!!! TRIGGER WARNING. This post contains themes of rape, body image issues and shame. Discretion is advised.
Breaking taught me to see and appreciateAlex Elle
the beauty in re-building.
October is a tough month for me. For me, it serves as a reminder of who is no longer here. It is the start of a cold embrace that will remain for several months. I love cold weather. I bask in the colors all around me. But there is a melancholia that comes each October 1st. A certain sense of bitterness, a reminder that another year has passed and I am in this body and vessel that I am still learning to love.
Each year, I find my mind racing and making preparations internally to be able to deal with how difficult this month is. And every year, as I make these preparations I find myself struggling, feeling as though I’m out at sea in a little ship and I have only just spotted a tidal wave coming for me after I’m already enveloped by it. Like clockwork, at October’s end I wind up in bed, lacking motivation, feeling as though my back is made of cinder blocks, and that sunshine is too bright for my saddened skin. I wind up exhausted, spent and slightly angry that “I let this happen again”.
October 6th, 2017. It is a heavy day for me. A day that holds hollow space for what happens when control is taken away. On October 6, 2017 I was sexually assaulted. I wasn’t ever going to talk about this on here and I feel knots in my stomach as I type this. But I am trying to take back my power which means that I don’t have to hide parts of my story anymore. I get to tell it. I get to handle it however I handle it.
As September was ending this year, I found myself making the usual preparations. Closing up the cabins of my brain for the winter, and laying some higher brick on the walls around my heart. Little seeds of stress and cortisol planting themselves in my mind, slowly and routinely. I found myself growing fatigued at the thought of how fatigued I knew I was going to be come October’s end. So I stopped. I changed my plans.
This year, I tried something different. Anything I would usually have done to try to escape the tidal wave of emotion I would usually experience, I promised to do the opposite. I opted out of honoring “anniversary dates” like October 6th with silence or sadness and I put focus on giving myself permission to be still and do the things I wanted to do. Taking a class. Creating something for myself. Building on my dreams. And I wasn’t scared. The day passed. It was over and he didn’t get to hold any more unnecessary power over me on that day.
I have been circling. I have been saying this for months to my loved ones– ” I feel stronger right now, but I feel like I am constantly circling a pit of despair and that the smallest thing could set me off into a spiral”. So in short, my strength has been building. I have been healing. But I often find myself wondering when the next ball is going to drop and I am going to relapse into an even worse depression. I find myself worrying about this and wanting to protect how far I have come. But rather than panic like i might have done previously, I have been reflecting and present and practicing self-care. If you have come here for answers today, I am not sure that I have any.
Today I am focused on self-care. This term has become a popular term in the wellness community. It has taken on the face of skin masks, manicures, and bubble baths. As a mental health clinician, I can’t even tell you how frustrating this is for me. Self-care. Say it enough times and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. To be honest, I hate taking baths and haven’t had a manicure in years. These things are so lovely. But they aren’t self-care.
On October 6th, 2017 I felt so much guilt about needing to take a minute to myself and missing class that I still got up and went anyway instead of giving myself time. I had just been raped and got so nervous about doing poorly in class that I got out of my bed and went to class and sat there learning about art therapy theories and then went home and couldn’t figure out why I felt so confused. I know that I am not the only one who has just “pushed through it” so I could be a “strong and productive member of society” because anything else is “just letting him win”. Right?
Self-care. I want you to take the “care” right out of it. Self. Let’s put the emphasis on “self”. I have been thinking so much about what it means to actually care for the self and maybe baths and face masks can fall into that but I think they are the absolute smallest fraction of it all. People fall back on these things when they have no idea about what they might actually be needing. It is by no means, any fault of their own. We have not been taught in society to care for ourselves beyond basic hygiene and nutrition (which feels like a luxury most days, anyway).
I want you to think about the last time you asked yourself “What do I need right now?”. What was your answer? You might even find that you couldn’t come up with one. Maybe your answer felt selfish so you didn’t follow through. All fine. But why? When did caring for ourselves become seen as being indulgent? Who decided this? When did getting the proper amount of sleep, rest and nutrition become something that we feel guilty about? Who let this happen? Why is it that unless we are contributing to some bigger thing, that we are seen as lazy?
What do you need? The question is loaded and difficult and makes me squirm. What do you need? It doesn’t have to be anything tangible. Maybe sometimes it is courage. Maybe it is love. Maybe it silence or nature or a pint of ice cream. What the hell do you need right now, here in this very moment? Maybe it is soft clothes and clean sheets. Maybe it deep reflection. Maybe it is pausing to take in the view from where you stand in life right now. What do you need? Sometimes in response to this question from my clients, I get a big puff of breath and a chuckle. Other times, it seems that pulling teeth might be easier.
Whenever I see my therapist, she tries to instill in my brain the notion that I cannot pour from an empty cup. It’s a simple visual. We cannot serve or help others if we have nothing left within ourselves. If we are totally spent, and exhausted and fatigued we cannot expect ourselves to successfully do our jobs, or be present.
What. Do. You. Need? We often don’t allow ourselves to be still enough to feel it. I have mentioned in previous posts the beauty of being able to find gold in our own pockets if we are only brave enough to stop and look. But what about when we are not currently searching for gold? What happens when we allow ourselves minutes to simply be. To simply be still. What happens for you? What happens when you are so present that feeling the brisk October air on your cheeks feels like a gentle reminder that you have made it to exactly where you are of your own volition. That brisk air on your cheek is a greeting for your own resilience. But you can only notice it when you allow yourself to be still. That brisk air is a gentle kiss from your future best self and it is full of gratitude.
Stillness allows us to walk with intention. Intention allows us our power back. It makes movement something more of an act of deliberation. It takes away the autopilot and puts us in intentional motion. It makes morning coffee taste like you harvested that coffee bean yourself. When we are still, our sense come out of hibernation. Our sight is expanded and our feet become planted in the ground wherever they are. Stillness is the act of permission. It is allowing yourself some extra time whenever the hell you need it. It is an act of love when the chaos of the day becomes too much. It allows us to face fear in the eyeballs rather than running for something better. Instead of finding something better, stillness allows us to make what we already have better. It builds upon our own castle. It fixes the roof after a long winter. Stillness is the contractor you never knew you needed for the vessel you inhabit right now. You’re not going to get a new one for a long time. And when you can be still and enjoy the one you are in, why would you want to?
For a long time after the assault, I wanted to be someone else and live in someone else’s body. I felt dirty and broken and out of date. But then I started to be gentle with my soft skin. I started to sing praise upon my hands. I started to recognize my body did not betray me. Stillness helped me find gentleness and healing. Stillness asked me to sit down with my body and love it again. Stillness helped me find what I needed. Stillness helped me develop a self-nurturing attitude. Stillness continues to let me clear my head and fosters a relationship with resilience.
Stillness is never forceful. It’s a friendly face wanting to catch up. It’s a slow walk on a chilly day. It’s consistent. It will wait for you, however long you need. Stillness is freedom from pain and suffering. Stillness is taking time to acquaint yourself with the version of you that exists beyond your traumas, your pain, your diagnoses, and everything else. It will always be willing to meet you on the other side. Stillness is not stagnation but a safe and warm hearth to rest at before you embark on your next journey. Stillness always has room at its table and a bowl waiting in the oven for you. Stillness welcomes you with open arms even after years of movement. Stillness allows us to create our own freedoms.
Stillness fosters intention. We cannot make rash or hasty moves if we are willing to be still enough to explore what is inside our brains rather than what externals factors are trying to influence them. Stillness breeds honesty. It never lies. It is quiet and deliberate. Stillness asks us to be present enough to think for ourselves. It asks us to consider the importance of what is happening under our noses. Stillness helps us understand and provide answers for the question: What do you need? Stillness is self-care. I am able to greet each day because stillness helped me come out of a dark place when I needed to care for myself. It wasn’t face masks and spa days.
Still. It makes me think of water undisturbed. It is clean and refreshing. It feels smooth. It feels like a warm blanket I can wrap myself in whenever I need it. It has many meanings. It is not simply a verb. It implies that the story doesn’t end. And still….
Here is what I know to be true:
It is possible to have survived your worst days and still show up for the best ones. It is possible to feel as though the pressure of society has finally won total control over you and still find yourself fighting back. It is possible to lose all you ever found to be meaningful and still create new meaning in the little experiences you have every day. It is possible to be scarred by interactions more powerful than you immediate comprehension and still try again tomorrow. It is possible to be hurt by something or someone and still chose love. It is possible to be angry and still feel empathy. It is possible to feel like you have endured more than your fair share and still work on making things better. It is possible to watch your whole world crash down and still re-build.
You are not bound by what has happened to you. You only are responsible for what you choose to do about it. Sometimes that comes in the form of self-nurturing. Sometimes it comes in the form of stillness. It is okay to wait in stillness until the world makes sense again. It is okay to move when you are ready. You do not have to pretend that you are always 100%. It is okay to be 32% sometimes. Be honest about it. Let stillness greet you. Have a bowl of something warm with it. When you are ready to move again, be sure that it is with intention and self-nurturing. Check in from time to time–what do you need? Deep, spiritual, healing can only come from within. Others can witness it and help along the way, but it has to come from you. And it is also fine to not know where to start with it. Take the time you need. Be gentle. Do not rush your process or you may miss something that stillness has planted there just for you.
What do you need in order to heal? What do you need to foster a nurturing relationship with yourself? What do you need from stillness today? How will you ensure that you follow through? How will you move with intention? What does stillness tell you when you are uncertain?
If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault and/or rape, there is help:
RAINN – 800.656.HOPE
Rape Crisis — 210-349-7273