I Escaped With My Life
It has been eight years….
….eight years since I packed all my bags, scoured the room for my keys, and made my way down the stairs and into the foyer, much against the loud opinions of the people around me. I pushed aside the man who stood in my way, the one who told me I’d never be okay out there on my own, the one who told me everyone I know and love is dangerous and that I need to be careful. As he stood in front of the door telling me I couldn’t go, I felt myself flooding with rage. As tired as I was, as hurt as I was, as sick as I was, I mustered up every ounce of strength I had and looked him directly in the eyes:
“LET. ME. GO” I said coldly. There were no hysterics in my voice, just a rage simmering beneath the surface which I knew he could sense.
“You want to leave? Fine, GO. GET OUT,” he said as he quickly stepped aside and opened the door for me, hoping I would collapse back into his arms and tell him I needed him. But I didn’t do that this time.
Instead I pressed forward until I was outside in the hot, sticky July air. I don’t remember the walk from the front door to my car, but I do remember putting my key into the ignition and turning on my little Mazda. I drove away as fast as I could, but not before taking one last glance back at my rearview mirror to see if he was following me.
He wasn’t. In fact, his door was already shut and the house sat quietly on the block, pretending as if it hadn’t just housed a horribly abused woman for six months.
Eight years feels like so long ago and very recent all at the same time. I wish I could tell 21 year old Alyssa that she’s going to do great things in this world. But this time eight years ago, I left the home of an abusive, violent man and felt like my only option was death.
I’ll never be able to go back in time and tell my 21 year old self that in just 6 days, a puppy will be born who will find her way into my arms come September and will save my life. Nor will I be able to go back and tell younger Alyssa that she’s going to graduate college and get her Master’s degree. I wish she knew that in the next 6 years she would start her own business that would grow, seemingly overnight, into a success that is beyond her wildest dreams.
I never would have imagined all of this for myself – quite frankly, at 21 years old, I didn’t see myself surviving long enough to turn 22.
There are parts of this period in my life that I still cannot speak about. And this time of year, the flashbacks are always more intense, the body memories are also ever-so-present. To be honest, I have no clue why he let me go that day; and what I want you to know is that my escaping has nothing to do with who I am as a person. It’s not about me being “strong minded” or anything like that. SO MANY VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DO NOT ESCAPE OR DO NOT SURVIVE. And there is no telling which of us will escape with our lives and which of us won’t. I feel so lucky that I made it out of there with my life. And while I am always thankful for my fur babies and husband coming into my life, today is definitely one of those days where I appreciate this beautiful family of mine just a little bit extra.
Lessons from the Skaneateles Lake
The COVID-19 pandemic has made me forget part of the reason why I love traveling so much – the unexpected lessons, the character sculpting, and the major moments of insight and awareness that come from being in a completely different place.
This past weekend, David and I finally got to go away together to a place neither of us had ever even heard of: Skaneateles, NY. We’ve heard of the Finger Lakes, but we had never heard of specifically the Skaneateles Lake/Town. I cannot say enough great things about this town! It was both stuck in the past and way ahead of its time in all the best ways. As we soaked in the views from the lake, hiked up mountains with dozens of waterfalls, and explored various nature preserves, I realized that this was the most at peace I have felt in a long time.
And then, on one of our last days in Skaneateles, I found myself standing on the dock, peering down at the fish swimming in the lake below as we prepared to take a boat tour. Suddenly I was hit with a feeling that I still don’t really have words for. All I know is that the feeling was so strong, it nearly took my breath away. The wind suddenly picked up, the water from the lake sprayed my face, and, almost involuntarily, I whispered to myself “It’s time.”
“It’s time? Time for what?” I asked myself almost immediately. And then, a few moments later, I understood what was happening.
In this midst of moving to a new state, selling our current house, recovering from health issues, watching my business change, and adjusting to post-pandemic life, I’ve done a lot of fighting – fighting for relationships, fighting to keep certain friendships, fighting because it felt like something I “should” do. Or perhaps I have been fighting to keep these relationships so I could avoid the grief that comes with letting go. Either way – the last few months have found me holding so tightly to the people who continuously seem to be slipping through my hands.
While I know I’m on the right path for myself, I also recognize that I have been pushing away the fact that this path I am taking means I will be saying goodbye to people I once held close to my heart. The fact of the matter is that not everyone is meant to stay in our lives forever; and, perhaps most importantly, not everyone is meant to fill the role that we think they should fill.
For years I’ve held on to certain hopes and expectations about what some of the relationships in my life should look like, and doing so has often sent me into bitterness, anxiety, and depression. When I fight to keep a relationship that simply isn’t meant to be, I end up abandoning myself. And in this last year of my 20’s, I made a promise to never abandon myself again.
I have spent far too many years sacrificing my own needs, blaming myself for miscommunications, and overlooking painful moments just so I can maintain communication with people who I thought I needed in my life. Over the last several months, as I fall more in love with the woman I have become, I am realizing I cannot have it both ways. I cannot please others just to avoid confrontation or abandonment AND honor my own needs. While I know this on an intellectual level, emotionally speaking it has still been very difficult for me to let go of the things/people that need letting go. But leave it to traveling to teach me some of life’s most difficult lessons; for when I was standing on the dock taking in some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, my gut told me it was time. It’s time to release my grip. It’s time to grieve over what happened, because I can’t change it. It’s also time to grieve over what won’t ever happen, because I can no longer operate in relationships that aren’t two-way streets.
It’s time to acknowledge the hurt and rejection I feel instead of pushing it down, telling myself that if I just try harder, I’ll get the acceptance I’ve been craving from the people I’ve been craving it from.
The fact is that I am so loved. I am loved by people who see my light and celebrate it in ways I never imagined. And I am so grateful for it – for my friends and family, for my dogs, for my clients, for the podcast listeners, the blog readers, and all the supporters in my life – each and every single one of you!
All of these feelings seemed to hit me at once, and I found myself both smiling and crying at the same time. While I know that so many good things await me on the other side of letting go, it’s still a sad process. I wiped my tears away, stepped onto the boat, and climbed my way to the second floor (for the best views of course!). I peered back at the little village of Skaneateles as the engine revved and we started gliding across the lake. I know the path ahead of me, and I know with absolute certainty that what is behind me is no longer meant for me. I turned my head up to the sky and let the sunshine dry the remainder of the tears on my face as a mixture of grief, gratitude, and relief flooded my soul. I know that it’s not just time to let go of the past – it’s also time to move forward to the next part of my career. This strong intuition has been simmering just beneath the surface for some time now, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge any of it until this moment.
How will I make it happen? How do I move through the grief? Where do I even begin with the next chapter of my career? God only knows. The only thing I am certain of right now is this:
It is time.
You’re Not Listening!
No one likes it when they feel as though they aren’t being heard. For me, over the years, not being heard has become a debilitating trigger. Sometimes it feels like all I do is scream at the top of my lungs and people don’t seem to hear me – especially when it comes to my health.
I have known for months, if not years, that something is wrong with me. But because of my history of trauma and because of my weight, I typically get one of two responses from doctors, therapists, etc.:
1. “It’s the trauma! Your body is holding so much pain.”
2. “It’s your weight. You’d feel better if you worked out a little bit.”
I mean, I typically would say “don’t even get me started” when it comes to healthcare providers saying this type of stuff, but who am I kidding? We all know I’m about to get started!
1. Perhaps this is shocking coming from a trauma therapist, but I truly don’t believe that every single sickness is a manifestation of trauma. Sometimes people are, in fact, sick. I don’t know how many times I tried to tell my therapist “my body hurts, I’m so tired. I cant function” only for him/her/them to go “Well of course! It’s the trauma!” This therapist believed that people get illnesses due to undigested trauma, and while I do absolutely agree with that, I don’t think that means that trauma therapy is the be-all, end-all cure. I think I needed a medical doctor, stat, but never got one because I was told the trauma therapy would cure it all.
2. Ah, the “It’s your weight” comment – a personal favorite. Here’s my truth: You could put me in a boxing ring with a man ten times my size, and STILL, the strength of my right hook alone would knock him off his feet. So what is it that these doctors want me to do when they tell me to exercise more? Push-ups? Not a problem. Deadlifts? Child’s play. Planks? Sure! Triathlon? Let’s go!
And the most dysfunctional thing of all about doctors telling me to move my body more is that they incorrectly assume that exercise is a weight-management tool (it’s not!!!). Doctors are taking one look at me, observing that I’m fat, and assuming I’m lazy (not true for anyone, fat does not equal lazy). Therefore, in their minds, the solution must be that I need more exercise.
Thus, because of my weight, because of my trauma history, I am stigmatized. I am not heard. And quite frankly, I’ve been getting downright disgusted by it. A few weeks ago after being told by yet another doctor that nothing is wrong, I was ready to quit and live the rest of my life only maybe 40-50% of the type of person I knew I could be if I were feeling better. But thankfully I have a supportive partner at home who reminded me that I have never been one to give up or take “no” for an answer.
And so I continued to fight. And over the last few weeks, my fighting is starting to pay off. I have seen multiple doctors who have run tests on me that have never been run. I went back to a doctors office for the second time in a month and requested a new doctor because I didnt’ like the answers I got from the previous doctor. And this time, I got a few more answers. I was HEARD. This doctor, bless her sweet soul, sat down next to me and handed me tissues as I cried and told her how horrible I felt. She validated me, listened to me, comforted me, and after an examination she gave me a diagnosis. She confirmed that what is going on with me is NOT my fault and that my weight gain, fatigue, and chronic pain is a result of this diagnosis, NOT a result of being lazy.
I am now being referred to a doctor who specializes in this specific autoimmune disease, as my doctor suspects that I have multiple autoimmune diseases that are contributing to my symptoms. All in all, I still don’t have all the answers. I have a few different doctors that have varying concerns ranging from issues in my brain, potential loss of vision, multiple autoimmune diseases, etc.
But low and behold, people are finally listening to me. I have no idea what will come of the journey ahead, but I am so much more hopeful knowing that people are hearing me, believing me, and truly wanting to see me feel better.
It’s so easy for us to fall into silence and not question anything when a doctor is not giving you the proper time and attention that you deserve. But it’s so important to push through your triggers and never stop fighting for your right to be heard. You know your body better than anyone else, so if you feel as though something is wrong and you are not getting the answers you want, use your voice! Use it one time, ten times, or a hundred thousand times if need be and I promise you that someday, someone will hear you and someone will provide you with the answers for which you’ve been searching.
Our Children Are Always Watching
I often say to the families I work with, “It’s takes a village to raise a kid.” I do not yet have biological children, so I will never profess to know what it is like to be a parent. However, I do have nearly two decades of experience working with children (first babysitting, then summer camps, then substitute teaching, then crisis intervention, and now, my independent practice).
All of my experiences with children thus far have led me to believe that it truly does take a community to raise a child. It takes teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, school counselors and other adults to raise a healthy, well-adjusted kid. If you work with kids in any way, you have likely had an affect on their upbringing. As kids get older, they tend to spend more time in school and in extracurricular activities and less time with their parents, which is why I say “our” children are always watching. While they may not be your biological children, if you are spending a significant amount of time around kids, then you can rest assured that they are watching you, too.
Why does this matter? Well, let’s look at a few examples below:
-A few weeks ago I had a teenager and her mom in my office. It was brought up that during dinner a few nights back, the rest of the family ate pasta while mom ate a salad with grilled chicken. Mom mentioned that the pasta looked amazing but she wouldn’t allow herself to have any because she is on a mission to lose weight. While this may not seem overtly harmful, adults talking about their diets and weight-loss often leads to children feeling highly dissatisfied with their own bodies.
-Many years ago when I worked for a crisis intervention unit, I performed an assessment on a young boy who said to me “My dad tells me that he loves me, but sometimes I hear him talking to my mom about how they would have more money if they didn’t have kids.” While dad surely did not mean for his child to hear this, the child now, unfortunately, can never un-hear it.
-On a more personal level, when I was in kindergarten, I did not follow directions on one of my assignments. My teacher looked at me and yelled “Are you stupid?!” To this day, looking back on that memory still floods my body with shame from head to toe.
-As another personal anecdote, I had a soccer coach in high school who always tried to have genuine conversations with me and made efforts to get to know me on a deeper level. She acted this way with all of the kids on the team. The respect that she had for all of us was palpable and we all felt seen and heard by her.
The list of impressionable moments that can change or solidify the way a child feels about themselves is limitless. What I’m trying to say is this: Kids are always taking in information, even when we think they aren’t. They are listening, they are observing, and most importantly, they are picking up on the feelings of the ones around them. If we’re not careful as adults, we can send dangerous messages to children that reinforce diet culture, low self-esteem, perfectionism, feelings of abandonment and being unloved, etc. All of this can ultimately lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
This is not a call-out to parents only, nor is it an attempt to parent-shame. We’re all doing the best we can and need to treat ourselves and others with compassion. Rather, this is a shout-out to all of the adults in this world, as most of us will find ourselves around children at some point in our lives. The next time you find yourself in the presence of a child/children, please make every effort to leave them feeling like they matter and that they are accepted; for this is how we start building self-esteem in children, which will have positive ripple effects on generations to come.
Boundaries vs. Threats
Of all of the pain I have endured over the last few months as a result of a significant loss in my life, I have to say, both time and space have given me the ability to see this person for exactly who he/she/they really are. I have had some time to reflect on the recent years filled with scenarios that left me feeling full of guilt and shame. This person, who happens to be the ultimate gaslighter, loved to tell me that he/she/they were setting boundaries with me. The thing about being in toxic relationships is that when you’re in one, you inherently believe that this person is speaking the truth. You don’t question whether or not this person actually knows what he/she/they are talking about. And when you start to feel angry and offended by what this person says, instead of blaming that person, you automatically blame yourself!
Thank God I know so much better now. The fog has cleared and although this person is nowhere to be found in any aspect of my life any longer, I feel as though I can see this person for who she/he/they truly are for the first time in years.
As I am processing the depths of my relationship with this person, I have realized that if this has happened to me, it is likely happening to so many other people, so I want to provide a little bit of clarity on a rather fuzzy topic. There is a significant difference between someone setting a boundary with you and someone threatening you, but sometimes the lines can be blurred and what we think are healthy limits are actually threats.
So let’s break it down, shall we?
Boundaries are limits that we set with other people or sometimes, even ourselves. The point of setting a boundary is to protect our own physical, social, and emotional health. Setting boundaries with others can look like:
-“Thank you for the invitation, but I can’t go out this weekend.”
-“I won’t be joining you for the holidays this year due to the pandemic.”
-“I have let you know repeatedly that I do not want to speak about this topic. If you continue to bring it up, I am going to leave the party.”
-“I have told you that I am not comfortable meeting up without masks. If you are not able to wear a mask, let’s wait to meet up until it’s safer to do so.”
Again, boundaries are put in place to honor ourselves and protect all aspects of our well-being.
Threats are designed for us to get the things we want and/or need, often at the expense of someone else. Threats typically come in the form of a warning that someone or something might be harmed if we don’t get what we want. Some examples of threats might be:
– “If you are going to continue dating that guy, then I’m going to stop asking you how you’re doing since you’re only going to get hurt.”
-“If you don’t spend the holidays with us this year, then I’m not buying you those shoes you have been asking for.”
-“We aren’t having sex at night anymore since you clearly can’t even have the laundry done by the time I get home from work.”
-“I’m paying for this wedding so I think I should have some say in where you have it.”
Threats are about securing our wants and needs by taking something away from someone if things do not go our way.
THE THIN LINE
As you’ll notice in the section on boundaries, none of the examples I provided were about doing harm to the other person in any way. The only thing a boundary should do is help us to protect ourselves without doing harm to others. The line between threats and boundaries starts to blur when we start punishing other people for not getting our way. There is no punishment happening when we tell others, for example, that we aren’t comfortable meeting up with them unless they are wearing a mask. There is punishment happening, however, when we withhold sex, threaten emotional neglect, or hold money over people’s heads in order to get what we want. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a threat and a boundary. Many people feel that they are one in the same, but that could not be further from the truth; and it is important to suss out the difference so that we are taking good care of both ourselves and our loved ones.
Now with all of this being said, I’d like to shift gears and speak directly to YOU – the one who is the epitome of the thin line. I know you lurk in the shadows of my life, reading every blog post, listening to every podcast episode, watching me rise from the ashes like the goddamn phoenix that I am. You are the thin line between threats and boundaries, the one who has been threatening me for years under the guise of being “great at setting boundaries”. I know your eyes will scan every word of this page, hoping to find evidence that you broke me but knowing deep down that you never had that kind of power. Let me take a moment to thank you for teaching me the difference between a healthy boundary and an insidious threat. You have allowed me to be able to share this critical information with others so that they can recognize a threat from a mile away and learn how to set appropriate limits with others. Allow me to express my gratitude for the blinding pain you caused me. While I would have preferred to live without your subtle threats, manipulations, and abrupt abandonment, I am proud to say that I am taking what you put me through and will use it to help others for the rest of my days.
The Pain Will Come Again
As somebody who is rarely ever short on words, I find myself struggling to speak lately. I am quiet these days, possibly because I’m not too sure how to put words to the things that I have experienced over the last couple of months that have culminated in me being re-traumatized on multiple levels.
I will never tire of the way in which I feel so alive when I sit with my patients. It feels so natural for me to enter their worlds and help them to make connections, process pain, and heal what hurts. But sometimes I don’t do so well when the roles are reversed. When I become the patient, looking back at my therapist, I am speechless. Perhaps this is because words simply do not feel like enough to describe what has recently transpired in my life.
I suppose I am doing as well as any one person could be doing after being re-traumatized. There have been moments, especially this past week, when I have wanted to crawl right back into the cold, icy arms of my eating disorder -anything to take the edge off and make me feel like I have some sort of control. I’ve had to fight like hell to maintain my connections with safe, supportive people instead of isolating. And once or twice this week, I even had to take the risk of reaching out to my treatment team to help get myself grounded.
The flashbacks have become more frequent and I am finding that the way in which I talk to myself or about myself has become increasingly negative. I’m having to focus nearly all of my efforts into the self-care department. It would be so much easier for me to constantly work so that I don’t allow time or space to process all that has happened, but I’m trying to be intentional about slowing down. My boundaries in both my professional and personal lives have gotten tighter (i.e., avoiding contact with potentially triggering people, setting limits on how many hours I am working a day, etc.). While this process has required an exhausting amount of introspection, I have become much more aware of the things that I can and cannot hold space for right now.
So what does this all mean? Does it mean I’m too sick to do my job? Does it mean I am unraveling and cannot function? Does my pain make me any less competent in my profession?
No. Not at all. If anything, being fully in touch with my emotions and having awareness of my limits right now makes me more competent in my profession than I’ve ever been. I am completely aware of how much I am hurting right now, and I am fully aware that I have more on my plate than I bargained for.
Therapists are humans too, and as a human, being in recovery from PTSD does not mean that I will never have bad days again. It does not mean that I am immune to being traumatized in the future, nor does it mean that I am immune to a relapse in my eating disorder. Relapse is not only possible, but is also probably given my circumstances right now. Healing is not linear. None of us will ever wake up one day and be 1000% cured. The simple act of being alive means we will most likely experience pain multiple times throughout our lives.
But the exciting news is that with every breath I take, I have become more aware and more empowered to take my healing into my own hands instead of self-destructing, which is what I would have done in the past. As distraught as I have been, I have turned away from self-destruction and instead, I have made every effort to take better care of myself than ever before. This is what healing looks like. Healing doesn’t mean that we never hurt again! Healing means that, when the pain creeps back in, we feel more equipped to cope and to persevere. I am healing because although I will never be okay with what has happened to me, I am choosing to love myself through it in every way that I can.
I truly don’t know what the days will bring given my current circumstances, but I do know that with every decision to love myself instead of hate myself, I heal a tiny bit more. I have the tools, the love, and the support I need right now. And when all else fails and I simply cannot turn down the intensity of the pain, the anger, or the worry, I turn back to one of my favorite fictional characters who, I believe, said it best:
“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” – Rubeus Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Back to Basics
Are we all drained right now or what? We’ve got election stress, COVID-19 anxiety, and good old seasonal depression waiting for us right around the corner. Not to mention we are all fighting battles that others know nothing about.
As we head into the colder months, when the flu meets COVID and political tension rises as power shifts from one President to another, let this be your gentle reminder to take the time to get back to the basics of your life so that you are well-equipped to handle what may be coming down the road.
-HYDRATE. Drink drink drink – not beer, not wine, not tequila (okay, maybe tequila). Drink water. As much as your body is telling you that you need. Take notice of how often you’re going to the bathroom and if you need to be consuming more water.
-SLEEP. I know, I know, it is so difficult to be in a regular sleeping routine when life feels like such a jumbled mess these days. But the world is going to keep turning, regardless of whether or not you get sleep, and nothing earth-shattering is going to happen if you log off of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for a while to give your body some R&R. Or maybe something earth-shattering WILL happen – and you’ll find out about it after you have slept. Try not to feed the urge to know everything that is happening in the world the second that it happens.
MOVE. Gyms have stricter regulations. It’s dark by 5pm. The weather is getting cold. We want blankets, and hot chocolate, and Christmas movies, not long walks or cardio or yoga. But as great as all the holiday vibes can be, sitting on the couch or in bed for hours on end can lead to a black hole of depression that can be so hard to get out of. So break up your day a little – go for a walk, stretch, take a 15 minute mild yoga class, or blast heavy metal music and go crush some weights. Either way, the movement will mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety and will help your body to feel its best.
EAT. November is upon us so everywhere you look you’re going to see diets and holiday fitness programs all designed to help you avoid weight gain during the holidays. This season of life is stressful enough for all of us, don’t throw a diet into the mix and start detoxing or counting calories. If anything, be intentional about eating. Don’t skip meals. It doesn’t matter if all you did was sit on the couch all day – you still deserve and need to eat.
CONNECT. Make plans with friends and family in whatever way feels safe for you these days. Don’t use COVID as an excuse to feed into your depression and stop connecting with your loved ones.
LOOK AROUND. Shut off the TV. Put down your phone. Look away from your laptops and desktops and smart bikes and smart watches, etc. Look around at your environment. Love up on your partner. Snuggle with your pets. Stand outside for a few extra moments after getting out of your car just to feel the crisp air on your face. Be wherever you’re at. Tune in to your surroundings and let the stress of the world melt away, if only for a moment.
In these difficult times, I struggle to maintain all the of above, especially the last one! But when we feel overwhelmed with life, it’s crucial for us all to get back to the basics of living so that we can build strength for the future. So take the time to rest up everyone, for when we wake, we will get back to trying to change the world!
Stop Calling Me A Nice Girl
I’M NOT A NICE GIRL. People laugh when I say that because it sounds ludicrous that I would need to convince someone that I’m not a nice girl.
But let me tell you why referring to a woman as a “nice girl” isn’t always a compliment:
There was a debacle with one of my neighbors not too long ago. I was out with one of my dogs and my once-friendly neighbor felt that I was too close to his property line and began 1. taking pictures and videos of me, and 2. yelling at me for coming too close to his home.
I was not only stupefied that a man whom I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with in the past was yelling at me, but I felt threatened that photos were being taken of me without my knowledge or consent. With my history of assault, the last thing anyone wants to do is approach me angrily and start snapping photos of me. Cue PTSD symptoms!
But I’m not the silent woman I used to be. If you’re coming into my space in a way that is uninvited, I will let you know. If you are not listening to me when I tell you to back off, I will become louder than you to make it known you are not welcome in my space. So when my neighbor started with his shenanigans, I held my ground. And by “held my ground”, I mean I let him have it –
-Not in a “sir, you’re making me uncomfortable” type of way. More like a “Unless you want a stalking charge, get those photos of me off your phone and get the hell away from me because I know you aren’t screaming at me that way.”
But what does that mean about me? That I’m a bitch? Apparently so, because as my husband came out to assist me, this man turned to my husband and said (pointing at me) “I don’t know what happened to her. I thought she was such a nice girl.”
And I LOST IT. Not explicitly, but implicitly. I knew I had been triggered and it was time for me to exit the scene and let my husband take over. But believe me you, I did not walk away without stating firmly “I am not a nice girl.”
If setting boundaries makes me mean, so be it.
If letting you know that I don’t want you taking photos of me makes me mean, so be it.
If digging my heels into the dirt because I refuse to shrink in the presence of your unwarranted rage makes me mean, so be it.
If correcting you on what my name really is instead of hearing you call me “Amanda” for the 9 millionth time makes me mean, so be it.
If I ever gave off the impression that I was “too nice” to do any of the above, then I will gladly be labeled as the “mean” one. But to be honest, none of what I did makes me a mean person. It makes me be seen.
“Nice girl” really isn’t a compliment in this context. It’s degrading and oppressive, as if I’m not allowed to have a voice and stand up for myself since I’m such a nice girl.
What in the hell does niceness have to do with setting boundaries?
I cannot wrap my brain around this for the life of me. All I know is that I’m not a nice girl. I’m a multi-faceted woman who is so much more than “nice.”
Since that incident with my neighbor happened, I have found myself going back to when I was around 14 and would babysit my two little cousins. Their mom, who was also my cousin, gave me the best advice that I never understood at the time but live by now. Before she would leave me with her little ones to head off to work, she would say to me “If anyone comes to the door or comes anywhere near you, act crazy.”
I would giggle, but I didn’t really get it. Sometimes, the only way women are feared, respected, or taken seriously is if they “act crazy” – and by crazy, I mean engaging in all of the actions I mentioned above that would seem perfectly acceptable if a male were doing it.
What my cousin meant was “Don’t take anyone’s shit. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t let anyone make you feel threatened.”
Besides, the only time I ever get mad or “act crazy” (by the way, I am not endorsing the use of the word ‘crazy’) is when I feel unheard, unseen, attacked, misrepresented, or taken advantage of. And in the words of my girl, T-Swift…
There’s nothing like a mad woman.
YOU made her like that.
Not A Nice Girl
I Met Myself on the Mat
If you have not picked up on this by now, the amount of down-time I let myself have is minimal. I consider myself to be a homebody and always say things like “I cant WAIT to relax tonight.” But let’s be real – I never relax. I don’t know how to relax. A few weekends ago I sat down to watch Hamilton (which by the way, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it right now because it’s amazing), and I had a really hard time focusing. I found myself on my laptop, working, while watching the movie, because it felt too unproductive for me to just sit there and enjoy the show.
Now, please don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s a good thing to be busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Chronic business is often an attempt to avoid difficult emotions. This is especially the case for me. I keep myself so busy that I constantly feel drained; but the second I have down time I start to panic because I don’t know how to sit with the feelings that come up when I am still.
For the reasons above, I really hated the practice of yoga when I first discovered it. I tried going to yoga classes on and off for years, but I couldn’t stand to sit with the feelings that would come up when I was on the mat. The last time I took a yoga class was when I first started uncovering repressed memories of trauma. I quit because I got sick of never being able to pace my breathing or move through the poses in a mindful way. And don’t even get me started about the savasana at the end of each practice. I’d rather endure torture than sit in savasana with nothing else to do but simply be.
It has not been until recently that I gave yoga a try again. Over the last 6 weeks or so I have been trying to regularly incorporate the practice back into my life because I am working on trying to “be with myself.” This might sound strange, but many of us trauma survivors spend a whole heck of a lot of time running from ourselves. The yoga mat itself is a scary place for me because I know I’m stepping into myself every time I step onto that mat. Yes, I sweat, I shake, I stretch, I breathe – but most importantly, I feel. There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide, there is just me, as I am.
What I have been surprised to find is that over the last six weeks, any time I try yoga, I have been having these moments where big feelings spill over me in the middle of a pose. To be clear, the feelings don’t hit me like a ton of bricks. They don’t knock me out and send spiraling into a crisis. Rather, they spill over me in a way that I’ve never been able to experience before. It’s grief and anger and immense gratitude. It’s disappointment and sorrow mixed with joy and hope for life’s next adventures. It’s fear and guilt and shame but also laughter and chaos because life is so beautiful even in its darkest moments. When I’m on that yoga mat, I sink back into myself, owning every part of my history.
While I’m not yet at peace with so much of my past, I have made major strides in being able to sit with my memories without the urge to run. So for those of you who have tried yoga and didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t sit with yourself, don’t write it off just yet. Yoga will be there for you one day, when you’re ready to feel your emotions instead of running from them. Lately, yoga has been a life saver in helping me to heal outside of my therapy sessions. For the first time ever, when I meet myself on the mat, I like myself, depression and all. That woman on the mat is brave and strong and loving and smart and has a purpose in this world. She will not, can not ever be tamed. Thank you, yoga, for allowing me to tolerate, and even like myself. And thank you to me, for being brave enough to step back onto the mat after years of running.
The Deep Diver In You
What a week! I’m telling ya, PTSD has a way of making you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster and sometimes, you just want to get the heck off! I’ve had some really sad moments this week, and some really happy ones, and then some moments where I have been so angry I can barely think straight.
I acknowledge that I have so many good things going on in my life right now. The support I have received from the podcast and the connections I have been making lately are more valuable to me than I can put into words. When I think about it all, I want to dance and sing and celebrate. And then other moments, like this past weekend, when I finally got to see my newly remodeled office, I started to cry….and then the awful thoughts crept in:
Do I deserve this?
What if I fail?
Will I be taken seriously?
It has been hard to shut these thoughts off lately. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at using “coping skills”. In fact, I hate the term “coping skills”. When my mind is racing a mile a minute and when I’m filled with anxiety and doubt, I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to do deep breathing. I don’t want send thoughts of gratitude out into the universe. Yes, all of these things are wonderful and helpful, but when myself or anyone else is feeling off-the-charts types of emotions, it can be very difficult to get grounded by using the skills listed above. Sometimes, I need something fast and powerful to snap me out of my panic, anger, and shame. I’ve been utilizing a specific DBT-based technique lately that has been helping me tremendously, and I wanted to share it with you.
Yep, I said it. Cold showers. Or if you cannot shower, place ice packs or bags full of cold water on your face, or you can fill up a sink with cold water and dunk your head in!
So let me just back track a little bit. I first learned about taking cold showers as a way to deal with stress, panic, rage, self harm, etc. in 2014. And I immediately rejected it because I am notorious for taking showers so hot that it’s a wonder my flesh has not melted off yet. But a few months back, I rediscovered the effectiveness of temperature change in the body when helping to ground yourself and regulate your nervous system.
I get what you’re probably thinking: “If I’m going to be told that freezing my ass off will help with distress tolerance, I want to know who, what, when, were, why, and how it works. “
So here’s what we know: Humans have something called the “mamalian diving response.” This is an automatic physiological response that occurs in our bodies when we come into contact with cold water. What we know about the mamalian diving response comes from an experiment in 1962 that was done on free divers, which showed that as people dive into colder waters, their heartrates slow down, no matter how vigorous their activity. Some divers were swimming as fast as they could and their heart rate still remained lower in the colder, deeper water. In addition to this, it has been learned that when in colder, deeper water, blood circulation tends to flow away from the limbs and moves instead toward vital organs in the body to protect them and keep them functioning at full capacity.
But here’s the thing, simply dipping your toes in cold water won’t be enough. You need to be all in, well, at least your face. You have trigeminal nerves in your face, which, when in contact with cold water, will send signals to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve allows for communication between the body and the brain and will cause your heart rate to slow down.
As someone who hates cold showers, I have to say, this technique works!
So when you feel like you can’t turn the intensity level down on your emotions or if you feel like your thoughts won’t stop racing, go try out a cold shower and discover the deep diver in you!
To read more about the mammalian diving response, please click below: