Body changes

Last year, for reasons not related to an eating disorder (I feel compelled to add that, because if you know me, and you know my history, you’re going to jump to a conclusion), I lost weight.

The reasons were complicated. They involved dealing with a lot of grief, processing a lot of stuffed-down traumatic memories, and some health issues, that may or may not have been caused by the aformentioned factors, but were definitely made worse by those factors.

So, due to a major lack of energy, and some hardcore anxiety and depression, I did a lot of napping, resting, sitting. Quiet, low-key things. Which at the time, my body absolutely needed. But that meant that I didn’t really go to the gym for about 8 months.

And now: now, my body is starting to heal. Now, I’m starting to gain weight. But more than that, my body has adjusted to close to a year of no gym, which means it’s changed.

I’m less toned. I’m bigger in some places. I’m softer in some places. Saggier in places. Some places touch that I’m not used to touching. Some pants that fell off of me a year ago now fit perfectly. And my thighs won’t squeeze into some pants that were baggy last year.

It’s an adjustment.

It’s not bad. It’s not good. Or, it’s bad AND good. Whatever. The point is, it’s not all one thing. And it just IS.

It’s an adjustment.

Maybe to another person I look the same. That’s fine. It’s not about other people’s thoughts or opinions. And it’s actually not about how I look. I’m not saying I’m fat (I’m not) or chunky (I’m not) or ugly (I’m not). It’s about how my body feels.

I’ve had moments of brief panic: How am I going to adjust to this????? But I’ve also had moments of awe: Hell yeah. My body did what it needed to do, my body carried me through last year, and it survived and it’s rebuilding itself. And I’ve also had moments where I’m just so impressed because a decade ago, the slightest softening or growth of my body would’ve sent me restricting and purging and counting nonstop. Now? I feel it, oh yes, I notice it and feel it. But then I move on. I’ll adjust. My body is resilient. It’s all okay.

This is new for me.

I’m back to going to the gym. I’m back to lifting, to moving my body. But my body isn’t going to be the exact one it was last year (nor would I want it to be). It’s not going to be the one it was five years ago. And it’s not going to be the one that it will be a year from now.  And that’s just the truth and the reality of it.

Acceptance. Noticing. Observing. Breathing. Moving through. Moving on.

Collecting bravery

Just about 3 months ago, I wrote “It’s Time” – what I (still) refer to as  “the bravest thing I will ever write.” Since then, I haven’t had the urge to write as much, nor have I felt like I’ve had anything worth saying. I almost felt like I had worked for years to get to that point – and after you reach the top of a mountain, it’s not like you can keep climbing. So I slid down, and barely wrote for the past few months. Still trying to figure out where to go from here – what to say, what’s my angle, what’s my goal, with writing.

Something I’ve been thinking about a LOT lately are the brave women whose stories gave me courage and fire and strength to ultimately write that post. It’s like this: one person writes or says something brave. That gives the second person courage, and so then they write something brave. And then multiple people read it and they get strong and they write it, too. And that’s how it was for me.

Over the years I have read countless blog posts and articles. There are women who write that I feel like I know, because they have shared their deepest stories (the once were secrets) with me and with the world. These are the women who helped me get here. And so I wanted to share some of their words with you, in the hope that their words will keep building that fire within you.

I have followed Jess on Diary of a Mom for years. I feel like I know her and her kids, and I love every single story and anecdote she writes. She has made me a better speech language pathologist and have more knowledge into my kids with autism, leading me to be a fierce autism advocate in many ways. A few years ago, Jess posted this, and my heart stopped. Her, too. It’s her story, too. And I felt less alone. She wrote, “It’s time because the shame should not be mine. It should never have been mine.” Yes. I started to believe it. That maybe, just maybe, someday I would not own the shame.

I don’t remember how I started following Erin Brown’s blog. (Which you should check out, and you should also add her on Snapchat. Trust me.) But one day, the same thing, I saw that she had written it. Her story. When she said, “It’s a lifetime of joys, pains, light and dark, and you carry it all until you are ready to set it down. Dare I say, it’s hard to move forward until you begin that unpacking,” the fire inside of me grew.

When I discovered Elephant Journal, one of my most favorite writers instantly became Cis White. In what is one of the bravest posts I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot, she wrote: “It didn’t define me. It is a part of me, but not all of me. It became something a size of which I can manage. Since it is not my fault, why should I hide the truth of my experience?…….I believe the power of shame is diminished when we speak up and out and with one another about it.” The bravery in her words was admirable – and something I decided I was going to strive for.

And then there’s Laura. I have been reading Laura’s blog for years. I don’t remember how I ever stumbled upon it, but when I did, I felt like I was home. Every word she writes feels like a hug. A warm blanket wrapped around me. As if she is looking me straight in the eye and saying, “I get it. I get you.” And one day this past spring, out of nowhere, I messaged her on Facebook, and she wrote back telling me that she and her cousin Mary, of Say it Survivor, (check out their story-seriously) were having a writing workshop just 40 minutes from where I lived, and that I should come. And while even just a year ago, I would’ve laughed and said, “Absolutely not,” I signed up that night, texted a friend, and she and I went. Our experience at the workshop could be an entire post. And maybe some day it will be. But let’s just say: that was it. It was the final piece that had been missing. I walked out of there without shame, without blame, without fear. And one week later, I published “It’s Time.” (And following that post, guess what I have not felt at all? Regret, more shame, fear, self-hatred. Actually, I have felt more free than I have ever felt.) Laura and I have kept in touch since the workshop and she is just one of those genuinely amazingly beautiful souls. If you ever have the privilege of working with her – do it. I would copy and paste every post she’s ever written, but in the interest of time, just trust me: read her blog. And here are the words that I tell her are my most favorite thing she’s ever said, and never fail to make me tear up upon reading:

No one gets to judge how you managed to survive, friends.  No one.  No one gets to shame you for whatever you did to get yourself to the place where you can live through feeling the pain.  Not even you.

You survived, honey.  Not everyone does, you know.

You miraculous girl.  You miraculous boy.  You clever, resilient child, you.

You can stop hurting yourself.  You can shed your armor, and still be safe.  You can be seen, and still be safe.  You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.  You are being held hostage.  Meet the demands.  Feel the pain.  It will take some courage, but we already know how brave you are.  You are so, so brave.

You are strong enough to walk through the pain, and into the sunlight- I promise you. Freedom is just around the bend.  See you there, sweet friend.

And this doesn’t even begin to talk about Glennon and Liz and Brené and so many women in my day-to-day life who inspire me with their bravery to stand tall and be real and tell their stories.

So I hope you gain some inspiration. I hope their words fill you with bravery and comfort. And I hope you find the courage to tell your own story – even a snippet, or a sentence, or a word. Whatever your story is about. It will set you free – this I know.

The day that we talked about rape jokes

One day this summer, staff of our oldest boys came up to me.

“Jen,” they said. “Can we do a group on rape comments? The sexual jokes keep coming and yesterday [Name] made a joke about what he would do to [Celebrity] if he found her drunk and passed out. They just don’t get that rape isn’t something to joke about. And I think they get so much of this from the internet. They just don’t understand.”

[For a little more context: these boys, besides being clueless adolescents, also happen to all have Asperger’s Syndrome, or related social-cognitive challenges.]

And so the following morning I sat with the group of 13-15-year-old boys.

“Remember a few weeks ago we talked about jokes?” I began.

“Yeah, like the deadly jokes?” one of them asked.

“How you can’t joke about suicide or religion or race,” another added.

“Right. And what did we say about sexual innuendo jokes?” I asked. We quickly reviewed how, at their age, innuendo exists, and it’s funny. It can be funny to look at a banana and think it looks like something else. It can be funny to hear someone say “I blew so hard,” when talking about blowing up a balloon. It’s okay. That’s expected. It just depends on who you share innuendo with, and when. You don’t make that type of joke with a staff member, or a teacher, or a parent.

I asked them if they knew of any other deadly topics that we hadn’t talked about, and after guesses like, “family” and “disabilities” (they are such good kids, SUCH good, sweet kids…), one of them guessed, “sex?” And another guessed, “rape?”

They all burst out laughing. As expected. But I waited, and then I asked them, “Who knows what the definition of rape is?”

As we began to walk down this path of conversation, laughter came in and out, but I held their gaze and I told them, “It’s okay. It’s an uncomfortable topic. People laugh when they feel awkward or uncomfortable. It’s okay. If you need to walk away or take a break, it’s okay.” They all stayed.

We talked about what rape is. We talked about where they hear rape comments (the internet, they said. One boy said, “Everything is inappropriate. It could be a video of a TREE on YouTube, and if you scroll down, there will be racist and sexist jokes and comments about sex.”).

Next we talked about the difference between sex jokes and rape jokes.

“While sex jokes are often “deadly”, meaning that they can have negative consequences depending on who you say them to, rape jokes are ALWAYS “deadly”, no matter who you make them with. And that’s because sex and rape are not the same thing.” I said.

“But they kind of are,” one boy said. “It’s the same actions.”

“I’m glad you brought that up,” I told him. “Does anyone know why people have sex?”

They laughed again.

“Horny!”

“Love!”

I told them they were right. “Does anyone know why someone rapes?”

Silence. And then,

“Attraction?”

“Lust?”

I looked at them and said: “A person rapes for one reason: power. When a person rapes someone, it isn’t about sex. It’s not about attractiveness.”

“Wait,” one boy said. “I get it. So even though the physical actions are similar, the intent is different.”

Another boy added, “I guess you never know what someone has been through, which is why you shouldn’t joke about it?”

Yes. Yes. Yes. Kids are so smart.

“Right.” I told them. And then I shared some statistics about sexual abuse and rape. I watched their eyes widen as they looked around the table, counting the number of boys and the number of women. “Wait….” one of them said. “So someone here might have had that happen to them?”

You just never know. You don’t take that chance.

We talked about how damaging it can be for someone to hear a joke about rape. We played out some scenarios, doing Social Behavior Mapping, to look at the effects of a rape comment. They talked about how maybe people would feel unsafe around them, might be worried that they were going to harm them, might think that they disrespected women and maybe wouldn’t want to be around them anymore. These were their ideas. Their thought processes. They got it.

We talked about the kind of people they want to be. We talked about what they can do if they hear a rape comment or joke. How they could be a bystander or not. How they can choose to laugh or not. How if they choose to laugh, what message it sends. They got it.

We could’ve skipped all this. We could’ve sat them down and said, “You will have a serious consequence if I hear one more of those comments.” We could’ve. But what would that have done? The thing is – we have to have these hard conversations. It’s okay if they laugh. It’s okay if they want to walk away. It’s okay. But we have to talk about it, because otherwise they don’t know. Otherwise they don’t have the space to ask the questions. Otherwise they go on doing what they’re doing because nobody has given them a reason or an opportunity to do otherwise.

So we talk. We have the conversations, and over and over again, we talk.

Let’s try this again

I haven’t sat down to write all summer. Except once, one half-hearted post.

I have missed writing so much.

I could attribute it to working 10-12 hour days, or the heat, or being so exhausted, or writer’s block, or my computer breaking, or just simply not having enough time.

But really, it doesn’t matter why, does it?

What matters is that I have missed it. I need it back.

Writing is so good for me.

There’s so many posts that have been swimming around in my head. Words and sentences floating about that want to be collected and transformed into some semblance of coherence.

I’m going to try.

I have so much to say. About work, about kids and meltdowns and strategies and lessons. About life, about authenticity and discovery. About stories and truth-telling and being real. About everything.

And yet.

I think about finally having this time, and I freeze. My fingers freeze, my mind stops. I can’t find the words and the paragraphs I had so eloquently written in my head are nowhere to be found.

But gently, I will coax them out. Gently, I will return to this habit. Gently, I will find my voice again.

I can’t wait.

Mixed-up middle

I haven’t written in so long. Maybe a month. I hate not writing for a month. As with anything, the longer I don’t write, the harder it is to sit down and write. I can’t think of the perfect post. The words won’t come. I have nothing to say, even though I have everything to say.

So why not just start right here, somewhere in the mixed-up middle of words and ideas?

Like: I’m puzzling over the little details I’m noticing about myself. I’m thinking so much about my cravings to be busy at work, and my difficulty with free time. I’m trying to gently figure out what each means and be observant without being judgmental.

Like: Some days a sunset brings me to tears that yet another day is over already. Other days a sunset brings a sigh of relief, that a new day will dawn soon.

Like: I don’t fit either early-bird or night-owl. My energy has been shifting and I can’t quite make out the pattern of when I am most energized and why.

Like: My hyper-sensitivity is off the charts lately. Today: my heart hurting when I stepped on tree roots, fearful that I was hurting them. (Notice, don’t judge, I remind myself. I am who I am.)

Like:  “The world is unsafe” feeling is big. I find myself unable to read about, or think about, the events around the world because it’s just too big for my soul to hold right now.

Like: Books have been my saving grace ever since I was a little girl, and the comfort I find from knowing I can spend 10 minutes, an hour, or a day reading, is akin to what a child gets from clutching their blankie.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got for now.

It’s a start, perhaps. A foot in the door at writing again. And this quiet period will end, as it always does, and at some point my fingers will frantically start typing the words again. But for now, we wait.

To the one who saved me by letting me go

What follows is a piece of writing from a dear friend, following one of the hardest actions she’s ever had to take: ending a relationship that was breaking her down more than building her up. I had the  privilege of seeing her through this process and I want you to know how brave she was, and still is. It took bravery to say goodbye, it took bravery to acknowledge what she had been through, and it’s taking bravery to continue to feel the feelings and the after-effects of leaving. While she ends her writing with an apology to her ex-boyfriend, I would argue that she owes nobody an apology, least of all him. I would argue that he’s not collateral damage, but she almost was. So, to her: I am proud of you, I love you, and I want you to always hold tight to the truth you found deep within yourself: that you deserve nothing short of wonderful.


To the one who saved me by letting me go

I have to start by saying that everything we had was real. The chemistry, the adventures, the shared values, the common interests, the good memories – it was all real. But somewhere between the giddy first dates and falling for you, something else happened. I don’t know exactly when, but toxicity crept in. And the self-doubt, manipulation, desperation and rigidity that grew over the next five years – so intense that I completely lost myself – well that was real too. For every high there was a lower low, and the cycle quickly spun out of control.

It wasn’t your fault that I was young, naïve, and didn’t know what a relationship was supposed to look like. It wasn’t your fault that I spent those first few months letting you call the shots without pushing back, because you were the experienced one. It wasn’t your fault that I went through personal challenges in the years we were together. And it wasn’t your fault that I was so blinded by wanting us to be perfect, that I didn’t notice how unhappy I was. But at the same time, you were supposed to show me what a healthy relationship looked like. You were supposed to ask for my opinion and make me feel like it was valued. You were supposed to support me through every challenge, even if you couldn’t make it go away. And you were supposed to show me that I could be honest about my feelings without getting defensive or judgmental. But you didn’t.

I’m still sifting through the distortions I have, trying to figure out which are my own, and which you put in my head. When I avoid the mirror, is it because my body isn’t good enough for me, or because it wasn’t good enough for you. When I turn away from the couple making out on the street, is it because I don’t like PDA, or because I’m jealous that you were never affectionate. When I bite my tongue from sharing my opinion, is it because I’m unsure of myself, or because I expect to be shot down. When I shiver seeing abuse on facebook, or in movies and songs, is it because I feel bad for the girl, or because I was her…  

Ugh that fucking ‘A’ word. It took me a long time to be able to not just say it, but also recognize it as the label for what I went through. ‘Emotional abuse’ is scary and weighted and stigmatized and something that would never happen to me, but guess what? It did. And that makes me feel disgusting. Admitting how traumatized I am feels pathetic. Especially since I called you my protector. But here’s the thing, being willing to walk through fire for someone doesn’t mean anything if you don’t notice you’re the one burning them over and over. You always saw it as looking out for me, as keeping me safe, as validation of your love. But the saying, “it’s the thought that counts” is actually bullshit. In this case, your intentions, however pure you thought they were, resulted in standards I could never live up to, expectations I would never meet, and kept me so confined within the boundaries and rules you set, that I didn’t notice how submissive I’d become. But when the rose-colored glasses came off and I was able to see the truth for the first time, something clicked. So I’ve spent the past few months thinking about what I would say to you, and here it is: thank you. It seems odd after how much pain you’ve caused me, but I want to thank you for three things:  

First, thank you for showing me how to love. How to be so head over heels for someone that no matter how much they drive me nuts, I still want to wake up next to them everyday and do my best to give them the world. Loving you the way I did enabled me to see exactly what giving myself to someone looks like, and showed me that I wasn’t getting that in return. Because the problem is, love, dependence and desperation are all different things. I loved you so hard because that’s how I justified how much it hurt. If I could convince myself that it was mutual, then all of a sudden, it was okay. But is love that isn’t shown or felt even real? I’m not so sure. Maybe you did really love me the best you could, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of love that I needed.  

Next, thank you for showing me what I need in my next relationship. It took me a while to differentiate being selfish from being honest about what I want. Wanting validation, support and encouragement isn’t selfish. Wanting to be with someone who makes me feel on top of the world isn’t selfish. And most importantly, wanting to know every single day that I’m good enough isn’t selfish.    

So here’s what I want. I want to share taste in music, movies and TV shows like we did, but next time, sing along in the car without being yelled at. I want to road trip everywhere like we did, laughing and sharing stories, but next time, without periods of awkward silence after being snapped at for something small. I want to be asked about my plans for the week like you did, but next time, feel support and not guilt for being busy with friends or work or exciting opportunities. I want to spend time with my family and friends like we did, but next time, not have them tell me you treated me like shit in front of them. I want to lie in bed at night and thank god for the amazing day I had like I used to do, but next time, do it because most days are like that, and not because the good days are so rare. Next time, I won’t settle. I won’t confuse double standards for chivalry, rules and restrictions for caring, or jealousy for compliments. Next time, I will again give everything I have, but next time, I’ll get it in return.  

So finally, thank you for letting me go. Ultimately it was me who made the decision to walk away for good, and to choose myself in a way you were never able to choose me, but the irony is that it was your hesitation that gave me the space to do it. Those first few weeks I was furious, I was hurt and I was confused. Now all I can say is I’m relieved. By letting me go, you saved me. I honestly don’t know if I ever would have been able to realize all the things that I needed to realize about you, about me, and about us if you hadn’t insisted that we break up to see if we really wanted to be together. Maybe they would have stayed buried and I would have never known that I was settling. Or maybe they would have built up until I exploded. Exploded one night after a fight in your house, the one you had an extra key to in your pocket the day I walked away. Exploded one afternoon planning the wedding I always thought I wanted, but for some reason could never quite picture. Exploded one day when it came time to talk about kids, the ones you didn’t want but the ones I know I needed. But I don’t have to wonder what would have happened, and if or how I would have reached my clarity, because thankfully I did.   

This will come as a shock to you, but I haven’t cried. Since the day that you insisted you could change and begged me to let you and I said no, I haven’t broken down. And at first that scared me. I thought something was wrong. But then I realized that plenty of tears have already fallen. I was grieving the relationship while it was still happening and I didn’t even know it. I was crying for the things I needed that I subconsciously knew I wasn’t going to get, and crying for the things I didn’t want that you gave me all too often.  

I don’t know if you’ll ever truly understand why I walked away. It might be too painful to accept, and denial is easier. You might be angry with yourself and taking it out on me or other people because that makes sense to you. Or maybe you genuinely don’t think you did anything wrong, in which case, I feel sad for you, because you can’t fix what you can’t see. Contrary to what you might think, I do want you to be happy. I want you to find someone who is everything you need, but by that I don’t mean someone who is a doormat. I hope you find someone who makes you throw your rigid box out the window, not because she asks you to, but because you realize she can’t and shouldn’t need to fit into it.

I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe you were meant to teach me to trust, to let someone in, and to give all of myself to someone else. Maybe you were meant to help me climb to the top of the cliff, so that when you pushed me off and I came crashing down, I would be able to build myself back up again. I’m stronger now because of you. I’m tougher because of you. I’m going to raise my standards because of you. I’m never going to settle again because of you. I know what I deserve because of you. Next time, I’m going to love harder because of you. And one day, I’m going to get from someone else the selfless love that I tried so desperately to give you. I’m still figuring out what’s next for me, but I only have this chance to truly find myself because of you. So while I’m sorry that you were the collateral damage on this journey of self-discovery, you letting me go allowed me to take it, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Silence

Two months ago (how has it already been 2 months?) we moved into our house.

Prior to our move, I was anxious. Anxious to pack, anxious to move, and anxious for the transition.

In particular, I had about 9872134987 feelings about leaving the city. We knew that buying a house and moving to the suburbs was the next step in our life, but, I was worried.

I worried that I’d feel isolated and away from everyone and everything. I worried about the silence.

“I love how in the city there’s always noise,” I told someone. “At night I don’t have to worry about the creaks and noises I hear in the building or outside, because there’s always noise, so nothing is worrisome. I love being able to step outside of my door and have everything right there, everyone out and about. I won’t have that when we move.”

But the day came, and with tears streaming down my face when we said goodbye to the apartment we had lived in for 3.5 years (our first home), we left. And with a lot (a LOT) of help from my parents unpacking and doing projects, and perfectly-timed text messages from a friend who just always knew exactly when I needed her to check in, we settled in.

And something happened.

I fell in love.

I love our house, and our street. We are not in a rural, country town – but our street happens to be the one that goes right through a wooded area. The trees are everywhere, there is green everywhere, and I swear, it’s easier to breathe here. I began walking, often – morning or evening, because stepping outside brings an instant calm. I see bunnies and deer, chipmunks and squirrels, but mostly, I look at the trees, their branches, the green against the blue skies. I hear the birds chirp and the trees rustle. I listen to the noise – which very often, is non-existent. And as it turns out, I like the silence.

As the weeks passed, I realized that I was exhaling deeper as I drove home from work and got closer to home. I realized that on the days I went into the city to meet a friend or go to an appointment, it was actually more overwhelming being around all of the smells, sights, people, and noise. I realized that I looked forward to going home.

So – here’s to our cozy home. Here’s to the woods, to trees and to green, to birds, to stillness and to silence. Here’s to growth, and to the next part of our life. Here’s to finding calm.

Here’s to loving it.

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