Vulnerability – It Makes Us Real

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My life is full of mistakes. I have loved the wrong man, trusted the wrong friend, been hurt more times than I can count, I have stayed too long in the wrong job, and I have been terrified to move on to something else because I live with a very strong case of imposter syndrome.  And while I hope that I won’t repeat these mistakes – it is inevitable.  Because I truly want to believe the best in people. I hope that my work life improves.  I wake up every day wanting to be smarter than I was the day before. Not only smarter, but braver.  And kinder, and more sophisticated. I want to be more me. There isn’t a whole lot that is wrong with the kind of person that I am. I just want a life that I can be proud of. A life without shame. Spoiler alert – I am proud of the little life that I have created.

But a life without shame can’t be had. No matter what I do, someone will call me out on some aspect.  I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. I ended up sleeping in my closet – and someone that I used to know called me pathetic for doing what I needed to do. Or maybe it was for doing what I needed to do and sharing it. Doesn’t matter. The point is – I took measures to take care of myself, and he didn’t agree with my methods and tried to shame me for them.  Me feeling hurt, scared, and angry from that reaction doesn’t do me any good. Once upon a time, I would have taken those words, and changed my behaviour. I would have tried to be better behaved, be more like the kind of person he wanted me to be.  But I learned this lesson a few years ago, I will never be the kind of person someone else wants me to be. I can only be the best version of me that I find acceptable.  We are all flawed, this is what makes us fantastic. Just because I (sometimes) find it necessary to act in ways that you may not understand, doesn’t mean that I am not of value.

I grew up in a family, where we didn’t show our cards. We worked hard, we had our eyes on our own paper, and we didn’t talk about our feelings. We grew callouses on top of our emotions. Being vulnerable – or letting others see that you are vulnerable was not an option.  And thats fine. It doesn’t work for me – but I can see how it might be easier to live that way. But I have carried around a lifetime of shame. My earliest memories are something that nightmares are made of. And the moment that I started accepting those events, and owning them as part of what makes me Laura, and then sharing them – I started to let go of the pain. I will probably not be free of the pain completely, but I am able to enjoy moments of life. Whereas previously, I didn’t think I deserved to have a single good moment.  Do you know what happens when you feel like you don’t deserve happiness – you form toxic relationships (if at all), you become a shut in, you find yourself in near constant chaos (and not the good kind), you aren’t able to speak up for yourself, and you most certainly will never see yourself as a valuable or good person.  And this is why I share my struggles. You may find it necessary to call me out on that behaviour, but disappointing myself is a whole lot worse than disappointing you.  My apologies if that hurts your feelings, but if I am not honest with myself – then I can’t be honest with you.

I have a hard time trusting people, which sounds counter-intuitive to embracing vulnerability. But I also know that if I don’t take that risk (trust), I will never get any better. So I will always ask the “dumb” question, tell the person he is liked (I still struggle with love – but I am working on it), hold a person’s hand when they are having a rough day – even if I have just encountered them on the street for the first time, share a meal and a conversation with a person who needs to share his or her story. These moments mean everything to me. I don’t do it to feel stronger – I do it so someone else can.

These are a few of the gifts that I have been given, because I have chosen to be open about my struggles and my story. Vulnerability has allowed me to:

  • forgive
  • relate better to children (thats important when you work with children)
  • be open to new ideas
  • be more creative
  • stand up to bullies (or ignore them when it calls for that)
  • create better relationships with my family
  • have wonderful friends
  • become much more empathetic
  • smile
  • volunteer
  • go outside
  • listen
  • be sincere
  • not worry about seeing the world differently than others
  • do my own thing

There is not one thing on that list that I could do when I was living a life that someone else wanted me to lead; when I tried to be pulled together, and stoic (there is absolutely nothing wrong with those qualities, they are in fact ones that I admire). But they aren’t me.  My life needs to be a bit messy, colourful, emotional, and filled with both light and dark. I need to do things on my timetable. And I need to not be shamed when I choose to live differently than you. So I live life on my terms. It’s chaotic but its so so good.

I wish the good life for you, however you choose to live.
*Photo Source Trammell Hudson via Flickr

The Killing Season

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the source of anxiety

Its 3AM and I have just woken from a recurring nightmare. I’m covered in cold sweat, I desperately need a shower, but I can’t move from my bed. It is hard for me to move around when its so dark outside. In fact, I have started going to sleep before the sun sets, because it feels safer. But I’m kidding myself. I don’t sleep, not really. Sleeping an hour or less at a time isn’t really sleep. It definitely isn’t restorative. I go to “sleep” so early, to stop myself from thinking about my past.

It’s May, and this is when my PTSD symptoms are the strongest. Historically its been like that. The more I try to cope with them, the worse it gets. Its at a point now, where I am unable to answer the phone (something that I need to do for work). I have to force myself to go outside, but unless I am wearing the darkest sunglasses -that filters out all colours, I can last about 5 minutes. Its just too green here. And green is harmful.

I don’t know why this time of year is so hard. While I remember just about every detail of my rape (I was a kid)- I don’t have any idea of when it happened. It could have happened in May – it was a warm day after all.  No one was wearing a jacket, and the sun was out. But this is the time of year where its hardest to breathe, hardest to stay calm, hardest to sleep, and hardest to function like a normal person.

But I am approaching an anniversary of something else. Something that I never talk about. There are only two other people who even know it happened besides myself. One, my doctor who explained to me what happened, and a friend who I am no longer in contact with – who tried to help me figure out why it happened,

Several years ago, I was raped by my boyfriend.  Note  – this is my very first time calling this rape.  We had been dating for about six weeks, and during an intimate moment  he decided that he had waited long enough. I didn’t stop him. I was unable to speak. I was paralyzed with fear. Frozen. It was not my first time. But I was not ready. We hadn’t established a ring of trust where I was comfortable enough to be with him. After it was over, the sheets of my bed were covered in blood. He freaked out, and I spent the next 3 hours crying in the bathroom, He later told me that it wasn’t his fault. That the way men are wired, once they are aroused they can not stop. It is inevitable. This was my fault.

I knew about date rape, but I didn’t consider what had happened to be that. I hadn’t been drugged – and that is pretty much how I thought date rape occurred. I certainly didn’t think that boyfriends did this to their girlfriends. Which is why I didn’t consider it to be abuse of any kind. A girlfriend took me to see a doctor, when I told her about what happened. How empty and devoid of meaning it was. How it hurt. How there was so much blood. I was adamant that this was my fault. At that moment I didn’t think he had done anything wrong. He had patiently waited for six weeks.  I owed him this.  These were my thoughts. Other than him telling me that men can’t stop once they start – is the only thought of his that I know about – regarding this situation. I have no idea if he has ever thought twice about this. He broke up with me two days later.  It would have been earlier, I am sure -but I couldn’t pick up the phone.

It took a visit to a doctor, a visit that I never want to have to repeat because it was so humiliating, to learn about consent. That while consent is mostly verbal it can also be physical. I learned that what my boyfriend said to me was not actually true. That just because you are in an intimate moment – if you are scared (and by scared he meant paralyzed by fear)  partners pick up on this. A loving partner will not want to hurt you. That they will take that moment to discover what is wrong. its an opportunity for conversation. To make you comfortable, because that will be important to him.

I run into that “boyfriend” now and again.  He was a new girlfriend or wife. He always introduces me as “Tiffany”. I have no idea why. That isn’t even remotely close to my name. But it hurts me just a little bit more when he does it. That I wasn’t worth just a little bit of effort to properly remember my name. I am more angry at myself than I am at him, now. I wont confront him about it. I just need to make peace with it.

I don’t talk about that time of my life, because I don’t like to remember how naive and stupid I was/am. This story gets worse before it gets better, I am sad to say. But eventually I find some strength.  I moved on from that time.  But occasionally it comes up (like it did tonight), and I struggle to make sense of it.  As for the childhood stuff – I will never make sense of it. That doesn’t feel real, even though it is the most real thing that has ever happened to me.

Most of the time, I can recognize the strength it took to survive this – and the other stuff (and there is other stuff- stuff just as dark that went on for a long time), but right now these thoughts feel like they are killing me. They are attacking me from all sides, when Im not looking.  They are in my dreams, I feel them around me always.

I want to walk in the sunlight.  In order to do that, I need to crawl out from under the covers, and show my face to the world. Here I am. Please be kind.

** Photo Source- Filipe Fortes via Flickr

 

What’s Behind Door Number 1

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When I was a kid, I was obsessed with doors. Behind doors lay magical worlds. Talking creatures that were not human lived just on the other side, colours not found in our world existed there, grand adventures were to be had, but most of all behind special doors there was a place where anxiety couldn’t survive.

In the house I grew up in, closets were a special fascination. My house had huge closets.  Walk-in closets, closets that could be used as clubhouses, and hiding places. Closets that could be used to escape from the noise. These were places where I could escape from myself.

These closets were big enough to drag in cushions, and mattresses, and pillows, and piles of blankets.  I could bring in a stack of books, a flashlight, and mugs of iced tea, and I would be happy there for days. Sometimes I skipped sleeping in my own bed just so I could stay in that world a little longer.

Today the start of (what I call) the PTSD season snuck up on me.  It does so every year. I don’t ever realize its approaching until its here – and I have a panic attack so bad that I don’t think I can survive – in case you are wondering, I did survive.  But I am now aware that for the next 6-10 weeks, life is about to get a bit more challenging.

And right now, the only thing I want, is a closet big enough to drag in an air mattress, and take a flashlight, some books, and a big mug of iced tea, and move to a land (albeit temporarily) where anxiety doesn’t exist.

*Photo Source- Stewart Chambers via flickr

I Deal Through Escape

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My friends for the weekend

I read a lot.  Almost 2.5 books a week (depending on the page count – but averaging around 350 pages per book). At least so far this year.

I am plenty busy doing other things, I don’t have to read this much.  I work full time, I teach a few lessons a week, I volunteer, and I see friends occasionally.  I even go outside, when I remember that fresh air is good for me.

But I choose to read because it gives me a chance to escape from my life- something that television or friends doesn’t do. Reading engages my brain in a way that I am unable to think about things other than what I am reading. In other words, I am unable to have an anxiety or panic attack when I am absorbed in someone else’s story. I suffer from a form of PTSD (from childhood trauma) that triggers easily.  The colour green will set me off – as will the number 11, black dogs, springtime, and the jerseys of the Green Bay Packers. Also children who are in pain.  This one is a big one – and something I encountered a few weeks ago. And its made me retreat back into myself.

I met a 7 year old girl recently who told me some secrets about her life – and they were very similar to ones that I had experienced, and I have been unable to concentrate on much else since then.  I reported the incident(s) to the people who needed to know, but I have a need to do more.  But my hands are tied. I am unable to help any more than I have.  I can only hope that what I did will not cause further pain. I hope what I did will keep her safe.  For her sake, I am optimistic that everything will work out for the best. I have to think this way – because I am heartbroken that someone has hurt her.  I am heartbroken that someone(s) have hurt me. Mirrors – I hate them. They show way more than we need to know.

So back to the books.  I read to forget my own experience. I use books to create a new reality. I use them for other things too, like get ideas, and fall in love with fictional characters, and to understand new and old ideas.  But mostly I read so I can trust.  I can trust words (even if its for a short time – and I am aware that you cant believe everything you read). But its a different kind of trust. Fictional characters can’t hurt you like real people can. I choose to invest in this medium, because I am unable to trust anyone else in real life.

And I will never be alone, as long as I have a book in my hand.