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.

Glenn, My Veteran Hero

I had a neighbor for several years. We became good friends because he felt that I, as a single parent, in a less than perfect neighborhood, was a vulnerable and an often sitting target.

As we got to know each other, I noticed the limp in his walk, endless hours on the phone he would spend, pacing back and forth. And I would hear is seemingly agonizing nightmares he would live through at night, even when all windows and doors were tightly fastened. He was a mystery to me.

Until one day, needing to borrow a tool that he had, I walked in on him crying, and looking through a box of memorabilia. It was then that he told me his story. He showed me his double Purple Heart medals from Vietnam. He showed me pictures of the day he enlisted. He showed me newspaper articles celebrating his heroism.

I assumed his limp was from the heroic injuries he sustained, and applauded him for his service. I assumed the phone calls were to a long lost lover or child. I assumed his nightmares were due to his poor health habits.

But it was then that his face grew dark, and the demons flitted across his countenance like the nightmares I heard him relive at night. His body froze in a twisted position of terror. He then started convulsively sobbing, reliving his victimization, as a first year enlistee, of being raped and sodomized by his commanding officer, leading to destruction in his body that would never heal properly. His hours on the phone were with the VA. For years he had drank his agony away, and only then had the VA doctors and counselors finally begun to address my neighbors experiences. His nightmares harkened him back to that night when not only were his innocence and idealism ripped from him, but every semblance of trust in authority, trust in himself, and trust in his ability to ever be lovable or love again. I sat and just absorbed who he was, what he was saying, what he was saying when he didn’t speak at all, and I walked away from his house that day, forever changed.

I then became his defacto advocate, driving him to the VA, talking to necessary parties on the phone for hours, all while seeing this gentle hulk of a man who often shadowed into a fetal position, a shell of who he once was, slowly start to stand straight, a semblance of a smile flitting across his face, a strain of laughter filling the air.

As the years of opioid addiction racked his body a second time, due to the constant pain he experienced, the VA decided to use medical cannibis to treat him; so I was asked to be his medical marijuana caregiver. I took him to his doctors appointments as he was on full disability and couldn’t drive. He started bbqing and would often feed us, and we gardened in our shared plot together, what was once very clearly a delineated line between my thriving garden, and his weeds, became a single lush space.

Once he shared his story with me, and I believed in him, this whole other side of his personality emerged. It was like I was seeing him whole, unbroken, like the young boy he once had been. He would keep the neighborhood nasties away, and I would make sure he took all of his meds, ate on a regular basis, and would sit silently with him and just “be” when he needed to talk.

Then one night, after a couple of harrowing weeks of conflict with a friend of his, who had betrayed him in a business deal, I woke up to lights and sirens and commotion outside. Sheer mayhem. Found out the next day that my neighbor had 51-50’d himself, the grief of losing that friendship being the straw that broke this camels back.

So remember, we don’t celebrate today simply for those who never came home, for those for whom we know why the flag is lowered to half-mast. But we remember those who DID come home, but will never be the same. And we need to remember those whose lives are a daily struggle, often lived at a half-mast capacity, because they did the most heroic thing of all; they lived to tell their story, and owning it has almost destroyed them.

Glenn, I don’t know how you’re doing, or where you are anymore; but if I could see you, I would tell you thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for protecting my kids and I when we couldn’t protect ourselves, thank you for allowing me to bear witness to your story, to hold space with you, to help carry your grief, and know that your brokenness and survivor stance kept me from going off the deep edge in addressing and owning my and my children’s own story of trauma and violation. Your struggle was not in vain, and even while you struggled to maintain a sane and living relationship with reality, you played a pivotal role in me staying rooted and grounded in mine. I will never forget you.

#ptsd #veteran #woundedwarrior #sexualassault #memorialday #owningyourstory

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!

 

Barren Tree Tattoo

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The first time I ever recall “remembering” the leaves falling from trees,

their  autumn colors catching the glint of the early fall sun,

was the day my grandpa died.

For some reason his death reminded me of a tree.

Not the tree that is in full spring bloom, with aromatic flower petals perfuming the newness of the Spring air.

And not the tree, fully swollen, offering much needed shade on a hot summer day.

No. It was the dying tree, it’s leaves crisp and crackly, colored blood red, fire orange, and burnt yellow, that cocooned me that day, much like the flannel shirts he would often wear, me beckoning him to stay.

And seeing that I was cold, he would envelop me in one of them, a thousand sizes larger than what I wore….. surrounding me also with a warm, musky scent, the remnants of the aftershave he bore.

The tree reminded me of the colors of my favorite flannel of his, with it’s warm hues of late Indian summer…

The shirt that I then wore to bed each night, until months later, the worn raggedness of it, finally, was less of a covering, than no covering at all.

….And maybe that remembrance of the autumn tree, at so early a young age, was actually preparing me for winter trees, and the unprepared  deaths that lay ahead.

Trees, stripped of their fall explosions, standing stark and silent against harsh winter skies…..

Trees that once gave so much life, but now seem to have been shuttered, would become to me,  the strongest of them all.

It’s with THESE trees that I have felt the most companionship with, the most closeness with, in my life.

Many times in my  years I’ve found myself on dark, shadowless paths; journeys that most closely resemble the depth of the darkest days, and the months that stand silent, like timeless winter trees, even amongst the gales that scream.

These are the months, where seemingly nothing lives, nothing whispers, life seems to have been snuffed out before the night.

The days where there is no rustle, no ragged breeze, not one voice to be found  in life’s audience.

The haunting beauty of a leafless tree, seemingly barren of all life, standing silent in the raging storm….it draws me in, and holds me tight, and whispers it’s ok.

The beauty of a stripped tree, standing still , is that what you see is what you get.

There are no games, no hidden cues, no foilage demanding to help hide.

There are no lies. No cover-ups. No place for shame-blamed bruises to collectively reside.

So the winter tree, so plainly seen, helps me to breathe in, and just be.

It reminds me that, when all else fades, the root is what we see.

And the roots are made, not in the blaze of summer’s inviting gaze.

But insteaed they’re made, dug deeply down, through the piercing  of the winter’s glaze.

And it was in that season, one winter, or ten, that the tree gently whispered to me.

He said, “My dear, you stood on your own, unassumingly.

And you,through blizzards and freezes quietly grew….

And the best kept truth about enduring such pain, about being so gutted and thrown askew,  is that deep inside the tree, quietly, new life hibernates anew….

And not today, and maybe not the next, for the winter season is  not yet past….

But one day, the thaw will come, and the air will be birthed warm and new.

And that tree that stands, so silently, with seemingly nothing to show…

will one day, under the weight of it’s limbs, burst with a beauty that is fresh and aglow.

So stand strong, oh leafless one, when you feel most rejected, you’re not.

For much like a cactus, who stands dry and taut, seemingly dead to the uninformed touch..

Deep in your trunk, buried beneath, far from the external swell,

your life harbors a refreshing, lifegiving, drought-quenching,  well.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Inaugural Tattoo

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It was 2002. I was 29 years old. I was in what would later be known as the twilight phase of my marriage to my children’s father. I had always been a “good” kid who wanted to change the world for Jesus. I never drank. I never smoked. I never did drugs. I never partied. I never had sex until my wedding night. I believed that racism, sexism, and classism were wrong. And I was going to turn my convictions into proactive advocacy as an adult; that was my passion.  I wanted to work with an organization called World Impact, who places missionaries in inner-city neighborhoods to live amongst those you minister to.

That all changed when I MET my ex-husband/children’s father. A native of Trinidad, but having grown up in the ghetto of Washington, D.C., he was not about to move BACK to an inner-city. So, I acquiesced my dreams and convictions for him…. something I became rather good at.

The blatant abuse started on our honeymoon to the Bahamas, where he told me that he could kill me, then disappear into the “island” population, because he would blend right in, and no one would ever think suspiciously of him. Whether that was true or not, that was when fear began to override my practical, logical thinking processes in dealing with him, and our marriage. The “train” started derailing with that seemingly simple, but loaded phrase, whispered in a guarded rage over something that wasn’t even worthy of a thought…. And this abrupt turn in our relationship was in spite of the fact that we had known each other for over two years, and had been in intense premarital counseling for eight months.

Fast forward to the end of the nightmare of our twelve-year marriage. Our relationship was marked by a raging cocaine addiction and regular domestic abuse on his part…. a norm for our street address from the time we moved to that property… Having been accused of every possible transgression one can commit, repeatedly, over the previous twelve years, I was desperate to “prove” to him that I was a good wife and mom. A babysitter of ours, a girl that he had taught ( another story for another post) had just got her first tattoo. He thought it was cool. And I thought it was cool. But more importantly, I thought that maybe, if I got his name E-T-C-H-E-D into my skin, he would know that I was loyal only to him ( something that was never proven, in spite of how hard I tried,and in spite of never giving him a reason to think otherwise). So, with the babysitter in tow, I made my way to Berkeley, where I received the tattoo pictured here, only his name was where the shamrock is now.

The tattoo artist sternly  warned me that day against getting my husband’s name permanently inked into my skin, saying that names of romantic partners as tattoos are never encouraged by the industry. But I was determined to show my husband that he was important to me, so I took that risk.  I had a tattoo of him, and my children’s names, tattooed on my back, with a Celtic trinity symbol, to symbolize my love of being Irish, and my love for God as well.

Fast forward two more years, the summer of 2004. After having to leave my home and marriage, with my 3-and 6-year-old  in tow, through a police escort and full restraining order in place, due to escalating physical abuse on my husbands’ part,  I was a 100 pound shell of my former self. Broken. Drained. Limp….. I sat one night in my, “void of anything, but what I could carry out of my home in ten minutes,” apartment, remembering the little memorial stone on my back. All of a sudden I felt violently sick. I had to get his name OFF of my skin… A couple of incredibly painful and expensive attempts to get his name lasered off, and I finally went back to the same tattoo artist who had inked the first one. After telling him my story, he, in its’ place, inked a shamrock, for my Irish heritage, to match the Celtic trinity symbol. For free. Without judgment of any kind. With instead, the utmost IN kindness. And then he told me to NEVER put another man’s name on my body again. And I haven’t. And I won’t. Ever.

This memorial stone is a reminder to me of the length and price to which we will go to “prove” our love to someone; when, once you realize that you are at the point where love has to be “proven”, you learn that it was probably never true love to begin with in the first place.

Tattoo 1: Spring, 2002, “edited”  Summer, 2004.

Reluctant Warrior

I am not a confrontational person by nature. I don’t like arguments. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I’ve never swung a punch. I don’t like loud voices. I physically shake when I feel threatened. In fact, I’ve repeatedly been known to do the worst thing possible DURING a disagreement; rather than fight or flight, I freeze. I grew up middle-class, where you talk, or give the silent treatment, to show your disdain for something; stubbornly changing the topic rather than every raising your voice… Heck…  I didn’t even say my first swear word until well into my third decade of life.

I was raised with this unspoken assumption that, when people around you are violent, you try to become invisible. You shrink yourself so that, if even only in your own mind, you get out of the way. If the rage is directed at you, then you acquiesce, you passively defer, you make yourself little, so that the other person feels powerful, in control, so that the bully can reign unchecked. You simply say “I’m sorry”, and “You’re right”, and “I’ll do better”, and “Please forgive me”, simply to diffuse the onslaught, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I basically believed that, if I lost myself, I would at least save myself, right?

I adopted this perspective, in part, because I believed that true peace was the absence of confrontation; that submission was the absence of a second voice (mine); that being “nice” meant that one had to justify another’s venom and wrath; and that people who hurt people, were “hurting” people, that simply needed to be loved enough, so that they would become loving too.

This personal dogma led to the series of unfortunate events wherein, for 12 years,  I was punched; pinched to broken skin; hit;  kicked; spit on;  pushed down stairs at 8 months pregnant; pushed out of a car; scratched; had glass cups thrown that shattered on my head;  arms and face bruised; and suffocated in bedsheets….just to name a few  of the ways I was physically abused alone. I put up with all of this treatment ALL in the name of “keeping the peace” and “loving my significant other”. I had forgotten my own worth, vehemently denying any foul play even when various loved ones questioned the bruising they saw,  or the riotous rages they heard. So full of shame and disbelief was I , that denial was my only form of survival.

Then the day came that my six year old came home from preschool and said to me, “Mom, we played husband and wife today. And I told the boy that if his “wife” didn’t do what he told her to do, he could slap her in the face. That was ok, right? That’s what love is, right? That’s what daddy does to you, and you guys love each other, right? ”

Time stood still. My heart momentarily ceased beating. A reality check of a mirror had just been held up to my silhouette. My life changed forever in that freeze frame of time. I realized, in that instant, that whatever I was willing to put up  with for myself, for my own life, however much I had lost my own compass to reality, and that however dangerous of a home life I had shriveled up my psyche to live in, this was NOT the life I envisioned for my children. This was NOT the legacy I intended to leave.  I was instantly drenched in a pail of ice cold water. The frog had gone from slow roasting in the meanderingly rising heat, to being scorched by the broiler.The struggle had just been jarringly brought into focus. This mama bear had finally found her fight.

That day, I made a pact with myself. I refused to raise my children to ever believe again that a war zone for a home life was normal. And I grew into the paradigm shift that day that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the snuffing out of injustice; that power is not legitimate unless it’s shared and garnered through respect; and that your voice is something that no one should ever have the where with all to silence….  That was the day that, at under 100 pounds and my hair falling out due to unchecked prolonged stress,  I became a reluctant warrior  That day, I took up my shield and my sword, and I have never been the same.

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