Rediscovering ‘No’

Can you work late?

Will you do this for me?

Can you take over?

Just one more favor?

You’re going to fail!

Feel free to scream if you need to.

The word “no” – arguably the most powerful statement in any language – is a difficult one to utter when raised to believe it’s naughty. For many of us, our earliest memories are of being reprimanded with a sharp “NO!” , or perhaps you were chastised for daring to say it to a parent.  I remember being terrified to say that word, as it was solely for the use of adults; there were very few circumstances which warranted my invocation of the phrase. Now, I’m ready to allow a rediscovery of my right to a word so steeped in psychological weight.

As a survivor, saying ‘no’ to someone takes on a different kind of gravity. You’re pulled toward saying it, or perhaps you did say it, but either way the no in your eyes, the word that escaped your body, was ignored. It’s validity was negated, the worth totally dried up. I learned that my right to refuse was inconsequential, that my words had no power.  What other lesson could a kid learn in those circumstances?

Before I was abused, I was a rambunctious little girl with a streak of people-pleaser cutting down my core. I rushed around fighting to take care of my little brother and trying to be everyone’s assistant to prove that I was a good girl. After my life changed,

those habits morphed into something extreme. Where I had been happy about helping before, I became the kind of person who feared being useless. I desperately needed to be seen and valued. In hindsight it makes sense – in the only moment I wanted desperately to refuse, my entire life was unsettled, to say the least. What if worse could happen? Besides, with that experience as my baseline, there seemed to only be room for ‘yes’ when the situations wouldn’t kill me. I grew to believe saying yes to everything would keep me safe and loved and protected. I became so caught up in goodness that I struggled to stand up for myself in even the simplest situations, times where a ‘no’ wouldn’t have caused any trouble, but the ‘yes’ pulled me farther from myself. Eventually, I didn’t know who I was anymore without the approval.

In the quest to be our best selves, the ones our friends and family can rely on, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the desire to be everything to everyone else. Saying no can feel like a betrayal, a blow even, committed against those we care for. When the no’s start flowing, it seems like the love stops, but I’m learning that isn’t the case with people who deserve to be in your life. I spent years trying to make people happy by always being available, never turning down a favor, staying up all night to help, and giving everything I had without requesting anything back. Living that way didn’t win me any awards, and it certainly didn’t win me droves of friends who would do anything for me in return. Worst of all? I didn’t feel truly valued for me, but for what I could provide. In a way, I perpetuated the cycle of abuse on myself.

When the pain became enough of a motivator, I decided to change. Rather than being everything to everyone, I decided to be what I could, when I could within reason. No more extra hours, no more being a shoulder to people who never asked how I was, and definitely no more listening to people who put me down. I stopped feeling guilty for walking away when I realized how much lighter my soul felt. It lost me some connections, but growth always requires a little loss. Besides, what I’ve gained has been worth the discomfort. Now, instead of feeling exhausted and worthless, I feel so happy to have people and opportunities in my life that make waking up a joy. I don’t doubt my worth as often as before and that is thanks to the caliber of people who fill up my life. Best of all? They encourage me to utter than dangerous word as often as possible.

My journey back to reclaiming my voice is ever-changing and never easy. It might seem like I snap my fingers and have it all figured out, but that’s the illusion of the internet at play. There are days when I truly struggle to maintain the growth I’ve achieved over the years, days that make me wonder if the healing will ever last. When that voice creeps in – the one in us all that impedes progress – I tell it ‘no’.

 

 

 

 

The Catharsis of Loss

My grandmother died the Sunday before I moved across the country to begin a new life. I’d spent that day packing and loading a shipping container with my husband, parents, and brother, which was more fun that it had any right to be. Our raucous laughter shook the house we were leaving behind, rumbling out into the sleepy neighborhood. I’ve never had a day without joy when in their company, regardless of the weight of the world or the stress of boxing up your life to be replanted elsewhere. It was a joyful, yet bittersweet experience to share with my loved ones.

Once we’d finished with the house, leaving just what Mark and I would need to keep with us for the drive to California, we decided to go see a movie. We rushed to the theater, anticipation for popcorn and soda sky-high, anxious to have a respite from the heat and stress of moving. No more than five minutes after the movie began my father got the call. I don’t know that there are words to describe the loss of someone you care for, when it’s known they eventually have to pass on. Death is never expected when it enters your life, no matter how prepared you might be to let go. We left the movie in a general state of disbelief. My parents had spoken to her the day before. My brother, husband and I had laughed with her at my cousin’s wedding, but I still can’t remember what about.

Two weeks later my large extended family sat down to eat together after her memorial service, then descended into laughter. We teased one another, played with my cousin’s babies and shared stories in a sort of mad libs only close families can understand, picking up where others left off. I was struck by the realization that none of us were crying or down-trodden. The even was more of a party than anything, a potentially macabre celebration of a woman we all loved and lost.

Death is still a taboo subject for many people, but I don’t think it should be. Perhaps my mind is warped from being forced to confront how little control I have over the circumstances affecting my existence, but I believe the more we talk about a thing, the less said thing can break us down. The pain will still exist, however we might get up with more grace if we know how to move forward in a healthy way. My grandmother is gone, yes, but what she gave to me remains. I have her cheeks, her nose, the shape of her face, just like most of my cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re all stubborn as hell and never back down from a fight. Her death doesn’t have to be the end of the lessons she can teach us about who we are. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us.

I’ve had quite a lot of time to turn over the feelings swirling in my chest: surprise, fear, sadness. The one that I’ve returned to the most is a sense of relief. The emotion isn’t tied to wanting her gone; I feel relief that my grandmother no longer has to feel pain. I feel relief that she got to meet so many great-grandchildren. Most of all I feel relief that she is with her own beloved mother again in a place that may or may not exist, but nonetheless removed from our perception. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us. We get to choose whether or not to build bridges, who we want to move on with or leave behind. So, I feel relief that even without the maternal glue of my grandmother my family remained whole; that is where the peace is, the release of my fears.

I believe the real weight of losing someone is tied to the fights we will never get to have and the opportunities for growth we were robbed of. I didn’t cry during the ceremony, and I noticed few of us did. When the tears began to well up, I stopped them with a vengeance, because it didn’t feel right to cry. I didn’t understand why until I came across this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

My grandmother never left us to wonder how she felt, whether good or bad. Regret didn’t exist in her world. She was a woman of her word, and she passed that on to her descendants. She knew that when she was gone we would have to find peace in one another, but you can’t do that if you hide pieces of yourself. If I feel any sorrow, it is that my grandmother and I will never again be able to forge new paths together. Yet, I choose to focus on the paths we did carve out, the fights we did have and the growth those rows fostered. All in all, I have no regrets with my grandmother. If I did, I would have to find a way to make peace with them and make sure that I have nothing to regret with those loved ones I have left.

No matter how far I creep away from the staid Methodist teachings of my youth, I always return to the belief – the desire – that the end is worth the race. However, now I’m beginning to rethink the type of race we’re running. Perhaps it’s something more akin to a relay than a straight up sprint. We pick up people along the way, trade stories, pass on pieces of ourselves, then hand over the baton. My grandmother’s passing has created a new spot on the team, a void in my heart for others to occupy, but I’ll never forget how well she lived.

 

 

A Breakdown of My Daily Self-Care for 2018

Let me tell you a secret: you deserve to take care of yourself every day. That’s right. Every. Single. Day.

In this post, I’m going to breakdown a typical day in my life and all the ways I practice self-care in each little step. Everything I do for self-care is designed to boost my confidence, because sexual assault not only destroys your sense of self, but creates the belief that you have no value. I’m seeking to undo that conditioning in the way I treat myself Monday thru Sunday. Rather than doing nice things for myself once every blue moon I’m actively creating moments of peace and growth as often as possible on an average day. We’ve talked about what self-care is, how to develop a schedule for it, and now I want to share how I infuse every day with actions meant to heal and steady me for every little battle life throws my way. Let’s dive in!

 

Monday – Friday

6:45 AM : After mumbling some version of get up, bitch to myself 30 times, I roll out of bed to start the day. I retreat to my favorite room in the house – the bathroom – to get everything going. I’ve been working on not looking at my phone straight away, because my days seem to be more productive and happier without being bombarded with news from the outside world. My mind feels more centered on what I have to get done without all the distractions. After cleaning up for the day, I’ll sit on my bed and go over what I need to accomplish to feel good about myself and continue the feeling of personal growth.

Breakfast: I make sure that I have three meals a day no matter how busy I pretend I am, or how much I don’t want to eat. Continuing to have control over my eating disorder means eating well and without guilt. I’ve never been a huge fan of a big breakfast – it make me feel sluggish – so now the meal is either a fruit  smoothie, granola, or cereal. Once I’m done eating, I’ll head off to start writing!

8:00 – 11:00 AM: This might sound lame, but I love working. Thanks to my wonderfully supportive husband, I currently exist in a very privileged position as a full-time blogger. I want to make the most of this gift by writing and working as often as I can without getting burned out. Writing has become not only a potentially future means of income, but also one of the best ways I take care of myself. The page is where I work through pain, elevate joy, or share intriguing information, which has been invaluable for my growth. I jump right into working in the morning, because my energy wanes as the day drags on.

11:30 – 12:00 : My little gym** is like an oasis. Only retirees use it, the front desk staff is very kind and relaxed, and I can move around without bumping into people who might judge my slower pace. I used to look at the gym as the enemy. It was the place I ached, groaned, and scrutinized a body I wasn’t proud of. Through therapy I was able to learn how to step back and look at myself as a unique and beautiful accumulation of parts and pieces taken from the brave people who came before me. Now, I go to the gym for the endorphins. I release the tension of sitting at a desk, run out the stress of digging into my feelings, then head home for the fun parts of the day.

** This is the only step I skip on Wednesday to avoid getting burned out or injured.

Body Care: My shower time would make conservationists scream. I could sit in there for an hour if it wasn’t so frowned upon, relishing the dragon-blooded heat and acoustics. Most of my skin care takes place in the shower to avoid a major mess. I exfoliate and scrub until I feel like I’ve got a good base to work with, then apply a mask and let it sit as I dry off and moisturize the rest of my body. My skin care game has jumped to new heights thanks to my girl Jesse. I love the skin care steps, because I feel the most luxurious as I sashay around in a robe with a mask on. Also, with clear skin I feel the most confident out in the world.

Lunch: This might be due to conditioning in my school years, but I go bananas for lunch. Maybe it’s because in school lunch signified the halfway point in the day? If I crack the code I’ll let you know! All I know for certain is lunch food always tastes just a little better to me than anything else. My lunch is usually big and loud, with lots of the things I like to eat. I’m really proud of the way I eat now – this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to have a meal without feeling like absolute trash after.

meditation GIF

2:00 PM or so: I settle in for some mental rest. My thoughts usually bounce all over the place from waking up until this point, going over writing schedules, dinner prep, article ideas, etc. So, by the time I sit down on the couch I’m ready for a good book or some quiet mindfulness. I’ve created a few playlists on Youtube and in my music library that are designed to help me decompress without numbing. For me, the difference between the two is the feeling of being present in time. When I’m numbing myself I lose all track of time, where I am, what I need to do. When I decompress I am not retreating from reality, but allowing reality to slow down for me to catch back up on my own time. (I hope this makes sense!)

4:00 – 7:00 PM : My husband is usually home by 4:30 or 5, which jumps my energy back up. We make dinner together, with him doing the most as the better cook. I’ll either be taking photos for thechocolatemousse.com or Instagram to share with whoever wants to see his creations. We sit and eat together – ideally without phones – and like to watch a TV show together for a little laughter, or will just sit and talk over our meal. If the weather is nice enough we sit outside on the porch swing to eat popsicles or go for a walk around our neighborhood.

Bedtime: If you could get paid to sleep or lay in bed I would be first in line. I love bed, which is why it’s so hard for me to stay out of it throughout the day. I admit to being bad about bringing my phone to bed and obsessing over Twitter and Instagram! I’m still a work in progress, but for now, I will usually scroll until I’m really sleepy. Then, I’ll plug my phone in across the room before clonking out. In bed, my husband and I will lay together and talk over the day again, trying to arrive at peace for a more restful sleep. It’s been wonderful for my ability to get through the night without tossing and turning.

Saturday and Sunday

My routine for the weekend is identical, except I do it all outside! I walk for exercise, write on the porch or near an open window, meditate in the grass, and spend as much time annoying my husband as possible without creating a divorce situation. We usually try to do things together like the Farmer’s Market, or a trip to the museums in our area. My routine is much more reliant on need during the weekend. If I need a break from blogging, I take it. Need a break from exercise, no guilt. Everything is much more free-flowing.

treat yourself parks and recreation GIF

There you have it! My typical day isn’t as rigid as a person with a regular 9-5 job would be, so take my life as what it is – my unique situation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to infuse some care into your daily schedule. Whether it’s leaving your desk for a 10 minute walk, treating yourself with food you love for lunch to recharge yourself, or setting aside time at night for skincare or mindfulness, you deserve to be boosted up every day. Thanks for reading and stay strong out there!