For those of you who regularly follow this blog, I have great appreciation and gratitude. I wanted to pop on here today, to let you know I am changing to a new platform. I have taken all of my blog posts and posted them onto my main website.
“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains e*ting dis*rders, disordered eating, body image, rape, trauma, ancestral trauma, and topics of race and pandemic. Reader discretion is advised.
It’s been a long few months. I don’t even really know where to start. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for well over a month, and frankly, this is probably going to be all over the place.
We all know about the terror of this year and how incredibly exhausting and painful it has been. The mental fatigue, frustration, illness, stress, sadness, loss. For that reason, I’m not going to be speaking much on the pandemic and its impact on my year. Because despite it being a pandemic, I really do feel like this year was one that was full of learning, growth and personal reflection. I guess I’ll just start. I’m already stalling. Here goes.
I had surgery in October. It was Bariatric surgery. Some know this, many do not. I struggled with discussing this here. Many have mixed feelings about it, some see it as “an easy way out” while others can empathize. Frankly, I don’t have time for judgement on it either, way and I especially won’t make room for it here. I was going to get the sleeve, until my doctor found precancerous Barrett’s Esophagus. He explained that I was at a 70-80% chance of it turning to full blown cancer, and if i continued with the sleeve it would only decrease to 40%. So he insisted on doing the full on RNY. This was news I was not ready for and I certainly was not expecting. It was a long, painful, and frankly infuriating road. It has left me with some major realizations and some painful traumas. So many folks say it was the best thing they’ve ever done. I am still on the fence about it. I worry constantly about what having this surgery tells my brain about my ability to love my body as it was. After the surgery, I was so emotional. I cried every day for at least a week. It was not because I was in pain. It was mourning, real unbridled grief. This grief has come from a place I did not realize existed. This surgery has asked me to reflect on my relationship with me body. But more than that- this YEAR has asked this of me in big big ways.
Those who know me, know how important bodily autonomy and control is for me. Given my past, I don’t think it comes as surprise. I was on a liquid diet for eight days before surgery. When I went in for surgery, all I remember was being in the hospital bed, my stomach completely empty, and rolling into the operating room. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in post-op. The surgery was smooth, other than a lot of bleeding. I had the kindest nurses. I was up and walking around the same day, not by choice and it was incredibly hard. This was the first time I had ever been fully aware of my internal organs. I could feel how they had been re-arranged. How there were things attached and in my body that did not belong there. I felt terrified. I knew part of me was missing, literally. I was in the hospital for two days, and on the last day, the PA removed the drain. This was perhaps the most startling portion of all of it. It felt like someone was inside my abdomen stirring a pot of soup. I had limited visitation due to COVID. I had to learn to position my body a certain way in order to get out of bed without overdoing it and ripping my incisions.
For over a month, my body was in starvation. I was smelling things that weren’t there, and having mental breakdowns. After surgery, I found myself in a very deep depression, with moments of total disassociation and complete numbness. I am still adjusting and learning the things this new body loves and hates. So far, I cannot eat sweet potatoes or broccoli, but I can handle yogurt like a champ.
I am telling you all of this because it feels like there has been a veil lifted, and it was one I was not ready to lift. But I am not sure I ever would have been. This year has been a year of truth telling and discovering and of reclamation and coming home to myself. If there is anything this surgery has taught me, it is about just how far away from myself I have forced myself to go.
I spent my whole early life so heavily focused on my appearance. I may have mentioned when I was young, my body and skin was always subject to the gaze of those around me. Approval was sought through my appearance. I worked hard to make sure I always looked a certain way– that which would allow me to be the most visually pleasing for those around me. This forced me to denounce parts of myself that truly felt like me (examples of how I did this: doing my hair a certain way, always wearing makeup, staying on top of my weight etc). But I also never really looked at what I was doing to hide from society’s gaze- to protect myself.
After I was raped, years and years of trauma had come to a head. Things I hadn’t dealt with. Realizations about the people in my life who were supposed to have my best interest at heart. I stopped wanting to be noticed and recognized for my appearance. I stopped putting the effort in to feel good about myself because I didn’t think I deserved to feel good about myself. So I did what was always most comforting to me. I ate. And for three years I kept eating. I kept adding “protection” to my appearance. We live in a society where being fat is criticized. Until you actually are fat, you cannot ever understand what it is like to be looked at “funny” when you are simply trying to nourish yourself. Or what it feels like to be walking around a store and get the stink eye from someone who fits the “ideal”. Thoughts like “oh, she’s so much prettier than me–I bet she’s wondering why my partner would ever choose to be with me–and frankly I don’t know the answer” would pop into my head. I did not realize until after I had the surgery, that I had pretty strong disordered eating habits. I did not realize that my consumption of food was directly tied to my emotions. I would gorge my vessel full of food, because I was not allowing myself to the space to feel real pain. I didn’t think I deserved to feel light, and flowy and full of energy. So i stripped myself of it by hiding behind a body full of things it didn’t need. In so many ways, I see now that I used my overconsumption of food as a means of punishing myself for the things that have happened to me. Trauma impacts us all in such different ways. And I don’t think it was until I really began reclaiming my heritage that I started to feel like I didn’t need food to be the thing that kept me safe. There was nothing to be safe from.
In previous posts, I have discussed my heritage briefly. I have discussed that I have always known I am mixed race, but white assumed. I am made up of years, and generations of love, trauma, resilience, culture, richness, pain, loss. These things get passed down. Trauma, if unhealed, gets passed down. Cycles remain unbroken. This manifests in fears, phobias, and yes. Body types. It makes a difference. But the reason I am telling you this, is that I had to deeply reflect on what it means to be a woman of mixed race, white assumed, and fat. And the answer is that I don’t have many answers. It means feeling the need to choose sides. It means living in a world that accepts you as white, and dismisses you when you reveal the “something else”. It means living in a world that only allows fatness to exist in certain spaces. It means that the only acceptable space for a fat woman is if “it’s genetic”. And yes, it is. But It’s not always. The body positivity movement was created by WOC, and has been dominated by whyte non-men and even so it is only accepting of a certain level of “fatness”. Gaze. I have lived my life through the lens of wanting to be accepted in by someone else’s gaze.
This surgery, this reclamation of my heritage, these things would not have happened if the events of this year would not have happened. The pandemic forced me into silence, and curiosity. The surgery forced me in to facing my music, while my heritage allowed me true escape for when it all became too much. My heritage is what has allowed me to learn to love this body again-and yet I feel the need to apologize to my ancestors for “resorting to surgery” because of the struggles they were forced to face. This relationship is complex and I have been trying to reframe this surgery as something that has allowed me to reclaim freedom in a body that wouldn’t exist without the love of my ancestors. I try to reframe to this surgery not just being for me, but for all of them. And yet, it was still a wealthy, whyte man who had his surgery stick inside my abdomen while I was asleep. There is still so much healing to do, and I doubt this will be my only post on the complexities of learning to love a body that has so deeply craved love for so long.
I know that my body deserves good, healthy life flowing through it just as much as the next person. I know that my body is worthy of not needing to justify its existence. I know that my body, simply because it exists, is enough for the stars to sing when they lay their light upon it. My skin is a history book that will never be taught in schools. My DNA is history repeated. There is dominance in the color of my skin, and stories in the features of my face. There is violence AND healing in the soft rolls around my back. There is boundlessness in the freedom my hair claims for itself when it won’t lie flat. There is joy in the wrinkles starting to form around my eyes. It is okay to use good quality skin products on the skin that serves me every day, tirelessly. I do not have to prove that I deserve that to anyone. There is restless in my toes, and when my thighs jiggle, they are having an engaging conversation– who am I to interrupt them? The scars from the surgery are simply reminders of what my body can do to heal. My hazel eyes are story tellers lying in wait. My hands, dry and cracked from the winter cold, are a direct expression of creativity. And it is okay for me to use them to love me up. I do not need to hide. I never needed to hide. I never needed to make myself more palatable. And in reclamation of myself, my heritage and my body, I am ending palatable practice.
This year was hard. It forced so many of us to come home. Whether to a physical location, or within the vessel you inhabit, you were likely not given a choice. And when we don’t have a choice, we become scared, angry, sad. We feel. We have no choice but to look in the mirror every damn day and try to make peace with what we have done to ourselves, or what the word has done to us. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s anything but beautiful, and yet there is nothing more beautiful. This year was a year full of grace. This year gifted me time. This year allowed me to birth myself once more. This year was a year full.
So as it has comes to a close, these are the things I am bringing with me into 2021: 1. Whenever you think you have fully put a button on the shit from the past, you can almost certainly guarantee that button with pop right off. This is not something to be fearful of. You have dealt with this before. You will be able to do it again, and having to do it a second time gives you an advantage. 2. I do not have to choose sides to feel I fit in. I have never fit in, and I am comfortable there. I am allowed to make space for myself in communities that are my birthright. I do not have to prove anything, to anyone, ever. 3. Colonization is the root of every single pain point in the history of this country. 4. Rest is critical if you plan on doing anything that means something to you. Sleep the extra hour. It’s not going to kill anyone. 5.No one has 100% access to you. Nor do they deserve it. 6. Anger is just a lesson in understanding when your boundaries have been crossed. Don’t ignore it. 7. Advocating for yourself might make you look angry. Do it anyway. 8. There is no judge who determines if your story is worth telling. So tell it. 9. Science is the answer. 10. Question everything authority tells you, think critically, and if you don’t know-ask. 11. Do not simply offer your time, education and knowledge to people without compensation, and a return. It is okay to be paid for utilizing the things you work hard to do and obtain. 12. Respect is an uphill walk. Disrespect is downhill sprint. 13. Hold yourself AND your community accountable. 14. You don’t NEED anyone. But community sure is nice. 15. You are not defined by anything. Not even by how you spend your time. You get to decide who you are. And you get to decide when and how that changes. 16. Transition not always lonely. But even if it is, it is only temporary. 17. Collective experience is both a unifier and a divider. 18. When someone shows you who they are– believe them. 19. Your feelings show up in your body first, so check in. The mind hears everything the body says. 20. The only way out is through. You may find that entering a cave is not always going to lead to a big scary monster, but to a small hurt animal. Be prepared to nurture, and keep going. Better to make this discovery than to be lost in the woods. 21. Support networks don’t have to be in person. And they are not always people. But human touch is something I will never take for granted again. 22. The work waits for you everyday. Pace yourself. Take breaks. Decide what “the work is for you”. And really do it. 23. Bodily autonomy and control is not the equivalent of safety. You can have all of those things and still be a danger to your own damn self. There is no formula for emotional and mental safety. 24. No one has the right to decide how you get to exist in this world. 25. The weight of the public gaze is not your responsibility. 26. Becoming a cycle breaker is not only about going to therapy. It is about reclamation, deconstructing and rebuilding. And it is going to hurt. 27. Minor inconveniences can save someone else’s life. Some people don’t care. You cannot control this. 28. Never hang up without saying you love them. 29. Sometimes there is not a solution. We have to live with that. SOmetimes the solution is going to be unpredictable, scary and hard. We have to live with that. 30. You are not the equivalent of what you produce or contribute. Your worth is so much more than that. 31. Loss is not always the predecessor to grief. Grief can show up in all that you do.
32. Nourish your body. But also your soul, and your mind.
“Whatever you are feeling right now, there is a mathematical certainty that someone is feeling that exact thing. This is not to say you aren’t special. This is to say thank god you aren’t special.”
TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, DEPRESSION, BINGE EATING, AND RAPE. Reader discretion is advised.
Left: Me at the height of my depression. Right: Me at the mentally healthiest I have ever been
I hate talking about this. Not because it is painful, but because it is exhausting. Which is really rather symbolic of what depression actually does to a person. But it is world suicide prevention day, and as a wounded healer, i find it to be really important to discuss this topic. People think that folks just wake up one day and decide to complete suicide. Sometimes, this can be true. But there are warning signs. Mainly, I feel that the only way to prevent suicide is to address the imbalance that ultimtely leads to it and that is depression. There is a huge misconception when it comes to depression. Many people think that when you have depression you just get really sad and wait for it to be over. I will talk about all of it here, and what my experience has been with it.
I have not always been mentally healthy and most days, I find myself wondering if I ever will be. Because even on my best days, I rarely actually feel like I am at my best. On my worst days, I am lucky if I can muster enough energy to get out of bed to drink some water. But depression really looks like so many other things too and it is painful and exhausting and it is repetitive and constantly wondering if there will ever be a day when life doesn’t hurt so badly. The best way that I can describe depression is not a cloud, it’s not constantly feeling despair. It’s the absence of feeling. It’s numbness. It’s not caring about anything, even when you want to or when you know you “should”. It’s forgetting to brush your teeth or your hair. It’s a total lack of energy and interest. It’s waiting for the days to pass in the hopes that “this shit just gets easier”. It’s mood swings and irritability that is expressed through interactions with those who love you most, but really you’re just mad at yourself “because why am I like this?”. It’s wondering what the point of everything is.
My “diagnosis” is clinical major depressive disorder. It is chronic. Which means all the time. My first encounter with depression was when I was a child. I don’t remember the exact age. My father had been diagnosed with cancer, for the second time and I don’t remember what led to it, but it was bad enough that my mother brought me to a therapist. I remember not knowing how to connect with this person and then becoming angry with myself for that. Throughout my life, I would try several therapists and eventually feel like “therapy just doesn’t work for me–I am too hopeless” (the irony of this is not lost on me). At this time, I developed severe anxiety. To the point where I would rip my clothes and my socks up. I would make tiny rolls of paper and rip that up and roll it back up. I became unable to sit still for any amount of time. Around fourth grade is when I was put on my first antidepressant. Zoloft. 11 years old. I don’t know what my primary care doc was thinking, but it had an adverse impact and so I stopped taking it. This led me to believe that “pills don’t work and I will never use medication for this again”. This is when I started with my next therapist. Once again–it didn’t work out and I stopped going.
This is when the bullying started. I went to Catholic school. The kids were mean. Really mean. I would get beat up, and shoved around and made fun of for being an artist. I wish I were kidding. I was an early bloomer. Full-chested at 11 years old, and my first period at the age of ten. My emotional and chemical balances were super out of whack. I took to my art as the thing to help me through it. I would watch other kids laugh and enjoy the company of one another and find myself feeling bitter at the ripe old age of 13. I tried to join in on things with them but never really felt like I quite belonged there. I turned to writing. I turned to art.
What i didn’t realize was how normal I was. That all of my insecurities were the insecurities of all the girls around me. That my body was telling me it was ready to live a life of fruitful growth, and that I did not need to hide. I wouldn’t realize this until i was 28. And It would get much worse before it got better.
Depression is different than being depressed. To be depressed is having symptoms of depression short term. Depression is deeper. Sharper. Thicker. Muddy. The time leading up to a deeper bout of depression is uncertain and scary. My awareness of it now, allows me to depict it as a circus bear in a tutu with a bowl of oranges on its head. The bear is riding a unicycle. But he is circling a ditch. And he is so busy worrying about the bowl of oranges on his head that he doesn’t realize the ditch is much deeper and much closer than he realizes until he falls in. There is a sinking feeling that happens when you notice you’ve lost your footing and suddenly you’re falling into that ditch whether you were ready or not. You don’t know how long you will fall, how deep or how the hell you’ll ever get out.
Cut forward a few years. I’m in college. I’ve just survived an abusive relationship. My uncle just died in a tragic car crash and my dog just died from cancer. At this point, the depression was so deep that even when i expected to feel sad, I couldn’t. I went numb. It hurt so much that I shut it off. Depression is dissociation as well. It’s living life like you’re watching a movie. You can see everything happening from outside of your body. It’s being so exhausted from the pain that you have to turn it off. Sometimes that means numbing your feelings. Some use substance, or sex. Some use art. Others just wait. I used art. I always had art. Art has always been my therapy, and my best friend. It’s always honest. It’s always a holding space and I never have to hear the bullshit.
It was at this point that I tried my fifth therapist. She was the first therapist I had met that I had seen that allowed me to feel felt. I can’t remember her name. But I can remember the impact she had on me. I was still vehemently against using medications but working out and exercise was not working for me anymore. Art was barely doing it. There’s that ditch again. I felt alone. I could sit in a room full of people and only be able to connect by using self-deprecating humor. I would hide behind my appearance, dying my hair, changing my makeup, complete style makeovers. I would do ANYTHING to hide the fact that I felt like I was a human shell. I stopped being able to laugh. But I kept going. I had to find things to hold on to. There were countless days that I spent in my bed. Thank god for my friends. My people, my community. My sister. These were some of the people that kept bringing me back when I would get too lost in my head. I came out of it and I committed to trying to make my life better. I got scared to keep going with therapy so I stopped. I kept using art. I kept asking questions. I had life talks with my professor. I graduated college.
In all of this time, I don’t suppose I ever really knew how to describe what I was feeling. I eventually stopped trying. I spent so much time thinking happiness would be a destination that I grew impatient with the present. This has taught me to be a firm believer that staying present allows you to drop some of the pressure of the future and the weight of the past.
Cut forward to the summer after college graduation. It was my third year working with New York State Summer School of the Arts as a Head Counselor. This work was hard work but it was gratifying work. I loved working with those kids and to this day am ever grateful. This was the summer however, that was a turning point for me. This was the summer where one of my students told me I was a safe space for him. It was right in this moment that I thought, I need to become an art therapist. I had spent my whole life thinking about how to make my own life better, and all of it came to a head when i realized my life would become better by helping others make their own lives better. Most therapists you know have experienced some serious shit in their lives. Just an FYI.
I got a new therapist. This is the one i see now and i have to say, this woman is a saint. I will never not say that. She introduced me to a concept I had never really understood. The power of asking questions.
I went to grad school. Second semester in, the same student who told me that I was a safe space for him died by completing suicide. It broke me. I felt grief unlike any other grief I had ever felt. “But he was so happy! So sweet! So Sunshiney!”. And that’s the thing. Depression does not just show up as a pain and suffering. In fact, most of the time those with depression go through every day overcompensating for how fucking miserable they are. They go out of their way to make a positive impact on people’s lives because they know how hard life is. They go out of their way to make others laugh because laughter is too hard to come by in their own lives. They go out of their way. Often times what happens with people who are contemplating suicide is this: They may start giving their possessions away. They may seem “off”. They may be really sad. They may be. Or they may be extremely happy one day. In fact, so much of the time, you will hear their loved ones say “ But I saw so and so yesterday and they were SO HAPPY!”. BY this time, the person has likely already planned their death out. They see an end in sight. They have accepted it and are looking forward to relief from their pain. I know this can be hard to hear, but this is the reality of it is and I need you to understand how HARD life has to be at this point for it to get to be this way. Because unless we know what the signs are, we cannot step in and help. Because people who are depressed aren’t going to reach out. A lot of the time they function just fine in the day to day and then go home and sleep the rest of the day off. Maybe they stop doing dishes for weeks at a time. Maybe they forget to eat or they eat too much.
My first thoughts of suicide were when I was in grad school. I had been living on my own. I had been raped about three weeks prior. I remember the exact night. I don’t remember the date. But I was absolutely hopeless. It was the first time that i couldn’t see the future. And if i could, i had decided it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have a plan, but I also couldn’t feel anything. When I reflect on all of this, I realize that all the trauma I have experienced and inherited finally came crashing out of the floodgates. I told myself I wouldn’t deal with my student’s death until after grad school. I told myself I couldn’t let myself deal with the rape until after grad school. So instead I ate. I ate and ate and ate. Eventually i gained more weight than i had ever gained in my entire life. In addition to everything i’ve already mentioned, my depression has always looked like food binging and over consumption. I know I am depressed by my increase in food intake. I isolate. I stop wanting to see people. I give up on myself.
I can tell you what saved me: Curiosity and my community. This is why curiosity is so important to me. Because I was always way too curious about what would happen next to complete the act. It was 4:00 am. I was thinking about all the things that hadn’t managed to kill me, and how i wished they would have. I couldn’t sleep. I called three different hotlines that night. Finally, i called my parents. I couldn’t stop crying. My parents showed up at my apartment, and I cried. We came up with a plan. I would make an appointment to start taking meds. I felt desperate. I felt angry that it had to get to this point of desperation. But i did it. I got on 75 mg of Venlafaxine and I waited. I went to therapy as often as I could get in. I forced myself to make art. This is when I started relying heavily on boundaries and only doing what felt right in any given moment.
*I want to be very clear here. I used to think that medications were bad. I still think there is a huge factor of responsibility that comes with them. I do believe medications can help bring you to a baseline where you are actually able to focus on healing your pain. This is exactly what it has done for me. I know how stigmatized medications can be in the world of psychology. But they do play a role, just as any other medicine does, and if you feel you need to try medications to give you relief until you are able to tackle the underlying issues, then please, do not let anyone convince you otherwise. But do understand that the medications are a temporary fix for a long ass problem, and when paired with therapy, and changes in diet and exercise and sleep and social habits, there is a massive amount of success. This is coming from someone who was dead set against medications. But I really don’t think I would be here if I was not taking my medicine, going to therapy, and meticulously tracking the things that work for me and exploring my identity all in tandem. Sometimes we reach a point in life where we feel weak when we ask for help, or when we have to do the thing we said we would never do. This does not make you weak. This just means you are changing. Every version of you is good enough. You are not less than for needing help.*
The body holds on to trauma with everything it has. Even when you think you’re “over it”, you’re not. You feel it in your shoulders. You’ll notice you clench your jaw, or maybe you’re suddenly terrified of impact noises. Maybe the idea of someone being confrontational makes you have a panic attack. Whatever it is, it is real and it hurts. Until it doesn’t anymore. When I take time to think about how far I have come, I can’t help but be moved to tears. I still have my days. I call them “mushy days”. Days where there is leftover pain. Because like i said, depression is not a singular event. It is chronic and it creates brain fog. Maybe you’re more forgetful when you’re in a dip, or like you can’t pay attention to anything.
The trauma that I have inherited goes so deep it is in my blood. When i think about it that way, It is no wonder that every bone in my body hurts on some days. And when that happens, I accept that that day is going to be a slow one. It does not make me less than anything. It does not mean I am weak. It means I need to listen. Because my brain and my heart and my body are asking for something to allow for healing. So I listen. Whether it’s tea, or soft clothing, or a cold shower and forcing myself to stand outside in the rain. All of these things heal. All of these things create moments of tenderness that were never given to you in the first place. These are the things that allow softness. You do not have to be coated in a hard exterior all the time. Depression is what happens when trauma, and pain go unhealed. There is a reason it is hereditary.
You need to know that you do not need to be strong every day of your life. You do not need the pressure that is placed upon you to stand in the font lines for everyone around you all the time. You are allowed to rest. You are allowed to check in with yourself and explore your needs. You are allowed to do that.
I will never lie and say that it “just goes away”. It doesn’t. But there are ways to manage it. Sometimes it is clear and easy to figure out and other days it feels like you’re running uphill on a -40 degree day with a tornado coming right at you. Some days we are the circus bear and we fall in. Other days the bear’s circus friends help him out and others you create a ladder out of that unicycle and get your own damn self out. All are viable and all are okay.
There are a lot of things that depression has taught me. There are a lot of things I do to manage my depression. So I will talk about that here.
Things that work for me: 1) Telling people as soon as I wake up and notice I am feeling low. 2) Breathing. Focusing on my breathing and various other grounding tools. 3) Singing. I sound like a dying whale but it heals. 4) Smoke and Water cleansing. Drinking water. Bathing in water. Water. Sitting by it. Looking at it. 5) Tea. 6) Dogs. 7) Family. My partner. 8) Sitting outside with my eyes closed. 9) massaging my face 10) crying 11) writing, art, movement, stretching 12) cooking a delicious meal 13) researching my ancestors–understanding my community, and where I come from. It has helped me feel connected to the world in ways I cannot explain. 14) Laughter. I literally LOVE looking at baking fails. Cry laughter is so real with that. 15) Distraction. No joke, I play Zoo Tycoon and Nancy Drew games like a mother. 16) Listening to slam poets ( Neil Hilborn is AMAZING for this) 18) Soft textures–clothes, blankets, pillows. 19) Podcasts ( Hey,Girl-Alex Elle specifically) 20) Curiosity and Chocolate
Things that depression has taught me. 1) Patience & Acceptance. With myself. With the world. With the seasons. With Loss. Depression comes when it wants to, but if you pay attention it does have a pattern. It has taught me the importance of cycles and how to accept when those cycles begin so that I can plan and prepare ahead of time.
2) Gentleness is the best medicine. I used to be so hard on myself for my depression. But the best treatment works slowly and over time, with soft and subtle changes. Abruptness is almost never the way.
3) Healing is a community job. It takes a small village to build something strong, and that includes the people within it. Find your people, and be people for someone else.
4) Healing is coming home to yourself every damn day with the deliberate intention of loving who you are no matter how you wake up. It’s making peace with your body, with your mind and with your spirit.
5) Things that are out of our control are not things that deserve the time. You can only control your next step. If you have a big plan, your very next step is the most important one. Focus on that. You can’t get five steps ahead without that one. So slow the hell down.
6) Not every day will be your day. There will be days where getting out of bed is the biggest thing you do and that is okay. Your worth is NEVER tired to what you produce or do in a day. You being here is plenty. Any person that tells you otherwise is not your people. 7) It is hard work. Somedays you’ll be all about it and others will have you saying fuck it. And Both are fine.
8) Take. Care. of. Your Vessel. Clean food. Clean sheets. Clean hair. It makes a world of difference. 9) Break it down. If it seems too big, simplify. What can you do right now? My dearest friend Lena always used to ask me “What can you do right now?”. And I swear it has helped me understand how to prioritize in ways that have literally saved the day at times. You don’t have to tackle everything today. Try one thing.
10). Be. Fucking. Curious. Curiosity is planting seeds for tomorrow, and in order to see the plant grow, you need to keep going. You need to wake up. Those seeds need you. Ask yourself questions. What do you want for dinner tomorrow? What is the weather tomorrow? Who invented the pillow? What is the distance from China to England? Get into the habit of asking questions. Then ask yourself more questions. Ask yourself about the quality of your questions and how you can improve them. My reason for this is that this instills a sense of awe and wonder. The most important question you will ask yourself every day is “What do I need today to safely make it through?”. The reason questions and curiosity are so important is that it leads to creative solutions to difficult and temporary problems. It can serve as a grounding distraction. But mostly it allows you to plan for the future and the present in a way that keeps you involved and engaged actively in your own life. It allows for reconnection. This is what has saved my life.
There is so much more I could say on all of this but this may be my longest post ever. I hope that on this day, you are safe, and comfortable and healthy. And if you’re not any of those things, I hope you are able to be gentle with you.
Ever curious, with warmth and love–
** If you or someone you know is having suicidal ideation, thoughts or considering please call:
National suicide prevention line:1-800-273-8255 Crisis Text Line — Text Hello to 741741 YouthLine — Text teen2teen to 839863, or call 1-877-968-8491
TRIGGER WARNING: Body image, rape, abuse, ancestral trauma. Reader discretion is advised.
“My body is my vessel. An archive of experiences. A weapon that has fought battles that only I understand.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about skin. The journey that mine has been on and the relationship I have with it. How I have treated it. What my skin means to me. I don’t think I have ever paid that much thought to my skin–it was always something that was there, functioning as it was meant to.
I have never had a skin care routine. I would try different things because it was the thing to do, and then I would get bored and stop caring. I would hide my skin behind layers of makeup. I rarely used moisturizer. I never saw skin care as something I was worthy of. When other women would invest in their skin care, I would just get out an old cloth and use whatever soap was there. It never occurred to me that I deserved to have anything more.
When I was younger, I would receive comments about how my skin “looks like porcelain”. That it would look like it is “glowing” and all sorts of other white centered praise. I was given compliments only on qualitues passed down to me by colonizers. Any compliments given to me about features passed to me by my Taíno, African or Middle Eastern ancestors came in the form of microaggressions. Microaggressions were not things i learned about. When I was a kid, my skin was a golden brown. It was so beautiful and as I grew older, I became lighter and lighter and somewhere along the line this changed. My skin would react to the sun and I would burn instantly. It would be a burn so bad that it would leave scar tissue. It was a violent reaction to the gifts the sun was trying to offer me.
The first time I ever really noticed my skin was when my grandfather told me the moles by lips were sexy. I must have been about 10 or 11. I remember not knowing how to respond. I remember becoming self-conscious about my moles. Instances that followed this were my grandfather pointing out blemishes. My skin was always a topic of discussion with him. My sister, who is gorgeous with darker skin and perfect hair, would always get a reaction from him like so: “Here comes Miss America!”. I never felt that my skin made me beautiful.
Cut forward and I begin to take notice of how light my skin is compared to my family members and I become more self-conscious. This outer shell becomes an additional source of discomfort, and now I feel like I do not belong or that I do not have a place. I am reminded frequently of how much of a shock my skin color was when I was born. This places me further out, and I continue still to find shame in my skin cells. I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly Irish Italians. I grew up when the ideal beauty was thin, with straight silky hair. I did not see girls like me represented in the media with curly hair, my cheekbones, my nose, my eye color, my large hips, my 5 foot frame, my muscular legs.
I recognize now that my early experiences with other people’s commentary on MY vessel really impacted me. When people would comment on my skin, I would actually take offense. Whether it was a pleasant comment or not, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want this type of attention. I wanted to hide. But skin is not something you can control, and so I was stuck being confronted by some stranger about my skin–someone who felt they had a right to take some form of opinion and voice it about the layer of flesh that holds my vessel together. There was no escape. So I would rebel. I would opt out of taking care of it beyond soap and water. I would let it dry itself out. I would refuse to take the day’s makeup off. I always felt like my body was subject to the opinions of those around me. My grandparents commenting on my weight or how they hate my curly hair. Someone always had something to say, like they were entitled to it. I find myself now, wondering how often my ancestors experienced the harsh grip of entitled abusers.
I recall the first time I was allowed to become strong and feel respected based on the fact that I am a human. I was 23. I had just gotten a personal trainer. James. He was a fifty something year old, Black man. Aside from my own father and maybe one professor from college, he was the first man who never expected anything out of me. He knew I could do more, and he helped me realize it. But he did not push me, he asked me to be honest with what I could do. He never commented on how I looked. He only ever asked me how I was feeling. He told me right away, that our journey together would not be one about appearance. It would be about becoming mentally strong and focusing on how I was feeling. I trusted him. He knew it and he never took that for granted.
Looking back on all of this, my relationship with James was so healing. I wasn’t trying to change my body in our work together. I was changing how I felt about my body. I was becoming stronger. I was able to respect the time and the patience that come with devotion to this vessel.
I say all of this because I made a connection not that long ago. I was talking to a friend and I realized that after I was raped I wanted to hide from unsafe people. So I stopped caring for my body, my skin. I gained weight. I hid in very large clothing. My skin wasn’t enough to protect me. I had to hide that too, so I wore makeup. I grew furious with my body for betraying me and abandoning me when I needed it most. I disconnected.
When I left my abusive relationship, I read somewhere that skin cells replace themselves fully all around the body every seven years. I found comfort in waiting for skin that would never have been touched by my abuser. Then I was raped. I felt a disconnect from my skin in a very visceral way. I wanted so badly to remove my skin and let it become something I could hang dry like laundry and wear again when I was ready. My skin became this entirely separate entity for me. I could not associate with it because it became too painful. It held too many devastating stories. It held no scars for me to be proud of. It felt dirty. It felt shameful. My showers would entail 25-30 minutes of intensive scrubbing. So much so that I would rub my skin raw to try to erase the stories it had to tell. And I just could not escape.
In all of this, this hatred for my skin and resentment towards my body, I had never stopped to listen to it. To really hear how it works. What it was trying to say, and how my ancestors have communicated to me through it. In fact, I think there was a time where I actively tried to avoid hearing its message. I blamed my skin for so long. I blamed it for making feel like i was lacking– like i was not enough– “not Puerto Rican enough” or “not Italian enough” or not this or that enough. I blamed my body and my round frame for not allowing me to fit in and wear clothing that was never designed with me in mind. I blamed my skin for making me feel like I didn’t belong among family, or the people I share lineage with. I blamed my skin for something it was not responsible for. I blamed my skin for allowing pain in. But skin is a gentle barrier and it is porous and toxins will be allowed in from time to time.
The first time I listened to my skin, I can remember the love I felt. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. That it replaces itself to ensure I am always refreshed. That regardless of how I feel about it, it will never stop loving me. The love my skin and my body have for me is unconditional. I can’t help but feel like I wasted so much time wishing it was different, all the while it always just wanted to make me feel like I am enough. This unconditional love is where my ancestors speak to me.
When I really listen to it, I hear it ask for my patience. I hear it tell me how rewarding patience is. I hear it tell me that my hips are big because my body was designed for resilience. This resilience is not loud. It makes itself apparent in my womb as it has within all the women who have come before me. My skin holds stories of violence, and death and rape and sorrow. My skin holds stories of pain. It holds stories of hurt and helplessness. But it holds stories of love too. It holds gentleness, tenderness. It holds stories of hope. I am here now because my ancestors prayed for me. My ancestors prayed that I would be the one to heal this pain. They show up for me everyday in the way my skin does.
My skin heals slowly, showing the fruits of patience each time. When I nurture my skin, and my body I am nourishing and healing for my ancestors who were never allowed to nurture their skin; they were criticized for their skin; they were not fortunate enough to have restorative time. They were made to feel non-human. The sun left visible kisses on their skin and they were punished for it. When I rest, I am resting for my ancestors who were never allowed to rest. My body has blood from the oppressor and the oppressed. Its very existence means it is at war with itself. I have to work extra hard to find peace in that every day. Every individual cell in my body works hard every day so that I can continue to work at healing the pain of the wounds I have inherited and encountered along the way. My skin did not originate with me. It was passed down to me by the people who prayed for me to exist. This makes it so much easier to love.
When I wear soft, clean clothes I am providing tenderness that they needed and never received. When I cleanse my body with water, I am washing away pain. When I nourish myself, I am giving nourishment to the vessel that carries me. I can cherish the shape of my eyes knowing that my soul speaks through them. When I rest, I tell the women who came before me that the struggles they encountered were not in vain.
My skin means more to me now, than ever before. I have been unkind to it. This was a learned behavior. I work everyday to unlearn it to honor the people who have come before me. This skin and this body do not exist for the commentary of others. It is strong. It is healing. My skin has taught me so much–
It is not similar to the vessels of the many folks I encounter each day. It does not have to be.
It does not have to be perfect for me to love it. Each time the sun kisses it, wounds heal.
My skin greets each day with softness. It allows everything it meets in, and pushes what does not serve it right back out. It teaches me to learn everything and use what serves my healing best.
The skin on the bottoms of me feet is rough and calloused. It is deliberate and prepared for the steps which propel it forward. It teaches me to be fearless on the gravel path of lessons ahead. It is ready.
The skin on my legs is thin, and weathered and yet it is unwavering. It holds scars that tell stories. It teaches me to carry the stories of my past, and to move forward with intention.
The skin of my stomach is always warm and soft. It stretches as it needs to, teaching me flexibility. There is nothing rigid about this skin.
The skin on my chest hold lines and marks from where it has been confined. It remind me each day of how liberating it is to be let free of constraints. It graces cloth and the reward of freedom is sweet.
The skin on my shoulders is scarred from a sunburn. This scar will likely last a year before my skin fully heals. This teaches me patience and an admiration for what i cannot control.
The skin of my neck is covered in tags. I used to hate them but they are companions for one another. Teaching me that nothing in this life that makes itself known does it alone.
The skin of my hands is my favorite skin. They teach me every day to pay attention to detail. each cell so well defined and embracing whatever sweet relief they can find.
The skin on my face clings to a bone structure passed down to me by my ancestors. It teaches me the importance of knowing where I have come from. My skin is the gift and the language of my ancestors.
I leave you with this today:
I would only encourage you to consider the things that your skin is saying to you. What healing do you need to provide for your skin? What do you know about yourself because of your skin? What is your relationship with your skin?
Be soft with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Be tender with yourself. Be well.
TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains themes of sexual assault, sexual violence, depression, military veteran violence, and suicide.
“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
Of all the fruit in the world, I find the fig to be one of the most fascinating. For those of you unfamiliar with this fruit, I will take a minute to describe. The fig, though it has many varieties, usually is a tear drop shaped fruit. It is not generally bigger than a child’s fist, and it can come in many shades varying from green all the way to a deep purple. The fig feels heavy in the palm of your hand. It grows best in warm weather, and is native to climates in Africa, the Middle East and Italy. It is one of the oldest fruits, and is depicted in art throughout history. It’s considered the fruit of the gods. The fig tastes like honey. Sometimes floral, sometime more fruity. It pairs well with goat cheese, and various other creamy based cheeses. It is an excellent accent to your bitter based salads or dishes. Add a little prosciutto and a couple of nuts and you can’t go wrong.
Figs are a tricky thing to perfect. They can be finicky when they do not grow native to an area. They are a sensual fruit. To bite into one feels indulgent upon your tongue. When they are ripe, they drip a sweet milky honey from the bottom. Some folx dry them in the sun and let their natural sugar emerge. They can be used for baking and incorporated into desserts.
Something that has always drawn to me to this fruit, is that it is not actually a fruit at all. It is a flower. And the flower grows within the confines of its sacred, round, form. This flower is pollinated by wasps specific to their species. The wasp pollinates the fig from within, and when it is done the wasp dies. The fig, then consumes the wasp. This silent process is symbiosis.
The first time I ever saw a fig, I was small. I remember being smitten with the taste and drawn in to look closer at all the beautiful fibers that made up its inner contents. I remember holding it and feeling its weight. It felt like more than the tiny thing it was. To grow a fig tree takes time. It takes nurturing and communication with the plant. It takes deliberate intention, and devotion.
October 2017. I had just moved into my apartment on Alexander street. It was fresh and new and small and adorned with furniture and textures that were incredibly me. I was close to everything, I was paying my own rent and my own utilities. It was mine. It was not perfect. It was hot. It had minimal counter space. But it was mine.
This was a busy time in my life. I was in grad school. I was doing my internship. I was beginning research for my thesis. I was trying to balance so much and I was doing it well. My routine was perfect. I would get up around 8:00 am and head into my internship. After that, I would go home, have dinner and go to class. I would come home and do my homework and do it all again the next day. It was busy but I was liberated.
One day, I got a message from an old friend from highschool. We didn’t know eachother super well back then, but we knew eachother enough where he was more than an acquaintance to me. My palms are getting sweaty as I type this. I don’t know that I feel safe saying his full name in this space. I may come back and edit this one day, but right now, I don’t know.
Anyway. I got this message from him. We hit it off really well. Like really well. It was the first time we had spoken since highschool and I was, frankly, surprised. He told me he went on to join the Navy and that life was very different for him now. I told him about my experiences with college and we decided to meet up for coffee. We found out we lived really close to one another, so we met halfway and walked the neighborhood with our coffees. I told him about what I was studying and he told me about his experiences, and we were able to relate in big ways. I felt comfortable, but cautious as one usually is. The date ended and we parted ways. But one thing that I remember him telling me, and I guess hindsight is 20/20, was that he believed “the military should provide sex workers for free so that men wouldn’t rape women”. I get angry at this now, because I feel like he was telling me something and also why the hell didn’t my red flag alarm go off here?
Cut forward to a few days later, we’re talking a bunch and it seems light and fun. I was having a really busy day with school. I went home and wanted to just relax, but he asked to come over so I let him. This time, he was a little pushy physically. I remember feeling uncomfortable and asking him to leave. He did.
Give it a week, and he was back to asking me to hang out. I really didn’t want to. I told him I wasn’t sure it was a good idea given what happened last time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved anymore. I felt less safe. And yet, he convinced me he just wanted to come and talk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I let him in. It gets late. We’re talking. His apartment isn’t far but he says he really doesn’t want to walk home and “can I please just stay the night?”. I really didn’t want to let him stay. But I did let him. “Fine”. The wasp.
I mentioned the trigger warning above. I am going to mention it again here. These next few paragraphs are graphic.
I remember I was asleep when it started happening. I was wearing my usual pajama shorts and a t-shirt. Soft grey with draw strings. I was face down. I felt his hands on my wrists holding me down. I couldn’t turn my head. I felt his breathe on my neck. He was pressing past my shorts. It hurt so much. I remember whispering stop. I remember thinking “I do not want this”. I remember saying stop. I felt him get mad and more forceful as his body stopped cooperating. It might have been ten minutes? It might have been more or less. I can’t really remember. I stopped thinking and I stopped moving. He was in the Navy. He was much much stronger than I. I might have let out nervous laughter. I waited until it was safe to move and he was off of me. He put his clothes on and left. I don’t remember what I was doing in these moments. I know I texted my best friend because I really wasn’t sure what had just happened. I told her. She sent the word back. “Rape”. My whole body hurt.
I texted him. “I am not fine with anything that just happened and I need you to know that”. His response? “I understand, do you still want to be friends or nah?”. I was baffled. I don’t remember if I answered. I might have said something cynical like “nah”.
I was in my bed. It was quiet. There was dim light coming in from the window in my bedroom. In my soft gray shorts that would never mean comfort again. I loved these shorts. I remember being really mad about that. I couldn’t register what had just happened to me. So I got up. I took a shower and went to my internship and I tried to just forget.
The months following this, I remember feeling very confused and very angry. I told a few of my closest friends, but I still couldn’t say the word. Rape. I felt like my body betrayed me. I felt like I should have known this would happen. I felt like “I was the one who let him in. I opened the door”. I blamed myself for letting a snake into my sacred garden.
I would have trouble sleeping for months. I would go into a very deep and sad depression. I would start going on dates with random guys and hoping I would feel something again. I threw myself into it, because I was fearful that if I didn’t meet new people constantly, I would never want to meet anyone new ever again. So I met new guys and I tried to be present. But I wasn’t. There was only one new man after that that I would feel safe enough to come fully into my life after this. He is my life partner, and I am so grateful for him.
I don’t know what it is about power, and why humans need it. I don’t know why, when humans feel like they don’t have power, they feel entitled to take it. I can say, I have a strong bias against the military at this point. I know that isn’t fair. But neither is what happened.
I often find myself wondering, that at what point the switch goes of for someone that makes it okay in their mind to do this. I try to understand from their perspective, and there is never an answer. Because it’s not okay, and just because you wear a uniform, does not and should not give you a special pass. You do not have entitlement to the bodies and brains of others. You do not just get to take the things you want because you wear a certain color. I showed this person a small glimmer of who I was and like the wasp, he crept in and died. I felt dirty. I wanted to take my skin off and hang it up with the laundry. No amount of scrubbing helped me feel clean.
My therapist should be crowned a saint. She stuck with me through this in ways i will never understand, and that is even as a therapist. I was hopeless. I was calling suicide lines. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I was staying up until the early hours of the morning, calling my parents at 4:00 am because I was too afraid to be alone. I would sleep on the futon in my living room to avoid having to sleep on the bed.
I have mentioned EMDR on here, before but when I say it helped save my life there is no exaggeration here. My therapist and I completed at least eight EMDR sessions before I finally started to feel like I was clean again. I am learning about the pieces of me that have begun to bloom from within.
Why now? Why tell this story almost three years later? I was afraid. after this all happened, he called me again and I was home alone. I don’t know what his intention was because I didn’t answer, but I do know I slept with my doors and windows barricaded. My peaceful little home had become a dark place for me. I was not ready to tell this story in full. In my eyes, it was the past.
I never reported it. I think a part of me knew that my word would mean nothing against that of a man who wore a uniform. If this can happen outside of the service, it sends my head spiraling to think about what happens within. Vanessa Guillen’s story is the reason I am telling this story. There is a lesson here. People are people, no matter what they wear and who they serve and sometimes they are bad. We cannot trust that the people who belong to an organization or system are inherently good and that their intentions will always be to protect and do the right thing. We see it every day, more and more within our policing systems and now within our military. Accountability is the fruit that comes from deliberate intention. Like the fig, it takes time to rebuild an entire system. It takes devotion. It takes compassion and nurturing and communication with the plant and with the people. How can a nation stand on anything solid when the soil its planted in has rotted? What are we telling the world and the victims of violence and sexual assault about their worth? How are they ever supposed to “pull themselves back up” if the nation only cherishes those who pushed them down in the first place? Without taking a cold, hard look at where we plant seeds in this country, fruit will never fully ripen for everyone. And what is the point of planting seeds when the fruit will never fully nourish? There is no symbiosis here.
Here is what I know about reclaiming power in a system not made in your favor. 1. rest is rebellion. When you allow yourself compassion and rest, you are allowing the sun to kiss your leaves a little longer. You are filling yourself with nutrients. 2. You do not have to claim power alone. Pick your people. and if it doesn’t work out, pick them again. 3. Power is not anything but a feeling. It comes from real, authentic freedom. So rather than focus on power, ask yourself when you feel the most free. And do more of that. 4. If you do not want to do something, don’t fucking do it. “No” is a complete sentence. 5. If your gut is telling you you need something, listen. 6. Spend time alone with yourself. It will be hard to hear your thoughts. But your heart, and your head only ever want what is best for you. it will feel like a storm. It’s about what happens when the rain clears. Get to know yourself after this. Do not abandon you. 7. In healing, power is not definitive and loud. It comes in small, myriad ways every day. You can choose to turn left instead of right on the way home. You can choose to have an extra plate of something. You can claim power in the decisions you make every day. 8. If the very best you have for any given day is getting out of bed, then so be it. You do not have to honor anyone’s expectations of you. 9. You are not dirty. Your skin is clean because it is yours. You can bathe in mud and still be clean. recognize that your body did not betray you. Your body protected you. Your very flesh is a poem. Sing your praises from the mountain tops, even if the praises feel small today. 10. You can love people again. You can love you again. 11. Wear the textures that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with fabrics and pillows and make your environment yours. 12. When you start to leave your own head, call yourself back in kindness. You are not required to be mad at yourself for dissociating. 13. Feel. Own your feeling. You do not have to numb the pain to feel human again. 14. When you are fearful and act in ways you are unfamiliar with, it is a trauma response. You do not owe anyone an explanation for that. 15. Nourish yourself. With music, art, writing, meditation, dance, laughter. It is okay to do these things and in fact, they are necessary. If there was something you loved to do before your trauma, know that you do in fact deserve to do it again.
Try to find ways to refrain from punishing yourself for the things that were done to you.
I have claimed back my power in many ways, most of which are silent. It is what has worked for me. I feel stronger every day. I plant my seeds in soil that is rich, and full of nutrients. I spend time with my seeds before I plant them. My figs are sweet and full of honey. That honey belongs to me. It always has. That honey is mine. My flowers bloom more each day and I decide who gets to see them.
I will leave you with this: What will you need to do for your soil to ensure your tree grows strong? What can you do right now to be gentle and tender in your process of healing? What does healing mean for you ? In what ways can you and the ones around you contribute to change? What do you choose everyday to re-claim your power? How will you refrain from self-blame? What does accountability look like for you ? How can we make sure that it happens? What allows you to feel safe?
Be will, Gina
if you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and trauma and are seeking help:
“All the eggs a woman will every carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as en egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”
–Layne Redmond, “When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm”
It’s usually not surprising when I tell people I am doing some soul-searching. I think, at this point, most people who know me are very well aware that I am someone who is always seeking. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have always been someone looking for my own version of true north. Whatever that really means. I have always felt like a piece of me has been missing. As far back as I can remember I have been looking for that missing piece, unable to place exactly what it was. Some might say that it’s clinical depression rearing its ugly head around, and others say it’s lack of contentment with who I am as a person. Maybe it’s both, maybe it’s neither. This post is going to be a little different. This post is going to get really personal. This post is really for me, but I am going to invite you to read it in the hopes that you will find fruit here.
I’ve always known my story as it exists in my own life. But there is so much I did not and have not known about myself and the people in my family who come before me. This is why identity has always been a weird topic for me. I’ve been doing a lot of healing. We’re not talking going for walks and doing yoga. We’re talking healing from an ancestral standpoint. We’re talking looking at the mother wound. We’re talking reconciling with a heritage I didn’t really know I had.
When I was little, I can remember asking my mother to tell me about her life and about her side of the family. My father’s side of the family was well known to me at this point, and celebrated. I can remember feeling sad that I didn’t know much about my mother or her family. She later went on to tell me that she felt a lot of shame about some of the things that have happened on her side of the family, “especially compared to your father’s family”. I couldn’t understand that. I do remember strange instances where my mother would be faced with family members she didn’t want me to know. One time, they came to our front door, and we were totally uncertain of how they had found us. She told them to leave. Again. I couldn’t understand that. This was family, how could this be her reaction? I found myself getting frustrated and eventually I accepted that I would never know this side of my family. I think somewhere in my childbrain, my mother turning her family away was her forsaking part of her heritage. So I did the same. I closed the chapter on my Puerto Rican heritage. I began to identify as white. Afterall, I was the lightest skinned person in my family, so it wouldn’t be too hard to do. Hell, most people don’t even believe me when I say I am Puerto Rican.
I live in a community made up of mostly Irish, Italian and German people. I still hear comments all the time from people saying “You sound so white”, or “oh! You’re Puerto Rican? THAT’S where you get those curves and those lips and that thick hair!”. I would get burned by the sun and be asked “Well, if you’re Puerto Rican, why do you burn so easily?”. I grew up hearing about how my sister looks Puerto Rican and I don’t. I never really felt like there was a place for me within my own heritage. I have the privilege of having light skin. My life has not been made more difficult because of my skin. And still, my leaves do not match my roots. And this has always been confusing. I think a large portion of me has always wished that I didn’t have to try to prove my Puerto Rican-ness to people. I felt compelled to tell people right away at times, as if to try to grab at some inkling of pride around it. I found myself relying on the label because I couldn’t back it up with any real experience, because I didn’t have any. So eventually, I gave up. I gave up trying to explain my heritage to people who would just laugh it off anyway. It became something I felt shame about. What I didn’t realize is that this shame, was passed to me by mother, and to her from her mother and it was never their fault.
Our mothers do not try to pass pain to us. But when trauma is unhealed for too long, it is passed down to the next generation. We don’t only inherit the gifts and the features of our ancestors. We inherit their pain, their sadness, shame, anger. THIS is how I define the mother wound. I do not adhere fully to the definition placed in the world in terms of absent mothers. My mother was and is anything but absent. But she has pain and hurt and trauma that she carries around. Some of it was planted there far before she was ever born. Our mother wounds are never our fault. They are not the fault of our mothers. They are not the fault of our ancestors. There is no fault. Only healing.
Growing up, I was always very connected to nature. I believed that everything in nature had a spirit. I found myself, over the course of time, cutting ties with the Catholic Church I had been raised in and placing my faith into the natural world. The water was forgiveness, the air was a life giver and a healer, the earth a provider. I still feel that way. This is a spirituality I can see. Cut forward and I could feel myself connected to physical movement, finding rhythm in every day things, singing whenever I could. I remember finding meaning in symbols and totems such as the snail, and the toad. Animals became guides. When I think of it now, I think a lot of my healing has happened because of this. I have returned to this. These are the ways of my ancestors.
My heart has been feeling full and I am going to tell you why. Recently I stumbled upon an opportunity to explore my ancestral connections and ties. I felt something calling me, and I felt a true need to know where the mother wound in my family originated. So I embarked on a journey (Shamanic to be precise) and was introduced to a few of my spirit guides. On this journey I found myself on an island, spinning in circles (little did I know, it was an Orisha dance that I was doing). I was introduced to Yemaya (look her up), who told me to call to her whenever I needed her. I was introduced to my ancestors.
I had always known that being Puerto Rican, there was likely Indigenous blood within my veins. But this made it real for me. I was told that my ancestors were Taino. They were forced into Spanish families and raped. They were forced into slavery and this continued until they became indentured servants. My ancestors were also forced to denounce their heritage and deny who they were so that they could survive. They were considered non-humans. They were not free. I can empathize now with the shame passed down to me through the women who came before me. They were taught to hate parts of themselves, and they complied for survival. If you’re wondering where colorism in the Puerto Rican community comes from this, is partially why. The self-hatred is a trauma response and it runs deep.
I am a storyteller through and through. I respond well to stories. I learn from them and find meaning in each one. Part of why that is, is because I am able to see how a character or person evolves from the beginning until the end. I believe that part of why I have had so much difficulty in my life with my identity and self-love was because I didn’t know where my story began. Without that knowledge, I could never know myself wholly. It is very difficult to place together a puzzle when the pieces are missing. I needed to know this so i can begin healing myself and the ancestors who came before me.
Here are somethings that have started to change since beginning the journey:
1. I feel closer to my mother. 2. My heart hurts way less, and I feel lighter. 3. I do not feel like I am missing something as often. 4. I feel like my depression has begun to lift. 5. I feel a quiet sense of deep deep contentment and gratitude. 6. I have begun exploring my own spirituality again, especially in relation to Yemaya and other Orishas. 7. I have slowly. I mean snail’s pace here. But very slowly started to make peace with some of the things about my body that I have always hated and considered not to be feminine. 8. I feel called to the water in big ways. 9. The heat is very slowly becoming more tolerable. 10. I have expanded my self-care practice to include doing research on the Taino people. 11. I have narrowed down my niche and stopped calling myself a life coach. I am a healer and guide. And I focus on the motherwound, and generational trauma within the Indigenous Latina community. 12. The shame is lifting. 13. I have been having dreams about my spirit guides.
After my journey I promptly began research. I spoke to my mother. I asked her about her life. This was the first time she was able to tell me things in as much detail as she could. I also began doing research on the Taino people as well as Afro-Caribbean religions, deities, orishas, zemis and culture. In all of this, here some things I have learned.
1. The Taino were very peaceful people. Taino literally translated to mean “good people”. They did not create armor. They would utilize bow and arrow to defend themselves from a nearby group of people called the Caribs, who were in fact cannibals. 2. Taino leaders were called caiques, and both men and women held the title. 3. Taino men and women lived separate. Women valued their independence very greatly. 4. Taino people ate mostly fish, and yuca. They relied on yuca so heavily that they had a zemi (modern world’s gods) named for the Yuca and he was on control of many of the crops and crop season. 5. Taino people were the first people Columbus came into contact with. It is believed that due to the disease and genocide brought on by the Spaniards and Portugese, that the Taino people were almost completely eradicated. In fact, many believed that the Taino were completely gone, and only recently a study completed revealed that many Puerto Rican folk still have indigenous Taino blood within their veins today. 6. Documentation of the Taino by the Spaniards was scarce. This is why it is so difficult to know much about the language they spoke, though it is known that they spoke Arawaken. 7. The Taino are Amerindians who originated in the Venezuelan Orinoco Valley. 8. The Taino were agriculturally advanced. 9. It was believed that at the time of Columbus’ introduction to the Taino, there were over 60,000 people spread across the tribes. By 1548, it is believed there were only 500 Taino left. 10. Music played a massive role in Taino culture and was used for celebrations, and ceremonies, cure illnesses, as well as to initiate growth of crops and rain. The Taino were a seafaring people, who built circular houses and slept on banana leaves. 11. They had zemis, and had three types of religious practice: thye would workship the zemi for protection/health/safety/abundant crop; dancing in the village during festivals; and medicine men consulting the zemi for advice and healing. Shells, paint and feather were utilized as part of the dress for such practices. They would eat sacred bread at these cermonies. Zemi were often symbolized by snakes, toads, snails, turtles, alligators and various other animals. They believed in an afterlife.
I have learned a lot more, but I will plop it in another post in the future.
This is likely not going to be the only post I write about this. But this is the first installment of me publicly claiming my heritage. I know where my seeds were planted now. My name is Gina. Short for Georgina. It means “earth worker”. The name of my great grandmother, the woman I was named after. She is starting to feel like less of a mystery to me, and I am grateful. (If you’re wondering, she is one of my spirit guides). I am many things. Strong, powerful, loving, fierce, fiery, peaceful, generous, ambitious, ready. My ancestors have carried me, and they empower me in ways I have never expected. I am an Indigenous Latina and the holes in my heart are finally starting to fill. I am headed in the direction of north and I will break the cycle of pain. I will become my “ancestors’ wildest dreams”. *
I will leave you with this today. What do you need to know about your ancestors and the folks who have come before you so you can begin healing? What do you not know? How can you go about learning it ? What wounds have been passed down to you? How would you like to see this change?
Warmth and be well,
** I am not sure where the quote originated, but I believe it was Brandan Odums who said “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”.
*** Please note: All of the above is the information as I have it now. This does not mean some of this isn’t subject to change over time as I learn new things.
*** Also please note: All of the above is not said in relation to the BLM movement. However, I would like to make it known, though I have not been asked, that I stand in support of and behind the BLM movement. I am currently doing research, spending time examining my own whiteness, donating and supporting black businesses. I am in the process of composing a long list of businesses to support if you are a creative, as well as podcasts and books. It is imperative that we change so generational trauma can heal and Black folk are allowed to claim space for themselves in the country they built. Please, I encourage to do your own research, examine your own whiteness and explore how the system has allowed you to be complicit in this centuries long injustice. I am by no means an expert, and I am always going to be learning. Here is an excellent resource to start: https://allblm.carrd.co/
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
-” Samwise Gamgee”, J.R.R.Tolkein, The Two Towers
The world has been quiet. There is a clumsy and looming cloud over the globe at the moment. We all know it is there. We all know it could rain at any moment. No one is immune. There is a very real fear. Intangible, uncontrollable. It flutters overhead, teasing, poking fun at the vulnerability of the humans it taunts.
I have been quiet. I have found myself slightly ashamed at the fact that I haven’t acted as an advocate, or as a leader during this time. Afterall, as a coach and mental health provider, I ” should be doing more”. There’s that “should again”. I’ve had some time to really think about all of this, and what it means. I have been terrified. Every morning, I wake up hoping that this pandemic is just a terrible dream. I find myself worried for my loved ones who work in hospitals, just hoping that the last time I hugged them won’t be the last time. Because there is no real knowledge of when this ends.
I never imagined I would be sitting here writing something like this. I’ve been following the news, observing how COVID-19 has crept up on communities and devastated them from within. It’s like when you realize your grapes have all gone bad because there was on bad one in the middle of the bunch and you think “if you’d have just seen it sooner…”. I’ve been trying to distract myself from what is happening in the world. Trying to distract myself from how afraid I feel all the time lately.
Two weeks ago, I saw the news conference saying the first confirmed case was here. That Sunday I received a call from my boss, saying that we would have to start devising a plan for teletherapy with our clients as we would be moving toward remote access. Since then, we have over 150 confirmed cases here, with 3 deaths. The past two weeks hold enough within them to feel like a month. My days have been blurring together. My coworkers and I have been on high alert while trying to use humor to cope.
My daily routine before my agency decided to have us work remotely, had changed significantly. I’d get up earlier. Shower. Go into work, no coffee, I need to stay as hydrated as possible. The drive is void of traffic, and I listen to the newest updates. Usually a few new cases. I lock my car, and as I walk up to the employee designated entrance, I prepare myself mentally for what might be coming. I swipe in, say good morning to custodial staff and go into my office. I wipe down all my surfaces. I wash my hands. I take a breath before I read the unusually large influx of e-mails regarding action steps, usually protocol changes at least twice in the time I was away from my computer, with new steps and precautions listed every day. I read them all. I take another breath and check my voicemails. Three kids ran away from home this week. Of all weeks. I call parents back and tell them what to do, who to contact, how to file missing persons reports. I call other clients and tell them groups are cancelled, we will talk on the phone, I will be in touch, please answer when you see this number. They don’t. I read new protocol. I do a treatment plan. I wash my hands. I send a referral for residential services to find out that they are not taking new patients due to COVID-19. I tell the families they will have to wait to get their kid help for substance abuse a little longer. I give them the number for crisis hotline, I listen to them, I make sure they’re washing their hands, we tell each other to stay healthy. They thank me. For what, I don’t know. I attend the staff meeting via virtual meeting rooms. I make more phone calls. Write more notes. I panic. I breathe. I wipe down my office. I wash my hands and grab a wipe to wipe down my steering wheel and inside of my car. I go home. I take my shoes off before I go inside, and immediately strip down and take a shower. I make dinner, changing the way I think about it and rationing a few things here and there. Just in case. I try to distract myself for hours. I check in with my family. Tell my parents stay home. Tell my sister to be careful–she works in a hospital. Wish that I could hug them but know it is not safe at the moment. I check my temperature. I wash my hands. I lie in bed and distract myself more until midnight when I can’t stop crying. My partner hugs me through it. I do it all again the next day.
I want to take a minute to talk about people who struggle with mental health in the midst of a global pandemic. This is new for us, and at the same time it is not. There has been a shift in society back to making sure we are taking care of and monitoring our physical beings. Which is incredibly important at a time like this. But it does not and cannot void out room for mental health.
As someone who is clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I tend to have obsessive thoughts and compulsions about contamination, washing, disease etc. This stems, in part, back to childhood. I have managed, with lots of therapy, to get a handle on some of it. I have my days but such is life. But now, all I hear all day long is “wash your hands”, and headlines and posts about becoming sick, being contaminated etc. It is safe to say, I have relapsed. I think what shocks me, is that the anxiety I have been feeling about this did not shock me. I am used to this feeling. But there has always been some rational insight, some part of me that knew that even though I was worried, it was not 100% warranted. Now for someone with anxiety, it feels warranted. It’s not just “in our heads” this time. That’s the scary part. COVID-19 is not just an illness of global proportion–it’s the physical manifestation of what anxiety feels like, knowing something lingers in the background and there is not a goddamn thing we can do about it besides use some soap. Our worst fears have become reality with this thing.
If you have anxiety, I am not trying to scare you. If you don’t have anxiety, I am not trying to scare you. I’m saying this thing might be here to stay for a while and we are going to need to learn how to challenge it and cope with it. Especially because the only thing we can do is isolate, which is exactly the opposite of what we are told to do when we have anxiety about the world. We are going to have to show up for ourselves in new ways. Because while you might not want to, you are going to have to work harder.
Before I go further, you should know, that however you feel right now, is valid. You can feel what you need to feel. There is a reason I have taken so long to speak on this. I have been trying to figure out exactly what I feel. I still don’t know. But it’s here, and it is happening. Sometimes the panic is so acute and real, that I feel trapped. Other times, I find myself able to laugh and joke with my partner. Most times, things feel pretty normal and then I think the reality of the situation strikes and I realize nothing is. So in terms of feelings, understand we are all figuring this out as we go. And that’s okay. You don’t really need to know what that feeling in your gut is just yet. It might be that your only option is just to sit with it. Which probably makes you want to run as far away as possible.
There is a chance that many things in your life, as they were two weeks ago, will change forever. If you are scared, be scared. If you are fine, be fine. If you are angry, be angry. You are not obligated to feel any differently than how you do about what is happening. Everything is different now. Something as simple as grocery shopping could feels like taking a risk. This is a major interruption in your life, and it is probably going to force you to face demons you thought you’d successfully stored away. It is probably going to force you to get to know who you are right now.
There aren’t any answers coming any time soon. If you don’t have anxiety, knowing that has probably given you some now. But the major theme that comes to mind here, is not fear. It’s uncertainty. Humans hate uncertainty. We want to know it all, right now. We want to know how things end, if they end. We want to know that there is a light at the end of the dark. Living through pandemic is riddled with uncertainty. We go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Those of us who would fly or fight have been told we have to freeze. Those who freeze, may be struggling with the sense of helplessness that comes along with that. We don’t get to rely on adrenaline in a pandemic, but our instincts are still acting for our survival. There are still chemicals in our brains telling us we are under threat and with no end in sight, it feels long term. The new normal. And we hate it. If you find you’ve been exhausted at the end of your days, this might be why.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t shed light on a few things for you at this point. Because in times of uncertainty, we need to be reminded that we do possess some morsels of control. There are elements of your life, right now, that you can manage to empower yourself through this.
I want to invite you to look at your current situation and consider what it is you lack. Is it hope? Courage? Strength? Patience? Understanding? Whatever it might be, I am going to encourage you to consider how it is that you might create situations which you can become those things for yourself. This is what I mean by showing up for yourself in new ways. If you need hope, what situation can you provide yourself at home that sparks a it of hope in you? Perhaps planting a seed and waiting to see if it grows. Perhaps if you need courage, it is trying a new task at home you’ve never done before. There is a reason this is important. It is ritual. Humans thrive on routine, yes, but ritual is different.
Ritual. It sounds almost archaic at times. Like some big gathering, full of sacrifice and feast. But I think society has lost the reason this came to be in the first place. Ancient civilizations utilized ritual when they required some big change in the world or to build tradition, familiarity or comfort. And right now, if you require any of those things or some opportunity to self-nurture, and build upon your resilience, it is time to utilize ritual. You may need to create it for yourself and when you do, you can carve time out for it in your routine. Ritual feels indulgent. Ritual exists to comfort, yes, but also to help us understand the meaning of the present moment. Because right now, is what we have. And whether you like it or not, you have time on your hands to focus on the present.
My first experience with ritual was simple. Showers. I am a water baby. I have a tremendous respect for the water. It terrifies me, and mystifies me all at once. It allows cleansing, and healing. When I feel that I am in need of a fresh mindset, I take a hot shower and I make a point to turn the water to cold before I exit the shower. It refreshes me. It reminds me that my skin is attached to my body and I am planted right where I stand until I move. And when I move, I am planted in that spot. And so on. Ritual allows for grounding. It allows for living in the moment. It allows for mindfulness. It allows you to eradicate judgement. It is not about what you “should be doing”. It’s about what you need. Right now. Ritual allows for a reframe and in turn allows rest, and turning away from fight or flight or freeze. It allows for a focus on rebuilding until you can return. All of this promotes healing. All of this allows for tomorrow to feel less terrifying.
What helps you re-frame? If you do not know, you now have time to figure it out. What allows you peace for thirty seconds longer? What allows you to shift focus to the present so the past and the future can’t plant thoughts in your head? How can you find out? How can you create more of this?
I understand that this is not something you can do overnight. It’s something that takes dedication and your lives are busy, and probably seemingly even busier now that the rest of the world is quiet. Tomorrow when you wake up, I invite you to ask yourself: What do I need today and how can I create more of that in my life?
Maybe the first cup of coffee in the morning is a moment of quiet indulgence to fuel you for the next hour. But when you take that sip, slow down. Allow the taste to grace your tongue slowly. Imagine this coffee is not fuel for consciousness, but a gift to your tastebuds. What do they love about it? What does it mean to them? What are you looking at? Is it the sunrise? Or is it your phone? Which of those things brings calm? What changes do you need to make to your environment to feel safer? Because sometimes we need to create safety for ourselves.
I’m not saying that tomorrow you will wake up and feel peace and everything will be amazing. I am saying it might be a good time to build something for yourself so that the next day is a little easier. This time is scary. It is also a time for choosing slowly. In this, we have been gifted time to reflect inward. To re-frame. To build ritual. For thinking rationally about the way we move forward. For reframing the way we live life so that we can act in partner with it to build harmony rather than resentment. This harmony is where resilience is born. And I am certain we could all use a it of that right now. We are certainly going to need it for whatever comes next.
I will leave you with this:
What can you do tomorrow to create situations for yourself that promote healing, and whatever else you need more of right now? How? How can you make this a daily practice? How will your life in this moment be different if you do? What is at stake if you don’t?
Please stay healthy. Be kind to yourself. Remember that no one can tell you how to feel right now. Check in with yourself and loved ones. And wash your hands.
*Maybe some of you are isolated in unsafe situations. Maybe some of you struggle with substance use. Maybe isolation is utterly soul sucking for you right now. Please know, that I see you, I hear you, and it is not lost on me that some of what I’ve mentioned here may not be attainable for you. If this is the case and you are feeling thoughts of suicide or needing a safe space please visit the link below to explore your options: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help
I want to thank you for your kindness and patience with me. I need to update you and let you know that the next month holds a massive life transition for me. That being said, my posts will become a bit more sparse and sporadic as I navigate what comes next.
I will be back in full swing, most likely at the end of March. In the meantime, I have tecently launched my official coaching website. You can see it at http://www.proceedwithcuriosity.net
Let March be a month of sincere growth and rebirth. The earth is starting to wake up from the winter we have had.
“I’m not afraid of my truth anymore, and I will not omit pieces of myself to make you more comfortable.”
I apologize so much. For everything. For none of the right things. For “being in someone’s way” in the grocery store. For “intruding”. For taking up too much space. For being seen. At a different time in my life, I was willing to risk my own boundaries and sanity for the comfort of someone else. I never wanted to be an inconvenience to someone; so much so that I would likely rearrange my entire schedule to make sure others would have a smooth day. It was exhausting. I became resentful and burnt out and frustrated so quickly. What was that ? Why did I do it? Why was I so afraid of taking up space?
The answer, now, is simple. Shame. It was only ever because I felt shame. After my traumas, I felt a very intense sense of fear and shame. About everything. I walked around like I had eggshells on the bottoms of my shoes. I had no idea, none at all, that part of my trauma response, part of my survival method was allowing myself to become a vessel for shame. It happened slowly, and methodically until I truly believed I did not deserve to be seen, take up space, stand in my power. I didn’t believe I had power. I didn’t believe I was even a human.
Shame. Where does it come from? How do we start to feel it? Shame is what happens when someone else crawls into your brain and makes you feel poorly about not meeting their expectations. Shame is what happens when you feel powerless. Shame is what happens when you stop being able to recognize yourself in the mirror. Shame comes from so many different possible places, but mostly it comes from within. Shame tells us that our existence is too much for the world and that we don’t deserve to take up any room. Shame is a lens through which we view ourselves because of the thoughts and beliefs we have about who we are or who we might have been. It is a lens that tints all beliefs about what we are capable of.
Shame. When I say the word, I imagine a rigid, cold person saying it as they look down upon me in some condescending manner casting judgement on something I did not do. It is harsh and invisible. It acts as a blinder that is always adjusting itself so you might never be allowed to see light again. It’s a heavy weight that rests on the nape of our neck to make it uncomfortable to find a blue sky.
But if shame comes from within, so does healing. Remember that.
I want you to get a bit visual with me here.
Imagine you are walking along the intricate path in the woods, and you are equipped with a bag. It has some things you might need. As you pass along on this road, you are meeting new people. Some with good intentions and someone with less than ideal ones. But each individuals gives you a brick. Some bricks are newer, some are older. All the bricks vary in weight, color, shapes etc. You have no place to put these bricks once your hands start to get full so you start putting them in your bag. Smashing some of your original items that you had placed there for a time of need. Eventually this bag is really heavy. You start to wonder if it will break. Is this bag really equipped to carry all of these bricks? You’re not really sure how long this little path is, but you do keep meeting people and you’re getting nervous about what you might have to do to make room for bricks. Sometimes people make you feel awful for carrying such a heavy bag. They even point and laugh. When your bag is full, they get angry with you.
To feel shame is to take on an incredibly heavy weight. It’s like carrying around a bag full of bricks. Sometimes the bricks have been in the bag so long, they become withered and eroded. Maybe you’re not even sure where the bricks came from anymore but they are there and that must mean they were important at some point, right? Maybe some of the bricks are new, perfectly shaped. A bit heavier than the others. Maybe you remember exactly where you picked them up along the way.
One of the first times I was told it was okay for me to take up space was in the grocery store by a complete stranger. I could have hugged her. I was looking at some produce and she was waiting patiently behind me, and upon my realization of her being there, I immediately grabbed my basket, said “I’m sorry, I am in your way and I will move” and started to walk away. She said, “No no no. Please don’t. You are just fine, and I am not in a rush. We all need food. You take your time, and put that basket down.” I was floored. Usually, in the grocery store people want you to just get out of their way. It used to be a high stress situation for me because I felt rushed and like I was constantly in the way. But here this woman was, telling me it was fine to be where I was; that my needs were just as important as anyone’s. I wanted to hug her. I still rushed picking out my peppers but it was a powerful day. I felt lighter that day. I felt one brick come out of my backpack.
My takeaway here was that it is okay to slow down sometimes and acknowledge that you have needs, and that as a human, you are allowed to exist in the space you need to do so. This is life changing. Especially when it comes to healing from shame.
So what does it mean to heal from shame? I imagine that this is different for each individual. But I can say that healing from shame looks a little bit like a snail making a really big trek across the garden. It’s a little creature and the rest of the world has no idea he is on a mission. But he moves. Persistently, avoiding dangers, focused on his mission. He is a soft, a fragile creature, but his shell protects him in the ways he needs it to. He allows himself the time to get to his destination. He does not judge that he has no legs. He does not judge that he is small. He might be wishful that things were different, but he certainly doesn’t focus on that. He is ready to take a bite out of a juicy, delicious leaf.
Healing is seeing the mission ahead of you, knowing it will take a while, and still doing it anyway. Healing is providing yourself with those juicy leaves of nourishment. Healing is watching your face change when you see yourself in the mirror, from a scared frown to being able to admire the wrinkles forming on your face. Healing is love. Healing is recognizing the power within the vessel you possess. Whether it’s wiggling your toes and stretching in the quiet moments, or sipping tea, or dancing, or taking a peaceful moment on the porch. Healing is a conscious decision to admire the human condition–your human condition– as you stand in what you know to be as your truth. Healing is boundaries. Healing is reclaiming. Healing is loving yourself up in the ways you were afraid to when you were told you weren’t worthy. Healing is soft fabrics and arranging your space. Healing is cooking a meal for yourself and providing nourishment. Healing is finding freedom. Healing is deep, reflective self-care practices. Healing is reconnecting with others and reconnecting with you. It is lightening the load you’ve carried for too damn long. Healing is taking up your space, and learning to make a home fro yourself within that space. Healing is understanding that space can change. Healing is not only rejoicing in your comfort but embracing your discomfort. Healing is seeing a therapist, or having a friends night, or walking alone in the morning. Healing is not linear. It is not routed out on a map for you. So of course, it will be confusing and frustrating. There will be days that you feel like it is not happening. Be patient with yourself on those days. Trust your healing. This is not a race. Feel what you feel and let it come and go as it needs to. When healing becomes confusing, look inward. Your instincts are right. Healing is owning your story and choosing to recognize that that story, isn’t some made up shit, it is real, because you are real. Healing is not just existing in your body but living in it. Planting your feet in the ground and knowing your strength is what led you to this healing path.
You got yourself to this healing point. Wherever you stand in that journey, you did it. You are doing it. You are becoming. You are healing. And it it is okay, and good, and critical even, to take up the space to do that because every fiber of your existence works so hard just to be here. You deserve to take up the space you need. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are not for you.
I still become nervous at the thought of taking up space. When I first started this blog, I was nervous that showing myself to the world would only hurt me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It has liberated me. I have some major projects to accomplish this year. I am terrified. Not of failure. Not even of success. I am so afraid of taking space in the world to do it. But I am going to do it anyway. Because it is part of my healing, and I need to own my story. Because that is truly what taking space is– owning the story that leads to now so much so that it becomes a badge of honor. I am certainly no master of this. But I can say the time I have taken to take up space and own my story have played major roles in my healing.
Taking up space is not selfish or wrong. It is natural and human and important. it looks different for every human. Sometimes it’s a blog, and other times it’s public speaking or social media, or simply chatting with a friend. All are valid.
You do not have to apologize for existing. This can be a hard one to take in. But you never asked to exist. You were forced into it. Now you’re just doing the best you can with what you have to create the most meaningful existence you can. But here is what is so lovely about that. You still get to decide what holds meaning. You still get to decide what your space gets to look and feel like. This is where owning your story comes in. You get to acknowledge all that has happened and decide which parts have been the most pivotal. You get to decide what each experience means for you. There is very little we have control over in the human experience, but one thing you always have control over is how you make meaning out of the experiences you have had up until this point and how they might impact your next steps. Shame does not have to be permanent. You get to decide how you heal and what that means for you.
Coming back to the brick visual, I want you to imagine you are walking along on this path. Exhausted. Fatigued. Resentful. Angry. Full of shame. Now pause. It is quiet. A little brisk. No one is on the trail right in this moment. You finally have a moment to yourself and you have a realization. “I need to unpack some of these bricks”. That is what healing feels like. Unpacking the bricks you have been carrying for far too long, in a backpack not equipped for carrying that amount of weight. You were not meant to carry everyone else’s bricks. You were not meant to carry bricks full of shame and hurt and pain for years. You do not have to feel badly about not being able to do so. Stop carrying around whatever is not meant for you to carry. Stop carrying what no longer serves you.
I will leave you with this today:
How do you know when your backpack is full of bricks? What do you need to do to empty it out a little each day? How will you know when you are healing? What stands in your way of taking up space? What do you feel in your body when you start to think of that ? What changes do you need to make to start claiming your space? What does your space look like? What does your healing require of you today? What are you carrying around that no longer serves you? How will you part ways with that?
“Love is speaking in code. It’s an inside joke. Love is coming home.”
“If Work Permits”, The Format.
*I want to thank you for being patient with me as I gather myself and come back into the routine of writing. Just a little bit of disclosure, the holidays hit me a bit hard and I am recovering. I love the holidays. But for some reason, this year took me by storm and I was in a sort of daze. I am grateful for your patience and compassion.*
As the first month of this year comes to a quick close, I have been re-evaluating how I do things. Not my actions, but my processes. First on the list, is love. How do I love? What is my definition of love? What does it mean to be loved by someone? What does it mean to be loved by me? What do I know about love?
Love. The word is beautiful. The way the letters come together to create a word that is beautiful, aesthetically and in meaning. When I think about love, I don’t know what to think. It’s not that I haven’t felt love. My truth is that love, for me, is something that I have almost come to stop trusting over the years. I can almost categorize love in sections. There is love, that is a foundation type of love. Friendly love. Romantic love. Inspired and grateful love. Required love. Laborious love. Forgiving. Courageous. Authentic love.
In short, love feels like it could get pretty complicated. Or perhaps, it has always been that I have made it far more complicated than it needs to be. It seems to be the latter these days.
I lucked out. I was born into a family whose foundation is one of love. Unconditional and eternal love.
My father has always been the sort of man whose love is quiet and gentle. He shows his love with humor, and in providing. He listens. He observes. He shows up. No matter what. When I was little, I was obsessed with animals. My dad had a computer with a screensaver that was just pictures of animals. He and I would watch that screensaver all the time. He never complained or said no. It was simple and really rather laughable now, but it mattered to me back then so it mattered to him.
My mother is vocal about her love. She shows it by acts of love, and through communication. She answers the phone with “is everything okay?”. She worries. She hugs. She has made sure I know I can go to her with anything and she won’t judge me for it. My mother and I fought a lot when I was growing up. We bumped heads about everything. If she said yes, I said no. We don’t do this anymore. The older I got, the more I recognized myself in her. If you and your mother are similar, you will only ever get along once you start to recognize the qualities you share as strengths. I promise you this. My mother is a protector. She will literally bring nations to the ground for her children. In fourth grade, my teacher made a remark about my ability to multiply. My mother marched in there and had a looong talk with this woman. Some might see this as a bit helicopter-ish. But at that time, my mom became a hero for me. She has done everything in her power to make sure that I know that she will always be on my side.
My sister is quiet about her love. But she loves so hard. If you are lucky enough to be loved by my sister, you will know loyalty, forgiveness, honesty, humor, consistency, reliability. Her love is intense and fierce. When my sister loves, it is an honor. She is the most loyal person I have ever known. She has a way of making every person in her life feel special for a specific reason. Her emotions are intense and acute and she is solid in mind and body. There is nothing about my sister that is not genuine.
How beautiful a world is the one that I have described above? To know love in those ways, is something I hold so close to my heart. It is love that I never had to question. Each of those people are my soulmates. Our love as a unit makes sense to us.
The thing about love, is that someone’s understanding of it can only ever be expressed or understood as it is in their earliest experiences. This can change. It does change. When new people, new love or different love comes into the mix, things get complicated and confusing. Maybe we aren’t able to understand how someone can possibly love in the way that they do. Love gets complicated when other people bring their own definitions and understandings of love to the table. It scares us. It becomes difficult to make sense of. The way we interpret their definitions and actions of love are the things that sometimes lead to hurt.
It takes courage to love. Each time I have misinterpreted someone else’s definition of love has left me less trusting, less willing and less and open to new love. It has always been painful. It has always been risky. There is no pain like the pain that comes from realizing you had it all wrong. I have found myself growing cynical over the years around that. Doubting anyone’s kind intentions. Not allowing space for anyone new.
But what happens when it begins to impact the love you have for yourself? Sometimes we love people who are not ready for us to love them. They are not willing to accept your love, or they don’t recognize the type of love you have to offer them. Other times, they see how willing we are to love them, and take advantage of that. Both of these can be toxic without proper communication around what love really means for you and your partner or partners.
I want to take a stand and completely discredit the notion of “If you can’t love yourself, how can you love someone else?”. It’s bullshit. It’s not real. It is possible to love other people regardless of how you feel about yourself. Loving yourself is just icing on the cake, and frankly, it is a lifelong process. It will take trial and error and deep reflective practice to understand yourself. We take time to get to know other people. That is what helps us love them. If you don’t take time to know yourself, you cannot love yourself. That is where deep healing comes in. And sometimes, you are just not ready. It takes courage. It will always take courage. Love is what allows you, or asks you to be willing to share what you learn with others. But let me set the record straight right here, right now. You deserve to be loved regardless of your ability to love and understand yourself right now. Please do not let what society deems as acceptable to be the truth. For those of us in this world who struggle with self-love, it is just added pressure to place doubt on their ability to love and be loved because of circumstances surrounding their feelings towards themselves that may not be within their full control.
There was a very. Very long long time where I did not love myself. I didn’t even like myself for a longer time than that. Self-love is not something that we are born with. It takes time and courage and honesty to be able to welcome yourself home into your own body every day. When I was in my most toxic relationships, I believed I was not human. That I did not deserve love. That I was un-loveable. This false belief made me hate myself in a way that I don’t have words for. I have to give credit to my therapist for her patience with me through this. I am a firm believer that humans have all they need within them to bring themselves back, but we do need anchors sometimes. My family was that anchor. Had I not had them, and the love they provide, I am not sure I’d have made it back. After what I put them through with my abuse, I did not believe I deserved their love. I believed it so much so that I actually struggled with trusting them when they told me they would love me regardless. This is how I learned the persistence of love. The patience of love.
Cut to present day. Almost ten years since I survived Calvin’s abuse, and just over two years since what Alec did to me (abusers have names and I believe we should use them. New stance. Not sorry about it.). It was after my EMDR treatment that I realized. I love myself. I was in the shower. I was nurturing my skin and cleaning this amazing and strong vessel I inhabit when I looked at my toes and watched the water accommodate them, that for the literal first time in my life I had a thought: “I love myself!!”. I almost jumped out of the shower and ran down the street screaming it. My body and I had finally reconciled. My brain and body were finally communicating. In this moment, I realized it wasn’t just cohabitation happening within, it was an absolute friendship.
I spent the next few days basking in this glow. And I needed to know how I got there.
So I started asking questions. What is different now? What do I know about myself now? What has healed now in order for me to do this? How do I know that this is trustworthy and real? These questions start sounding like a third date. But to summarize, I was learning myself. You see, I had spent so long after my traumas wishing I could be who I was before them. It was exhausting. I was never going to be that person again. I needed to start looking at facts and stop wishing. The facts led me to understand that I am kind. Empathic. Hilarious. Realistic. Understanding. passionate. Honest. Curious. Creative. Intelligent. Capable. I was never going to be the care-free flea market loving, Footloose dancing Gina from before. And this is a good thing. Because the Gina from now is so much better. And I don’t know how I came to really believe that other than by being compassionate, and using all of the gifts I listed above with myself. Checking in frequently. Doing everything my healing required of me on that day. Every day. You will never be who you were before you were wronged. You do not need to be.
I want to circle back a little bit to the anchor part. What I mean by that, is that every human requires something to keep them grounded. For me, right after my traumas it was my family. Real and true familial love and connection. But something else I have been so incredibly fortunate to find is authentic companionship love and friendship love. They have been my anchors throughout almost the entirety of this healing process. I share this with you because I feel our anchors, are our support systems. Whether it is family, romantic partners, pets, a plant, I don’t care. Your anchors are your anchors, and as long as they don’t force you into drowning, or hold you back they are helping you. We need something to bring us out of our own heads. Anchors do this. Anchors are the lenses that help us understand how to start loving ourselves again.
So how did I get to be at a point of loving myself? Hard work. I took it on because I was ready. You have to be ready. It is daunting and terrifying and some days you will not want to do it. But you will have to do it anyway. Boundaries. Learning to say no to things that force me out of my truth and out of my power has been incredibly gratifying and liberating. And let me tell you, that the people who don’t honor your boundaries are not your people. Gentleness. Honoring my fragility. Honoring my softness when I needed to be soft. Honoring my emotions. Exploring the layers of every emotion. Therapy. So much therapy. But the biggest lesson I have learned about self-love is that sometimes it is too difficult to hear self-loving statements in your own voice. Sometimes you will require help. That is when I say that you can learn how to love yourself from the people who love you. It can be risky. But I have learned to love myself from watching the people I love, love me. Some will say that people learn to love you by how you love you. They’re not wrong. But there are exceptions. And sometimes we need examples. Rely on your anchors.
A couple of years ago, right after my assault, I started serial dating. It was shallow and I never felt a real connection with any one of them. I was terrified to be alone and I also couldn’t handle the thought of being around people who knew me well because I didn’t want to explain why I seemed so different. One night I was writing a paper due the next day and my neighbor was being so loud. I was infuriated. So I was petty and sent an email to the property management company about it. They forwarded it to him. The next day I was doing laundry and we ran into eachother in the hall. He didn’t know it was me that complained but he apologized anyway for being so loud. I said it was fine. He asked for my number so I could tell him to be quiet if he was ever too loud again. We hung out once and hit it off instantly. We were friends first. For a while. And then one night we decided we weren’t going to be just friends anymore.
I wasn’t sure what to think. I thought i was always a trusting person. But to be honest, starting this relationship with him showed me how little I trust people. It had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my experiences. He brought perspective to my life that I didn’t know I needed. I had been shutting everyone out. I was hiding. But I didn’t need to hide with him. We are buying a house together. We have a dog. His voice soothes me, and his laugh is so contagious. We have the same humor. He is patient. He does not love me in spite of everything I have been through, he chooses to love me everyday because my experiences have made me the resilient and strong woman I am today. You do not have to fit into molds for people to love you. I was terrified to tell him about my traumas. He created an environment for me to feel safe enough to tell him everything. This is part of love. Making the conscious decision to make your partner or partners feel safe enough to create a life with you regardless of past experiences. It is teamwork. I have never learned more about romantic love, partner love, and self-love in my life than I have in these two years.
Here is what I know to be true about love: To love is a choice. People we love will hurt us and we will hurt them. You will choose whether or not that hurt is worth losing someone over. Love does not come in the form of harsh words and physical pain (unless you have both consented and agreed to it). Love is instilling power in someone. Love is trusting another individual with parts of you that you don’t show to the rest of the world. Love is an agreement to continue to grow. Love is challenging the other person or persons to be and do more. When someone steps out of character, love investigates. Love is watching someone grow and not having feelings of jealousy or anger, but gratitude for being able to witness this change. Love is not relying on anyone for anything other than who they are as an individual. Love has no grudges and certainly doesn’t hold anything over your head. Love is teamwork. Love is vulnerability. Love is being seen and acknowledged. Love is authenticity and dignity. Love is sharing room at your hearth even if the hearth is small. Love is creating safety. It is not playing it safe. It is creating safe spaces. Love is checking in. Love is long conversations in bed when you notice the other person might be in a funk. Love is giving the other person a heads up when your depression is hitting so they know it is not them. Love is not mind reading. Love is communication. Love is taking a break when emotions get too hot. Love is making fun of eachother. Love is looking forward to coming home. Love is feeling like enough. Love is discussion. Love is learning patience. Love is apologizing. Love is understanding that you don’t deem when it’s okay for someone else’s feeling to be hurt or not hurt. Love is unexpected. Love is so funny and so sweet. It is also infuriating. Love is horrible morning or dairy breath. Love is doing laundry when the other person can’t get to it or cooking even though you might hate it. Love is long nights of crying, and long nights of laughing. It is staying up late on a weeknight and texting the next day about what a bad idea that was. Love is staying in touch. Love is bringing the other person water when you realize how dehydrated they are. Love is making them soup even though they won’t eat it because they are sick. Love is watching the same movies over and over because you know they love them. Love is not discouraging them when they get excited about something. love is supporting their passions, and mindless banter. Love is not any one action or verb but a collection of them. It grows expansive throughout the years and changes as its subjects change. It is gratitude and commitment. It is seeing the same person or people every day, knowing they are home.
Here is more of what I have learned of self-love: Self-love is healing. It is allowing yourself space to heal when you need it. It is honesty and facing painful truths. Self-love is re-parenting parts of you that were hurt as a child. Self-love is encouraging your darker hurts to show themselves so you can nurture them. Self-love does not cast judgement but enforces enlightenment and curiosity. Self-love is not minimizing compliments or cringing when someone is nice to you. Self-love is knowing you deserve the kindness you are served. Self-love is not a destination but a journey and it is ever changing. Self-love is knowing you could be someone totally different tomorrow and knowing you will love this person regardless. Self-love is knowing when you need a minute and when you are just being lazy. Self-love is forgiving the past in hope of a better now. Self-love starts as an objective exploration of what is really going on. Self-love asks you to dive deeper. Self-love is discovery. Self-love is courage. It is a huge risk. It is a huge reward. It’s defying everything everybody says you should be in search of what you need to be. Self love is the equivalent of acknowledging that you will make mistakes and are ready to do better next time. Self love is welcoming yourself back into your body when you float too far. Self-love is recognizing home in yourself. Sing it from your shower. Scream it in the streets. When you discover it, you will know no greater feeling.
Today I want to leave you with this.
How will you know what self-love means to you? How do you show love to others? What do you need in order to feel loved? Do the people in your life know this? What can you do to make sure they do? When in your life have you felt most loved? How can you create more of this in your life this year?