Unfrozen

Did you ever play freeze-tag on playgrounds as a kid? I remember this game vividly. I was terrible at it because I never had much stamina to chase after other kids. But I found great relief in it because I was often “tagged” and forced to freeze in place where I could catch my breath… until a free agent would touch-and-run yelling “unfrozen!” in triumphant defiance of the chaser who’d inflicted my frozen state.

Indulge my appreciation for a good metaphor for a few minutes. I feel as thought I’ve been playing a never-ending and exhausting game of freeze-tag with my rational mind, emotions, memories and present triggers as key players. I’m being chased by old coping patterns that sneak up on me and try to take away my mobility and progress by causing me to “freeze,” only to have my rational mind “unfreeze” me with a breath-taking kick to the gut that leaves me wrecked instead of able to run away. So I am frozen again. And stuck.

I haven’t been sleeping much/well lately (hence the mid-night writing) so my emotional tolerance is worn too thin. The callouses that take difficult customer calls in stride have been stripped away and my once-thick-skin feels paper thin and fragile. A few frustrated customers and I am frozen and overwhelmed with emotion. It welled up today after I took a difficult call – well actually a series of them. Instead of maintaining composure, expressing empathy and deflecting their frustration, I froze. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Each time the person I was speaking with jolted me back to the present with harsh inquiries, fearing the line had gone dead. I suddenly recognized the manifestation of an ageless trauma response.

In the face of anger, I freeze. The fight/flight was conditioned out of me by good old 90’s evangelicalism. Our actions were meant to serve as our only defense. Consistent gentle behavior would overcome in the end. I was to allow others to say whatever they like without speaking up in my defense, follow the example of Jesus who “like a sheep before his shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth” {at his trial before Pontious Pilate}. I wonder how many of us who grew out of this widespread, toxic theology have defaulted to freeze/fawn in places of discomfort?

I learned well how to be silent in the face of criticism during my teenage years in many inquisition-style confrontations as part of an evangelical cult. This was reinforced in my home where I was made to submit to “family-meetings” during which my mother paraded out my faults/shortcomings and told me I should be grateful we live in the 21st century because the bible gave her permission to have me stoned. She threatened to kick me out countless times for the heinous sin of questioning her authority and/or meager attempts to defend myself. I learned that silence and agreement was my only ticket to safety or any kind of security.

These are patterns I have brought with me into workplaces, friendships, and relationships in some form or other. Freezing and fawning have not served me well as forms of conflict resolution. And yet, I don’t know how to stop reacting this way. I don’t know how to keep my blood from running cold, my chest from tightening and tears from spilling out of my eyes. I know my emotional response is irrational and often disproportionate. But I don’t know how to stop it.

All I know to do is feel it. I spent literal decades building a dam to hold back my emotional response. I’ll be damned if the first brick is laid upon another in reconstructing it. I have earned the right to feel and feel deeply. I’ve earned the right to be sad that these small, every-day pin pricks are letting loose flashbacks and memories of trauma. I’ve earned the right to sleepless nights spent processing things I’ve rarely spoken about.

So maybe I do know what to do. Maybe I just lean in and feel it. Let myself be sad. Let the tears fall and stop trying to sleep them away. Take comfort in the animals pressed up against me and the partner who allows me the space I need.

And maybe someday down the road these little botherances won’t impact me so deeply. Hopefully soon I won’t freeze and fawn as an automatic response to anger. I can only hope. It is, after all, still my middle name.

Dear Lee: My Favorite First Kiss

We met online, as most people do these days. It was right after Valentines Day, and I was back on the wagon after dodging a bullet in the form of my mechanic I’d been a little too quick to hit on. I remember having come across your profile once before and “swiping left” because it said something about moving around a lot and doing a cross-country RV trip. I’d had enough of the long-distance thing. But for some reason the app I was using put you back in front of me… and this time I couldn’t pass you up. It wasn’t just how adorable you were. It was the apparent intelligence and interest you had in people. I “swiped right” and I’ve never been sorry.

I immediately got a message from you and we started texting into the night. The next morning I had a text from you before I even got out of bed. I’d been up for a while to feed the kitties but after we started talking there was no going back to bed for me. I got up and walked to my favorite cafe for a coffee and pastry. We texted the whole time; I was conspicuously aware of how I kept grinning at my phone while sitting at the espresso bar. Mondays have a bad reputation but this one was shaping up nicely.

I appreciated the raw and honest way you spoke of yourself, being careful not to overshare but not glossing over or minimizing your hardships. You showed interest in and appreciation for me right away. There was no guesswork and we started planning to meet up later that week. Tentatively we set a date for Thursday. We didn’t make it until then. Neither of us could wait that long and you agreed to meet me for tea on Wednesday after my work shift ended.

It was a rainy and cold night. You watched me from a seat at the window while I parked my car and waited in line behind an old couple who couldn’t figure out the meter machine. You hugged me wholeheartedly when I came through the door and I was warmed in a way that had nothing to do with the heat of the room. That first conversation was like watching color wash into the outlines of shapes you’d drawn for me of your life. We drifted back and forth from serious to light topics. Tea very soon was not substantial enough to sustain the conversations we wanted to keep having so we made our way to a restaurant around the corner. We shared a pizza and I told you stories and watched your face as you tried to read mine.

The restaurant was closing and you walked me back to my car, protesting that my sweater was too thin and adjusting it up to my shoulder when the wind blew it off. My skin zinged at the light touch. You got something out of your truck when we got back to the lot and I was disappointed that the night may end without a kiss. But you were just grabbing a jacket and paused to introduce me to the squeaky toys (Hugo and Tilly) who called the dashboard home. I got to see that Peter Pan streak and I was delighted. You insisted on walking me to my car even though it was only a few spaces over. We lingered there, chatting about cars until silence danced between us. I leaned on my the closed driver side door, in no hurry to leave. You shuffled your feet and giggled, admitting you were nervous, you hadn’t done this in a while.

“May I kiss you?” you asked.

“Yes, please.”

…and then you did. Pulling your hands from your pockets and placing them gently on my face. Your lips gently touched mine, pulling them in. When you pulled away your eyes fell on mine and your expression was so full of desire. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Your face flushed and you giggled again. We kept talking, this time much closer, our lower bodies brushing against each other. I reached for the ties of your sweatshirt and twirled them in my fingers, pulling your face close to mine with a boldness I didn’t know I had. All I knew is I wanted more kisses like that one. And you didn’t disappoint me.

Reluctantly we let each other go so you could safely drive home across the mountain. As I drove the mile back to my apartment I squealed and sent voice memos to my friends about the best first kiss I’d ever had.

Who knew then I’d be so lucky to keep kissing you? When you kiss me now I still see that same desire written all over you face and I feel it in the way you pull me close. It is a gesture and expression that is fully naked with vulnerability. Seeing it, feeling it, stirs me on every level. These days the overwhelming feeling it produces is one of deep gratitude for the life we have together. Thank you for this life, my darling Lee. I can’t wait to tell the world more of our stories.

Love,

your HoneyBekahAndLee

 

 

Levee Break

I have felt the waters rising, threatening to break the levee.

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a podcast about my journey out of faith. I only got through the first part of the story, summarizing over 25 years in about 90 minutes. It went live over the weekend and listening back to the story is an eerie experience. There are pungent pauses, ripe with dissociation. Nervous laughter and a lightness in my voice that is reflective of a lifetime spent laughing over things more deserving of tears. I don’t know how else to tell it.

Lately I have felt numb, distant. My parents visited last week. Overall it wasn’t a bad time. I cooked for us, I gave them massages, we watched movies and drove through the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall. They respected the boundaries I put into place on what was/was not up for discussion. But the passive aggressive comments left me feeling drained.

I find myself drifting away into thoughts and memories while I’m at work. At home, I’m tired of feeling numb. I’ve tried to find things to break the floodgates of feeling, but all I’ve managed to manufacture is a headache.

Until today. I joked with someone about their mother sending them home with cookies, spoiling them. They retorted that they got cookies AND banana bread. I know this person well. Their relationship with their parents isn’t perfect by any means. Regardless, I felt the familiar pang of jealousy for a mother I never had.

I was sitting in a parking lot, running errands. The tears welled up before I could stop them. I held it together long enough to do what I needed and now I’m home. The levee has broken. Once again I find myself grieving for what never was.

I think of how I have mothered myself. I grieve for the little girl in me who was loved conditionally. Is still loved conditionally. I think of the people who have stepped into my life during one period or another as ad-hoc parents. People who have no obligation to me, no blood relation, who have filled the role of supporter and counselor, mentor. People who have given me a safe place to land when I needed it most. My parents are not that place. They have never been that place.

The physical distance has done much for our relationship. Things stay cordial because we only speak on birthdays and holidays now. My “lifestyle” is an abomination to them. One that they wish to see me delivered from. One that brings them grief and limits our safe topics of conversation, keeping our phone chats brief and surface-level. For this reason, I thought maybe this visit would be different. I thought we’d be able to make some nice memories together on neutral ground.

It wasn’t all bad. But there were many moments I turned my focus to my breath to ward off the panic bubbling up. Familiar patterns of judgmental speech, racist, mysoginistic, trans-phobic comments littered our encounters. And I’ve learned at this point to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. Just move on, change subjects, hope it stops.

And in so doing, I put up the barriers around my heart to keep the emotions well contained. All I could manage were incredulous conversations over the absurdity of some of my mothers comments with my best friend and my niece. I knew I wasn’t okay. But the coping mechanisms were locked in and there was nothing I could do about it.

But today I feel raw, exposed. I feel like a small child again, fending for myself and not quite knowing how. So I’m caring for that little person today. Baking her favorite cake, snuggling up with candles and blankets and cocoa. Letting her cry, comforting her and reminding her she is loved and cared for and safe. SO safe now. No one is going to subject her to love with strings attached, love with qualifications.

My parents do love me. In their own way. My dad and I bought groceries together. It was fun. They gave me Christmas presents: cookware, fuzzy socks I sincerely love, an electric blanket I’m cuddled under right now. I have small tokens of their love all over my little home. But love without acceptance? It feels hollow in a way I don’t know how to express.

I have a handmade banner hanging in my living room, handcrafted from watercolored gingko leaves, reminding me that I am so loved. Underneath it are notes, photos, and mementos from my chosen family. People who love me without qualification. These things aren’t hidden away. They’re on display. Daily reminders. I am loved. I am worthy of love. I am not an abomination. I am not destined for damnation.

Dear God – A Lamentation

Oh, you thought this was over with the unanswered questions? Far from it. The day after I wrote out my questions I sat down to write a lament at the suggestion of a lecturer L’Abri hosted that week. The following letter is the result of that exercise.

Before you tell me that my anger towards and address to “God” proves his existence in my own mind, let me assure you that I no longer hold belief in the existence of the Christian god or any other. However, my anger still burns white hot in the direction of the cruel construct of god that is upheld in many Christian circles (I’m looking at you, Evangelical Fundamentalism). For many years that construct gaslit me into believing I was nothing; a worthless worm, unworthy of love and the recipient of it only by undeserved favor. The construct of the Christian god as father meted out cruel love through castigation. My mind and heart still bear those scars. I reserve the right to be angry at this construct. This lamentation was my first act of rebellion towards it. No words have ever come to me with such inspired clarity.

I wrote this on December 4, 2015. This date and this letter is known to me now as the last time I prayed to a god I no longer believe in. 


Dear God,

I’m mad at you. I imagine this comes as no surprise. I’ve been told all my life that you are all-knowing. You know my thoughts. You see everything. Not even a tiny bird falls to the ground out of your sight. Isn’t that true? I don’t find that comforting. If that is true and you see it all, I don’t understand why the world is not flooded with your tears. How can you watch all the suffering? How can you stand the way we harm and steal from one another? If you are all-powerful, orchestrating the details of our lives, then why do you allow senseless things?

A few months ago it brought me comfort to think you arranged things perfectly so I can be where I am. I thought I saw your hand everywhere, evidence of your love. But now, if I apply that logic to other areas of my life {I’m afraid to say this} I can’t believe your power is only limited to the good without acknowledging that you have some involvement in my suffering. How can you have power over one part but not the other? Is it a matter of consciously yielding to you or asking for your intervention? Because that’s hardly fair to a 6 year old little girl. Is it a matter of your approval or allowance? Because I’m not sure I can imagine a good god putting a stamp of approval on the rape of a child.

Is it about your glory? Perhaps the sustainment of my life is supposed to be some kind of trophy in a hall of heaven I don’t know about. Am I surviving and learning to live just so you can add another point to the scoreboard in your triumph over evil? Am I just a pawn? Or is it more personal than that?

I don’t understand you. If you are unlimited in your power, why. If you limit yourself, why. If this is all about redemption, okay. What is that and what does it look like? How do I recognize it when I see it?

Yes, God, I’m angry at you! I was told you would comfort me, shield me, protect me. None of those things have been a reality for me. I don’t feel comforted! Christian teaching tells me I should feel guilty for that because you’re apparently not enough. The problem is with me, not The Perfect One–right? Who am I to question you? My expectations are too high. But who set them? Your damn people. Your “word” which is apparently valued above your name. I don’t buy it anymore.

Who the hell are you? I don’t know who to trust or which image of you to give credit to. If it’s the image painted by most American church people and even the scriptures then I am frightened by how severely I want to distance myself from you.

I don’t know what else to say. Your turn.

Why I No Longer Believe

I wrote down and wrestled with these questions nearly 4 years ago. I was desperately trying to hold onto some kind of faith. I spent months after writing these questions searching scripture and supplemental texts for answers at Swiss L’Abri. I studied theodicy like a rabid animal. I sat down with biblical scholars and asked hard questions only to be told, “We don’t have a satisfying answer.” My heart broke when I realized I couldn’t believe any longer. I wanted to. I wanted to find a way to believe in a good god. When I finally stopped believing I felt I could take a full breath for the first time in forever. My brain could take a rest from the mental gymnastics I had to do to make sense of scripture. I began to grieve the loss of a faith I once held dear. And I couldn’t do that with an audience.

I didn’t share these things publicly at the time because they were too raw. I knew the pain in my unanswered questions would hurt people – other believers – who love me and whom I love. I wasn’t prepared to witness their grief while I was carrying my own. I wasn’t prepared to hear Christian cliche’s troped out as a solution to my sorrow. I wasn’t prepared to explain why every answer was unsatisfying. I wasn’t prepared to tell them I no longer wanted answers.

But now… These questions don’t feel so energized. They are valid and they remain unanswered. That silence is no longer painful, but peaceful. My story doesn’t need to make sense inside the Christian narrative. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to make my story fit that I began to heal, to integrate. I stopped wishing that god would somehow wipe my memory clean. Now I’m doing the hard work in therapy, showing up for myself and processing my story with the professional help I’ve always needed but felt guilty asking for because I thought Jesus should be enough. He wasn’t. Because he wasn’t real. He was a coping mechanism that I needed until I was ready to face my pain on my own. I am grateful I had that. But I don’t need Jesus anymore. I’m finally ready to say that, publicly.


I spent the first 10 weeks of my time at L’Abri in 2015 allowing my questions to surface. One of the last days of my first term I sat down and wrote them out. These are the questions that surfaced and the answers I found in myself before I even got up from the table. I know I am not alone in asking them.

Is God just? Is he good? Is he holy?

How valuable is his glory? Is he all powerful? Does he limit himself? Do we have free will or has he pre-determined everything and is he just pulling on our puppet strings?

Do I think I can do a better job at being god?

Who is in control? Am I fighting for it? Is he in control?

What does it mean when it says he is redeemer? Is that only regarding our redemption from permanent death? Or is there redemption in this life that he has a hand in?

{I answer some of these questions even as I ask them.}

Can I ask any question that is not self-centered? Am I even capable? If he is the center of my universe, if that is even possible to cognitively achieve, then am I allowed to ask questions?

Does making him the center rob me of my humanity?

Why was I raped in a church at 6 years old? Is this all part of a cosmic lesson I’m supposed to learn? How does that make any sense? I was so little.


December 3, 2015

There will never be a satisfying answer to that last question. There is nothing that could ever make it okay. There is no theology that makes sense of it. I don’t really want to know why. I don’t care why, no answer would be enough. I don’t want to know when it will feel okay. I don’t want revenge or even redemption. I don’t care if my abuser goes to heaven or suffers in hell. That doesn’t make things any better for me. What I really want is for it to have never happened at all. Total obliteration. I want the acts to be reversed. Or at the very least, I want the messages in my nerve endings to be completely re-written, for my body to be a safe place to dwell.

Death is a part of life I have come to accept with some amount of peace. Is evil and violation just something I have to accept in the same way? Death seems a kinder alternative than living with some of this at times.

But, DAMN IT! No, really, DAMN the violation! I am living the hell out, out of my life in spite of it. My life, joy, vitality, is smacking the hell out. Eradicating it. Little shards of light in every choice to hold on to a hand or accept a hug or calm my startled heart when I would rather run away.

I don’t know how to address God in this. Can I bring myself to level the accusations that have been bubbling up for weeks? They have fueled my questions. I feel them close, within reach.

I have permission to be angry.

If I don’t really want to know why, then I want to know who he is and what position he takes in light of this. Does he only have the power to heal what is already broken? Why then would he not have the power to prevent? Who are you?

 

For the Daughters

I’m not sure why I haven’t written about this before. Perhaps I was afraid it would somehow get back to my mother. But I doubt she will ever read this. I sent her a link to a blog article I wrote once. She opened it on her iPhone but couldn’t figure out how to scroll down so she never read the whole thing. It’s comical, but a little sad, too.

Mother’s Day has been a difficult holiday for over a decade. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents home at 19 that I began to wake up to the abusive nature of my relationship with my mother. It wasn’t until I had friends look at me and say, “You need to get out.” that I realized what I was enduring wasn’t normal.

I don’t remember the first time she said it. I know I was young, maybe 5 or 6 years old. My strong-willed personality was beginning to show. I was bossing my little sister often and speaking up for myself more than any “gentle, quiet spirited” Christian little girl should. The first time I remember her saying it was after I was released from children’s church. I navigated the mingling post-church adults until I spotted my mothers floral skirt. I skipped up to her-perhaps too eagerly-and wrapped my arms around her legs. She was clearly put-off by my interruption and apologetically indicated to the family she was talking to… “and this is Rebekah, all of my worst qualities glorified!” They laughed together, and I tried to hide behind her skirt.

It wasn’t intended to be a slight, I don’t think. It was meant to poke fun at the idea that god gives you children like yourself, to show you what you need to work on. But over the years it became the mantra she held over my life, introducing me in that way to friends and strangers alike. My father even adopted the phrase, often reminding me when I “misbehaved” that I was just like my mother and the devils greatest tool against us was each other. I was to always remember that I was the child and therefore my opinions and defenses were irrelevant. Total submission and obedience was required. These were the boundaries of our relationship. Anything less was rebellion, bordering on witchcraft. I was to remember that in biblical times, I would be stoned for defending myself to my parent. It was only the mercy of God that afforded me a safe place under their roof.

I moved out at 19 and took my 18 year old sister with me. I worked full-time to support us while she worked part-time and attended college. We stayed close by our parents and maintained a relationship as best we could. Things seemed to improve with a little proximity. But mothers day? It became a painful obligation.

I knew the consequences would be severe if I didn’t give some acknowledgement of the holiday. We’d already set the precedent of giving gifts and cards, sharing lunch, going to church together, and various and sundry small celebrations. If we’d suddenly ceased because we realized the relationship was abusive, it only would’ve become moreso with my long-suffering father caught in the crossfire.

I vividly remember standing in the greeting card aisle of a drugstore, reading card after card and putting each one back after skimming just a few lines of admiration and generalized happy reflection. My heart felt like it was breaking and bleeding all over the polished linoleum. None of the heartfelt sentiments applied to me or my mother. Gradually, I would wander toward the comical section of cards or the discount ones that didn’t say much. Since that day in CVS, selecting a Mothers Day card has always been an intensely painful experience.

This year there was no time or emotional energy for a card. Instead, I sent a text before work and made a phone call after work, both of which have gone unanswered. And while in some ways it’s a relief not to have to talk to her, it also twists the knife just a little bit. Especially when I scroll through social media today.

I’m known as the mom-friend, the “mother hen” among my friends. I’m the one who will ask you over and cook you dinner, or show up when you’re having a bad day with little sources of comfort. I will massage you, encourage you to take care of yourself, drink water, get lots of rest, help you see a Dr. if you need one. I didn’t get this way by accident. I was raised by my older sisters until I was 8 years old, but then I had to raise myself.

So today I am thankful for all the friends who remind me that I am not the worst parts of my mother. I am thankful that they hold for me a different mirror. And this is for the daughters. For those who feel motherless, who have had to raise themselves, teach themselves how to navigate the world, how to show empathy and compassion to others when the opposite was demonstrated for them. Here’s to you, warrior women. Your heart will mend. But today, it’s okay if it breaks a little. Hold yourself closely. You are worthy of mother-love.

My Own Independence Day

Three years ago this month I wrote my own Declaration of Independence. I threw a ring with a religious symbol off the side of a Swiss mountain in a snow-storm and let these words ring out.

“I, Rebekah Hope, hereby declare myself independent from any religious domination system. The death of Christ does not demand anything from me. I am free from cycles of religious obligation. I do not have to serve God because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I am free from the requirements of public confession and restitution. I am free from the scrutiny and criticism of those still under religious domination. I am free of other’s opinions regarding my eternal soul. I am free from the belief that the highest form of love is through correction and discipline. I am free of any sense of indebtedness-to God or man-for love. True love is a gift freely offered which by its nature cannot be repaid. I am free of striving to earn love, repay love, or keep love.

I, hereby, maintain the right to speak out against the domination of others in the name of God. I maintain the right to ask questions and to challenge the system and its powers, no matter how established they may be. I maintain the right to lament the damage done by the domination system and to stand with those who have been wounded by it. Together we will turn the other cheek, absorbing in defiance that which was intended to shame.

I, therefore, in an exercise of my hilariously free will, and in the presence of these witnesses, rid myself of this ring as a symbol of religious domination.

To Life!

CelebratingIndependence

As I shouted the last two words of my Declaration of Independence amidst the raucous cheers of my friends, I pitched the ring off the side of the mountain into the darkness. We all raised our glasses then took shelter from the snow in a hay barn. Together we drank and laughed, celebrating freedom. I received words of affirmation and sincere encouragement throughout the night, filling my heart to the brim. Once back at L’Abri each of them signed as witnesses to my Declaration. This document with signatures of those who are still close to me is one of my most prized possessions. I’m sharing this today just because I want to. I hope it finds some resonance with you.

Chosen Change

Image via Rebecca Waltner, LPC

I’ve been through a lot of change in the last year. I’ve never been one to resist change. I am always the first on board with new protocols at work. I get excited about moving. When I moved out of Texas in early December, it felt like Christmas to me! I was so excited for the next chapter!

I’ve been in Asheville almost 2 weeks now and have secured a great job and somewhere to live. Everything seems to be falling into place seamlessly. I often drive around my new city grinning, so happy that I get to live in such a beautiful place with so much to explore!

My unconscious mind is not as enthusiastic.

The nightmares have been raging this week. And in them I dream of my life in the cult. I feel my autonomy stripped away. I remember what it is like to have every move and decision under criticism by church elders. Choice was an illusion. The only choices sanctioned were those that benefitted the church. Who you dated, what your job was, where you lived. Those that moved away were not under church counsel. Or if they were, they eventually moved back. I heard a while ago the cult was creating a compound in a rural area. The faithful must stay close.

Perhaps this is why every time I move, whether to another city or state, I have nightmares of being back in the cult. In the dreams I remember how easy it was to let my will be subdued. My personality was confined to “gentle” and “quiet.” Anything outside those parameters was bordering on the spirit of Jezebel, which seemed as pernicious as Satan himself. In the nightmares I feel myself falling under the spell of submission… but then something in me fights back. I come to life, kicking and screaming. I fight my way out from under their influence and this is usually when I wake up. I once woke from such a dream punching my bed side table, acting out the fight in my conscious life.

The fight in my dreams is proof that I am healing now. I am choosing the changes in my life. They do not nullify the changes trauma made. But the fact that I’m living in a city I’ve dreamed of, with people I love nearby, doing a job that was made for me? That is healing empowerment. I’m building something beautiful. I’m defying the odds. I’m not fulfilling the prophesy of life-destruction outside of the cult. I am living the hell out of MY life. Eradicating the hell out with an abundance of love and support I never knew I could have.

My sister once said of the cult that we knew grace was available to us – but were supposed to live in such a way as to never need it. I am more richly saturated in grace now from people who don’t even know what “grace” is. To them, this is just the right way to treat people. This is just what you do for the ones you love. It is not “unmerited favor” divinely given. It is human decency in generous amounts.

As I talked to someone about my nightmares tonight, I cried. Once upon a time I didn’t have friends who were there for me during these moments. I cried remembering how exhausted and alone I was, fighting my way out of the cult mentality. I cried in relief that I may be exhausted now but I am not alone.

Tonight grace comes in the form of an open phone line. It is in the reassurance that I do not face the night alone. When I wake with my heart pounding, someone will be there. If I wake up swinging, there will be a hand to hold. I have people in my corner now. I am so grateful for that chosen change.

30 before 30 – An Update

If you’ve known me for very long, you know I have a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30 years old. I wrote this list when I was 23 and my younger sister dared me to dream outside of the very small, comfortable life I had. It was a life spent taking care of other people and my only aspirations at the time were to continue caring for other people by fulfilling the expectations of (hetero) marriage and bearing children in a semi-small town, raising them in the same church and traditions I was in at the time. I remember when I wrote the list how daring it felt, how scared I was to dream that my life could be different, that it should be different.

I was on the cusp of leaving a cult I’d basically grown up in. Writing down that I wanted to order an actual drink at an actual bar felt like a dangerous admission. The fact that I hadn’t yet done that at 23 years old felt shameful. It’s only now at 29 that I finally feel some sense of confidence when approaching a bar to order a drink.

I dreamed about going to Europe, putting it on the list and never imagining it would actually happen. I certainly didn’t foresee living there for nearly 10 months and the ways my life would change for the better afterward. I went sledding in the Swiss Alps and tumbled and laughed until I was breathless. Small dreams are important to have and can bring the sweetest joy when we see them fulfilled. I was terrified to see a counselor, so I put it on the list as a challenge to myself. But I’m now in my 3rd round of therapy in 6 years and its the first one I feel I’m making significant progress with.

I didn’t complete everything on the list. There are still 6 things I haven’t done. My friends are going to take me out for karaoke this week to try to knock off the first thing on the list (sing in public). But, truth be told, I’m not terribly worried over the fact I have a few things left to cross off. Because I did so many of the things I thought would never happen. And I’m damn proud of myself.

A week from today I turn 30 years old. I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to something so much. I had some very wise co-workers in my mid-twenties who reassured me that the twenties are hard years. They are full of struggle, change, trial and error, lots of fun, but a lack of stability. They told me how much I had to look forward to in my 30’s and beyond. They showed me through examples in their own lives how life only improves with age and maturity. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t limping through “my best years” with growing pains. My best years are yet to be determined.

One day at 27 I woke up sobbing and wishing my 20’s to be over. I was in massage school, living with friends, sleeping on a twin bed, adjusting to anxiety medication, working/going to school over 12 hours each day… and I just wanted it to be over. Some days, I still feel that way. I know that hard days will not evaporate next week. But I know better now how resilient I am to them. Hard days, difficult seasons do pass.

I have evidence of this in the form of 4 sisters who are 10+years older. I’ve had a distant view of their years of struggle, growth, and in the last few years? I see them settling into so much health and beauty. They are proof that trauma does not limit you. Difficult things can be faced and worked through. Strong families can be built, in spite of the history of dysfunction. Their lives are evidence that the patterns set for me can be broken. There is so much to hope for.

In less than a month I’m going to relocate my life –again. I’m moving to an area of the country I’ve always wanted to live in. I’m getting out of Texas, out of the Deep South and headed to a place with 4 real seasons and mountains and friends and adventures I can’t even fathom yet. And I’m so excited. Turning 30 is turning into everything I hoped it would be.

Dare to dream, my friends. Some of those dreams may actually come true.

“We”

“We are going to get through this,” you said. And the tears I’d been trying to hold back tipped over the edge of my eyelids. I covered my face and cried, letting all of the stress and sadness spill out in the best way I know how.

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The last couple of weeks on social media have been rough for survivors. Frankly, the last couple of years. It seems like every few days someone else is making headlines by sharing their story. Speaking up, speaking out against injustice, saying “me too” and so much more. They are holding the men who abused them accountable and setting a precedent that we will not stay silent. These crimes will not stay shrouded in shame that is not ours to bear.

It’s bolstering to see so many publicly stand with survivors. But this cycle of #metoo headlines is hitting me harder than others have. I’ve been reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van de Kolk. It is a summary of research studies and treatment methods for trauma impacted individuals. It’s fascinating and validating and painful to read, all at once. More than once I have closed the book feeling raw, exposed. Recognizing that I’ve come so far in my healing but still have so much work to do. Perhaps that awareness is contributing to my short fuse of tolerance to minor reminders of sexual abuse.

I deleted the Facebook app from my phone several days ago after a CSA advocacy group posted a quote from a perpetrator that hit me between the eyes and made me sick to my stomach. They were making a relevant point with the quote and I’m glad they are doing it. But I recognized I was feeling my capacity for triggers dwindle. I deleted the app, telling myself it would be temporary, until the senate confirmation process for Kavanaugh is completed, one way or another.

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As I scrolled Instagram this morning I saw so much support for survivors from names big and small. I scrolled past them quickly, avoiding the details. I don’t want to know or hear. I don’t want to take the hands I can’t hold in person, though I know they are offered sincerely. I am tired. So very tired of the daily reminders that I am a survivor; that the stories being told are mine, too; that the decisions being weighed in our judicial system will impact me, no matter what I do.

I am tired, perhaps this is why my internal alarm system is on high-alert, moreso than usual. I was writing a letter in the cooler weather on the patio this afternoon when a nearby neighbor roared up his muscle car with a muffler that made it sound like a gunshot. I jumped out of my skin, streaking the page with ink. My heart skipped a beat and surged with anger. Immediately the internal dialogue I have conditioned into my mind played on a loop:

“You are safe. It was just a noise. Don’t panic. You’re fine. Calm down. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

The engine eventually turned off, my heart rate settled quickly back into a more normal rhythm. But the anger? The anger remained.

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It’s easier for me to be angry with a neighbor who is unknown to me than it is for me to be angry with the man who is responsible for my internal alarm systems over-sensitivity. I recognize that anger is misplaced. Another close friend I reached out to this afternoon reminded me that I am allowed to feel angry. She suggested this is perhaps the next uncomfortable step towards healing. It needs to be felt.

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I know my state Senator. I have met him and interacted with him on a professional level many times. Perhaps I will email his office and make my voice heard. Maybe he will remember me. Maybe he won’t. But maybe he will put one more face to all the nameless women who plead with him to do the right thing, to cast the right vote.

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I wanted to bury myself under the blankets this afternoon and shut the world out. But the beauty of the first day that feels like fall beckoned me out to revel in it. I went to get groceries for soup and kitchen therapy. I drove with the windows down and the radio up. I chose a complex recipe I knew would keep me fully engaged. I grounded myself in an activity that required all my senses. And I survived the day. I might’ve even thrived a little bit.

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After my shower, I started a video chat and we both knew I had something on my mind. I was talking before I could talk myself out of it, but numb in the re-telling. I couldn’t look you in the eye. And as my speech faded, I worried I would stay numb. But then you responded, showing you heard me. You didn’t just listen. You engaged. You reminded me of the things that are hard to believe when my headspace is occupied by unpleasant memories.

You agreed that yes, perhaps I should delete Instagram also, for a season. Free up more headspace for other things to aid my healing. So I did. And suddenly I have more room to breathe.

Thank you. For letting me know I am not alone. For turning “me” into “we.” It’s the best two-letter word I’ve ever heard.