Truth Found Me in the Trauma

it is well

This past year began with a march on the nation’s capital. Thousands of female voices and bodies and hearts surged together in one pulsing, roaring, fire-breathing crusade.

It ended with a hashtag. The simplest and yet most disarming of words—Me Too—which affirmed the everywhere-ness and everyday-ness of sexual trauma for women.

In both cases, the message was loud, passionate and overdue: “We’ve had enough. We are not subdued. Our faces will be known. Our stories will be recognized. Our truth will be heard. Our moment for justice and equality is now.”

I cannot think of two more rabble-rousing events to bookend 2017. But crammed right in between these cultural touchstones, a subtler force of reckoning had taken shape within the breath and bones of my personal narrative. And that is the story I must tell.

It caught no media attention, but it disrupted the rigidity, normality and predictability I assumed would keep me sane. It did not contribute to the clamor on Facebook, but it jarred all the defenses I believed would keep me safe.

 It wasn’t named among the “silence breakers” in Time Magazine, but it forced me to break the silence anyway—to scream and grieve and rage and weep.

This was my own experience with trauma, lodged in the darkest crevice of my soul.

Something primal inside of me could sense it existed, but conscious memory had chosen to forget. The idea of being known too profoundly, seen too intently, felt too strongly­­—I couldn’t allow this to happen. I refused to give anyone else that access.

I became relentless in making sure they never learned the truth—that I was tainted, undesirable, too broken for love. And so I decided vulnerability was unsafe. Emotion was weakness. Authenticity was reckless. Human contact was out of the question.

Instead I clung to the trifecta of control, independence and badass-ery. My opiates of choice.

I was addicted to the notion that I could survive alone, that I could outrun the abuse and betrayal, that I could protect this heart from being hurt all over again. And for awhile, I succeeded. I was high on self-reliance, and I managed not to hurt. But I didn’t heal either.

So when the narcotizing ebbed and the white noise faded, all that remained was me.

Still bruised. Still afraid. Still jaded. Still detached. In a solitary confinement where I had locked myself. Warden and inmate. Judge and defendant. Clutching the keys but too familiar with the chains—resisting the freedom which meant rejoining the world.

But then a different truth found me.

It was quieter than isolation, louder than fear. It sighed within my spirit: “You are not tainted, you are redeemed. You are not undesirable, you are irreplaceable. You are not broken, you are under reconstruction.” And I caught myself aching to believe.

Truth doesn’t need my endorsement. Truth is real whether I accept it or not. But I could either ignore that same truth clanging on the prison bars—or allow it to shove me toward an audacious new realm of connection and compassion outside my own angst.

So I want the truth. I want the freefall. I want the pain and mess and discomfort and grit. All those reminders I am, in fact, alive.

I want the people who kept their word and stuck around. I want the relationships that yanked me from the shadows, tilting my face toward the sun.

I want to be transformed from lone drifter into rebel with a cause—from impassive and withdrawn to crackling with fire and ferocity.

Because the truth is a springboard for radical, extraordinary, astonishing redemption. I don’t always hear the truth. I don’t always seek it out. I don’t always soften to its message. There is always a “don’t” involved. But I am learning.

And no amount of trauma can diminish that lesson.

To the Girl Who Didn’t Know then What I Do Know Now

Something I never imagined I would write. Here goes nothing…

This is an open letter to myself.

To the 21-year-old me who lost a piece of her spirit four years ago in a suburban hotel room where she didn’t belong.

It’s to all the women who relate, who’ve been there, who prefer not to remember but can never forget.

And to you. This is a letter to you.

The bedsheets were crisp, white and freshly cleaned—a stark irony considering the events that unfolded just 10 minutes later. That sense of instinctive dread, of violation, of wanting to be anywhere else—it was truer than she realized. I wish she had listened. But I would forgive her for staying. Even with the benefit of hindsight, who can guarantee that she’d react different now if given the chance?

So, I wouldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t demand she bear the weight of a consequence or expectation she was never meant to shoulder. I wouldn’t tattoo her scars with ink stains of guilt. I would expose them to light where she isn’t forced to hide the evidence.

I would grip her fragile hands in mine—strengthened from perspective, weathered from experience—until the trembling subsides. I would tilt her chin and urge those hollow, haunted eyes to meet my older gaze. Then I’d communicate our sameness, our solidarity—a message needing no words. I would silently perch beside her as time becomes irrelevant, and minutes fade to hours. However long it takes.

I would reach her in the stillness that’s often trampled in the chaos. We’d reclaim it together. And those emotions coursing through her—shock, anger, disbelief, regret—I’d whisper: Feel them all. There’s closure and cleansing on the other side.

I would remember she is young, impressionable, naive. She is prone to wander from her own best judgment. Her mistakes will cost us dearly. But we are still human, wired to endure. So, I would extend compassion to drown out the shame and connection to soothe the numbness, penetrate the solitude, nudge her onto higher ground.

And when the earth feels safe, secure, stable again, I would utter four words that she doesn’t want to hear, can’t seem to admit, but needs to understand: It’s not your fault. It never was. I hope she would believe me, that she can finally accept the truth. Because this girl—whether dazed, detached and desensitized in a hotel room, or here in this moment reliving the memories, undressing the wounds—she’s not just a survivor.

She is a warrior. We all are.

…I can promise you that.

 

love yourself

Rawness Is My Jam.

rawness

I can’t resist a person who exposes the jagged edges, broken fragments, delicate trimmings and fiery sparks of their own chaotic soul.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m drawn to the eight-year-old who’s emotive eyes aren’t afraid to shed tears, who’s expressive smile is on the constant verge of laughter.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enchanted by the teenager in monochromatic clothing and a mane of wild dreadlocks who’s razor blade scars are inked over in art.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enamored with the girl persisting under the weight of social stigmas, feminine ideals and media labels, who’s inner voice refuses to accept that she’s other…unequal…subpar.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m wonderstruck from the coffee shop romantic who’s suffocated words become poetry, who’s suppressed pain is funneled into creativity.

Rawness is my jam.

I notice them. I stare. They are fearlessly authentic. I watch them reclaim the windswept debris of their spirits. Undaunted. Unshaken. Making sense of the rubble, affirming beauty in the fallout.

Rawness is my jam.

I hear them testing out their vocal chords, tuning up their heartstrings, rehearsing for the anthem to rouse our weary culture.

Rawness is my jam.

I feel them pressing into the secret, sacred fissures they’ve been warned to squelch inside, peeling off the artifice to reveal a human underneath.

Rawness is my jam.

I observe. I listen. I fall true…mad…deep in love with the quiet strength, fierce honesty, unabashed resolve and soft intensity mirrored on their faces, etched upon their hearts.

Rawness is my jam.

I learn from the example and derive meaning from the narrative. I muse over the artless candor, the radical abandon. And feel my own sidelined passion stir within.

Rawness is my jam.

I abruptly grasp the message now. In a sudden burst, I know. It’s more real than anything I’ve touched before. It’s bold and loud and new. I sense their heads all nodding. There is no place for shame. Together, we march forward into truth…and mess…and free.

Rawness is our jam.

10 Lessons Recovery Is Teaching Me.

First, notice the choice of words. That was intentional. There’s a reason I said is teaching instead of has taught. Because recovering from addiction is a process.

It’s gradual, continuous, deliberate, repetitive. It’s step-by-step, moment-to-moment. It’s a daily decision not a final destination. But for those who endure the climb, there’s learning and growing and thriving to experience on the freefall.

Sometimes people question if I regret those stolen years marked by an eating disorder—if this life came with do-overs, would I make different choices or walk another path? The short answer is nope. Which might confuse whoever reads this.

Admitting that I wouldn’t change or erase the toughest circumstance I’ve encountered almost borders on masochistic, right?  Shouldn’t I jump at the chance to rewrite history, gloss over the past and sidestep the heartache? Also nope.

This eating disorder is not a stigma I can pretend doesn’t exist or a label I can never escape. It’s harrowing and frightening and dehumanizing and isolating. But this eating disorder is the story of where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going. I wouldn’t revise a story like that for the greatest publishing deal on earth.

Choosing recovery hasn’t been straightforward. It goes against my instincts. It’s uncomfortable—painful even. Sometimes I despise recovery. But still I forge ahead. This crossroad leads to affirmation, acceptance, self-awareness. It’s worth the scrapes and scars.

How do I know? Because of all I’m learning…

10-lessons-from-recovery

Yep. It really truly is.

February 26–March 4 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is “time to talk about it.” Don’t give into silence, shame or secrecy—join the conversation. And if you need support, call the NEDA helpline at      1-800-931-2237.

Because I’m Feeling Poetic And Stuff…

…this one’s called

Release My Rambling Soul.


When everything hurts

And this life stops making sense

When the demon flirts

And you’ve grown weak from the pretense.

***

When calling it quits

No longer sounds too extreme

You’re stuck on the fritz

 And finished with rose-colored daydreams.

***

The purpose you crave

Has never seemed to break through

It ebbs like a wave

That fierce passion your heart once knew.

***

Your doubts and distrust

Always demand the last word

And hope turns to dust

Until your perceptions are blurred.

***

But there’s a faint spark

You’ve been repressing too long

Which lights up the dark

And hums the rhythm to a new song.

***

You’ll wander too far

And you’ll question each crossroad

It’s just who you are

A free-spirit aching to explode.

***

Feisty, brazen, tough

That mask you’re scared to remove

But call your own bluff

Because there’s nothing left to prove.

***

Love, honesty, trust

They’ll complicate your whole world

But feel them, you must

So a heart of flesh can unfurl.

***

When the cleansing tears

Mend that brokenness inside

 Just shake off those fears

And spread your rambling soul open wide.

That Time I Realized There’s Stuff I Don’t Know.

I need answers. To everything in life. And even when I don’t know, I feign the knowledge anyway because that’s a safer option than just conceding ignorance. It’s a Millennial mindset for sure, but it’s also enmeshed in the human condition.

Despite our fragilities and fallibilities, we take extreme measures to convince others—and ourselves—that we’re superior…smarter…self-sufficient…terminally unique.

That’s me on the outside. Or rather, what I aim to project. Always right. Always in control. Always prepared with a rapid-fire solution, justification or explanation. On the inside though, I know better.

Concealed beneath an I-got-this exterior, I’m fighting a current of unanswered questions, unresolved what ifs and unshakable insecurities. They ebb just below the surface of my impassive facade, but they’re more tangible—more real—than any plastered-on pretense I could offer the world. That’s an intimidating admission. But it’s also redeeming.

more-questions-than-answers

I used to assume that logic and intellect were all I ever needed to survive. That if I could outsmart another person or outmaneuver a situation, I’d remain a step ahead of the wounds they might inflict. I’d be secure in my own detachment.

There’s one tactical error in this approach though—because outmaneuvering turns into overthinking. Which clouds judgment, aggravates stress and impedes taking action. Turns out, this negative cycle doesn’t make you a guru at life. Nope, it leaves you passive, anxious and still drowning in uncertainty.

So how does redemption fit into this equation? Well, there’s freedom in confessing  “I don’t know.” Acknowledging that perhaps there’s no formula, guidemap or eureka moment to make sense of the complexities which define our existence. That perhaps it’s acceptable—or…gasp…normal—to have no idea what we’re doing.

And perhaps the most we can require of ourselves is to navigate each crossroad one learning experience at a time.

Because answers are overrated.

But inquiring and investigating—now that’s the adventure.

not-everything-can-be-understood

Just Some Pre-Marital Musings

getting-married

image courtesy of The Knot

Less than one week from now, I’ll be attending my own wedding. Two days from now, I’ll be boarding a plane for said wedding destination. And that’s more information than my brain can absorb at the moment.

I don’t respond constructively to change. Never have. And this arguably is the most monumental change I’ve encountered thus far in my 25 years. Becoming not just someone’s partner, but their most significant relationship on earth—hello…pressure!

Now is a good time to state for the record that I’m a perfectionist. Like the most perfectionistic perfectionist you’ll have the discomfort of meeting.

I think too fast, and I think too much. I enforce impossible standards and crave the competition—the intoxicating rush—of pushing harder,  going further, reaching higher, being greater. I use independence and individuality as defense mechanisms against the indelible wounds that trust can leave behind.

Nobody’s gonna tame this free spirit or crush this spitfire persona. That’s been my attitude for longer than I care to admit. Not exactly the conditions you’d associate with marriage material.

But I’ve realized something: when I approach the altar next weekend, I’m changing more than my last name, street address or relationship status on Facebook. I’m casting aside over a decade’s worth of deluded—and because why pretend otherwise, isolating—thought patterns.

This union doesn’t just signify a circumstantial shift…but a heart shift. Or in my case, overhaul.

The guy I’ll soon call “husband” is about a hundred traits I don’t deserve. Patient. Gracious. Romantic. Sincere. Devoted. Understanding. And then there’s me. Compulsive. Rigid. Obstinate. Snarky. Unemotional. I’m a complicated wreck of a human, but he accepts those complications without hesitation.

My anxieties have driven other men away, and still he remains. My sarcasm would be a deal-breaker for the average person, and still he forgives. My stoicism can alienate even the thickest skins, and still he gazes past the facade. These barricades don’t dissuade him, so why this power struggle to relinquish them?

That’s the million dollar question—with a deceptively basic response.

I’ve never considered myself lovable. Which makes receiving love an awkward proposition. But only two options remain: force him to the brink with my neuroses…or invite him into those chaotic, imperfect spaces most people don’t know exist. And believe he’s prepared to take that plunge.

The decision is mine alone. So, from this moment onward, I’m choosing “door number two.” Because a wedding passes in just a blur. But a marriage—that’s for life. Might as well make it meaningful.