Story Time: Blue Bic Pen

I love being a story-teller and I have this idea that it would be rad to share some of the significant experiences I’ve had using a narrative format. I want to tell stories about things that connect with the purpose of head/strong—abuse, mental health, life, love… I want to engage people in conversations about these things in creative ways, so settle in everyone; it’s story time.

xxJ

P.S. Obviously privacy is important, so names will always be changed, but the stories are otherwise true.


I’m 15-years-old and, along with 30 or so other kids, I’m sitting in a cold and musty portable for my Grade 10 English class with Miss Lee.  This week we’re studying media literacy and today we’re starting a group assignment looking at the messages and imagery advertisers use to promote their products. We’re a few minutes into the class, groups have been assigned, and we’ve be given most of the period to work on our presentations.

My group is gathered close to the front of the portable. I remember seeing the chalkboard directly ahead of me—it was filled with our teacher’s neat, curly, cursive writing. I stand up to retrieve the package of assignment guidelines, printed on blue copier paper, from the teacher’s desk at the front of the class.

As I return to my group and begin to sit down on my chair, something jabs me between my legs. Shocked, I look behind me and I see, grinning up at me, the face of a boy in my group. In his hand is a blue, Bic pen, poised vertically on the seat of my chair.

I sort of register what’s happened, but I don’t know what to say… So I blush, I hold back embarrassed and confused tears, and I force myself to start the work with my group. But, through my thin, Jockey underwear and the jeans I stole from my older sister, I feel bruised and tingly. In fact, my shock makes it impossible for me to feel anything else until the bell rings and I’m shaken into the present moment.

As my classmates file out of the portable, I decide that I’m going to say something to my teacher. I wait for the classroom to empty and then I head over to Miss Lee’s desk.

I am so embarrassed and I can barely get the words out, but Miss Lee is young and friendly, she has a kind and approachable face.

“Brian stuck his pen up between my legs at the beginning of class.”

She asks me to repeat what I just told her, so I do. My cheeks burn with embarrassment and shame for not understanding what happened and for not just ignoring it like I’m sure most other girls would. Miss Lee asks me a few more questions, which I do my best to answer before stumbling out of the portable.

Later that day, my parents get a phone call from my school. Miss Lee has talked to the administrators, and Brian and his parents have had a meeting with them; Brian denied everything. I tell my parents what I know happened and I resolve to face Brian at school the next day. Where this courage comes from, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t last, because when I show up at Miss Lee’s portable for my second-period English class I’m met with nasty taunts from Brian and his friends, who are standing outside the portable’s door. They call me a liar and a slut. They say I just want attention. They make me cry.

I uncharacteristically skip Miss Lee’s class that day.

Time passes and the incident quickly blows over. I mean, it’s not really that big of a deal, right? Boys will be boys? Maybe it didn’t even happen…did I make it all up? 

No, I didn’t.

In Miss Lee’s grade 10 English class, I learned that advertisers use women’s bodies to sell everything from cigarettes to shoes. I also learned that boys can shove Bic pens between girls’ legs and it’s not called sexual assault. I learned that I should feel shame for something that made me feel violated and that I should just get over it, because most people don’t think it’s a big deal, especially not Brian.

But I don’t ever really get over it, and the truth is, I still feel that pen sometimes.

I still feel that pen.

xxJ

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“Beautifully smooth” eh? I wonder what Miss Lee would have said about Bic For Her; it certainly makes me cringe.

Everything Needs to Be Perfect

Because that’s not too much to ask, right?

I live with a dual mental health diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Of the two, anxiety is the stronger beast and tends to take first billing in the screenplay of my life. One of the core contributors to my anxiety is an ever-present and absolutely fervent desire to be perfect. I try to come off as cool and calm and relaxed—ha! The vicious truth is that the effort I put into seeming nonchalant about things is actually a symptom of my perfectionism.

Oh, cruel irony!

Anxiety produces hyper-vigilance in me so habitual that it pervades all of my life. Everything ends up being calculated and controlled and set up so that I have the absolute best chance of not failing or embarrassing myself, even if the threat of failure or embarrassment isn’t actually real.

It’s kinda messed up, right?

These are the levels of thinking that Generalized Anxiety Disorder bequeaths upon me! I have the gift/curse of being so so so SO aware of every goddamn thing I’m doing all the time. And if I perceive a risk of failure or humiliation, no matter how small, it’s always a full-stop.

Okay, there are probably times when I can’t avoid risky situations (okay, there are definitely times when I can’t avoid risky situations…), but that doesn’t stop me from doing everything I can to mitigate the chances that I won’t be successful.

I’m not exaggerating: perfectionism rules my world, friends.

In some ways, my perfectionism is good; it pushes me to strive for success, which can be very motivating and, in certain contexts like school, perfectionism helps me succeed at a high level. It makes me an attentive mother/friend/lover/daughter/sister/person and it ensures that I give my full effort to whatever I take on.

But here’s the other edge of the sword; perfectionism is my enemy too. When its hyper-vigilant voice takes control, it debilitates me and vilifies me with feelings of unworthiness, failure, guilt, and shame. Sometimes I can’t do something because I’m too afraid that I will fail. Sometimes, unexpected challenges or variations pop up and my carefully-crafted perfectionist plan gets thrown out the window, which triggers major anxiety in me. A lot of the time, perfectionism makes things take waaaaaaaaaay longer than they need to, because I have to lay out and follow a prescribed set of steps to accomplish whatever level of success my perfectionism has determined for me.

I can’t even send a fucking text message without re-reading it eight times and checking for typos. And heaven forbid if I edit my text, send it, and then find a latent typo! The shame I feel on those occasions is akin to when you accidentally call your grade 4 teacher “Daddy” instead of Mr. Snair (not that I ever did that!). Or when you’re 12 years old and you catch your toe on an uneven patch of sidewalk and stumble awkwardly while sauntering past your current crush AKA the love of your life AKA THE ONLY PERSON WHO MATTERS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD

Writing this blog is a test of patience and mental fortitude for me. I will admit, I re-read everything I write, including unpublished drafts and the bits and bobs I keep around as potential writing topics in the future, at least 800,000,000 times before I hit “publish.” Then I look them over another bajillion times after publishing to affirm (and reaffirm, and re-reaffirm, and re-re-reaffirm…) that my writing is worthy of being looked at by other people.

In my past relationships, perfectionism fed my codependent behaviour and my abusers benefited greatly from my desire to make things perfect (i.e. the work I put into making them happy, keeping our lives together, making it look like everything was okay to others, etc…). They used this to encourage me into putting more and more effort into fulfilling their desires, instead of addressing my own needs. Emotional abusers don’t care about the amount of effort their victim puts forth, they only care about getting what they want. I was the perfect candidate for the job of codependent and perfectionism was a big contributor to helping me get hired.

I know that perfectionism isn’t a healthy habit. I also know that it’s something I’ll have to keep working on, probably for the rest of my life. In fact, one thing I’ve come to understand about a diagnosis of something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, is that it’s a lifelong diagnosis and that the effects of this disease can be managed, but never eliminated.

Perfectionism is a part of me that will never go away, but I do practice relieving myself of the pressure to be perfect as often as possible. I try to allow myself to fail. I try to allow myself to make mistakes. I attempt to allow myself to not know something every once in awhile. I also let myself ask for help (well I try to, at least!).

I may have to force myself to do these things, but I do them because I know that putting myself in these situations prepares me for when it’s not a choice to have things change. Maybe the funny part of this is that in choosing to allow myself these transgressions, I’m still allowing my perfectionism and anxiety to hold the reins, but this way they remain at a distance. I’m electing to put myself into “risky” situations so that I can be better prepared for when truly risky moments occur.

So I’m still being perfectionist—I’m still plotting out the course I will take every single day. It’s just nuanced so that outwardly, it doesn’t appear that I’m controlling things and so that inwardly, I still get peace of mind and maintain a sense of control, which helps me manage my anxiety and makes me feel successful.

Does perfectionism rule your life too? Maybe we should start a support group… How about, “Life Will Never Be Perfect So Let’s Get Real About That And Figure Shit Out Anonymous”?

xxJ

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Every sunset is perfect, yet every sunset is different. So does that mean that none of them are perfect? Or is it all just a matter of perspective?

Embrace Me

It’s my body and I’ll eat pie if I want to.

Up until very recently I was living a depleted life. My days were filled with anxiety and depression, I was constantly overwhelmed and tired. My sleep was poor, I got light-headed all the time, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t remember things, and I couldn’t keep up in general. I once had a naturopathic doctor posit that I felt this way because my body‘s resources were completely depleted and couldn’t keep up to the intense amount of stress I was going/had gone through. This sentiment was echoed by other medical and mental health professionals to the point where I accepted it as fact.

But my mission now, with my divorce settlement set in stone and my life much more in order, is to rejuvenate my body, soul, and mind and to give myself the loving care I deserve and have so needed.

To that end, I’ve sought out help. I have an A-list team of mental health, medical, and wellness practitioners assisting me in my recovery. Since seeking help, I’ve made huge (read: GINORMOUS) strides in bettering my mental and physical health: I’m on medications that seem to be helping me, I have counsellors whom I trust implicitly, I have friends and family on my side, and I have healthier outlets for my anger, my sadness, and my anxiety.

Right now, I’m working, just a little bit, which is something I hadn’t been able to do for years.

Right now I’m dating, just a little bit, which is also something I couldn’t have handled even just a little while ago.

I’m relaxing, just a little bit, which is something I had forgotten how to do.

And I’m eating—I’m eating well!—which is really the crux of what I want to talk about here. Because, like many other people, I have body issues and food issues, and these issues get more or less out of hand depending on how well or not well I’m doing.

Story time:

Last autumn I lost 20 pounds. It just fell off me between October and November.

*POOF* 

It was gone.

Some people would rejoice at shedding 20 pounds, but I know (and I knew at the time) that the weight loss wasn’t healthy for me. This weight loss was the result of tremors and panic attacks; it was the result of my lack of sleep and my lack of exercise. Really, it was the result of a deep depression and severe anxiety that made me lose my appetite and lose my will to try.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I hired a clinical nutritionist named Trish to help me make a healthy eating plan. Trish is awesome and one of the things I love about her is that she gives her clients a life plan, not just a nutrition plan. So when we met we had a conversation about, and I received personalized recommendations for, sleep, exercise, nutrition, sex/birth control, mindfulness, and stress management. Trish and I extensively combed through my habits and my preferences, as well as my stresses and my struggles. She learned about the meds I’m on, my hormonal cycle…everything!

Did you know that gluten can significantly affect our mental health? I had no idea.

Did you know that people can have late onset lactose intolerance? It turns out I’m one of those lucky late-bloomers.

Did you know that soy can do incredible damage to your hormonal cycle? I actually knew this, but I honestly didn’t realize how much it had affected me (fyi: I was vegetarian for 8 years, so soy was a staple in my diet!).

There are lots of fad diets out there like Keto and Paleo and GAPS that try to convince you that they are the BEST and ONLY way to eat. I know many people feel successful at addressing their body/food/health issues by following one of these diets, but I truly subscribe to the belief that each of our bodies is different and therefore each of our bodies has different needs.

My body’s not your body, your body’s not my body, and everyone should stop treating them as if they are the same.

So Trish and I came up with this plan, which I’ve been implementing for over three months now and guess what? IT’S LITERALLY BEEN LIFE-CHANGING! 

I am NOT used to what it feels like to have a healthy body; I’m not familiar with having stamina and strength and fullness. I love these changes, but here’s the rub: I love how I’m feeling, but I don’t love my body right now.

Those 20 pounds I lost last autumn? They’re back, and then some. In fact, I’m heavier now (aside from during my pregnancies) than I have ever been before. My clothes all feel tight. My belly is rounder. My teeny boobs are definitely less teeny. My thighs are chunkier. And don’t even get me started on the increasing voluptuousness of my booty.

My instinct is to hate it. And I mean HATE it. Feminist that I am, I’ve still fallen prey to the body image standards that society dictates and the messaging I got from family and friends growing up. I’ll sheepishly admit that I’ve always prided myself on being thin. But fuck, it turns out I was living a thin-privileged existence because this weight is really, really getting to me!

I can try to rationalize it to myself however the hell I want and I still always come back to “I look fat.” I avoid looking into mirrors now, because “I look fat.” I struggle to choose my clothes each morning, because “I’m too fat.” I feel self-conscious and so, so body-aware all the time.

I feel like a huge, fucking whale.

And I know it’s bullshit. I know, intellectually, that this is a crock of shit that my anxious, sick, unhealthy self created. I know that what I’m saying is stupid, but I feel like it’s completely and utterly true.

At least, I did until this afternoon.

Today, I put on my favourite pair of soft, body-hugging leggings, and a form-fitting, ribbed tank top, because I knew I wasn’t leaving the house and I knew that I wanted to wear something comfortable (none of my actual pants fit me anyway!). My daughters and I were busy all morning so I forgot to worry about whether or not my tummy was protruding or my thighs looked lumpy. Then I saw myself in the bathroom mirror at lunch time and my gut instinct was to feel revulsion, which is really the point I was at with myself! I immediately felt repulsed by my own image, but then a second later, I had an epiphany:

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

WHAAAA????

What if this is what healthy looks like on me?

What if this body, these extra fifteen pounds or so, what if this is the body I’m supposed to have in order to be strong and energetic and beautiful and sexy? Oh my god what if??

When I left my ex-husband, I chose to do so because I knew I’d rather explain to my children why I left than why I didn’t. And today I decided to tell myself that I would rather be healthier and happier with fifteen “extra” pounds than keep living the hollow, depleted life I had been surviving in for the last two decades. I would rather eat well and feel full, buy pants a size or two bigger, have seconds if I want them, and snack instead of falling prey to my hypoglycemia…I would rather be bigger and find a way to feel beautiful at THIS size, than keep starving myself.

This has been a profound realization for me. And it’s one that I know I’ll be digesting (pardon the pun…not!) for quite a while.

I want to love my new body. I mean, even when I was thin (thinner?) I didn’t like myself! So what the hell do I have to lose in embracing the changes that are happening, which are OVERWHELMINGLY positive, and accepting that I am now this way and that it’s completely, entirely, fucking alright.

Who gives a shit that I have a few extra pounds on me?

Who cares that it took me this long to start feeling better?

What matters most is that I’m reaping the benefits of paying attention and giving my body what it needs. What matters is that I’m striving to embrace the version of me that looks different, but feels good. What matters is that I’m edging towards thriving instead of just surviving, and if achieving that requires me to go out and buy a couple new pairs of pants, then it’s most definitely worth it.

Maybe this is what my body looks like when it’s healthy.

You know what? Fuck maybe.

This IS what my body looks like when it’s healthy! And I’m going to fucking embrace it.

xxJ

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It’s basically impossible to feel shitty about yourself when you’re wearing sequins and rocking your dad’s university engineering jacket.

Let’s Get Physical

Some days, you just have to sweat it out.

I’m sore right now.

In fact my body is so sore that it’s hurting to type these words. This kind of pain is the best kind, though, because it comes with a deep sense of satisfaction. I’m sore because I worked hard today. I used my body today. I got a bunch of shit done that needed a bunch of muscle to do it.

Hell yeah!

Living on my own and being a single mom means that I’m the only adult around about 99% of the time, so when something breaks, I have to fix it. When someone gets hurt, I have to look after them. When something needs doing, I have to do it.

I don’t always like living this way, and sometimes I do have to recruit help, but overall I get things done and I take pride in what I accomplish as a single woman.

Today my kids are with their father. I haven’t seen them since last night at 7:00 pm and I won’t be with them again until two days from now at 4:00 pm. I can’t express how awful it is to be forcibly separated from them so often. I still struggle to reconcile myself to this new reality in which I am forced to be a part-time parent.

Please don’t give me those bullshit statements that people always seem to say when I’m sad about not having my kids with me:

“But now you have so much time to yourself; you can do the things that you want to!”

or,

“I wish I had that much time to myself! My kids are driving me crazy!”

Fuck that.

No, seriously, stop saying that shit to me! I am not a mother who wishes she wasn’t one. I’m not a parent who intended to have a rigid custody and access schedule and who wanted to be put in a situation where I had to choose between staying in an abusive relationship to be with my kids full time, or leaving that relationship and giving up the freedom and flexibility I had as a mother before my marriage ended.

I miss my kids like crazy when they aren’t here. In fact, I have a physical sense of hurt deep within me that never goes away now. I’m trying to find ways to dull that ache and one of the best coping strategies I’ve found is to get outside and, in the immortal words of Olivia Newton-John, get physical.

Today I spent the morning weed-whacking my front yard. I then cut the grass—all 1.3 acres of it—with my lawn tractor. I chopped wood for two hours. I then finished weed-whacking and trimmed up all the edges in the backyard that my tractor couldn’t reach. Then I ran around with the dog for awhile because I just couldn’t stop moving yet. I made sure that for the majority of my day I was outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body, and focusing on anything other than the fact that I am hurting so much on the inside.

I’m kind of proud of being sore tonight; it’s a testament to my physical strength. It felt so  damn good to swing that ax and watch as a pile of freshly hewn logs stacked up beside me. It felt fucking amazing to have the energy to spend so many hours doing physical labour, when chronic fatigue has been my constant companion for almost a decade.

I’m proud tonight, because my calluses, my blisters, and my aching muscles are also a testament to my emotional strength.

When you hold a hurt like I do, deep inside of yourself, every day and every night, it sometimes feels impossible to do anything else. When I’m able to get beyond those feelings and summon the motivation to DO SOMETHING, to take real action and to find something to feel positive about, I think I’ve earned the right to feel pretty fucking good about myself.

I may wake up tomorrow and find it hard to move. My joints may crack and my back may groan with stiffness, but those pains will be a reminder of what I accomplished today and they’ll help inspire me to try to move beyond my pain and do something else with my day. I know there will be times in the future where all I can manage is to keep breathing—I’ve accepted that relapse with my mental health problems is a part of my life from now on—but a day like today shows me that there will also be days when I can shut off the emotional pain by channeling my energy into productive things.

I will gladly take the bruises. I will happily sport blisters and calluses. I will willingly put my body to work so that I can ache all over again. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t think I could keep going. On a daily basis I felt like I should give up on life. But here I am. Here I fucking am! And my sore fingers, typing on these keys, are well deserved. It took more than yard work to earn them today: it took guts, and it took grit and tonight I’ll sleep soundly and relish the ache in my muscles tomorrow, and hopefully hang on to the strength I feel right now until my babies get home.

xxJ

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Gettin’ physical, ridin’ dirty.

A 7-Layer Cake

Don’t let the bastards get you down; eat chocolate cake instead.

This past spring I took a writing course. It had the amazingly succinct, yet perfectly spot-on title of “Write Anyway,” subtitle: “don’t let the bastards get you down.”

I mean, it’s perfect, right?

It turned out that Write Anyway was about way more than just writing. Because during the course and since then, I‘ve ended up taking the messages and philosophy of the course and applying them not only with my prose, but also in my life.

See, I’ve led a life that was, up until this point (and excusing maybe those first 5-6 years of life when all children are entirely self-motivated because, you know, survival and all that), one where I prioritized everyone else’s needs and wishes before addressing my own. It’s been one where I constantly second guessed myself, felt anxious about even the tiniest decisions, and intentionally kept things private because I feared criticism, embarrassment, and a sense of failure.

But I’m learning some new things now, and I’m trying some new things now too, so I took a leap and signed up for the writing course. In doing so, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and authentic and, you know, kind of, sort of legit with my writing and with myself.

Somehow it ended up feeling like participating in Write Anyway became the pinnacle of all the hard work I’ve been doing! It was like the icing on the top of a massive, multi-tiered cake I’ve been building these last few years. Like, I’m imagining that I’ve been adding layer after delicious layer of what is the most mouth-watering cake ever created. In my mind, this cake is a decadent dark chocolate and sits at least 7 tiers high. Each layer represents a momentous benchmark I’ve achieved:

Layer 1: Ending my marriage (hallelujah!).

Layer 2: Getting a mental health diagnosis and starting treatment.

Layer 3: Finding the right psychiatric meds to be on (this took sooooooo long and was sooooooo effing difficult).

Layer 4: Beginning therapy with some amazing counsellors and seeing/feeling real, authentic progress.

Layer 5: Buying my own home out in the most beautiful goddamn place and knowing that I don’t ever have to move again (can I get an amen?!).

Layer 6: Getting my first real job in almost a decade.

Layer 7: Calling myself a writer and signing up for “Write Anyway.”

Icing: Participating in said writing course (and giving it every ounce of effort and energy I could muster!).

Sprinkles (of course there are sprinkles!): Launching head/strong, sharing my story, and taking the leap into being a legit writer/blogger.

In between each of these layers would be the richest, creamiest, dark chocolate ganache, which cements everything together and makes sure that this cake doesn’t crumble or fall. Or maybe it would be custard. Or raspberry jam. Or strawberry! Mmmmmm…

Okay, okay, I’ll quit it with the cake analogy… it’s making me quite hungry, actually… The point I’m trying to make with my appetite-inducing dessert comparison is that I now finally have the confidence and the energy to just fucking WRITE ANYWAY in every single part of my life! (As in the literal sense of writing down words and in the metaphorical sense of, “we all write our own life stories.”)

I can write my own life and while I sometimes feel pangs for the life I thought I would have, or regret the words I thought I could have written better, I’m forging ahead and showing up and I’m living and writing the fuck anyway!

So thank you to Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering who taught the writing course, and to the incredible and engaging women who took Write Anyway with me! Thank you for putting the icing on the cake of my accomplishments and pushing me that little bit further so I can show up and be present in my life.

I feel charged, I feel competent, I feel like taking some risks. And I know that’s the key to succeeding in life: you show up, you do your best, and you keep going even when the icing starts to melt, or someone’s stuck their thumb into the cake and fucked things up a bit.

Isn’t it amazing that life can be so delicious, even when it seems like it’s also full of shit?

xxJ

headstrong blog post - Sept 9 2018
When life hands you lemons, make chocolate cake instead!

Au revoir!

When I left my husband, I realized that I had lost much more than a marriage.

Now I understand that successful relationships involve people growing together as they work through their issues, face difficulties, celebrate successes, and find a shared identity as a couple while maintaining autonomy as individuals. But when you are in a codependent relationship, things are very different and when I walked away from my marriage, I was struck by a deep sense of not knowing myself.

In my relationship with the man who became my ex-husband, I molded myself entirely to how he wanted, or how I thought he wanted, me to be. I stopped doing the things I enjoyed doing. I stopped saying how I felt about things. I questioned my intuition. I lost faith in my ability to do anything. I became exhausted by the effort of trying to maintain the status quo (i.e. keep the peace and/or keep my husband happy). I had done this in previous relationships and friendships before (had I ever!), and at the time of my separation, the only thing that felt true about my identity was that I had become an expert at being passively codependent.

Yay. 

I was so lost when I was left on my own. I didn’t know what I liked to do anymore or what I was capable of. I felt dumb and useless and tired. The overwhelming sense I experienced was of being a complete stranger to myself, and I spent more time feeling triggered or completely drained than anything else.

I’ve always had a high level of self-awareness. In fact, even in the worst periods of my life, when I was shrouded in intense depression and anxiety, when I was beholden to my abusers, when I was contemplating suicide, I still had the knowledge that something was wrong and that I needed something to change. But since I framed my identity using the parameters my boyfriend/husband/parents/friends gave me, I couldn’t determine what was true and what wasn’t.

After many years of counselling, an amazing mental health day program, a consistent treatment plan, incredible support from some of the quality people in my life, and an unwavering sense that I absolutely could NOT give up, I began to unpack my experiences and rediscover myself.

And I realized a few key things…

  1. I could recognize that there were parts of me from my past that were still true, but that my experiences had fundamentally changed me. The core parts of me were still there, but they had to be rediscovered and given a new, healthy framework to exist in.
  2. There were things I had considered “core” parts of myself that I needed to throw out and replace with other things that came from a place of authenticity.
  3. I couldn’t continue trying to be the person I felt other people thought I should be.
  4. I had the capacity to discover my identity again, if I chose to work at it.

So I began to work diligently at figuring out who the hell I was now and who I wanted to be post-separation, post-abuse, post-youth, post “Life 1.0.”

It started with identifying how I had allowed myself to be defined in the unhealthy relationships I had before. What, if anything, was true about me based on those parameters? I started trying to throw out old, bad habits… goodbye passivity! See ya later mandatory politeness! Au revoir overextending myself!

I also grabbed some of my “bad” traits that had been misused and misinterpreted, and created new, healthier frameworks for them. For example, I had bought into the belief that being sensitive and empathetic was a bad thing. It led me to be overly emotional, hot headed, and too accommodating. Not true! Being emotionally sensitive and highly empathetic is a gift! I just had to learn how to use it well! I renegotiated a new understanding of that quality in myself and have set to practicing this new way of thinking.

The second (or third?) step was to unearth good qualities that I wanted to embrace. This wasn’t an extensive list…more like, an exclusive one! I prioritized things and made sure I was focusing on a few, core traits that I felt were latent in my being, but which were also underrepresented or misunderstood. Basically, I dug up the good qualities in myself, like independence and determination, dusted them off, and put them back in my emotional tool-belt so that I could grab them instead when I went for one of my old, unhealthy, codependent habits.

And I realized that there were some skills I really wanted to have that I would need to work at embodying. I had to learn how to be assertive. I had to learn how to be alone. I had to learn to be angry in healthy ways. I’ve put time into teaching myself these new things, folding them into my identity as they become more and more familiar.

Leaving my emotional abuser was the catalyst in finding a new and healthy identity for myself. I am in no way complete, nor am I an expert in self-discovery. And I don’t expect myself to stay exactly as I am right now, but I do expect myself to keep working on living in a healthy way that supports a healthy sense of self.

It’s possible for you to do this too, no matter your relationship status, your history, or your future plans. Abused or not, we can all love and accept ourselves while striving to improve.

Your identity is not something that should be handed to you.

It may seem easier or more familiar to continue existing in the frameworks other people craft for you, but over the long term, you’ll do yourself a disservice in allowing others to define you.

So take a moment, envision yourself as you wish to be, and start taking steps, small or big, towards your a truer, more vivacious self!

xxJ

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The flowers in my garden, like this Teddy Bear Sunflower, remind me that I’m always growing and that sunshine can always be found if you look for it.