!! TRIGGER WARNING !! This post contains material about domestic violence, physical, and emotional abuse and rape. It is a survival story. Discretion is advised.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”Maya Angelou
Hi. I am back. I took a bit of a break because I have been practicing a new skill: The art of boundaries. This is going to be a long one, so buckle up.
Often when I write this blog, I try to spend a bit of time practicing what I feel I want to write about. And this one, has been difficult to say the least. I’ve been thinking a lot on this lately. Boundaries. What the hell does that even mean? It sounds restrictive and ugly and I hate it. The word makes me think of a giant brick wall, extending into the sky. Impenetrable and proud. It looks old, like it has been there for a long long time. To stand at its base, one might wonder about who built it and why. Where did they find the resources? What had to happen for a wall such as this be built?
Do you want to know my absolute biggest pet peeve in all the land? It’s, surprisingly, not loud chewing or interrupting, or even having to repeat myself thirty five times. While those things are bothersome, my biggest pet peeve is this: “Gina, you are too nice”. This statement has made me so angry in the past. I have heard it my whole life.
My mother raised me to treat people the way I want to be treated. I want to be treated nicely. So I have always treated people nicely. What’s the problem with that? What the hell is bad about that? Now, here is the thing. I had never made the connection that what people might have actually meant is this: “Gina, you are too accommodating and people will take advantage of that”. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school, talking to a professor who brought this to my attention (shout out to the life saving, incredible soul who is Robin Shiffrin, the real MVP). She was noticing a pattern in my behaviors and she called me out in a loving way, but it hit me so hard. It was at the end of a class. This class was a class about learning to facilitate groups and the main exercise was to feel what it is like to be in a group experience. So we were placed into groups with our classmates and group therapy commenced. She would observe and take note that I had a tendency to be “too easy going”, “too agreeable”. When one of my fellow group members told me she thought of me to be disingenuous, I lost my mind. This could not possibly be the case. Me?! I couldn’t understand.
I valued my genuineness above all else, and to be told that my “niceness” was perceived as the opposite of that hurt. It hurt a lot. So I was processing this with my professor and she got me thinking. “Gina, is it possible that the fact that you are so accommodating just doesn’t seem real? Isn’t it possible that you are so willing to jump over hoops for strangers is something that seems impossible for some people? Isn’t it possible that you might be sending people a message that you don’t care about yourself because you don’t mind other people walking all over you?”. I was honestly blown away by this. But it made sense. Maybe the fact that I was so willing to be this way for the sake of others was not based in wanting to help people in this group but more on the desire to be accepted? Man, thinking back on this class still gives me very scary anxiety. But it makes sense.
Story time. In high school, I was very well liked. I could fit into any friend group and get along with them. It was not difficult for me. Through out all of it, I found I gravitated towards certain groups a little more here and there and I eventually created my own group and it felt amazing to be part of something so close knit. And then one day, I met a guy. He was a little odd, but he was mysterious. He was artistic, and did not attend school. He was what I would have described as “quirky” back then. He had nice words, and he asked to take me on a date so we met for coffee. I was smitten. Absolutely head over heels. Everything seemed perfect for a little bit. I couldn’t see clearly what was about to happen. I do not have his permission to discuss this in any form of media, and frankly, I don’t care. This is my survival story.
This relationship lasted nine months. And that is nine months way too friggin’ long. The impact it has had on me and my life has been monumental. This relationship quickly turned into an abusive one. He was like a snake, able to slither into all the synapses of my brain. Everything became about and for him. I changed my hair, clothes and makeup to fit what he found attractive. I started to gain weight because he “preferred the pin up look”. He made it abundantly clear on a daily basis that I, as I was, would not be enough for him unless I did these things. He convinced me to do things that I would never have done. He used to cut me so that he “could make art out of my blood”. He used to tell me that while I was sleeping he would wake me up by raping me. He used to tell me that my parents and family and friends didn’t care about me. He even went so far as to try to convince me to excommunicate myself from my family members legally. I think there was some instance of him convincing me to try to use a dead snake as artwork. I would go to work, and then use my money from work to buy him things and then go right to him. I began lying about him coming to see me while I was in school. I stopped caring about all that was important to me. I started watching movies and listening to music only he found acceptable. For what? To be loved? I had that in family and friends. To be accepted? I had that too. No. It was because I didn’t know how to say no and he knew it. He used it. This is my taking responsibility for what I can. I recognize that this abuse is not my fault. But I have to take responsibility for the hurt and pain it has caused, because if I don’t, I do not let myself heal.
If you ask me about this now, I still can’t really tell all the details. Not because I am scared, but because I actually cannot remember. My brain has done an incredible job of protecting me and blocking out a lot.
The first time I ever implemented a boundary was the time I saved my own life. I am certain that if I were still in that relationship I would have been dead a long time ago.
The first time I ever implemented a boundary was out of survival. I was driving home from school with him in the passenger seat. October 30, 2010. He was talking to me about who knows what and we were disagreeing and I stopped dead in my tracks and said ” I cannot do this anymore”. He was confused. I told him it was over. He did and said nothing. I dropped him home. I drove home and I collapsed on my parents kitchen floor. I remember them holding me, telling me “it is over now”. *It was. The relationship was over. I never went back. He tried to get me back and keep his hold on me for months after this. His last words to me were “You have no back bone. You will never be anything because you let everyone walk all over you”. Even he knew it. I was the only one not in on this information. Are you seeing a pattern? I do now.
In the end, I was grateful. It has taken me a long time not to hate myself for the damage he caused in my life and the lives of those I love. I missed out on a lot. I was a bad sister, daughter, friend during this time. I lost all of my friends. I miss them and I miss what we had. Mostly, I was horrible to myself. This was my first lesson in saying “no. you don’t have the right to me”. When something like this happens in one’s life, it is natural to not have any idea where to go next. This person was a con artist. He successfully fed off of me for nine months, and I continue to deal with the aftermath even today.
For a long time, I become obsessed with going back to how things were. To the person I was before my traumas. I will never be that person again and i hope that she is resting peacefully somewhere. The person I was at this time is dead. She has been for such a long time and I am finally understanding the importance of focusing on now. I have started to set a boundary for myself. I am healing. I am becoming. I am constantly seeking ways to grow and improve. I consider this part of my life a rebirth. I can be angry. I can also grow through my anger. Life doesn’t end when the trauma does. Even if it is all you are familiar with at that time. Life begins when you realize your worth. It does not mean you are taking action right this instance, though if you feel so inclined please do. I understand that I had it easy and that leaving in my situation was a little simpler than some. I had that privilege. But if you could give yourself one thing each day to focus on putting a boundary between you and what holds you back (your abusers, your trauma history, your past, yourself..etc) what would it be?
No. It is so powerful and so intense and I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life I have said it. But each time, it gets easier. It is not simple. It feels like a lead weight on the tip of my tongue and to spit it out in front of anyone is to change a part of who I thought I was on a fundamental level. But you are not the things you say yes to. You are not the things you say no to either. You exist in a world where you sometimes have a choice to do something for yourself or for someone else. I would encourage you to really look inward before you answer and ask if this next part leads to the life you want. You don’t require any excuses. You are not required to run yourself ragged while others use you as a stepping stool. You are only required to do the very best you are capable of. That doesn’t always include other people.
Humans do better when they are connected. But do not left yourself believe, even for a second, that you are required to douse your light for the sake of someone else. Make sure that the people you say yes to are striving for the same amount of brightness that you are. Don’t let it be stolen. This is not selfishness. This is surviving in pursuit of thriving.
If you say yes to everyone else, there will be nothing left in you to say yes for yourself. Read that again.
It has taken me approximately 27 years to understand that I do not always need an excuse to say no to something. If I cannot make something work, I have been practicing the art of honesty and boundaries and recognizing that if I put too much into making everyone around me feel comfortable I will live my whole life wishing I had their skin and not mine. Saying yes is sometimes an easy way to forget you have your own work to do. You have your own life, your own goals.
I am not saying that you shut the world out. I am saying, take stock and really examine the impact saying yes in any given situation might have on your own existence. There will always be the unexpected. This is inevitable. But saying no when something is not feasible, creates a platform for you to stand on when the waves get a little choppy.
When I think back to my class and why the words “you are too nice” really bothered me I realize it was because it was revealing a very harsh truth that I wasn’t ready to accept. I am too accommodating. I always have been. I didn’t know how to fix that. But then I realized–this isn’t about me changing anything about myself. It was simply about adding more. Becoming stronger. Adding more of my own power, the power of saying no. Finding it from within.
Boundaries are scary. They can be ugly. They are a quick way to understand the people and the world around you. They are an excellent tool for knowing exactly what people really want from you. It may seem like an impossible feat. Some days you won’t have the energy to stand your ground. That’s okay. What’s not okay is letting people walk into your life and rob you of all the good and bad and whatever you have to offer to use in whatever way it serves them. You are not a puppet. You are worthy of knowing your limits and sticking to them. You are worthy of the satisfaction that comes with having survived your worst days and utilizing “no” to reinforce what you are not willing to do. You belong to yourself. You are not here so someone else can use you however they please. You are not here to build resentment for people who don’t even care if it’s there in the first place. You are not here so your boss can treat you poorly, or to have fair weather friends, or to be exploited. You can not control what happens in this world. But you have 100% control over what you make of it, and what you do with it. You have control over who you let into your life (most of the time).
Boundaries are not about loyalty. Someone can be loyal and still be shitty. Boundaries are not about the “no matter what” and the “real friends”. Boundaries are about freedom. Self-care (real self care). Boundaries are about protecting yourself and your space from people and circumstances that drain your light. Boundaries are a rock solid wall and its only job is to make sure you are surrounded by good people, with enough energy to enjoy them. Boundaries are not guidelines. They are law. They are what you have put into place on the grounds that you know what you need. Boundaries also change, as you too, will change. That is okay. You do not need to explain it to anyone. YOU DON’T OWE ANYONE ANYTHING. THEY DO NOT OWE YOU ANYTHING. This world is focused on obligation and exchange and transaction. If you don’t advocate for yourself through all of it, no one else will.
I leave you today with this. What have learned about boundaries? What does your wall look like? What is your wall made of ? How will it keep you safe? When do you know it is time to make it a little taller? How will you know when you can start removing a layer of bricks? How do you know when you need to change the wall a little? Who are you letting through the gate right now, that maybe you shouldn’t be? What are you willing to put up with and for how long? What are the consequences of broken boundaries? What is your survival story? Are you being too accommodating? When was the last time you checked in on your walls? What changes do you need to make in your life right now to ensure your energy is protected?
*I have said it several times and will say it forever, there are no words that can accurately describe how lucky I am to have the support system I do. I know many do not, and it is not wasted in vain on me. I share this story in the hopes that those reading understand it is possible to survive the worst days of your life.
**If you or someone you know has been or is being impacted by domestic violence, abuse, or sexual violence there is help:
The Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224
LIFELINE: dial 211 or call 1-877-356-9211