Body of lies

Once, a few years ago, a friend posed a general question about what we identify as. Who we are. Moms? Professionals? Friends? Artists? What group did we belong in?

I still haven’t come up with an answer. Even with things I KNOW I am (like a mom. I have some pretty solid evidence that’s a part of my identity) I never feel right saying it, I feel like an imposter. There are better moms, more knowledgeable professionals, friendlier friends, and I’m just not an artist in any light. While Imposter Syndrome isn’t a completely new idea, I recently made some ground in figuring out where mine comes from.

Who I am is tied into this physical body. And this body has never been mine.

I don’t remember a time when men didn’t make a comment about my body, in some way. Under the guise of harmless, crazy old men, they’d pat and pinch and I’d be told to give them hugs because they were my family. Family I didn’t really know, but someone knew them, probably, and I was taught I couldn’t say “no”. Ever.

My early childhood is now a collection of fun memories with my cousins and siblings coupled with images of being loomed over, yanked around, and screamed at. I suppose that’s normal for a lot of kids. But the standing in line at my dad’s recliner every night, waiting to receive our daily spankings, just in case we’d been bad… that’s not.

A husband of a family acquaintance told me how when I grew up, a man would stare longingly into my beautiful eyes and tell me how pretty I was, just like he was doing then. I was 11. He was in his 60s. I’d never met him before. But I had to be polite, so I didn’t tell anyone how uncomfortable it made me.

As the younger one, I got a lot of people asking me when I was going to “fill out” like my sister. We were 14 and 10. They were adults. They thought it was funny, so I laughed along with them, not understanding why this should matter to them. I still don’t, actually.

I got beat for putting the knives in the dishwasher upside down. I was also running my mouth, so it was just accepted that it was deserved. It’s still bragged about at family dinners, the time a giant man put me in my place. I was 17.

Finding out I was pregnant at 18 meant I had even less control of my own body. I was much more okay with the life inside changing the shape of it than I was the people I didn’t know feeling the need to preach to me about my choices. I didn’t say anything though, because I thought they were right. As much as I love my son, I thought I was wrong for having him, because that’s what the adults told me.

After my first divorce, I started hanging out with a bunch of friends from school, and their families. One night, all of us were standing around drinking, and I went up to hug my buddy’s dad. He put his arm around me, and then stuck his hand down the back of my pants, where it stayed for the next 10 minutes. I had danced at homecoming with his son. He was the same age as my dad. He was huge, though, and everyone loved him, so I just held very still until he wandered off.

When I was married the second time, my husband insisted that I fully belonged to him, and as well as being able to grab any part of me at any time, his advances in the bedroom were never to be rejected. I obliged, because it was easier than listening to him lecture and belittle me. He licked my fucking armpits. I hated it, but I never said a word. Criticism was not an accepted part of my wifely duties.

I went on a date with a guy last year, and he said, “I’m surprised you didn’t wear a shirt that shows a little more cleavage.” At first, I felt like I had done something wrong. Because I’m just here to be accommodating, right? Then, I realized I don’t have any shirts that show cleavage. They embarrass me, and I don’t feel right in them. Because of my dad. Not because he is protective of me, because he stares. He hugs extra when I wear them. He finds reasons to reach across the table to grab something on the other side of me. It was worse when I lived with him. But nobody believed me, because he remodels bathrooms for free and always works on our cars without complaining. So I stopped telling them.

There’s more. Too many more. They vary in severity, but they all share a common thread of men saying and doing what they want without any thought to the fact that this body is mine, and not theirs. Sometimes I said it, but they didn’t listen. Sometimes I waited, silently, until they went away. The only thing I could do to protect whatever I had left, was to detach myself.

I hate this body. It’s only pain for me. I don’t see it as strong, or attractive. It is too much and too little all at once. Too noticeable to be safe in, not good enough to not be passed over for the next one that comes along. But, being detached has kept me safe, in a way. Although I don’t really take care of it (because if I make it better, won’t that make it worse?) I won’t hurt it, either. Even on my worst day. Because it’s not really mine to hurt.

But tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I’m going to take the first step in reclaiming it. Telling my story helps, too. Neither one is going to be overruled by someone else anymore. I’m terrified. I’m sure it’s not going to go the way it should. But, either way, I know who I am. I’m a fierce and protective mom, a loyal friend, and I have a great amount of compassion for almost everyone. Also, when nobody is pissing me off and grabbing my ass without my permission, I’m kinda hilarious. And above all, I deserve respect. My own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note, I will never hurt my body intentionally in any way, in case you’re worried. I hope you don’t either. But if you feel like you could, or are having other harmful thoughts, please talk to someone. Me, a friend, or the people at this number: 1-800-273-8255

 

 

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The laundry is definitely not getting put away this week.

I’ve started watching a new show. I’d call it my guilty pleasure, but fuck that. I’m tired of feeling guilty about everything. I enjoy Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, and I don’t care who knows it. I don’t watch it for anyone else, I watch it for me.

This has brought to light, among other things, how little I do simply because I want to. Whether it’s because I don’t know how others will react, or my anxiety is too much to handle, I just don’t. Or I didn’t, I guess. I’m getting much better at it.

Anyway, this show is not overly relateable to me at first glance. I’m not a rich author, living in California, sending my kids to a progressive charter school alongside Gwyneth Paltrow’s. I have zero housekeepers, and my friends and I don’t air kiss every time we see each other at the overly hipsterish coffee shop. Which is sort of part of the appeal, really. I’m not invested enough that watching is exhausting, but I can still find them amusing, and even empathize every once in a while.

Tonight, I felt restless. This happens a lot when I’m feeling a whole host of emotions, and my usual reaction is to do nothing. Pace, perhaps. Get angry at myself for doing nothing. Tell myself all the ways I’m failing, while I eat gluten-filled cookies straight out of the bag. Which is how I started off this evening. I then decided to drown it in socialite divorcee mom drama.

The last episode I watched involved the much younger boyfriend of the main character fully realizing he didn’t deserve her lying, cowardly ways and telling her so. He calls her out for choosing to go back to suffocating (in her marriage) than risking something that was in fact real with him. This was the moment where I leapt into the show, and became a part of the story. This, I know about.

And I’m over it.

What hurt me most about this recent breakup was that I was maybe more vulnerable than I ever have been. I was ready. I was open. I loved the person he first showed me, the person I thought he could be, without holding back. And I was wrong.

But I risked it. It was beautiful, for a moment, and it was real. He was too scared, and went back to what he knew. There was a time when I would’ve done anything for him, and I don’t regret that. It’s a testament to who I am, and what happened is not what I deserve.

I wasn’t wrong to be open, to be vulnerable, or to love. I’m still ready, in a big picture type of way. I know what I want, and I’m even more sure I’m capable of handling it when I find it.

This life is mine. I’m not going to feel guilty about it, let people shame me into being who they want me to be instead, or go along with things I don’t truly want to do just to keep the peace. That’s not living, and I want to live.

Maybe sometimes that looks like sitting on my couch, watching catty women with boob jobs gossip about who is cheating on who. I’ll be having the time of my fucking life.

 

 

Gonzo is the coolest, anyway

I have had the fear that I am too much for one person to love for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid. I come from a weird ass family, but even compared to them, I was different. I was louder, more emotional, goofier, and more openly defiant. There are numerous family pictures where everyone is looking like an oil painting, and I’m doing jazz hands. I was a Gonzo in a whole room of Sam the Eagles. Eventually, it wore on people. They got annoyed, and some of them left.

Being told that I’m a lot to handle in this last breakup wasn’t shocking. I expected it, probably from the moment we got together, really. It still hurt, though.

But only for a minute.

I know who I am. I’m still loud. I’m still emotional. I’m still a big ol’ fuckin weirdo. And I love it. I’m also so much more than that. I’m a good friend, great partner, and a wonderful mom. I’m a decent cook, adequate crafter, and great singer. I have no problem dorking about to make someone laugh, and despite not being able to talk to most strangers, I don’t actually embarrass very easily. I get super into shows and movies, and I make weird faces when I watch them. Actually, I make weird faces most all the time. I get all worked up about politics, and religion, and any sort of abuse. I use a lot of pretty creative swear words when discussing these topics, but will always listen to other points of view (well, except maybe with abuse. Fuck that.) I have trouble asking questions, or admitting that I need help. I’m super jumpy, and it makes me angry. I hate being tickled. But mostly, I love like crazy. When I care about you, I show it. I tell you. And I don’t give up on you.

I’ll only get better. This setback was a reminder that I’ve still got work to do here and there. Rather than whining about it, hoping my flaws fix themselves one day and/or sabotaging relationships because I’m too afraid to change, I’m just going to jump in there and do it.

I’m not too much. I’m different, but that doesn’t make me wrong. If a person doesn’t want to be part of that, it’s perfectly okay. I’m done wasting my time on people that can’t handle me. Because as it turns out, I don’t need handled at all. Loving me would’ve been just fine.

 

I don’t even know what rhymes with “ukulele”.

Here we are, once again, in the midst of The Week of Awesome Decisions. Deciding things isn’t really my specialty, this is pretty known in my circle of friends. But once I decided to get married. That was May 22nd. That didn’t work out. Years later, I got proposed to, and I decided to say “yes”. That was on May 24th. The wedding was on May 26th. And look at me now, not married. See? Not my thing. (Also, to be clear, I’m not mad about the no longer married part. I’m just saying I have a shitty track record.)

I originally chose to try to celebrate this week by focusing on the good decisions I make. Or making small ones and taking a moment to bask in that glow (don’t judge me, you people that always know where you want to eat. Some of us need these tiny victories).

A while ago, I decided to actually deal with things, rather than continuing to cram them into a smaller-than-comfy space, and pretend they didn’t exist. While this sounds like a hoot, it means that while I do (and it takes a fucking long time) this shit is right on the surface. So there I am, minding my own business, when someone says something that sounds like “ukulele” and OH MY GOD THAT REMINDS ME OF THAT DOUCHEBAG I MARRIED. HE HAD ONE OF THOSE. I BOUGHT IT FOR HIM. HE WROTE ME A SONG WITH IT AND PLAYED IT WHILE HE PROPOSED. THAT WAS 4 YEARS AGO TODAY. GOD FUCKING DAMMIT WHY AM I ON THE FLOOR IN A BALL NOW? Except I’m really not in a ball on the floor (what a twist!) I’m sitting on the couch next to my adorable boyfriend, who has already suffered through too many “hey I was married to a psychopath once” stories. I want to pretend it doesn’t bother me, but that’s not who I am, and I don’t think that’s who we are, so I’m confused, and I just stare at him. Saying nothing.

It’s too much. I don’t know where to begin. Mostly because I don’t want to begin this fucking story again. It’s over. I want it to be done. But this week, man. This fucking week. How do I look at it and not feel like I’m unlovable? How do I not see that I am the common denominator in all of these failures? How do I not tell this sweet, loving, hilarious man on the couch to run far, far away?

I decide to just breathe. To give myself space to be hurt in. To remember that there was abuse, and that doesn’t just go away magically. That my story is mine, and if others are tired of hearing it, that’s fine, but I’m not going to be shamed into silence with myself, again.

I wanted to make this fun and upbeat. I wanted to stand tall and declare myself victorious over those decisions that previously haunted me. Maybe tomorrow. For now, I’m just going to sit on this couch, now by myself, wrapped in a scarf the adorable man left for me, and watch a sappy movie. And remember that I’m not just lovable, I’m already quite loved.

 

 

I’m only brave when I have to be.

The first time someone told me they admired my strength, I was 15. It was after the communion service at church camp, which was always a moving ceremony. This year, the planning team had us stand silently on a hill, with our arms spread wide, eyes closed, as they wandered around “spitting” on us (they really just flicked water on our foreheads and made the noise simultaneously) and calling us names. The point was to get a new perspective on the crucifixion, and it had quite the impact on me. One of the planning crew, an upperclassman, came up to me afterwards and told me that she was moved by how I stood there, perfectly still, tears running down my face. “You weren’t ashamed,” she said. “You didn’t try to hide that you were crying, and you never made a sound. You just stood there, head held high. You’re so strong.” I was still trying to overcome my shock that she knew my name, finally managed to smile and thank her quickly before scurrying away.

When other people told me as I got older, I usually assumed they were talking about someone else. I didn’t correct them, I just smiled appreciatively while trying to remember who I was next to in whatever situation they were citing that they might have me confused with. I’m not strong. I don’t save the day, I’m not a hero, I’ve never pulled a car off someone or saved them from an oncoming train. I don’t stand up for myself often, I don’t have unwavering morals that I will die defending, I can’t even tell you where I want to fucking eat most of the time. I’m just… me.

Then, a line in a song* broke through my stubborn wall of self-depreciating thoughts. “Tell me how do broken hearts get strong?” The first time I heard it, I immediately thought, “You just go on.” Wait… I know an answer to this? But… so that means… I am… strong?

Holy fuckballs.

Maybe being strong isn’t about how much you can carry, or being the bravest. Maybe it’s about continuing, when you really don’t want to. Or recognizing when it’s better to scrap it and try a new path, even when that thought is more terrifying than staying. It’s just… going. Slowly, sometimes, and usually with a bit of fear. But still. Going. Doing. Carrying on.

It doesn’t mean suffering in silence, either. Though that image is what started this whole bit of self-discovery, I’ve since learned that it’s even tougher to ask for help than it is to silently bear my crosses. In this lesson, tougher usually seems to equate to more worthwhile. Though it’s true that I’m hardly ever silent, I’m not always saying things that have a lot of meaning. That opens a person up to being vulnerable. As it turns out though, I already was. When I stand up and say what I mean, no matter the consequences, I have more control over just how vulnerable.

My son was having an issue with school a couple weeks ago. When we began talking about what he needed to do to fix it, he started shutting down and I could see him telling himself he couldn’t do this, that he wasn’t capable.

“Hey,” I told him, “this is going to suck, probably, but you can do it. Know how I know? Because you’re strong. Even when you don’t want to, you keep going. You do what has to be done, and you always come through the other side. Know why I can see it? Because I’m strong, too. This is who we are.”

I might not rush into a burning building anytime soon. I can’t lift things over 9 pounds over my head. I’m not heading up any committees to actively change the world, and I probably won’t be giving any noteworthy speeches in a town square in the near future. But I will keep going. I know I’ll make it. Because this once broken heart has made it through every single thing life has thrown so far, and there’s no way we’re stopping now.

 

 

 

 

 

*For anyone wondering, the song is “Drink You Gone” off Ingrid Michaelson’s newest album, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense. It’s a lovely song… other than the line “… just like you ate my heart out.” which makes me slightly uncomfortable. But that’s a me thing. Contextually, the line makes perfect sense.

Consider yourself warned.

So, I go to therapy. At first, the plan was to go to couple’s counseling. When that seemed to be more talk than action, I started going by myself to see what I could figure out. We attended one session as a couple, then I went back to going it alone. Turns out I like things better this way.

Last time I was there, I was talking to her about my thought slut tendencies. As well as sporadically babbling here, I also spam various unfortunate friends with texts and selfies throughout the day. I know I’m an adult, but I’m completely obsessed with selfies. The weirder and more unflattering, the better. As I was telling her about this, I got self-conscious, lowered my eyes and muttered, “I do it because I want attention.” and waited for her scathing judgement. She nodded and said, “sure!”. Then she waited for me to continue my story. (There is actually never judgement of any magnitude delivered from her oversize chair, it’s my insecurities that assume it’s coming.)

Wanting attention isn’t bad. It’s not crazy, it’s not weak, it’s not pathetic. It’s human. We all have a need to connect with others, and sometimes it comes in the form of tiny bursts of attention. I don’t always want to have a deep, meaningful conversation. Sometimes, I just want someone to tell me that my ridiculous face made them laugh. I don’t want to discuss my new journey with everyone, but I do want to be seen by people. There isn’t anything wrong with that.

It does make a person vulnerable, though. That part is rough, and in my case can lead to some serious self-doubt and overly critical thinking. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and then just patiently wait. That time between the text about my bathroom habits leaving my phone (Not even kidding. Sometimes I even have to tell someone that.) until the moment I hear the comforting notification signaling a reply, I’m filled with anxiety. What if it’s a bad time, or they don’t find me funny today? What if they’ve hated my random texts since the beginning, and I’ve finally pushed them too far? What if they never speak to me again? WHAT IF I JUST SENT A TEXT ABOUT THE END RESULT OF MY TACO BELL FOOD BABY TO A DUDE INSTEAD OF MY BEST FRIEND??? Alright, that last one is a bit more rational, and luckily I have yet to cross that particular line. But part of being vulnerable is having compassion and empathy for yourself. A constant theme in my therapy homework is to find ways to be kinder to myself. Allowing room for error. Saying nice about myself instead of rushing to point out all my flaws before everyone else does. (I always think it will hurt less that way, but it doesn’t.) Finding joy and even a little pride in the ridiculous facial expressions I make, rather than being ashamed that I don’t look like the world’s standard model for beauty. Admitting that I just need someone to pay a little attention to me.

Another part of my homework from this last session was to post my silly selfies here. I’m still working up to that one, and that’s perfectly fine. The world isn’t ready for my special brand of cartoony, Muppety goodness just yet. But you best get yo’self prepared, because it will happen.