On healing from shame and taking up space.

“I’m not afraid of my truth anymore, and I will not omit pieces of myself to make you more comfortable.”

Alex Elle

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?

Warm regards,

Gigi

On love.

“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?

Warmth on this snowy day,

Gigi.