the way we experience the world relies on many factors… from our race to culture socioeconomic status to attachment styles…. and so many more things. throughout my counseling education I have been extremely reflective and attempting to have a level of insight that allows me to understand how and why I behave I do. I’ve written papers about my cultural identity formation, sexual identity formation, and even a 12 page research paper about how my experience of identity foreclosure in adolescence set the stage for many issues.
all that educational background to say despite how much insight I try to have sometimes I’m blindsided by my own behavior. I struggle with the dichotomy of “impostor syndrome” from this false sense of pride and ego that I should “know better” because of my job and education.
the past several weeks have been hard for me personally in a lot of ways. for the first time in a long time I’ve started to “settle down” with a regular job with office hours. for the first time in forever I am in a happy, healthy relationship… the kind that makes you feel safe to let your guard down and just be. and I was thriving.
and then… seemingly out of nowhere I started experiencing and increase in mental health symptoms. we always talk about how to handle things when life is shit, but we forget that those of us who have lived in chaos for most of our life get realllll uncomfortable when things start to get calm. My irritability was through the roof for no reason. I was stressing about how much I was stressing. Things in my relationship that should have been non-issues were causing me to experience emotions similar to what I have experienced in past relationships and when my body remembers those experiences it goes into high alert. my insomnia flairs up. I am suspicious of everyone and everything. I can’t relax. and in those moments it’s like a Chinese fire drill in my mind. I dissociate, I isolate, and I self destruct. Being passive aggressive to those closest to me is one of my signature moves. Because if I can be enough of a bitch I can prove myself right when they inevitably leave. but that’s just half of it. the other half is the meek, apologetic little girl who tries to make herself smaller to fit into whatever space the people I care for have for me, completely neglecting my own needs – and frankly – my own self respect. I apologize incessently for things that weren’t my fault. I take on ALL the guilt. because if everything is my fault than somehow I’ll be able to fix it.
“I’ll be better next time” “I’m working on not being so broken” “I’m sorry I’m so crazy” “Don’t hate me for my feelings, I know they are irrational”
and on and on and on.
Friday morning I sat with a client who had a son pass away a few weeks ago. He was just 24. As I sat with her I told her that she needed to give herself permission to feel. I told her if she didn’t just sit with her feelings they were a ticking time bomb that would go off and cause a myriad of casualties…. collateral damage as a friend of mine put it. And as I sat in the silence of my office after she left session I began to cry. because I have been stopping myself from feeling lots of things for far too long. So when an unexpected opportunity to have a weekend mostly to myself came up I made a choice. I was going to sit with my feelings.
It was hard. so fucking hard. Old Courtney wanted to drink away my feelings as I’ve done in the past. I even bought a bottle of whiskey. but I turned around as I was leaving to the store and returned it. the next night I got off at the exit where they have a grocery store that sells one of my favorite bourbons on the way home. and I turned around in the parking lot and left. I was uncomfortable. I cried. I wore out my “You are Safe” grounding meditation. I cleaned the house. I dyed my hair. and I wrote and wrote and wrote. and I discovered that I was able to stay with my feelings until they found a natural crest and began to subside. I woke up this morning feeling more peaceful than I have for awhile.
It’s exhausting holding your feelings back. Trying to control/avoid/ignore big feelings feels like the right thing to do in the moment, but it’s like a rubber band. The more you pull it back the harder it hurts when it breaks and snaps you.
Giving yourself permission to feel your feelings in a safe and healthy way with appropriate support is so important. It isn’t always easy, but the more you do it, the better you get at it.
If you need someone to talk to or someone to give you permission to feel your feelings, I’m here. I don’t pretend I have it all together because I just don’t. But you don’t have to be alone as you’re figuring it out.
have been struggling in so many ways. I used to be one who shared every struggle and every success on social media. It was my therapy. It made me feel less alone and was one of the biggest weapons I had to fight my demons. Something about exposing my darkness made it less scary.
But the last few years I’ve struggled, mostly in silence. I’ve shared moments of both struggle and victory, but each have been muted… Filtered… Because I couldn’t bear to face them all at once or in their fullness. Because I felt obligated to “look on the bright side” and “find the silver lining” and some days… Most days… I couldn’t.
Recently I have been grappling with a flood of triggers from past trauma that have been drowning me lately and it creates this cyclone of confusion and frustration. I start to get to a “good” place. I practice gratitude and in many ways I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but as I begin to catch my breath with this inhale of gratitude and begin to relax there always seems to be a dark, cold hand of fear reaching out to cover my nose and mouth. And suddenly I’m not safe anymore. I begin to wonder if I ever was. I’ve felt this suffocation before, much like the frog who doesn’t recognize the simmering water heating up until it’s too late, I didn’t realize I was suffocating until it was too late. I had nothing left to fight with, so I surrendered. But now, oh now… I remember. And so I panic at the smallest things. The loss of any freedom or autonomy sends me into a spiral. I dissociate. I isolate. I assume the worst because that’s been my truth for so long. Sometimes I can catch my breath. But I’m excellent at putting on a show, at being ok. It’s all I’ve ever thought I was allowed to be.
I spend more time than I’d care to admit crying in my car over everything and nothing. I start to feel stuck and that makes me angry. Anger is scary to me because I refused to feel it for so long. I’m angry that I trusted the justice system and it failed me. I’m angry that I felt like I had to choose between the life of Independence I fought to rebuild and my daughter. I chose her, of course. I’ll always choose her. I’m angry that I had to leave a job I loved. I’m angry that nearly three years later, I’m still picking up pieces of a life that was shattered.
And yes, I’m grateful for the lessons learned and freedoms gained and and and…
But I’m still angry. And that’s ok. For the first time I’m letting myself be angry and just sit with it. I can feel just about any feeling and be comfortable with it… But anger has been hard for me. Because being angry, for me, often means acknowledging someone has done something unjust towards me or someone I care about. Which means acknowledging the flaws in those you trusted, those you spent time and effort investing in… Those I chose to see the good in when everyone else saw the not so good. And that is a major challenge to my worldview and personality. It’s a blessing and a curse to always look for the best in even the worst people… I’m working on finding balance in that and today’s step is admitting I’m fucking angry.
Guys! There are exactly 28 days left until the end of the term. Twenty-eight. Also, this is my LAST TERM of grad school. Coincidentally, in the same month I graduate – I turn 32 AND it marks 2 years since the end of my nearly decade long marriage. WHEW. To say I’m ready for a new season is an understatement. It’s been over 2 years of late night classes, weekends of homework, recordings of sessions… right along side two years of being a newly single mom, recovering from heartbreak I thought would kill me, and getting to know my genuine self for the first time in a long time.
Going to school to get a masters in counseling isn’t just learning how to let someone lay on your couch and tell you their problems… it is about looking at your own issues closer than you ever wanted to. Instead of writing papers about the history of counseling or the theories used I wrote papers detailing my own personal developmental issues like identity foreclosure in adolescence, how I came to understand my race and my sexuality, and my own biases and shortcomings. I understand myself so much more now. But the one thing that has changed the most… I’ve learned it’s ok to be imperfect.
See, the thing about being a “helper” (Enneagram 2, anyone?) is that I am so quick to give love, acceptance, safety, and encouragement to everyone… but myself. Throughout the last two years of school and personal work (ya’ll – GO TO THERAPY. *end rant*) I discovered that somewhere early on in life my brain correlated the idea that perfectionism leads to love, acceptance, and attention and anything less than perfection is unacceptable and will lead to loneliness and disappointment.
I spent 30 years of my life chasing perfection.
I was raised in church and was the textbook church kid… missions trips, small group leader, bible memory verse champion. I never drank, smoked, did drugs and of course “I kissed dating goodbye.”
I went into JROTC in high school and earned every award possible, becoming the Commanding Officer my senior year.
Despite graduating in the top 10 of my class of 400 and having multiple scholarship opportunities and military recruiters offering me amazing opportunities I decided to go to a church internship program after high school. I fundraised an outrageous amount of money because I felt called to this program where I worked insane hours (yes, I PAID to work…) and despite my best efforts felt like I was never “good enough” for their standards. So, of course, I stayed a second year. I travelled the country putting on weekend youth conventions. I made the drama team and was one of the actors on the big stage. I checked all the boxes I was supposed to.
While on the road I met the guy. You know, THE GUY. We dated long distance for a short time and then eloped. We didn’t have sex until our wedding night. Because that was what we were “supposed” to do. I followed the rules.
I then spent the next 10 years attempting to become what I perceived was the “perfect” wife. We had a kid, a few businesses, bought a house, had the dogs and everything but the white picket fence. We were supposedly living the American Dream.
But instead of feeling proud of myself, grateful, content, or accomplished I was constantly terrified. I lived in a cyclone of anxiety. That thing my brain learned at a young age? Perfection is the only thing that leads to love, acceptance, and attention… that core belief sat like an anvil on my chest.
accepting imperfection was nearly impossible in the smallest instances, so when my marriage of almost a decade fell apart almost overnight… i was completely shattered. I had been holding on to the shards of imperfection trying to hide them from everyone, including myself. The tighter I held on to them the deeper they cut me.
When my marriage ended I had no choice but to stop trying to hold it all together. The sound of my world crashing around me was so loud. I simply couldn’t go on living the way I was. I was a tightly wound, insanely anxious, deeply wounded, and completely exhausted shell of a human.
I had to learn (and i’m still learning) that it is ok to simply exist, to just be. Not to try to try to be perfect or good enough or anything enough…. but to embrace myself exactly as I am in this moment. So when it came time to change my online names @imperfectlycourtney was the most authentic, genuine expression of who I have learned to be over the past two years. It also embodied the message I feel inspired to live out and share with my clients, my readers, and ultimately the world. Borrowing the wording from my ultimate career crush and inspiration, Brene Brown… that YOU, in all your imperfections and struggles, are worthy of love and belonging.
so, welcome to imperfectlycourtney.com. Here i’ll be sharing the lessons I am learning on my journey to become a recovering perfectionist. You can also find me on instagram, facebook, and pinterest … I always love connecting with other imperfectionists!
words have been stirring in my soul, blurring lines of ink on a page that are hard to make out as they stay jumbled in my head. they burn with passion and intensity demanding to be set free.
no, no, no… before i can write them i must first create the perfect space in which to write. it cannot be released until i’ve prepared a sacred place to ground my body and release that which is burning inside me. so, i methodically declutter and simplify the space i have.
please, just write them.
i will, i promise… but not yet. it has to be just right. i obsess over candles, flowers, chairs, and desks. i crave connection. sanctuary. stillness. inspiration. life. so i attempt orchestrate it all. i buy the desk, the chair, the flowers, the candles… i even find a quote that describes this soul on fire feeling of the words brewing within me.
and as i sit down to reflect in this space for the first time, i freeze.
because what if they are not enough.
and what if they are too much.
and i realize what i have claimed to be doing to “set the stage” for my soul to open up was really that perfectionist trembling with fear.
while i’ve written for a long time now, my words are different.
they are no longer spewing with the joy of naivety, the bliss of ignorance, or prettied up by subconscious denial. for years i penned my inspiring life stories *eye roll* under the blog name journey of a dreamer. and it was all as true and genuine and well intentioned as i knew how to be.
but these words.
they are raw and jagged, dripping with the blood and tears ripped from my very being in the process of my unbecoming.
these are the words that have woken me up, the words that have welcomed me home.
when i said earlier i was craving connection, sanctuary, stillness, inspiration, and life…
i was looking for that in a physical space to create some sort of “holy moment”
….when all along those things were within me. the act of projecting those cravings on to the physical discounted the power that pulses through my heart, soul, and fingertips.
connection. sanctuary. stillness. inspiration. life.
those aren’t found in a place, they are found in me. in my words.
i’ve had them all along.
and now it’s time to set them free.
i’m scared of what will happen when i finally let these words out.
but i’m more scared of what will happen if i don’t.
“You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life. And the very experiences that seem so hard when you’re going through them are the ones you’ll look back on with gratitude for how far you’ve come”
I’d be lying if I said I looked back over the past year and immediately felt grateful for everything I’ve been through. As I sit and reflect on the things I’ve gone through and what they have taught me I am able to intentionally offer gratitude for those experiences, but it isn’t a natural first reaction for me. I haven’t “made it” to some super enlightened place of reflection where I feel gratitude, but I am getting better about intentionally being grateful even for – especially for – the struggles I’ve faced. A year ago I had no idea how I was going to survive a year of 20 hours a week of unpaid internship on top of school, parenting, and working. I pushed the limits of what was logistically possible and scheduled my days in 15 minute windows. I learned the importance of planning and communication, setting realistic goals and expectations, and of being present in the moment.
There were so many moments this year where I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the week – let alone the year or my grad school program. The thing about being in grad school for Counseling is that you can’t just run from your issues… they become the homework. I had to address my personal world view, my wounds, my mindset. If I truly wanted to be helpful as a counselor I had to know my own shit. I have had so many moments of clarity reflecting on sessions I’ve had with clients. My daddy issues were clear when I saw my first older white male and had a hard time asserting myself in session. My relationship issues were easy to spot when I had my first client in a toxic, codependent relationship. I was able to recognize these issues and intentionally set them aside when I walked into the room as the counselor. Compartmentalizing wasn’t something I was good at, but it was something I was forced to learn. I have always worn many hats but before this I tried to wear them all simultaneously. Becoming a counselor has forced me to be mindful and intentional about which hat I wear when. I used to be a major supporter of multitasking, but after seeing how much more present I became in my life when I was intentional about what Courtney showed up I firmly believe that being mindfully intentional allows for a greater depth of experience in life than multitasking would ever allow.
So, here I am right now… sitting in my favorite coffee shop intentionally sipping my black mango tea as I reacquaint myself with Courtney the writer. In the madness that has been my life for the last several years Courtney the writer has been quiet. I’ve churned out my fair share of academic papers and “woe is me” journal entries, but the writer I’ve missed has been the one so passionately communicating the words that burn true in my soul. I used to have a pretty popular blog and after awhile the words became empty because I was writing for a specific audience. I miss writing for the freedom it brings me. I have nothing to prove. I’m not trying to be some eloquent poet. I want to share the words that bring life and freedom. The words that everyone wants to hear but no one will say. I want to give people permission to live and feel and express themselves. I want people to feel seen and heard and understood by my words. If just one person reads the words I write and feels a little less alone, that is completely worth it. Words truly are life to me. A gift. It’s no surprise my love language is “words of affirmation.” Words have the power to inspire or to injure. The words you write, speak, or even just the words you think to yourself – they are either building you up or putting you down. Just like I had to learn intentionality with showing up and focusing on being just one thing at a time, I have had to learn how to intentionally focus on the words I speak and think.
I see speaking or thinking positive things about ourselves and others as feathers. Each thought is just a tiny feather being placed on the balancing scale. The negative things we think and speak about ourselves and others are like rocks. Just one weighs the scale down significantly. Its impact is immediately felt. It takes infinitely more instances of intentional positivity to balance the scale out after one instance of negativity. Make sure you are adding feathers to your scale constantly. It’s a never ending battle that must be fought with mindfulness and intentionality. Carry your feathers with you always. Give them away without hesitation. Leave your rocks, don’t carry them with you. When you are tempted to tip the scales with just a slip of the tongue, stop and weigh the impact it will have before you toss it on the scale – scattering the feathers you’ve fought so hard to accumulate.
Show up today. Be intentionally present. Engage mindfully. You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for.
Today is my last “first day” of a new term in Graduate school.
Today I walked on to campus, one of the few places that has remained familiar to me throughout the hurricanes of change that life seems to enjoy throwing at me, and reflected on how different I am from the girl who walked on to this campus two years ago. Today I am strong, confident, and comfortable knowing exactly who I am – faults and all.
January of 2017 I sheepishly walked on to campus so quiet and insecure, unsure of myself. I was determined to be the perfect student. I had what I thought was a great support system with my husband nearing the end of his Masters program, I determined to use this program to make our life better. We were going to be an unstoppable force together, another version of the power couple I thought we had always been. I was so wrong.
Just 2 months later in March of 2017 (on my 30th birthday) my husband, and the foundation of my support system, told me he was done. While we had some struggles I was always willing to do whatever it took to work through them. I was unaware then how toxic and co-dependent our relationship was, I subconsciously refused to acknowledge the level of dysfunction we had lived with for most of our relationship. With those blinders on I was SO sure we could make it work, but our almost 10 year marriage seemed to crumble overnight.
I was left with apartment and car leases that were both about to expire, a decade of jointly accumulated possessions to sort through mostly on my own, grad school classes to attend, an assistant job that barely paid enough to make ends meet on my own, and a then 7 year old to parent while trying to hold it together myself. Happy 30th Birthday, right?
I continued to show up… to my classes, to my job, and for my daughter. Some days showing up was all I could do. I was so unprepared for this. For life. At 30 years old I had never found a place to live on my own, never bought my own car, never fully supported myself financially. I was so overwhelmed with the process of buying a car, finding a place to live, and figuring out how to make ends meet all while negotiating a divorce and custody agreement. The feeling of helplessness I had the first year of being alone was incredibly motivating. I became determined to make it on my own. I bought my own car, found my own place, and managed a budget largely on my own. I had help from some amazing people who were already in my life, made some amazing new friends that showed up for me when they didn’t have to, but largely – I was, scratch that… I am – scared to let people in, to let people help me. ….Because if I let them help me I’d get used to it and when they decided to leave…. I’d end up even more wounded. So I built up walls and insisted on doing almost everything for myself. Need a set of blinds replaced? Buy my own power tools and learn how to do it on my own. Need a babysitter? Don’t ask friends or loved ones close buy – hire your own sitter. People have asked how they can help and my answer is always “I’m fine, I’ll figure it out.” I refused to let people in. I was there for everyone but rarely let someone be there for me. Call it pride, ego, bitterness, fear… Whatever you call it – It was lonely.
Brene Brown is my career crush. She is a vulnerability and shame researcher. I have adored (ok… mildly obsessed) over all of her ted talks, books, podcasts. She is ultimate #careergoals. She insists that we were made for love and belonging, but that requires vulnerability. Again, something I preach to my clients and attempt to make it look like I’m living well. But I kept my walls high. Those who were inside my walls before they closed stayed there, but letting new people in… Nope, I couldn’t risk it. I’d maybe let people help here or there but never really let people in. I walked around in heavy, clunky armor determined to protect myself from pain or disappointment. But you can’t selectively numb feelings. I was blocking out the pain – but I was also losing out on the joy of connection, love, and belonging. It wasn’t until recently I was shown how ridiculous my inability to accept help was… it was a literal light bulb moment. I brushed off my boyfriend’s offer to help me change a lightbulb – something that takes a lot of effort for a girl with the nick name “Shortney” – and he got frustrated with my inability to accept even the smallest amount of help. And he called me out on it. He was right (yes, I said it). So, I (reluctantly) let him change my lightbulb.
I lost my job of almost 8 years in October. I’ve been on unemployment since then looking for a job that will allow me to finish grad school, including 20 hours a week of unpaid internship. I’m now 9 weeks away and filling up my free time with interviews for jobs that pay (like actual money, not just “experience”) but I’ve been cutting it close in a lot of ways – specifically financially. Along with losing my job I also racked up an outrageous amount of legal fees trying to fight for what I believe was best for my daughter, only to be disappointed by the system. I’ve hid the depth of the struggle even from those close to me for a long time, but the weight got too heavy to carry myself. Because we were made for community and connection. It truly does take a village – and I was doing myself and others a huge disservice by keeping my village locked outside my walls.
I made a status on facebook in passing today about yet another outrageous expense that popped up – a $335 licensure test that I have to apply for by Wednesday – and how crazy it was that they expected a last term grad student to just come up with that kind of money. It was just minutes after that I had people telling me how much they believed in me and how they would help where they could. One of my friends sent me some money through facebook messenger payments and said “you’ve got friends out there. they will step up” and I honestly cried. Others asked for my Cash App name or popped up on my venmo saying they believed in me and wanted to invest in making my dreams a reality. I have been overwhelmed with the magic that happens when you choose vulnerability over fear and shame… true love, connection, and community show up. And many of you showed up for me today. I know how much everyone struggles and to see them choose to invest in me is so incredibly humbling and inspiring.
it truly does take a village, and today I’m reminded that I have a wonderful village full of amazing people.
What a year 2018 was. It was my first “full” year as a divorced woman. Wow, never thought that would ever be anything I would be. I would like to think that I have handled it well. I guess when I am writing for it to be read I want to put forward my best side. The ever optimistic “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” and “look at all the lessons I’ve learned” and the “I’m so much stronger for having survived this” and all the other beautifully penned cliches. I oftentimes tell my clients that I don’t want to hear their regurgitated therapeutic cliches and other bullshit. I tell them I want the reality of where they are right now. If it’s angry they have to be in my program, I want it. I just want them present and expressing themselves. But then I sit here like some polished piece of shit doing the same things they try to get away with. Maybe that’s why it irritates me when I see it in them, because I see what I try to convince myself of every day. That I have this flowery optimistic point of view. That I joyfully choose to look at every challenge as a “opportunity for growth”… The reality isn’t that pretty. Not by a long shot.
This year has been hell. That is not me being negative, that is my bloody and bruised soul looking at you with eyes of fire saying I’ve seen the darkness… I lived there. And I am fighting with everything within me to embrace the light. I have great days. This year was filled with more beauty and adventure and LIFE than I can explain. I felt every heartbeat, every smile, every beautiful moment. And I felt every disappointment, every gut punch, every failure, every tear. I felt it all with every fiber of my being. I’ve felt unstoppable and I’ve felt hopeless. And through it all, I held on. I held on to the hope that it gets better, some days just by a thread.
Oftentimes people only want to share the struggles once they have achieved the success. We hide the struggles as we live them, we will tell our story when we have a happy ending. We don’t share our before until we have an after that seems “good enough” for us to justify the struggle we have survived. But fuck that. When I’m in the darkness bracing for the next deathly blow I don’t want a success story, I just want to know I’m not alone. I don’t want the happily ever after to tell me how much better it gets. My eyes, having adjusted to darkness, are searching for others like me. Those who don’t have it all together, so we can all struggle together – helping each other where we can. But so many of us are afraid to admit that we don’t have it together. Or if we do, those who have it all together just want to give us the lectures of what we need to do to get where they are. I don’t want that. I don’t need that. I don’t need to be fixed. I’m not some success story to add to your repertoire to impress those above you so you can “level up.” I don’t want your advice or “3 easy steps to fill in the blank.” I don’t even want someone to fight for me. I just want someone to take my hand and say “You got this” and stand by me as I embrace the struggle. So, here I am promising to be that person for you. I will stand with you in the messy, dirty, dark struggle and look you in the eyes and say “beautiful soul, you got this. fight when you can, rest when you must. you are not alone. don’t look away… I see you. I see your soul, every part of it. and I will not look away. I see you and I am with you, always”
Today I dropped my daughter off at school after one of the most emotionally draining winter breaks I’ve had with her. Not for any fault of hers, she is perfection, but because life is heavy. I have unhealed wounds from my relationship with her father and sending her away to spend the week with him still stings. I am struggling in every area of life. I am entering my last 9 weeks of grad school in a few days, searching desperately for a job – I’ve been getting by on hope, charity, and public aid – and while I’m grateful, so grateful – it still isn’t enough and the bills are piling up. This past year I’ve lost my stable job of almost 8 years, lost people so incredibly important to me, and lost a year long court battle. Each one of those deserve a time of grieving that I am not able to provide. I go to bed exhausted, but I can’t sleep. This is my darkness, my struggle, my reality. The weight of it all disappears when I keep myself busy. I find myself falling back into that place I lived for years. The numbing buzz of keeping busy. A million lists. So many projects. Check it off and move on. If I’m moving I can’t feel how heavy it is. But that isn’t living. Those are the moments I need you to show up for me. It’s like a trance, I’m asleep – not alive. I miss out on the weight of it all for those moments. But I miss out on the joy of it all. And I am so incredibly lucky to have a few great people who know me well and love me enough to remind to me stop… breathe… live. And I feel the weight of the struggle, but I also start to see the joy of it too. Those moments when the little voice says out of no where “I love you mom, you’re the best” … I stop and I live. Those moments when you make me laugh when I don’t want to… Those moments when you walk up behind me and hug me tight and tell me you love me… Those moments when you text me just the right thing at just the right time because we have BFF ESP…. Those moments are the ones I don’t want to miss. Because that… that is what living is. The weight of the struggle will always be there. I hope someday it won’t be this heavy, but I know it will never go away. If I try to avoid it I miss those things. Those little things that make life so sweet. It’s not the “happily ever after” … It’s the right now. Happily ever after is just a lot of right nows put together day after day after day. Happily ever after is right now… and i’m going to live it with purpose.
This is a story that I have never told I gotta get this off my chest to let it go I need to take back the light inside you stole You’re a criminal And you steal like you’re a pro
All the pain and the truth I wear like a battle wound So ashamed, so confused I was broken and bruised
you know how you hear a song over and over again for years and yet you never really hear it? And then one day you hear it … like in your soul…. yea, that’s this song. I heard it for years but never really understood it….until it struck a chord on the still fresh wounds of my soul.
i’ve debated sharing my story on a public platform, but I feel like it is a very important step not just in my own healing and recovery process – but also because it is a very important step in fighting the victim blaming stigma associated with sexual assault.
whoa. let’s back it up a bit.
i’m about to get uncomfortably vulnerable and if you’re triggered by stories of sexual assault feel free to click away.
it was March of this past year. if i’m being honest i wasn’t in a very healthy place. i was about to turn 30 and my marriage was falling apart in front of me and i had no idea. i lived in a constant state of intense anxiety that often led me to overuse alcohol as a coping mechanism. my ex had planned a trip to the dominican republic as a spring break/birthday family trip. we had debated cancelling the trip since our relationship was in such a fragile place, but we didn’t want to break our daughter’s heart and i (not so) secretly hoped getting away for a bit would help us reconnect and figure things out. so we went. i was a little nervous about the fact that we were going to an all inclusive resort and i had some issues with alcohol, but i swore i was going to do it right that time. we had lots of difficult conversations on that trip, but came to what i saw as some kind of understanding and for the first time in a long time felt a speck of happiness and hope.
so, i let my guard down.
and i drank more than i intended to. for a second it felt like we were connecting again, like maybe we were going to make it… i could breathe again and i just let loose. i was sitting at the swim up bar and talking with the bartender and the people around me, some young spanish speaking guy began talking to me and i used my rusty spanish to converse with him. of course, i was naturally flirtatious. my ex was talking to people on the other side of the pool. i got a refill of my drink and that is the last thing i remember for awhile.
i have flashes of memories from this point on… memories that are vivid and filled with feelings. i don’t know how i got to the public bathroom in the lobby, but i remember being in there with the spanish speaking guy from the bar. things happened – things i didn’t consent to. i remember the feeling of being terrified. i’m not sure how i got back to the room, but i did. there is a lot about the night that doesn’t add up, so much so i will always wonder if i was drugged. the rest of the night was a blur of extreme emotional outbursts and other things i’m not proud of. my initial reaction was one of self-loathing. i blamed myself. i knew i was taken advantage of but the thought echoing through my head was
… but i should have known better….
surely i said/did/wore something that brought this on. i should have saw in coming. i should have been able to stop it. i felt so ashamed, so dirty and used. and on top of that there were layers of guilt, shame, self-loathing, and so many negative feelings.
i woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick. my legs didn’t work right so i laid on the bathroom floor. eventually i made my way to the shower and turned the water as hot as it would go and just laid on the floor of the shower in some foreign hotel room crying hysterically for an hour… trying to wash away the dirty feeling in my soul. but i couldn’t.
i had often thought of how i would handle something like this happening to me. i’m a fairly confident, strong, intelligent woman. i pictured picking myself up and marching straight to the police and making an eloquently stated report. but i didn’t. i was told it was my decision, that clearly i wanted it regardless of the fact that i was clearly not coherent enough to consent. not remembering a lot of the evening made me feel like maybe that was true, maybe i didn’t say no. maybe i was being too flirtatious. being in a foreign country on a short trip made going to the authorities more difficult and there was no way to prove anything.
it took me awhile to talk to anyone besides my doctor about this experience out of the guilt and shame and embarrassment. i’ve gotten help and worked through a lot of the issues and i understand that it wasn’t my fault and i was taken advantage of. but i still have flashbacks and sometimes struggle with owning my own sexuality because of this experience. it is one moment that will change your life forever.
please. please. please. if someone discloses any kind of feeling of being sexually violated – don’t dismiss it. validate it. listen. empathize. know that it takes a hell of a lot of courage and vulnerability to disclose this type of thing. check out RAINN for more resources on how to get help or help someone you know who has experienced sexual assault.
remember, life goes on. it gets better. you can overcome. this doesn’t define you. you are a warrior.
six months ago my life as i thought i knew it flipped upside down. it was my 30th birthday, that life milestone you spend your twenties simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. on one hand it is that “omg i’m so old” freak out moment… and on the other it is this unspoken life milestone i pictured as a marker of ending the uncertainty and panic that your twenties are known for.
oh how unbelievably naive of me.
instead of having the coveted “dirty thirty” celebration i spent my actual birthday telling my seven year old daughter her father and i were going to be “taking a break” and living in separate houses. and thus began the roller coaster of the last six months.
it’s easy to see snapshots of someone’s life on social media and assume all is well. and for the most part, it is. but some days it’s not. some days are heavy, sad, confusing, overwhelming. the first few months i was a mess. i was in shock. i spent a long time trying to live up to the expectations of myself and others and when those expectations shattered in my hands i struggled. i was disappointed in myself and terrified of disappointing others. mourning the loss of the marriage i thought i had, the future we had planned, the family we had created… it was (it still is) a hard and painful process. this is the ultimate “embracing imperfection” challenge for me. failing at marriage – one of the foundational blocks i’ve built my life on – has created cracks in a lot of my expectations and ways of viewing the world. and i don’t think that’s a bad thing. if i can learn to thrive after what i would classify as one of the biggest disappointments i could face there isn’t much else i couldn’t handle. it has been a catalyst for freeing myself from the cage of people pleasing i’ve felt locked in for most of my life. which i’m thankful for. i’m getting to know myself for the first time in a long time, without the panic of wondering if who i am is enough or acceptable. while this entire process exhausting and painful at times, it’s been refreshing in a lot of ways too. i have to continually be reminded to look for the positive in even the most challenging, frustrating situations.
but… i never wanted this. this wasn’t supposed to be me. it happened so fast. the first few months of living on my own was scary. there is just so much i had never done on my own before… so much you just don’t realize changes with divorce…
i never expected to be a “part time” mom (i know i am always her mom… even when she’s not with me… that’s not what i mean). i never wanted to spend long stretches of time apart from my daughter. i didn’t want to miss getting her ready and sending her off for her last day of school. i didn’t want to miss tucking her in every night. the first weekend she was away i had so many mini panic attacks trying to figure out where she was because i was so used to her always being around…. BUT it has made me far more aware of making the most of every moment we have together. we made memories this summer out of moments that would have never happened otherwise.
i didn’t realize how heavy simple life decisions were when you had to make them on your own. in the first month of being separated i had to buy a new car and find a new place to live on my own. i moved from the suburbs to right smack dab in the middle of downtown stl. ya’ll – for most of the ten years i’ve lived in this area i refused to drive downtown at all. it induced a high level of anxiety. now it’s just another day. i’m braver, stronger, and more aware of my personal taste and desires. making decisions on my own is still scary sometimes, but rewarding.
untangling nearly ten years of physical and emotional connection is messy. he moved out of the apartment that we shared with just what he needed to get by the weekend after my birthday. the lease on that apartment was expiring in a month so i had to move too. that meant the whole apartment and storage unit had to be sorted. packing up a decade of accumulated belongings is exhausting, emotionally and physically. i had to decide what i wanted to keep, what was his, and what to get rid of. our lives were completely intertwined so separating them has been difficult financially, socially, and legally. just when you think you have it figured out something else you forgot about pops up.
this weekend marked the end of the thirty day waiting period that the state of missouri requires when you file for divorce, so it could be legally finalized any day now. this coming sunday would have been our ten year anniversary. so, to say this week has felt exceptionally heavy would be an accurate assessment. but, i’m stronger than i’ve ever been. and i have a healthy support system to hold me up when i don’t feel strong enough to do it on my own.
if you’re struggling through any type of challenging situation, know that you are far more capable than you ever thought you could be. look for the positive. be honest with yourself about your struggles. and find a community of people to be the healthy support system you will inevitably need… because we were never meant to do life alone.