flatlined

I’ve told most of my story in repeated formats, even disclosing parts of that journey that hadn’t been shared before, earlier this summer. But there is yet another piece of the puzzle that I feel compelled to speak truth to today.

Through the last 25 years of my life, where in trauma after trauma has been laid at my doorstep, and I have worked overtime to ensure healing on my children’s part, and while I have spent HOURS in all forms of therapy and counseling, I have never been on any kind of psychiatric medicine as a regular RX. I have taken, literally, 6 pills of various psych drugs over the last two decades. 6 individual pills. Period. And I have been damn proud of that. That accomplishment had been my shining moment in my mind.

But for someone who valiantly defended and advocated for mental health for everyone else, that wasn’t a rational mindset. At all. It wasn’t logical or progressive in nature.

But I fought for that pedestal with everything in me. Why? Because I lived with someone for 12 years, and have had to continue to deal with him for 17 years more, who made me feel crazy every chance he got. When I divorced him, he claimed that I was the mentally unstable one, that I’d had a nervous breakdown, I was the drug addict, I was the unfit parent. He worked so tirelessly to destroy me in this area, that he was held in contempt of court FIVE different times for character assassinating me. FIVE different times.

And so I was gonna be damned if I was going to give him any ammunition to prove his point in any possible way, because if I had to be on any meds, he had told me he would use everything he could find against me to say I was unstable and unhealthy, and project his issues on to me. So instead I mustered all of my own mental clarity, emotional energy, and spiritual effigy, put myself through two “therapeutic” degrees, and held my shit together for all these years.

Until this summer when everything else about my health was falling apart. And I flatlined. Or rather I realized that I had been flatlined for years.

I had been a very purposeful parent. A very focused educator. A very over-achieving doctoral student. But an unusually uninspired, overly introverted, no libidoed, unpassionate, sad person. A person who had once wanted to change the world and was thrilled with simply living, I simply wanted to sleep and watch Netflix.

Then one day recently my old soul 17-year-old son approached me one day, after going to HIS psychiatrist for a check-up, saying, “mom, you won’t be weak or crazy for going to a psychiatrist. You’ve been strong for us for so long. You got us the help we needed, now you need to love yourself too. You deserve to love and enjoy your life, not just survive through it.”

So I went to a psychiatrist today. We talked for almost two hours. When I thought she would tell me I was dramatic or prone to being emotionless, or needed to just get over my past, and reduce current stress, you know what she did? She gave me an official medical diagnosis of PTSD, something that was so deeply validating and vindicating that I cried. I had been diagnosed with that by different therapists repeatedly, but never by a medical doctor on my official record.

And she gave me two different medicines that are supposed to help supplement my nonexistent serotonin production, and help me to calm my hyper-vigilant mind enough to sleep at night. She said that the medical world tends to misdiagnose the effects of PTSD in multifaceted, overlapping ways, often missing the key dysfunction trigger, the trauma; and that it takes time to heal many aspects of the PTSD brain because in order to prescribe enough dosage to truly heal the most dramatically injured areas, a person would have to become a medicated zombie.

I went into this appointment today expecting to be made to feel like I really WAS crazy, and I was trying to be ok with that. But instead, I walked out with the knowledge that what I believed to be true for everybody else, was true for me too. The ways I was violated and betrayed, and the ways I didn’t let them break and destroy me, are a testimony to how sane I really am, and that the ways I was injured CAN be helped to be healed through medicine, because my mind and emotions are showing a healthy response to pain, not in spite of their response because I just feel high maintenance.

Footnote to Yesterday’s Disclosure

As a footnote to yesterday’s disclosure, I would like to address an elephant in the room. It had actually been ASKED of me way back during my original court proceedings, in several different ways, why I chose my first husband; and that, in essence, what did I expect to get for marrying a black guy from the ghetto? This whole racist shame blame was one of the reasons I stayed married, and tried to make our relationship work, for so long. I didn’t want people to judge my experience as a blanket statement that all black men were a certain way….which I learned, was how many white people quietly felt.

And once I did leave my first husband, and I was asked to start telling my story to help others, I didn’t want my experience as a domestic violence victim to be founded on the premise of the color of skin of the man I married; that would be an evil betrayal of victims of all “skin colors”, including white, that domestic violence can only happen in certain demographics. It happens across, and up and down, the demographic board.

That being said, while I know that there are real men in every racial and ethnic group, I know from experience that there are losers too. Grown males being boys crosses all barriers too. I grew up with an uncle, a white guy, who ended up in prison for years for murder, but not before he first pulled a knife on, and threatened to kill, my aunt. My first husband was African-American and Caribbean. My second husband was Filipino and white. And my third husband was Mexican, Spanish, and white.

So please, when you read my story, throw all notions of racism out the door. The issues I’ve dealt with in relating to the men in my life are defined by the heart and character of the men I’ve chosen, not the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or even religion. It’s about power and sexism and patriarchy, and a crippling misunderstanding of what it means to love and respect women, no matter the cultural background.

My parents raised me to always look at the heart and soul of a person, not how they look or where they were from, to determine their value in your life. And I ask you to still do the same. The brokenness of the men in my life was not because they weren’t white, or were white, or rich, or poor, or from a dysfunctional family, or spoiled. Their brokenness was caused by choices they made that, as an adult, they still chose to define themselves as victims, boys, and in need of being babied at all costs, all the time, instead of being the men that they had the potential, and were intended, to be.

I saw that potential, and loved that possibility and often times promise, rather than who each of them very clearly lived their actual lives being. My mistakes were in misjudging character, not culture. Please don’t do the same. There are amazing men out there that never get the chance TO be judged by their character, because they are too quickly judged and written off by their culture and color.

Full Disclosure of My Greatest Shame

This is a full disclosure post on the part of my life that I’m most ashamed of, even though those who know my story well find no fault for me in my journey, only a well-advised directive that my choice in men has to reflect my worth, not their potential.

And while this has been a developing thought process over the last several years, it was brought to a head, for some reason, through the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Weird, because I’m not a Royal family watcher or fan, I’m certainly not a person for power and position, and I am the last person to be formal and fabled. But I’ve learned a powerful lesson from watching these two and learning their story, and it has helped to heal mine.

To set the stage, all I ever wanted to be growing up was a wife and mom. I come from a long line of long marriages, and my soul desire in life was to carry on that legacy. However, the men in my life who loved the best were not men in positions of wealth or power or influence, and then men who were, were often drunk, violent, and unpredictable. I learned to trust the underdog and reject the seemingly accomplished.

Those who know my story know that I was married the first time to my children’s father, my first supposed love, for 12 years, before barely escaping via a full restraining order and police escort, weighing under 100 pounds. I say “supposed” first love because you can’t truly let anyone in who has abused you and controls you, even if you THINK it’s love initially.

And those who know my story know that I was married for eight months, about three years ago, after being a single parent for a long time….having worked hard, hard, to get myself healthy and whole, thinking that I had finally chosen a healthy, whole person, only to find out that he had been serially cheating me with multiple women, the entire time I’d known him, dating, engaged, or married to him, including the solicitation of sex on Craigslist.

Both of these marriages I’ve documented well. But where my shame lies is with a second, rarely mentioned marriage, that occurred about three years after my first divorce. And I’m not sure why I feel such shame, because I chose not to sleep around, I chose not to just live with someone, I chose not to party and drink my blues away, but I was in such a broken, battered, and bruised spot at the time that I feel like I had no business entertaining a relationship at all, let alone a marriage.

We met on MySpace, dated long distance for a few months, married in Reno, and then, 8 months later, after calling me a nympho the first 8 months of our marriage for WANTING sex, he came home one day and told me that he was bisexual, currently having an affair with both another woman AND a man, at the same time, and wanted a divorce. He’d suffered a TBI a few years before from a motorcycle accident, it had completely changed his personality, and he was just figuring out who he was again, is what I was told. All I DO know was that the TBI really did happen.

So that little girl whose only wish was to be a wife of one husband, for a lifetime, was a three time divorcee; a shame that, for me, I’ve been haunted by for the last decade.

And in that process, one has to then acknowledge that their picker is broken, and try to fix it. And in that process, I’ve learned some things about myself. I’ve always played small, wanting to shrink my talents and personality as to not draw attention to myself and to remain in the background. I have a deep anxiety about my worth, or lack of it, and have felt my whole life that I have had to earn the love I’m given. Which has led me to men that “need” me, and need “fixing”, and have great “potential” and that maybe I can prove my worth by helping them find it.

And conversely, men who are confident and who are powerful, or in positions of authority have intimidated me, made me feel more broken than I already was, and I felt like either they wouldn’t truly love me, and only want to control me, using me as their trophy wife; or I wasn’t worth their genuine love and protection because there was nothing to earn, and I wasn’t worth being valued, respected, and loved, simply for being myself, and my imperfect self, at that. I’ve spent years trying to be perfect because then my weaknesses would be strengthened and my armor fortified.

Needless to say, my own hang-ups, and then my life experiences, have done a huge number on me, and my view of men in my life. And it would be really easy just to succumb and wallow in cheap one night stands, or write relationships off completely, but deep inside me I’m still a believer in the love of the likes of Ruth and Boaz, and furthermore, I’m raising a son, and what kind of a man do I want to raise in him?

And then I see Harry and Meghan, a man of power, position, privilege, wealth, and yet when I see him look at her, I see a man who deeply loves and honors his wife, and everything else fades to the background; who, in all his strength, in his wholeness, he chooses her, not because she was the seemingly perfect choice, but because she was HIS choice, and he is made better still by the compliment of her. And her “being” and value to him is based simply on who she is, not what she can offer, make whole, fix, or make small so that he can shine brighter.

So may I raise my son to value himself enough not to remain a victim, but to step into his sacred masculinity like a boss, and love the women he will with an empowering presence. May I model for my daughter to never use her beauty to lord or power over a man, but to also never shrink in their presence to make any man feel more “manly” and in control, at her expense.

And to myself, may I learn to own my story, never play small again, choose not to make equal with me men who can’t even stand on their own two feet; relish my imperfections and scars because they have been forged by me at a great price; not shy away from men who have their s*** together because I’ve worked my a** off to get mine together, and iron sharpens iron, but rocks, papers, and scissors only destroy each other; and to entertain and choose a partner that looks at me the way Harry looks at Meghan, learning to rest and trust in the fact that I am worthy of a man who needs me for nothing other than me simply being myself.

What My Body Said to Me, On Trauma and Healing

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I will protect you, it said,

I will keep you warm,

I will brace for the impact of the enemies’ scorn.

I will block the poisons,

I will steady your gait,

I will absorb the toxins that overload your weight.

I will be your blanket,

I will be your warmth,

I will be the shelter for your storms.

I will carry your load,

I will ease your burden.

I will be your ceaseless soul warden.

 

Your feet will be firm,

Your walk will be steady,

Your body will not sway, no matter how heavy.

Your skin soft to touch,

Your hair full and smooth,

Your lips like honey, your eyes the bluest hue.

Your voice sweet with sunshine,

Your embrace eroding strife.

Your curves and your arcs filled with the essence of life.

 

Until one day you whispered no more.

Until the day you had to even the score.

Until the day the shell was cracked.

Until the day the heart was broke.

Until the day the gut became woke.

Until the day this frame caved in.

Until the day the your weary being rattled like tin.

 

I am here, you said.

I can give no more.

I have been strong too long.

Now my tune is an empty song.

I am broken, you said.

I am bleeding, instead.

The whole has fractured into pieces,

And the once flowing life now freezes.

 

I gave you my all, you said, now it’s my turn to grieve.

It’s my turn to cry.

It’s my turn to reject the tormenters sigh.

I am in shards, I am in limbo.

I am splintered and sharp,

I am interrupted and disrupted, intermittently sparked.

My chemistry’s shot, my defenses are blown,

My skin is dry and tacky, my lips smack of stone.

My curves and my arches are now bumbles of blah.

My eyes, once transparent, are emptily flawed.

My hair, once shiny, and vibrantly borne,

Now hangs limp and torn, razor-ended and shorn.

 

We need rest, it whispered.

We need to be renewed.

We need new life once again to flow freely through.

We need joy, it murmured.

We need to laugh more than cry.

We need to absorb the fragrance of a satisfied sigh.

We need to divest of the dead, the swollen, the mold.

We need to breathe in the spirit of the sun, made bold.

We need our curves and arches to achingly yearn,

For the shared embrace that warmly takes turns.

 

It is our time to heal, you longingly said.

For the you without me, cannot be, because your being resides in the home entitled me.

Body and soul cannot abide wholly without the other.

We’ve been through hell and highwater hand-in-hand, together.

Now it’s time to batten down the hatches,

Use our warrior energy to heal the scratches.

We are done fighting enemies that attack us from without,

We now need to battle the enemies who lurk about.

We’ve survived numerous calamities and frontal assaults,

Now we need to attack the foes that grate like asphalt.

Our roads are clogged, our channels filled,

Our springs of life are achingly stilled.

Our weapons are depleted, our ammunition zapped,

Our heart overworked, and our gut is attacked.

 

So, breathe, and rest, and let your worries flow,

Sit, and stare, and let yourself be slow.

 

Our journey isn’t over, our next steps have just begun.

But we can no longer be divided, body and soul, all or none.

 

For first we must just be,

for before we can be one,

we have to become fully and completely, and utterly, undone.

apologize

 

Ocean Wave Tattoo

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The first time I remember being at the ocean, I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. My family was at family camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we were at the ocean for the “Beach Day”. Today that meaning carries with it the image and expectations of the rides and hype of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, elaborate sandcastle contests, and competitive volleyball tournaments. But in the mid-70’s, “beach day” was simply the day you spent time at the water’s edge, digging in the sand, looking for hermit crabs, and eagerly running away from the oncoming waves’ froth.

My family never spent time at the beach other than this one designated day each year. So I hadn’t had a lot of experience with sand, or waves, or the stinging sea salt spray that the air seemed to be heavy with. Nor had anybody ever told me that waves could be unpredictable, unexpected, and unforgiving.

I, in my eagerness and zest for life, full of an extrovertism that would quickly vanish in ensuing years, I stood at the water’s edge, bucket and shovel in hand, turning to wave at my mom and dad who, not being beach people themselves, were grudgingly “taking one for the team” and hanging out at the sea for a day.

It was when I had just stopped waving, and started to bend down to dig up the sand to fill my pail with hard, wet globs to carry back to our dry sandy spot, that it hit. I didn’t hear the roar, amazingly, maybe because I didn’t even know what to listen for. I didn’t feel the ground pulse underneath me, probably because I was full of the pulse of my own heart beating happily with life, and I didn’t see the receding water in expectation for a gathering wave.

I only remember being knocked off balance, and pulled out to sea by the power and relentless pulse of the wave that fully engulfed me in it’s angry embrace, seemingly mocking me for standing in its way.

I remember everything going dark, being strangled by the water’s curling and curdling grip, and struggling to gather my tiny frame. I willed myself back to shore with every ounce of energy I could muster, frantically fistfighting the heavy and heaving riples, stopping only to cry when I was safe on the dry sand. It was then that I looked back at the now  darkly mysterious and fully alive sea, finally fully grasping what had really happened to me, realizing that the enemy had almost won; I had nearly been defeated.

And then I don’t remember the ocean again really, for another 15 years. Until I was on my honeymoon with my first husband, in the Bahamas. I was already on edge and not myself due to issues written about in other posts. And I vaguely remember there being a tipped sign, barely legible, warning of dangerous riptides. And, much like the rest of my experience with him, this barely 48-hour-ed wife believed him when her husband said that she would be safe, to just ignore the sign.

So I walked out into the seemingly never-ending shallow waters, beginning to relax from the warmth of the tropical waters mesmerizing me with their sparkle. Only to then all of a sudden have my feet sucked out from underneath me, like a quicksand presentation running in slow motion. The tide yanked me back from behind, submerging  me to it’s depths, slamming me into the ocean floor with a power that created a sand paper effect over the entire front of my body. And for an instant, I was paralyzed, suctioned to the ocean floor in a magnetic grip.

Again, I struggled to right myself, and free myself of the gale.  I gasped for hair and choked on salty froth that had ballooned in my lungs and nose. It wasn’t until I reached shore that the sandpaper effect began to show pinpoints of blood from where the sand had been engraved into my skin. And I remember sitting on the dry, sandy shore, shaking from adrenaline, wondering if in some weird way,  the ocean was sharing a premonition with me of what this marriage was going to be like.

And then I don’t remember any ocean or beach experience for another 12 years. This time, I was alone literally, not just figuratively. But at this point, alone was the safest refuge I could find. When I finally left my first husband, under 100 pounds, hair falling out in clumps, six different kinds of hives all over my body, bruises and scars dotting my skin from the war I had been in for the last 12 years, I desperately sought solitude. And the place that kept drawing me to it was the ocean, with a yearning that filled me equally with awe and comfort, surrounding me like a blanket on a cool winter’s night.

Instead of fear or anxiety, the sea called me to it. The pounding waves anchored my broken heart. The rough, warm sand seemed to exfoliate the scar tissue both on my skin and my psyche. The pungest salt-filled air seemed to cleanse the muck and mire from my very breath. The sea was calling to me, the ocean was welcoming me home. The waves, in their angry rhythmic song, sang to me a lullaby.

And it was another 15 years later that I realized the sea had made me. It had been preparing me, from the very beginning, to know how to not only survive, but to thrive, when everyone around me was simply surprised that I was alive. When I should have been terrified of being pulled out to the breadths, or slammed into its depths, instead not only did I rise on my own, and survive the defining comb, but I actually gathered strength and found my home, from what many would flee from and simply randomly roam.

So I learned that the waves, like so much else in my life, had tried to break me, but instead they made me. And this tattoo is to remind me, when I feel discouraged and weary and sad, that my life has been defined.  And over and over in time, I have learned to see from what once made me blind;  and rather than becoming bitter, these sands have made me kind. Not the type of kind that pats your head, or speaks platitudes, forever being cliche. No, it’s the type of kind, that sees the light in the mind, and is able to identify what most see a common, as actually the sacredly sublime.

Queen Anne’s Lace Tattoo

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My daughter was six years old the day I finally gathered the courage to leave her, and her brother’s, father. That day, with the cathartic seriousness of a therapist, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up. You’re finally standing up for yourself, and us.”

She. was. six.

Growing up, all I ever want to be was a wife and mom. While I was a tomboy in every other way, and I had no desire to cook and clean, I DID want to be barefoot, pregnant, and save the world. Little did I know that the world that would need saving would be the one inside the four walls of my own home, and the people most in need of rescue would first be myself, and my two young children.

Because that’s the thing about being in an abusive relationship/marriage. While in hindsight you can look back and see a million red flags pointing to the oncoming storms, at the time, you simply feel the stillness in the air, and hold your breath.

And the deeply etched heartache in the abusive context isn’t just the victim of direct abuse, but it’s the children. The little’s that everyone thinks can’t hear, can’t see, can’t possibly internalize the electrically charged atmosphere; can’t possibly remember years later, if not in conscious memory, than subconscious muscle memory, the stealth terror which froze them in their beds at night, clinging to their stuffed animals; or the stealth fear during the day at not wanting to let their abused parent out of their sight for fear that they can’t protect them; or the stealth anxiety that eats away at their childhood, clawing away the simple joys of the newness of the world, and instead replacing it with the simple and singular focus of realizing that their world isn’t safe, and how do they defend themselves, and those they love, against it?

Which pops the bubble of yet another childhood idealism for children of domestic violence relationships, that of a child being able to trust that the adults closest to them will first and foremost protect them.

That’s where this tattoo comes into play. When I left my abusive marriage, and my daughter spoke the words that have haunted me to this day, I was NOT the person I was supposed to be. And yes, I can justify and explain, and even use solid research to back up why I was an absolute mess at that time in my life. And that matters. And it’s a million conversations for another day.

But today, it’s about her. My then six year old who lived in constant fear and constant anxiety. My six year old who chose to step in the middle of me and her father, because she wanted to protect me from his blows. My six year old who hated all dark colors because they were a sign of weakness to her. Why? Because I only wore dark colors at that time in our lives, and until the day I left her father, she saw me as weak. My six year old was my emotional strength, and what kept me sane, in those early years when I felt like my world was crashing, and spinning, and destructing, before my very eyes; but she carried a burden that was not hers to carry.

And another aspect of being a child of an abusive marriage is that they struggle to know who to “align” themselves with. While they want to protect the parent that is being  hurt, the survival mechanism kicks in as well. So their young and innocent mind decides that they better draw close to the abuser, as scary as that can be, because it’s probably safer than being closer to the abused; heck, the abused can’t even defend themselves, how will they be able to protect them? Their world of clarity and truth is obscured by the dense clouds of confusion, and fraught with the discordant rhythms of a childhood that has been stolen from them.

Then, besides having to heal from all the other trauma that we lived through, once the three of us escaped the situation, another challenge confronted us. I had to earn back the right to be respected, and the right to be the authority, and the right to be the creator of a safe and trusted place…… so that slowly my daughter could learn to be carefree in who she was….. a now 7-year-old. I had no voice, no commanding motherly presence ( still working on the commanding part), and I offered very little hope. And while my love for my children was large, and wide, and deep, and overpowering, it wasn’t expressed in the language where they could sense or feel it. So I had to heal myself,  heal my daughter, heal my relationship with her, and heal our home, all under continuing adverse circumstances. Our home was no longer a war zone, but many other places were still. And I had to learn how to fight for her in those areas too.

Which means that we kinda raised each other. Which means that there have been many days when we have been more like sisters than a mother and daughter. Which means that I have worked overtime to ensure that my daughter trusts my authority, feels safe with the boundaries I’ve drawn, and is secure enough to fall apart herself, knowing that I will be there to pick up the pieces.

We were discussing tattoo ideas a couple of years ago. She turns to me and says, “mom, I think you should get a Queen Anne’s lace tattoo.” I look up at her and ask her why.
“Mom,  the meaning behind a Queen Anne’s Lace is ‘haven, sanctuary, place of safety and rest’. You have been, and are that, for my brother and I. You need to have your next tattoo be that as it tells the next part of your story,  our story. We feel safer with you than anywhere else or with anyone else, now; and you don’t understand just how important that is. My brother and I would be involved in so much s*** if it wasn’t for you and your example. ”

And once again, like the raw emotion I felt the day she was six, I look at her, stunned,  in wonder and amazement.

All those sleepless nights, all those deep conversations, all those occasional yelling matches and slamming of doors, all those days when it took all the energy I had to physically cradle her through her rages, all those times I did not back down when she challenged me, the time I believed her when she disclosed the unthinkable abuses that had been done to her……all of the underpinnings of parenting that were magnified a zillion times in our case. All… of….. it….. mattered…. All of it made a difference. All of it created a world of order from chaos, hope from despair, and peace from what started as a war zone.

There are a lot of things I’ve failed at in my life. But being a mom evidently isn’t one of them. So while others toast to celebrate, I get inked.  Cheers!

 

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

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This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.

 

 

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

Breath, Interrupted

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I went to a pilates consultation last week.  It was awesome. I loved it. And I joined.I start tomorrow.

For those of you who’ve done pilates, the key to building strength, evidently, is by how you breathe. In fact, you breathe counterintuitively to how you THINK you should breathe, because this is what activates your core, and what builds strength.

While the instructor was consulting me, she had to keep on telling me NOT to hold my breath, to breathe….. period….. let alone “counterintuitively”.

Then I started yawning, which I do frequently, tired or not. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t bored of her, or what she was teaching me. In fact, I  was fascinated.

But this is the thing….

In the last two years I’ve realized something about myself that I’ve with struggled for years.

I forget to breathe.

I forget to breathe, and then I hold my breath far too long. Then when I’ve maxed out my oxygen intake, I yawn to recoup my losses. And yawn. And yawn. And yawn. And pause. And yawn again.

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I’ve realized that my jaw clenches shut as well. Which makes it even harder to yawn.. .And even harder to breathe deeply.

When I realized this about myself, I felt shame. Who flippin’ forgets to breathe, for God’s sake? THE most fundamental activity about being alive, subconscious at that, and I screw it up. I work AGAINST nature, not with it. What’s wrong with me?

So, in the last couple of years, in spite of the intense stress I’ve been under, I’ve really tried to practice intentional breathing, meditative breathing, just……..breathing period……..I’ve tried to still myself and just “be” (which is a whole other blog post).

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Two months ago I started a doctoral program, and I’ve started reading more and more about trauma, and it’s affects on our bodies and minds. And as I’ve recently read up on trauma-informed yoga care, I’ve become more aware of the discord I have between my body and mind, based on the PTSD I have.

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You can’t change what you don’t know, right? So this doctoral program was chosen as much for what I want to accomplish professionally, as for what I need to accomplish personally.

….then today happened…..I had a breakthrough. I was reading one of my school  books, and I came to a section on “awareness of breath”, and the recognition that many clients the authors have had experience with,  unconsciously hold their breath, and have constant muscular tension, and yet are unaware OF that tension or discomort.This creates a lack of synchrony between one’s body physiology and felt emotions. This holding of the breath is a side effect of the aspect of trauma, “fight, flight, or freeze” where one freezes.

And then my heart raced fastesr, tears welled up in my eyes, and my breath literally got caught in my throat. I held my breath ( shocker).

Memories flooded back to my conscious mind, having been deeply buried in my psyche for over a decade, of the years during my first marriage where I had to “freeze” to keep myself phsyically safe. When I would literally hold my breath, not just as a response to “freezing”, but because I literally had to hold my breath to keep myself as far away from danger as possible.

See, if I breathed the “wrong” way, I was up to something, and had “suspicious” behavior, worthy of a fight.

If I exhaled the wrong way while I was sleeping, he would wake me up, and interrogate me about “who” I had been dreaming about.

If I breathed too rapidly, I was lying and covering something up.

If I yawned, I was being disrespectful to him.

If I was calm with my breaths, I wasn’t attending to his needs, and being a good wife.

No matter HOW I breathed, I made a mistake. The very thing that keeps us alive, I was not allowed to do freely. So I shut down. The less I breathed, the less I had to worry about. But, unbeknownst to me,  the less I breathed naturally, the more my body suffered, and the more my breaths died.

And, 14 years after I left him, today, the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. Now my forced, and blocked breathing, even my yawning at weird times, makes sense. It actually means that I’m coming back alive.

And, it means, that at 43, years old, I’m learning how to breathe again.

 

 

 

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.