weak or less good, less of an “artist” because my art didn’t save me.  Instead I abandoned it.”  At the time I said that, I thought that dance was “my art” and nothing else could be.  His response was, “Jen the way you live is your art the hoop is just one part of that.”

My art is my life and the way I live it.  My art is all the things I do to express myself; being a kick ass RMT, being a writer, being a dancer, being a listener, being a tarot reader, a journaller and a petter of cats.  All these things are my art.  All these things have saved me.

Art Saves.

DSC05072

Being Big, Strong and Powerful

I haven’t shared this here yet and I think I am coming to understand why.

I am trapped in the story that I am small, weak and helpless.  In my last post I shared about being a 2 year old, hurt by my father in the bathroom and being totally unable to do anything to help myself.  I was small, weak and helpless.  This story dogs me, chases me throughout my every day.  I can not voice my opinions about my concerns at work because I am small, weak and helpless.  I can not make headway on my debt because I am small weak and helpless.

The tale winds on…

A few weeks ago I made a decision that made my soul sing.  I will ride from Hamilton ON to Brighton ON, specifically to Presqu’Ile Point Provincial Park, 260km/161 miles from June 12-14.  I am doing this for me and I am doing this for other sexual abuse survivors and I am doing this for a local help center, SACHA, to raise funds so they can continue to do the work they do that is so absolutely necessary.  I announced it to my friends and family on facebook to a chorus of good cheers.  And somewhere in the audience was that little shadow that reminded me, you’re small weak and helpless.  You won’t raise much money, you won’t accomplish the ride and even if you do, it’s not very impressive.  It’s small.

I ignored the whisper and focused on what I would need to do to accomplish this.  I focused on picking my route and planning my over night stops.  I focused on developing a training schedule so that this ride is easy and fun.  I contacted SACHA to let them know that I am collecting and to ask for support in how to go about doing this.  And this focus helped me ignore the little whisper…

…small…weak…helpless…

And then I found myself binge eating.  It is my go to solution when dealing with this particular whisper.  Eating a lot, or too much, makes me feel big and full and heavy.  It also consumes my attention so that I am thinking more about the next shovel full of food, the next handful of chips, the next hit of cake icing eaten with a spoon because fuck it I don’t care at this point.  And then after, I think more about the guilt and shame of what I have done, and the ironic twist that, in this attempt to feel big and full and purposeful I have made myself be small… weak… and helpless.

And today I read a really awful article about Rape in India.  I’m not going to share it because… just because.  I’ve been crying all morning – am crying still, right now – because no matter how much RAGE (like real murderous my-touch-would-set-all-rapists-ablaze RAGE) I feel, it is utterly impotent.  I can nothing for the women and children in India.  I have no money to give them, I need it for me.  I am not in a position to fly out there and be an aid worker.  I’m just a white girl in Canada with a similar story.  The insurmountable reality that women face in other countries makes me feel small, weak and helpless.

And then I remembered my decision to ride 260km for me, for other survivors, for SACHA and the excellent work they do.  does it “fix” rape?  No.  does it help India?  No.  But it does help someone very important to me.  It does show someone I care VERY much about that she is big enough, strong enough and powerful enough to do hard things.  That she can set a goal and do the work to achieving it and that the fruits of her labour will be not only good enough, but invaluable and appreciated.  Because it is more than just riding a long way and raising funds for SACHA.

My body was stolen from me when I was very small.  I was taken advantage of because I was unable to do anything about it.  I am an adult now, though, and adults are BIG and STRONG and POWERFUL and able to DO HARD THINGS.  Adults can make decisions about and for themselves because they have autonomy.  Adults can determine the course of their lives because they have the capacity to do so.

The value of this ride, for me, is in the training.  260km is not a small distance to ride on a bike.  It’s about 6hrs per day in the saddle.  I will need to be fitter than I am right now to accomplish this so that I feel relatively good (physically) about it post ride.  Gaining that fitness will be an act of sheer dedication to something bigger than me.  Dedication to get myself where I need to be so that I can accomplish what I have set out to do.  The journey of this ride starts here and now.  It is in the effort that says I AM big enough, strong enough and powerful enough to accomplish this.  I am an adult, a grown woman, with autonomy, voice, wisdom, grace, strength, and vision.

Reading this, yes… the whisper is still there and I don’t know if it will ever really totally go away.  and I am coming closer to understanding why it is there.  It kept me safe for a long time.  Being small meant being easily hidden.  Believing I was weak and helpless meant avoiding dangerous situations in the first place.  Reminding myself that I am small, weak and helpless is a way to to keep me safe.  Thing is, I now have better tools at my disposal for keeping me safe.  I am BIG; I take up space in the world and that means I can be seen by everyone.  Being seen makes me vulnerable, yes, but it also helps keep me safe because people who see me generally like what they see and thus want to help me, support me, and give me their love.  I am STRONG; I have come through catastrophes and am actually doing pretty ok.  I use my voice when I need to be heard, and physically, I can do some impressive things… Like ride 260km in three days.  And I am POWERFUL; I support myself through my chosen career path, I write a blog that gets attention and speaks the Truth, I stand my ground on two powerful legs and make my case, I accomplish the hard things I have to do in this world and the ones I choose to do.

I thank the whisper for what it is trying to do; it is not a demon or my enemy.  It’s is the security blanket I needed when I was young and needed to be hidden.  But I no longer need the security blanket.  I need empowerment and that empowerment will come from within.  The security blanket can be hung on the wall as an old piece of armor worthy of being respected, cherished even, but outdated and unsuitable to the tasks that lay before me.

So, my announcement is that I am going to ride 260km along the north side of Lake Ontario to demonstrate that I am big, strong and powerful and am able to help myself and others along their way.

Details about making donations will come by April, should any of your wish to offer financial support.  Donations $10+ will receive a tax receipt.  If you would like to offer support to me personally, please share my blog, comment, email me, whatever feels right.  And if you want to participate in the ride… send me your story, your most precious name, legally given or spiritually chosen, and I will bring your story with me, and put your name on my jersey and together we will ride 260km.  I will read your story and feel it with you, burn it and scatter the ashes on the wind into Lake Ontario.  From story to the fire, changed into Earth, released to the Wind and the Water.

We are big, strong and powerful.

Getting set to climb at my local climbing gym.  Rock climbing makes me feel Big Strong and Powerful.
Getting set to climb at my local climbing gym. Rock climbing makes me feel Big Strong and Powerful.

After some thought and regrouping I’m sharing the article I read.

MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING

It contains, though brief, rather graphic details of the extremely brutal rape of a young woman in India… you could say it was the rape heard ’round the world (the woman raped on a bus by 5 men).  There were other details about her attack I had not known about that are mentioned in this article that are very disturbing.  There is discussion, from the perpetrator, about raping a 5 year old girl.  The whole thing is just fucking upsetting as all hell but it is not my job to protect you from discomfort.  So, know that I do not use trigger warning in bold capital letters lightly.  Even if you have never been raped… it’s disturbing to read.

India’s Daughter

Thanks for reading… May we all walk with peace and courage.