Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What a Good Woman Does

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since I wrote it last summer. It always felt too big, too messy, too vulnerable to share. It still feels that way. But I'm learning I don't want to die buried under the secrets that are crushing me. I've spent too long trying not to rock the boat, denying myself in order to do what I thought (think?) was necessary to keep the peace. Shame can't thrive once its spoken, and I have decided I'm not ashamed of my story anymore. This quote from Glennon Doyle Melton confirmed things for me. This is no longer my secret to carry. Its not yours either. But maybe some things need to be said so they can just get out there and breathe. Maybe this is a mistake, but maybe, just maybe, its the beginning of long awaited freedom.
"Don't you think there are some things you should take to the grave?" I thought hard for a moment and said, "No, I really don't. That sounds horrible to me. I don't want to take anything to the grave. I want to die used up and emptied out. I don't want to carry around anything that I don't have to. I want to travel light."

It's like a story, one that only makes sense if you start at the beginning. Problem is, I don't remember my beginning. It's like a black hole in my memory. I can feel the fuzzy edges but what's inside it escapes me.
I grew up in a paper hospital. Welcoming death and life in split seconds, I existed neither fully dead not fully alive. Each animalistic howl and fiber of pain medicated, drawn into submission by drugs and chemicals with names like Lexapro and Zofran. In this paper hospital, so minimized and contained in comparison to the outside world, kept safe and sterile in here as opposed to the germs, the danger of out there, I learned how not to trust my body. My body, inferior in and of itself, slipped under the hold of modern medicine. Now I'm grateful for modern medicine for without it I wouldn't be alive. Without it I wouldn't be one of the inbetweeners, existing halfway inside and half out, but very much fully dead. But modern medicine, the drugs, the interventions, the machines keeping me alive since my first moment of life, the constant scrutiny of my body by those who had gone through years of books and lectures to be told they knew my body better than I did, they took something from me. In exchange for keeping my halfways life, they taught me how not to trust myself and my body.
"There was an ache at this site as old as the world"
I plant myself on the grassy earth to feel connected to something. The vibrations in my body - what my sister is calling my bad aura - pick up on the frequencies around me and as I melt into the grass I feel a connectedness to every being who has ever lived that steadies me. Maybe its the hippie in me that feels secure in the arms of what the mystics call mother earth, soothed by all the death and life that has existed in this grass and under this sky. Maybe its the poet in me that believes I have so many untold stories inside me. Maybe this full ache inside me I'm trying to write out has existed inside the roar of many women. Maybe the earth reminds me of this. Of the holy hum, of the connectedness that rises up from my trauma, that we're all just vibrating off of each other.
It was April, maybe. Spring, but still greyish, muddy piles of snow on the ground. I don’t remember how old I was. It feels like forever ago. It feels like yesterday. It was a game – truth or dare, because the boys didn’t want to play ‘would you rather.’ I felt small and inferior, an outsider because I was a girl, so I went along with it. I don’t remember what happened first. I’ve imagined it in different ways – more or less horrific in exact correlation with my mood. I remember, though, the exact moment it started.
The next month’s come in bits and pieces. Like a collage, a hazy flashback movie scene. Spreading apart skin, shaking hands curling around body parts. His hands pressing down on my hips, my shoulders feeling more intimacy with concrete. A blanket fort in the basement of my grandparents’ house, my bed, his bed, the old chicken coop, the playhouse, under the blue sky. Again and again. Not just a game but a given. Not asking but demanding.
“Turn around, let me see.” I became only good for my “private parts.”
I held my breath. In the moments of his hands on my skin and in the ones that followed. He stole the air from my lungs, the voice from within, the fire in my belly, the softness from my face. Or maybe I gave them up in surrender, in fear. I stopped breathing, stopped moving, stopped living. The word ‘Spirit’ in Hebrew means breath, life force. I lost my spirit and I couldn’t even cry for myself.
I held my breath in the moment the curious, unwelcome hands of a boy touched my softest skin. I froze. Even my inhales and exhales felt like they belonged to him when I let them exist. So I stopped. I held my breath. Still I haven’t managed to release it.
It was a good number of months later before I breathed a word of it to a living soul. I just…forgot. The brain, as a protective measure, doesn’t let you remember the memory and I don’t remember what I did in those months. I wasn’t going to bring it up, ever.
When she asked me if he’d ever touched me, I lied about the damaged done. I immediately regretted telling. I felt like no one would ever understand. It was my secret. Telling it, I soon realized, was in and of itself a powerful act.
I got my first period on a camping trip. I bled through everything. I had awful cramps. I bled out my innocence, my girlhood.
A miscarriage is, by definition, an unsuccessful outcome of something, a failure, a collapse, an undoing. That word felt so exact for what I felt was happening to me. I named it after the season of abuse and mourned it furiously. Something died within me.
People believed him. It was dealt with quickly and quietly, no one asking me how I felt. My rights as the victim were constantly denied. I felt unentitled to my feelings. I learned that the only person I could trust was myself. Still the sacred act of telling became like an epidemic.
I told everyone, not only to see their reactions to my horrific news but because the act of telling became therapeutic for me. By saying it over and over, I could manipulate the telling of the story so it didn’t sound so bad. I liked the attention I got. Maybe I told because for me it didn’t feel real. Maybe I kept trying to justify and explain it to myself. The act of telling became more about me and my perceived inadequacies and failures than it was about what I was telling.

I swallowed God and religion back at age 11. And perhaps it was that lack of fulfillment, that mania from pursing my addiction without constant and consistent relief that turned me off from God.
The other addictions are easier to pin point, each accurately reflecting my growing self-hatred and desperation.
The days when I crumbled at the sight of a sandwich, counting calories, the razor blade, the pills, the porn, the men. Each boy, each drug, each behavior, they were all attempts to numb the strong anger I felt. My life became a survival act. My addictions, however destructive, centered around survival.
My life became dependent on the idea that I could make myself feel (and not feel) things. I got fat. I got skinny. I cut my hair. I cut my thighs. I flirted with strange boys. I poisoned myself. I threw up. I isolated. I tried to die. My body needed to be punished. I couldn’t trust it. All the feelings I felt were transferred to and inflicted upon my body. The pain, the sadness, the anger, it was all kept inside my body. I needed to release it, purge what he’d done to my body, or it would kill me.
I wasn’t an addict because it felt good. I wasn’t an addict because I loved getting high, or being an emotional rag doll, or inflicting pain. I was an addict because I don’t know how not to be. My body didn’t feel like a body anymore and I needed to feel it again. I was attached to no one, tethered to nothing. I wasn’t a soul or a person or even just a body. I was an ‘it’. And I learned you can only wander around empty for so long before you collapse. When a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to see it, does it make a sound?
I am a tree.
I wonder what the secret formula to thriving as an abuse survivor is. Or are we all just lost souls, gorging ourselves on our own leftover remains as if our bodies were the thanksgiving feast?
He’d been killed in a car accident. Killed, not died, taking away any immediate speculation that he’d done it on purpose.
I fell to my knees on my purple yoga mat and howled. Something inside of me snapped. My body held together by the surviving act of hatred died. My heart formerly beating cold nearly stopped, freezing over. My thoughts were an ever changing contradiction.
Relief, then howling. Love, hate. Missing him and seconds later it would all come rushing back and I hated myself for my grief. When I left that room, my grief took on everyone else's. They told me how to feel. He was dead so no one spoke ill of him. I convinced myself it was true, that he was a great guy. What happened had been a mistake, that’s all. I loved him. His death revictimized me and I ran from it.
The dead boy couldn’t possibly be a monster. I called it a judgment error, a lapse in reason. It was a mistake, not abuse. I’d been so close, so connected to him. I should feel honored.
When the air inside the grief house got unbearably dense, I retreated outside. The air was cold, the snow hauntingly beautiful. I made it a few feet down the driveway before I collapsed. Inside, the strings of me snapped.
I felt left, abandoned, neglected. All of a sudden the world felt too big for me. All of the feelings inside of me were like a waterfall, rising only to plunge to their death, never to be seen again. I screamed over and over, “Dear God” and “I’m sorry”, “I love you” and “Come back.” I would have done anything. The feeling of being separated was so profound and vast.
I prayed for forgiveness repeatedly. Like I’d caused his death. Like I’d plunged a knife into his chest. And maybe I had. Maybe I had by keeping his secret and playing his game. I didn’t know any better then but in that moment it felt like an admission of guilt.
When I saw his body, so pale and lifeless, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I’ve spent the past 2 years running.
I went to a concert tonight my friend put on in a coffee shop. As he sang I looked around me. I held in my hand the hand of the man I love. I’m surrounded by so much love and hope and creativity and light. So much of what I’m only now learning is possible. I’ve spent so long running, numbing, constricting, isolating, denying, punishing. I spent so many years dressed in shame, wearing it like a monogrammed robe. “My name is…”

But that, all this, isn’t the end of the story. Today, this love, that is how I have decided my story will end.
(You can find the song this post was named after here)

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