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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Forgotten Spiral Tattoo

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I often forget about this tattoo. This is the most risque ink I’ve etched into my skin ; or rather, the placement of it is. It’s on my hip. It’s easily seen with a swimsuit bottom on, which is how I got it, but nonetheless, it was as much intimidating for me, as it was a personal statement for myself.

The “spiral” has longheld meaning, across generations and cultures. About the same time I got this tattoo, I found this artistic explaination,

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And this is the struggle that I’m confronted with daily regarding the meaning of this symbolism. I struggle with truly loving myself; or at least aspects of myself. You see, twice in my lifetime, by two different men who were supposedly in my life to love and protect me, celebrate and honor me, I was sexually assaulted. The pain wasn’t inflicted by some stranger in a dark alley; it was chosen by someone who KNEW me well, who KNEW where and how I trusted him the most, who KNEW how it would destroy the parts of me that only HE had held close. Experiencing sexual assault is a betrayal that victimizes in the deepest way possible. It is the greatest form of punishment one can inflict on someone else. The wounds slice deep; gouging the most sacred of places in a soul.

Sleeping with the enemy became more than just a movie title for me.

It’s why, at this point in my life, I struggle with ever seeing myself as sexy, or attractive, or “flirty” in any way. For years I wore clothes two sizes too big, in bland, neutral colors, that allowed me to blend into the woodwork. My whole goal was to be forgotten. I wanted no curves showing; I wanted to be flat. It’s the reason why my daughter used to believe that all dark colored clothes were signs of weakness, because that’s all I would wear until after I left their father. To this day I have to purpose to wear brighter-colored, fitted clothes, forcing myself to look like the woman that I am. Inside I’m still a tomboy, before adolescence hit, because life was far safer then.

Oh, I had a wonderful sex drive at one point. I cherished the bridal showers I had where I received lingerie; and I used to have fun shopping at Victoria’s Secret for underwear and “underlings”. I considered myself a “frisky” person who couldn’t wait to be married and be intimate. My modesty was something that I deeply prided myself in, saving myself, believing that honoring God in this area of my life would lead to a deeply rich and satifying sex life with a husband one day.

But then you are left bloody, and it’s not because of your period. And you are belittled in every way- psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and verbally. And the comparisons to porn sex that you are required to watch in order to “help” you be more of what they “need”, leave you feeling dirty.  And the desire for you to perform like a previously freakish affair, and one-night stand, awash you with the slime and scum of what it means to feel whoreish. And you become the sponge, soaking up the blatant betrayal and adultery you come to find out about, all while the fingers are pointed at you as to the problems for their sex drive, because it’s your problem they can’t perform, when in reality they’re simply worn out from performing all to well, with someone else, on the side.  And the comprehensive fractures, and tearing away of trust and safety, eventually wears you down. And then strips you of your ability to feel like a whole woman. And you shut down. And you break apart. And you forget to breathe.

And so, my spiral tattoo was a way for me to remember that I am still a woman, that I am on a journey to become whole again. And that being whole means that one day maybe I WILL feel sexy, and frisky, and attractive “in that way” again. And that loving myself DOES mean allowing myself to feel with desire, and that maybe one day that desire won’t lead to pain, but to pleasure.

Women who have been traumatized in this way usually become one of two things. They become the “whore” that they were treated as, believing that they will never amount to anything more than how they were objectified. Or they become almost asexual, boarding up, shutting down…”winterizing” the deepest parts of them that made them vulnerable to the attack in the first place .

I chose the latter. And I’m ok with that for now…. But one day, hopefully, I will look down at this spiral, and it won’t just be a beckoning to me of the sacral that needs to be reborn; instead it will be a faint reminder to me of the still before a summer storm.

 

Solas, Mol, &Tearmann Tattoo

The voice of the Scotch-Irish, Gaelic, has always held a fascination for me. In fact, words and languages, quotes and pithy memes, even dialects, have always intrigued me. For my Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies, I wrote a final project paper on the origins of Ebonics. I came to observe that African-Americans did not talk “ghetto slang”, because amazingly , white southerners spoke the same way. No, Ebonics is actually a documented dialect of the English language, combining numerous aspects of West African language norms into the English discourse, hence rubbing off on white southerners as well.  For example, in reflecting their culturally specific holistic world view, most African languages don’t discriminate between tenses, whereas Western worldviews are linear in nature, denoting categories of time, so tenses ARE observed. For example, where as an English speaker will differentiate between whether they “already went”, or “are going”, or “will be going”, African languages simply say, ” I be going”, which could mean “they went”, “they are going”, or “they will be going,” because it doesn’t really matter WHEN one goes, as long as you go.   origins of Black English

Anyway… about a month after I had left my ex-husband, my parents helped me hire an attorney. When I first met with him, he looked at me and told me that he was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to withstand the relentless and cutthroat environment of a courtroom. He was worried that I would cave in, give up on my fight for myself and my children, and go back to my husband. And, weighing in at under 100 pounds, with my hair falling out, and sitting meekly in his office chair, I’m sure that I didn’t seem like a good candidate for him to represent. But…. I sat there and told him that I had tried everything I had known how to do to save my marriage; years of different kinds of secular counseling, pastoral/church counseling, fasting, praying, couples retreats, couples workshops, mentor couples…. and that when I had finally decided to leave him, there would be no turning back.

That conversation was the start of a decades long court journey. What would end up being 400 court filings, 45 court appearances, 6 different judges, 7 different family mediators, a Alameda County DA investigation, a Fremont PD SVU investigation, and a several thousand dollar custody evaluation, all started in that little office where my attorney told me that I reminded him of a lost puppy dog.

About a year into this court journey, I read the words “solas”, “mol”, and “tearmann” somewhere, and I fell in love with them. Solas means “to be a light”; Mol means “to be an advocate”; and tearmann means “to be a refuge”. Without even knowing the strength and voice that I would have acquired by year ten, at the one year mark, I was proud of the person I had become even in that time, in terms of learning how to fight to protect and advocate for my children.

I also knew that I wanted to get a tattoo near the place where my family had gone to family camp for years, Mt. Hermon. So I found a little place in Felton, California, that would even let my kids come watch me get the tattoo too. The symbolism of my children being able to come with me, while we, and my parents, were at family camp, was not lost on me, and the meaning of the tattoo. In the early days, when I was not strong enough to go to court on my own, my mom would always go with me. And, before I finally started representing myself as in pro per in our court appearances, my parents pretty much gave up their entire retirement savings to pay for my attorney, so that my children and I got the best possible protection and advocacy we could get, something that will never be lost to me. So while I was busy advocating, being a light for, and providing a refuge for my children, my parents and attorney were doing that for me.

Late summer of 2005, tattoo number 3 was born.

The tribe that created my village

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My daughter graduates from high school next week. Her ceremony will be small, as she is graduating from a charter/home school institution….We were discussing who would be invited to her graduation. She’s not a talker, or a “feeler” in particular, or even a social person much; rather an extreme introvert. She likes relatively few people around her, and MUCH time in solitude.

 So her text late at night, words that tore into my heart, surprised me as much as they made me acutely aware of MY feelings, of love, and inadequacy, and heartache. She shared that, in her dreams for her graduation day, there would be a huge family, making lots of noise, cheering her on, and christening her with LOTS of leis…..that this is what she had always imagined the perfect ceremony to be. And she knew hers wouldn’t be like that, and she was really grateful for all that I WAS doing, but she wanted me to understand why sometimes she was sad.

See…we have a small family. My parents, and her brother, and I, are pretty much it. Her father isn’t allowed to see her, the rest of his family lives back East, and we have no extended family that we are in contact with. And in this life, we have known a lot of tragedy. We have suffered a lot of loss. We’ve had a lot of unexpected endings, and seemingly rock-solid alliances, that have been torn away. We’ve had family that we have held dear, repeatedly violate our love and trust, and do unheard of things that “family” doesn’t do, necessitating us to build walls around our castle, keeping all but the most tried and true, out.

And her shared thoughts made me sad, filling me with grief for what I couldn’t offer her, for where I had let her down, for needs that I couldn’t fill with the resources I had….

And then I was thinking about the friends that have become our family over the years. Those that have been there when we needed a safe place to go to escape a violent home; or those that have picked us up when we were a million broken pieces lying on the floor, telling us that we would one day be whole again; those that have walked every weary, back-breaking path with us… understanding our silence, holding space for our pain, and slowly encouraging us to breathe joy once again; those that have stood as stoic, unmoving soldiers, fiercely defending and protecting us when we couldn’t protect ourselves; and those rejoicing with us over the simplest of pleasures, encouraging us to laugh, and to sing, and to dance…. and to reassure us that we were safe, finally, to do so.

And it was then that I realized that we may not have much of a blood family, but we have a tribe surrounding us. This tribe has both kept our village safe from the outside, and kept us celebrated from the inside. It is this tribe that has been there all along, and it is this tribe that will surround us this coming week.

So no, dear daughter, it may not be much blood family that will be standing with you as you embark on this next moment of your life. But the tribe that WILL be surrounding  you will be thicker than blood; with respect deeper than our strongest fears; and pride wider than our greatest worries; and most importantly, with love that is chosen rather than expected. YOU my child, are a warrior that is invaluable to it’s pack. So confidently take your place, stand tall with your shoulders back, and roar.