Category Archives: My Story

The Time I Chose To Heal

Most of my life was choosing to survive.  I was not given many options otherwise.  My youth, even after my father was removed from the picture, was very troubled.  My mom struggled with a worsening mental illness daily, becoming less and less able to “parent” and by the time I was 10 I was the single parent of a 30-something woman and an 8 year old boy.  Thriving, healing, getting to know myself, playing and loving were luxuries I could not afford regularly.

So I chose to survive.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that I had the ability to actually choose whether I would survive for the rest of my life or thrive.

For the first time ever I was experiencing stability.  I’d been done school and practicing in my field for a couple of years.  Financially I was knowing some security, by which I mean I no longer needed to rely on credit in order to pay my bills.  I had a stable relationship with a wonderful man and had been living in the same apartment for longer than a year.  The stage was set for a healing journey but I was still so ensconced in my ability to cope that I didn’t understand what the stability and safety meant.  I didn’t know how to respond to it.  It seems crazy but I was much more comfortable with chaos, fear, anxiety and muscle than I was with comfort, predictability, security and surrender.

*Ted and I had been together for 2 years.  Our relationship had started out well; I was sweet and fiesty, he was kind and funny.  And then… 6 months in I began to feel things.  Not just the happy squishy feelings but other feelings.  My body seemed to have a memory of it’s own and certain things it would feel triggered a cascade of dissociated emotional content that was terribly overwhelming.  In order to deal with this content… I completely shut down and started to mask up.  I crawled under the bed and set the Auto Pilots on.  The following year and a half was really difficult; I grew more and more distant, he grew more and more confused and concerned.  I was barely present in the relationship, was often rude and extremely inconsiderate of him.  It was like he didn’t really exist to me except in the most basic functions; outings together, family events, grocery shopping and the inevitable emotional support when I would break and be unable to contain everything I was stuffing down.  Of course he knew my history, but neither of us was really aware of how deeply The Wound affected my day to day functioning.

It’s strange how I didn’t even realize I was an emotional bottle rocket.  I thought I had a full spectrum of emotional experience.  I mean, I felt happy, sad and angry, and then sometimes utter despondence, all consuming rage and a near manic ecstasy.  That’s it, right?

Before I had what I guess was my breakdown emotional awakening, I started to “do things,” things I was intensely hungry for.  Isolation was a big problem, had been for my entire life and I knew that being exposed, being seen, being with people was medicine.  So I became a ‘joiner.’  First I created a local, circus flow group and then joined a local performance group and became their hula hoop person.  It was a lot of fun to practice with these people but it was also really intimidating to be seen by them.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were all gonna see something (The Thing) in me that I desperately needed to keep hidden.  I was afraid that if they saw the real me, they wouldn’t like me or would judge me or worse… pity me.

At the same time, my relationship with Ted was deteriorating and my grasp on myself was slipping.  In good old “Survivor girl survives EVERYTHING” fashion, I soldiered on, kept my chin up, did my best to seem like I was all put together.  He and I were arguing a lot more, which looked more like him telling me something was wrong and me going into an icy (panic stricken) silence.

While things with Ted gradually got worse my dance practice was getting stronger and I was asked to participate in a performance.  These two parts of my life were moving at the same speed both building towards great crashing crescendos of terrifying noise and colour and somewhere along the way I started giving over to panic.  I was so lost, I could hardly see into the next few moments never mind weeks.  I was just barely functional at work, pouring so much of my free energy into creating choreographies, showing up at practices, “looking busy,” holding my relationship together while it frayed into threads that I could really only get through one hour at a time.  I was becoming aware that the relationship was unfair to him, that I was not being a good girlfriend and I didn’t seem to know how to be one of those.  I didn’t have an Auto Pilot for strong, stable, emotionally intelligent and resilient partner.   I was so lost in trying to keep up an appearance in all these different arenas that even the Auto Pilots were trying to crawl under the bed with me.

And then I just couldn’t do it all anymore and I didn’t know what to do.  The clearest thing, it seemed, the one action I felt I could take was to break up with Ted.  Upon reflection of this now, after seeing a similar (albeit less dramatic and intense) episode recently, I realize that my decision to leave Ted had more to do with running away from the thing that wouldn’t leave, that wouldn’t disappear.  No matter how hard I pushed Ted away, I was really only pushing myself away from him.  So of course when I broke up with him and he expressed how shocked and heart broken he was, I tried to smooth it over.  I really didn’t know what to do and it was the one, clear thing I felt like I could do.  It felt like, at the center of all this pain and anguish and turmoil was him.  If I removed him from it, everything would go back to normal.  I tried to explain to him why I wanted to leave him but I didn’t really know why I did, I didn’t really know what was between us that was making it all so difficult.  I loved him, yes.  I relied on him for support, yes.  He was my closest ally and in all truth, I did not want to lose him at all.  But I was not happy in our relationship and all this yucky stuff was rising to the surface and I was drowning in it.

We talked.  We argued.  We fought.  I said I wanted to end the relationship and he said he wanted to try.  He said, “I know you love me and I know this relationship is important to you and that it’s worth saving.”  I said “well I don’t want to have sex with you so there.”  Those words were hurled out of me like some sort of verbal grenade, as if that ended the discussion.  It was said as a way to push him out.  A way to build a moat around me and say you stay over there and I stay over here.  He said “ok… Do you want to have sex with other people?”  Which wriggled a little opening in my armour and I realized… no, I didn’t want to have sex with anyone.  I didn’t even want to have sex with myself.  Finally he said, “This isn’t you.  This isn’t the woman I know, have known for the last 2 years.  This is something else.  I’m not talking to you, right now.  I’m talking to a dysfunction.”

That landed somewhere inside me and it was like my mind went into infection management mode; the area was sequestered with ice and all of me withdrew from that statement and just kinda… held it’s breath and looked at it and couldn’t deny that… yup ok this is pretty dysfunctional.  Like suddenly a mirror, or some other obvious truth was put in front of me where I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t deny it, I couldn’t disagree with it.  We talked more… slowly, but we talked more.  I loved him, I knew that to be true.  I needed his support, I knew that to be true.  I was completely lost and his hand was the only hand I had to hold.  I accepted that ok, something is wrong.

To his credit, and my never ending gratitude, he was amazing.  For a long time it felt like he was this warm, safe, dark cave with a sweet smelling nest of grasses for me to lay in.  And under his watchful eyes, within his protective presence, I could perform the open heart surgery required to get to the root of The Wound and pull the infected parts out.  He was the safest person in my whole world, the most supportive and loving person I had, the most stable and put together person I had likely ever known.  I would have come through it on my own, of that I am sure, but he helped me do it with so much more grace and with so much less terror.  I can’t imagine what the next three years would have been like had he not held me through it.

Realizing that I needed help, that I was in over my head, that I was emotionally drowning was really difficult.  Taking off the protective masks I had worn, letting people in on the secret that I was not ok, that I was terrified daily, was something that made me feel sick to my stomach.  Yet, keeping the masks on had become much harder than taking them off.  I couldn’t breathe anymore.  I had to back out of some performances.  The terror of being seen as something less than everyone else, less than a person, was a daily struggle.  At a practice, I wound up sitting in the bathroom overwhelmed with panic, sobbing not sure what to do.  Do I push through?  Do I just fake it?  Everyone will know!  They will see that I AM NOT OK!  What if they want to know?  Or worse… What if they want to HELP ME?!  Thankfully a woman in that group talked to me, let me talk to her a little and I started to feel ok enough to tell the Group Leader I would not be performing.  Everyone understood to a degree, and were very kind and offered their support but somehow also knew that… too much support offering was enough to topple me over… I needed my wall to lean on.  (Golly just remembering this one instance where one of the women in the group just ran up to me and hugged me and whispered “you’re special” makes me cry… ❤ Thanks Pam).

Shortly after all of this I sought counseling.  I knew I needed help, I couldn’t do this by myself.  It was too big for just me, it was too big for even me and Ted.  So I found a woman to work with through one of the help centers in Hamilton and started to peel back the bandages and try to get a good look at The Wound.

Not kidding, it’s hard work and it doesn’t ever really end.  At least, it hasn’t ended for me.  At some point you just kinda realize, and accept, that you have scars, some big, some small, some remembered some a mystery.  Some re-open sometimes and you have a big mess of emotional pus to deal with and you keep wondering does it go on forever like this?  You start….. stop….. start again….. stop… take a breather………………………. and hopefully start again.  With time, patience, practice and support, you get better at dealing with the yucky.  You don’t recoil as strongly at what you find down there…  And then you get to the actual wound itself, you see it, you see this part of your self that has been both living and dying and…………….

Well in my story, I begin to find compassion.  Compassion for me.  I begin to be the loving caretaker I needed then and did not quite have.  And as I poured love, compassion and acceptance over the wound the angry, red skin gave way to the new pink skin underneath.  With time, I got better at healing.  I got better at asking for help, better at loving myself through the hard stuff and I started to discover that I did less coping and more living.

When you choose to heal, you allow yourself the things you wouldn’t before, like… intimacy.  Friendship.  Vulnerability.  Pleasure.  Self expression.  Your own Truths and the courage to live them fully.  You allow yourself trust in yourself.  And that right there is what we all have been so hungry for; trust in ourselves.  From there… we can begin to find trust in other people.

While my relationship with Ted had to change from romantic to platonic (he is now one of my closest friends and supporters) I learned so much about myself through that process that I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learned how many of the decisions I made were not made for me by me, but for others based on what I thought they wanted and needed of me.  For many years I couldn’t answer the questions “what do you want?” because desire had not been a part of my vocabulary, my daily experience.  As I got more comfortable with me, I was able to contemplate answers to that question.  Choosing to heal has given me that gift; the gift of feeling pleasure and identifying desire.  The gift of knowing what makes me feel good and knowing that I have the ability to seek it out.

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The Naked Truth

Low Tide
Low Tide.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage.

OK, so today in Canada is Bell’s #BellLetsTalk hashtag day where they donate .05¢ every time someone shares a certain picture (featuring Howie Mandel) or the hashtag above.

Ok, great, they do it a couple times each year and that isn’t sarcasm.  It really is great.  It’s a necessary conversation we all need to be having because at some point in your life, either you yourself or someone you love is gonna need to talk about something she is terrified to talk about.  And you know why she is scared?  Because you might stop loving her.  You might stop accepting her for who she is because, it turns out, she’s not who you thought she was.  And that is probably scarier than anything else in the world because we can’t face the world without each other.

So… along came a little video in my newsfeed about how Howie Mandel’s secret was spilled… unknowingly to the entire world (or that piece of it that listens to Howard Stern).  It’s moving… go watch it, you’ll get it.  The reason I am mentioning it is because… well it has pushed me to take this step.

I know me.  This blog was supposed to be perfect when I hit the publish button.  There are supposed to be graphics that are inspiring, banners, all kinds of great posts and material to browse through.  There’s supposed to be beautiful art work, deep and insightful quotes.

And none of that is actually happening right now.

There are no pictures.  Not one.  I don’t think.  If there is a picture it is one of those not great nor inspiring auto-generated wordpress pictures and it’s there because I either don’t know it is there or don’t know how to make it go away.  There are no banners, there are no other posts (yet).  There is no beautiful artwork.

There’s just me.  And the fact is… that’s enough.  Because I don’t need to hide myself behind all the blitz and the bling and the fancy pants.  Even if I want to.  Even if I am sitting here reading through this again thinking well maybe if I just dig around a little bit more on my computer I will find something that works and that should help me procrastinate – wait… focus…

The Naked Truth is enough.

I’m a survivor.  I struggle with my mental health.  I get depressed, I get withdrawn and when I am backed into a corner, or feel like things are not under my control, I get dysfunctional, like… border-line Hexadecimal from Reboot dysfunctional.

When I was a very very small child, I was raped and molested by my dad.  The first three years of my life were an effort to survive that spiritual, physical and psychological betrayal and painstakingly learn how communication works so someone would know what was happening to me.  When my mom finally understood what I was trying to say she did the right thing, which was the best she could do.  My dad elected to leave us, which was the best he could do.  My mom took me to group therapy for other kids like me and in fact, those therapy sessions make up some of my first clear memories…

Most people have no idea what that actually means for how you grow up, how you see the world and how you figure out your place in it.  To be honest, I’m not really even sure what it means.  For me, it has meant having this belief that I am wrong, misplaced, un-belonging to the world.  It has meant being contained and careful.  It has meant being hidden from people, especially people I might trust because trust and people are dangerous things.  It has meant doing it all by myself because to lean on another is to be vulnerable.  The cost of vulnerability just seemed to high.  It has meant to be in control of things, even at the cost of the needs of those I care about.  It has meant being dissociated from myself and my own emotional landscape – it took me almost 25 years to realize that I was even angry about it, and to this day I have not felt the full force of my anger because, frankly, its just too fucking much to feel in one go.  It has meant that, in most of my friendships… I’ve been a shitty friend.  I have failed people more times than I have shown up for them.  I did not know how to be a friend to someone in crisis until 3 years ago when someone I love fell apart in my living room.  It has meant being mostly friendless, assuming you don’t want to be my friend and that I don’t need you to be my friend.  It has meant having to always be the strong one, always be the self assured one, the put together one, the Survivor One because to be anything else, a hopeless, miserable, lost, lonely confused fucking mess was to be the disappointment I always thought I was.  It has meant being both afraid of men and in need of men.  It has meant being a victim every moment that it has also meant being a survivor.

It has meant overcoming, undoing, rewiring and rewriting all of that programming because I am enough.  I do belong.  I am angry and that’s perfectly reasonable.  I am a bit messy sometimes and that makes total sense too.  Vulnerability is the birth place of courage, and this is 100% true.  I do want to be your friend and need you to be mine.  I am victim and survivor and sometimes neither; I am just me.  Enough.

I am writing this blog because… Well writing helps me.  I have written poetry, short stories, journals, essays, rambles and rants for most of my life.  Writing was safe.  Journals were safe places to put the hard, knife edge things I needed to say, things that would cut other people if they heard them but were ok to cut me.  Poetry gave me a rhythm to work with, a creation that was mine, that I birthed and it hurt like hell and here it is and it is mine.  Story gave me a method to express my feelings, thoughts and desires through the characters I made up, gave me a chance to speak through the mouth of another.

I’m writing this blog because for basically all of my youth I had no one to talk to.  No one who could hear these things and brave the truth with me, no one who could accept it for what it was without the need to fix me.  No one who could see that I am both broken and whole.  Today, I am much more secure, I am much more comfortable with vulnerability, with trust, with being seen and with knowing myself.  I work towards integration.  And maybe you are sitting there on your side of the computer reading this and feeling a sense of relief because you see you in this.  Maybe this blog will be a place you can go and see the messy fucked up path I walked to get where I am (much better than where I have been) and that whatever part of your path you are on is ok with me, as long as you show up tomorrow in whatever state you are in.  And even if you decide not to show up… I’m glad you came here today.  Or maybe you are reading this and thinking… golly Jen I had no idea… I wish I had and am glad that I do now… I am glad now, too, that you know.  Maybe this will mean we can be real friends, the kind of friends who really talk to each other and show up in our dirty pyjamas and don’t give a shit because fuck it I showered yesterday.  Maybe you’re reading this and are uncomfortable.  Maybe you’re bored, I don’t know, this has gotten a bit long (word counter reads 1192 words).  Whoever you are, whatever you are feeling, I’m glad you’re here and I hope you come back to see me again because even if this blog does nothing at all for you on your journey (I really hope it does something for you though…) it is helping me.  Because I want to be seen.

Broken and Whole.

PS.  If you’re reading this and you’re like, this is amazing and I want to help you make this fancy pants style… That would be great because WordPress is overwhelming kinda and I would like my blog to look … Nice.  With pictures.  And… style.  If you wanna support me in this endeavour, be it graphic tweaking or wordpress teaching or “How To Make Your Blog Successful” tutoring, I’m in!  Email me at survivor.rising@gmail.com

PPS.  If you want to just talk to me, maybe you’re going through some stuff and want someone with a bit of perspective, or just a safe person to unload on… you can also email me too at the above address.  If you want… let me be for you the person I didn’t have.  ❤