“Jingle Bells, Anxiety Smells, Depression Kicked-in Today…”

“The days are short, the nights are long, it’s Christmas again, hurray!”

Around this time last year, I came across this brilliant little graphic while scrolling through my Instagram feed:

Holiday Anxiety Letterpress Card Image
(I wish I could credit whoever made this, but sadly, its source is unknown to me.)

I lol’d for sure upon reading this, but to be honest, my giggles came from a place of humour and from recognizing how deeply I related to this little letterpress graphic.

I know humour is great medicine and I’m always appreciative of a good belly laugh, or even just a quick little smile and nose exhalation (come on, you so know what I’m talking about), but when you live with mental health struggles or in the wake of trauma, too often those happy moments are small in number and short in duration. Good times always seem to be followed by a reaffirmation of the anxiety or depression you feel and usually these reminders intrude vehemently, as if they are trying to out-do the little bit of joy you just experienced. It’s like my anxiety reasserts itself saying, “No, no, no…remember me?? You can’t forget about me; I’m what matters most. Hahahahaha!”

(For the record, I’m imagining that being spoken by either Cruella De Vil or Skeletor; take your pick of the two.)

do like Christmas. I do like celebrating holidays and special occasions, or at least, I want to enjoy them. But I struggle during these times; I always have! And the recent events in my life have made these times even more difficult.

Anxiety is often described as a fear of what is yet to or may come. Working with the assumption that anxiety’s core quality is this intensely fearful anticipation of the future, and understanding that anxiety manifests as things like social anxiety, panic attacks, mania, or other debilitating symptoms, I think it’s easy to see why holidays trigger people who struggle like I do.

Throughout the Christmas season, I try to remind myself to cherish it; to use it as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, to enjoy holiday traditions with my children, to pause and celebrate my successes over the past year... I try to do all those things, and I succeed some of the time, but I know I’m facing a lonely season. I know I’m going to be without my kids for much of the Christmas break. I know I will be surrounded by happy couples and happy, intact families who get to enjoy Christmas together. I know I am responsible for all the holiday activities, meals, gifts, and decorations around my household. I know I have to bear the financial burden of these celebrations. I know I will have to participate in large, social gatherings and will need to travel substantial distances over the Christmas season. I know that I will have to manage my diet and my body insecurities as I’m offered treats throughout the holidays; I know my willpower will be tested and that when I indulge, I will feel guilty.

I know all of these things,  but it’s the anticipation of them that really causes me to struggle at this time of the year. Yes, it can be (read: it is really, really) hard when I’m experiencing them in the present, but ultimately it’s the build-up to Christmas that gets me down.

do my best to get through the holiday season, but despite my efforts, I always spiral into unhealthy thinking. Like, right now, as I’m typing this, my anxiety has just promised me that if I can just get a boyfriend, all my holiday anxiety will go away. Of course! Meet a dude—the right dude, obviously, because that’s so easy to do—and all will be well!

As if it’s just that simple!

The effect of this thinking is to lead me into another anxious and depressed down-spin, where I start thinking about how lonely I am, about how there must be something wrong with me since I’m a single, divorced, mother of two. How all the men I’ve been with have let me down or been entirely the wrong fit. How that can’t be true because the only common denominator in those relationships was me, so clearly everything is all my fault…

Do you see what I did there?

It’s a fucking slippery slope, friends. And again, I’m half-laughing because I recognize how absurd this thinking is. It is absurd, but my reaction to all these stressors does make sense.

Christmas time is one trigger after another; it’s incredibly overstimulating! And my fancy Christmas anxiety may look really pretty on the outside, but it feels sharp and gut-wrenching on the inside.

Are you lonely this Christmas? Do you have to give up time with your children because of divorce or separation? Are you a single parent taking on the responsibilities of the holiday season all by yourself? Are you living with chronic illness or mental health struggles that sabotage your experience of special occasions or require significant accommodation so you can manage?

I hear you. I see you. I feel you.

I wish I had something more to offer all of us than just that, but I don’t. And honestly, my plan for getting through the holiday season is pretty much just to rely on silly Instagram posts, a good dose of writer’s therapy, and all the self-love and self-care I can muster. I hope it’s enough, but I know I will still struggle. I won’t give up, though, and acknowledging my struggles, speaking  up about them, and giving myself permission to feel these things, will go a long way to helping me get through this festive time of year. 

I think as a starting point, I’m going to keep re-imagining the lyrics of different holiday songs. For example, maybe the lyrics “Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer…” should be changed to “Christmas time is here, doing my best to get through it this year…”

What do you think??

xxJ

Christmas Skeletor
Skeletor: Oh, oh, I don’t think I feel well.
He-Man: Well, I think you’re feeling the Christmas spirit, Skeletor. It makes you feel… good.
Skeletor: Well I don’t like to feel good. I like to feel evil. Oooh.
She-Ra: Don’t worry, Skeletor, Christmas only comes once a year.
Skeletor: Ah, thank goodness! (source)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Abuse = Physical Abuse

It turns out that my abusers didn’t have to lay a finger on me in order to fuck up my body. 

Yes, I’ve been posting about the incredible changes and improvements I’ve experienced with my body in the last few months, but I want to backtrack a little bit and talk about why I’ve celebrated those changes as much as I have and why I now cherish every bit of my energy, focus, and strength.

The emotionally abusive men I’ve been with were never physically violent with me. Yes, there were times when I felt scared of them and yes, they touched me when I didn’t want them to and yes, they used their physical presence to intimidate me…but not once was I hit, pushed, slapped, scratched, bitten, or otherwise physically abused by them.

Although my body is now healing and I am feeling healthier, I still remember what it felt like when I was in the trenches of my emotionally abusive landscape. I still have a long way to go to regain my strength and dispel the lies about my body that I adopted as truth.

The body suffers when the mind is suffering, and chronic stress takes an enormous toll on your body...

Recurring emotional trauma takes a toll on your body.

Having no sense of self-worth takes a toll on your body.

Being fed lies about your body and adopting those lies as true takes a toll on your body.

Being in a chronic state of survival mode takes a toll on your body.

Doing the bulk of the work in a household or relationship takes a toll on your body.

Being depressed and anxious all the time takes a toll on your body.

Being or feeling used for sex or sexual acts takes a toll on your body.

Emotional abusers still take shots at your body, they just don’t make contact.


These are some of the ways emotional abuse affected my body:

Number 1: Living in a state of chronic stress and experiencing ongoing trauma kept my body in survival mode for a very long time. The hormones and reactions triggered in my body as a result of this stress should only be released on rare occasions when I am in actual life or death danger. (Think, charging rhino or being chased by Jason Voorhees.) My body shouldn’t be getting flooded with adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine on the regular. When I was with my abusers, it was normal for me to feel scared, overwhelmed, angry, distraught, or unsure and my body maintained a constant state of vigilance to try and protect me.

Number 2: My abusers devalued and debased me regularly and I adopted these attitudes as true. I learned to believe that I was ugly/fat/stupid/weak/worthless and I felt these things physically. As a result of this, the amount of work I have to put into learning to love and accept my body feels infinite. I remain painfully aware of all my flaws and deeply insecure about my body. I hold myself to a ridiculous standard that I haven’t yet been able to overcome, although in recent months, I’ve made significant strides towards better health and a better self-image.

Number 3: My emotional abusers expected me to do the bulk of the work in our lives. During my marriage this meant that I carried and birthed two children in less than two years. I then cared for those children on a full-time basis, day and night. I looked after our house, yard, and car. I did all the cooking and clean up. I looked after everything for birthdays and holidays. I cared for our pets. I managed everyone’s schedules. I did all of our errands. I did all the driving. I completed my ECE diploma online while still parenting full-time and offering part-time child care from my home. If I was sitting down, I was nursing a baby or folding the laundry. If I was out on my own, I was buying our groceries. If I was sleeping, it was because I had finally passed out, although I was likely to be woken up within a few hours by a distraught toddler, a baby who needed nursing, a snoring husband, or a nightmare.

Number 4: As a result of my experience, I developed anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue. I’ve had weeks and months where I ate voraciously because I was super anxious and then I would starve myself for weeks because I was so depressed. My sleep is poor and I dream restlessly. I suffer from panic attacks and sugar crashes. I have brain fog and issues keeping my focus. I get migraines and I clench my teeth. In the past, I had tremors and nervous ticks like tapping my fingers or biting my tongue. In an effort to treat these issues I’ve tried what feels like a million different medications, supplements, exercises, diets, and therapies—it’s like I’ve been living as a science experiment with a constant onslaught of mind- and mood-altering drugs coursing through my veins. I am finally feeling hopeful that I may be making progress towards wellness, but it will take years to replenish my body after becoming so depleted.


This broken body…at least, it has often felt broken to me…that I’m working to restore is a testament to the strength I had to have in order to survive.

If you relate to this conversation at all, then I commend you for being so strong and for fighting through whatever pain you’ve experienced at the hands of an emotionally abusive person.

I’m sorry.

I hope you’re okay.

You are worthy of love and your body is an amazing and strong entity—don’t let the abusers fuck it up anymore.

xxJ

2018-10-25 07.54.01-1
I’m reclaiming my body and taking steps towards wellness everyday.

Speaking My Truth is What Saved Me

It wasn’t therapy. It wasn’t psychiatric medication. It wasn’t my divorce. It wasn’t moving to the country… Authenticity is what saved me.

I’m betting we’ve all met some truly authentic people. You know, those people whose self-awareness and confidence is palpable. They always seem grounded and honest—they carry themselves with an assurance that belies a solid understanding of who they are and what they’re doing. They’re the people who start movements, who pursue their passions, who have a glowing energy, and who seem legitimately happy in their lives, despite their struggles and stresses. They are the people we want to be around and the people we want to emulate.

I think deep down we all know who our authentic self is. Deep down, we know what’s true about ourselves. And deep down, we’re aware of what we need and what we want and why, but we rarely act on this knowledge or understanding.

Why do so many of us sacrifice our authentic selves? Why do we hide our authenticity and keep our needs and wants private? Why have so many of us lost the ability to recognize and act on what we really need in order to be fulfilled?

I can’t speak for other people. I mean, I can guess at things, but really I have no idea how other people think and what they need in order to be happy; those things are going to be different for everybody.

I can tell you this, though: speaking my truth absolutely saved me.

My parents tell stories of me as a toddler where it’s clear that in my youngest years I had no problem communicating what I wanted. I’m pretty sure I just bit whoever wouldn’t listen and smacked other kids if I didn’t get my way. I was an adorable child, to be sure.

Something changed as I got older, though—I learned to turn that energy inward. I learned that it was unacceptable to lose my temper, or to bite and hit (kudos Mom and Dad!).

Unfortunately, my self-regulation skills morphed into a practice of self-sacrifice and passivity. I learned to deny my needs for the sake of keeping the peace and to focus solely on making sure that the other people around me were happy instead of myself. This skill for self-deprecation, that I honed in my childhood and my youth, led me into some really damaging relationships. In not speaking up, in not having the language or the tools to make my authentic-self known, I lost touch with my needs and I let other people take advantage of me. I developed a deep sense of insecurity, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and despair.

This blog is the product of my experience of emotional abuse and me coming to terms with the unhealthy habits I formed that led to the unhealthy relationships I experienced. A few years ago, my life felt like a prison. I remember resolving myself to face at least 40 more years of unhappiness because of the commitment I felt to my partner and the life we had together. I remember wanting to completely disappear; to evaporate, to dissolve, to press my body up against a wall and seep into the paint and become nothing.

It was a very dark time in my life.

And then something changed: my marriage hit a breaking point and I saw an opportunity for escape. Something happened that made me feel justified in leaving my life as I knew it and moving on, despite how scary and foreign the future looked. I finally spoke up and it saved me.

Authenticity saved my sanity. It gave me strength and courage; it bolstered support from the people around me who cared to listen. It got me medical help. It brought me to my counsellors. It secured a healthier future for me and my children. It saved me from other harmful relationships. It allowed me to find meaningful, engaging work. It got my creative juices flowing again, it led me to make more music, to write this blog, and to self-publish my poetry!

Authenticity saved my life!

It was a catalyst for all the positive changes I’ve experienced these last two years. Sure, I’ve had an intense amount of counselling and therapy. I’ve started and followed a strict mental health treatment plan that includes mood-stabilizing drugs. I’ve moved to a beautiful, rural home, I’ve been exercising and eating better, I’ve got a dog and some cats, and my kids are a couple of years older and more independent now… Sure, all of those things have happened! But they wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t being authentic.

So I want to ask you, what do you need? What do you want? Who the hell are you and what does your authenticity look like?

I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel happier and healthier living authentically. Although, I can also guarantee that it’s not a magic cure for what ails you. There’s no lifestyle change, no medicine, no treatment, no herbal beverage, mantra, yoga flow, detox diet, religion, or amount of money that will stop stress from being in your life. But you will feel better and everyone around you will notice when you start to live your truth. Even the most selfish of us should want that!

Authenticity doesn’t have to be poetic. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or beautiful or eloquent: it just needs to be real. That’s the key.

And now I’m done sounding like a cheesy motivational article from a teen magazine…“10 Steps to Finding the REAL you! Plus, 10 Cool Outfits to Let Your Personality Shine!” Ugh, gag me! Bleh.

I just want to tell you that authenticity is the key to life, and I’ll swear by that. Literally: it’s the fucking bomb. Authenticity is where it is AT and you can fucking quote me on that. It saved my life. It can save yours. And then we can meet up and have a delicious fucking potluck and bask in the authentic glow of our gorgeous, real selves being exactly who we need to be and doing exactly what we need to do.

I’ll bring the casserole, you just bring an appetite for authenticity.

xxJ

2018-05-19 14.41.26-1
Take it from my 7-year-old: your beautiful, authentic self is in within you. Pinky-promise.

It’s Time for a Break

Today, I’m practicing some self-care.

Wednesday is my writing day. Every hump day, come hell or high water, I sit down at my laptop and put words onto a page, either for this blog, for my poetic pursuits, or for personal use.

Every Wednesday I write, but this week, I woke up and had exactly zero motivation to write anything.

Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to write each week. By Wednesday I’ve usually had something floating around in my head for a while and all I need to do is sit down on my designated day and let the words come out. This week is different, though. I mean, I have lots of half-baked blog posts and poem ideas sitting around, and I could force myself to try to extrapolate a longer, more polished piece out of them, but I don’t even have enough gumption for that.

Honestly, one of my pet peeves with forcing myself to try to make a piece “work”, is that it always ends up coming off as forced. Like, I can tell, and so I assume you can tell, that when I do that, authenticity is lacking in my writing.  I understand that as a writer, one of my tasks is to just write the fuck anyway, and I do, every Wednesday, and other days too, to be honest. But I usually approach my writing days with excitement or at least some level of eagerness. I usually feel inspired and prepared to write.

Today, I just feel blaaaaahhhhh.

But it’s Wednesday, so I’ve made myself sit down at my laptop and as I’m typing and pathetically moaning about how crappy I feel, I’ve realized what I need to write about. What I need to say is that I need a break. My body is shouting at me take a pause, and that’s what I’m going to talk about.

Maybe it’s the weather (gray, dreary, and a lovely mix of sleet and rain), maybe it’s the shorter days, maybe it’s the recent changes in some of my relationships, maybe it’s PMS (it’s definitely PMS); I’m pretty sure it’s all those things, actually, but it’s also something else.

I’ve been busting my ass trying to move forward in my life. I’ve been more focused and motivated in the last 6 months than I have in the last 6 years. All this effort is bringing me crazy-awesome rewards, like all the fucking fantastic followers I now have with head/strong (THANK YOU!!!!). There always comes a point, though, when I’ve reached what I think of as “enough.” It’s not a great place to get to, and I’ve learned that when I haven’t paid attention, “enough” comes and goes and I get to “too much”, which often leads to “far too much”, or worse, “complete mental breakdown.”

One of the biggest tolls my past has had on me is that it depleted my physical, mental, and emotional capacities. I am slowly crawling my way back towards health—I’ve already written about my nutrition, my physical activity, and my kick-ass counsellors—but today is a reminder that sometimes, I just have to give in and give up on pushing myself for a little while.

Tuning into this need for rest is something else I’ve had to re-learn post-abuse, because along with losing my stamina, in the last decade I also lost my sense of intuition. Or, at least, I lost the ability to listen to my intuition. I’m pretty sure it was still there, screaming at me; I just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hear it.

My intuition is telling me that I need to slow down, so I am. I’ve given myself permission, which is a powerful exercise, let me tell you. To give yourself permission, to actually verbalize that and embrace what your body is telling you—that’s some powerful shit, yo.

And today I had to do it. I had to allow myself to take a pause and check in.

I said fuck it and decided that my plans for this Wednesday include writing the fuck anyway about whatever the fuck comes into my head, enjoying my tea, and not doing much else until my daughters get home from school.

It’s a luxury, I know. Many other people wouldn’t get to do the same on any given Wednesday. I’m sorry; that sucks. Because sometimes, on a Wednesday, you need to take a break. It doesn’t always happen when it’s convenient. If I had a job out of the house, though, I’d likely be calling a sick day. I’d need to! It’s not worth it to me, to push myself harder, when I know that the likely outcome is breakdown or worse.

I think even if you have a commitment that happens to fall in the middle of an “I need a break or imma kill someone” moment, or if it’s an “I need to curl up into a ball, pull some covers over my head, and not come out for at least 24 hours” kind of day—whatever kind of day, really—you can still find ways to attend to the needs of your body.

A few suggestions:

  • Eat good food (however you define that)
  • Drink something yummy and revitalizing (ideally not alcoholic if you have to work or have children to care for)
  • Listen to music or a podcast that makes you feel good (I currently have some gorgeous classical music on)
  • Move slowly and with intention
  • Pause when you can
  • Breathe deeply, stretch, go for a walk, scream for a minute in your car…whatever!

Trust me. Whatever you do, it’ll be worth it, bcause it will help you avoid getting past “enough” and slow things down before you crash into “more than enough”, or worse.

So, it’s Wednesday, and I’ve gotten the kids off to school, I’ve walked the dog in the rain on a day that looks more like the night, I’ve cooked some eggs and had some tea (hurray for caffeine!) and now I’ve made myself write a few hundred words that feel authentic, which is all I can ever ask of myself, really. Now I’m going to go binge-watch some Flash and find a kitten or two to use as a heating pad. What does your self-care look like for today?

Happy hump day, all.

xxJ

2018-10-31 11.09.01
Warm, woolly socks, comfy clothes, and an adorable kitten…I’m ready to sit down and not get up again for a few hours, at least. This is my self-care for the day.

Can We Talk About Loneliness?

“Hear that lonesome whipporwill, he sounds too blue to fly…”

Do you know how hard it is to be alone? Do you know how hard it is to feel alone?

Loneliness isn’t just longing for a friend. In unhealthy relationships, it manifests as the result of being neglected, isolated, or unable to count on your partner.

Do you know what it’s like to be ignored by your spouse? Is your safety or your sanity at risk when your significant other is around? Has your partner isolated you from you friends and family? Do you have to cultivate and maintain your own self-worth and sense of security because you don’t have a loving partner to support you? Have you left an abusive relationship and experienced the double-edged sensation of having been lonely within that relationship and then finding yourself alone after it’s ended?

When you have a healthy level of interaction with others, you generally don’t feel lonely. When you have a partner or a spouse who is present and attuned most of the time, you don’t feel alone. Even if, within that relationship, you have times when you are physically on your own, you still have the knowledge that someone is watching out for you and cares about what happens. Your partner is your baseline and you are theirs. You can feel secure and know that there is someone around to listen and give you feedback and share the load of getting through life.

I don’t know what that feels like.

But I do know what it feels like to be lonely. I know what it feels like to long for partnership and equal investment from that partner. I know what it takes to get through life without having someone there to shoot the shit at the end of the day and help me get the laundry done. I know what’s it like to be with a partner who doesn’t know me and doesn’t care to, or isn’t capable of knowing me.

Sometimes I suspect that I’ve idealized romantic partnerships in my mind (haven’t we all? Thanks, Hollywood!), but I forgive myself for that because there’s a difference between romance and partnership. Unfortunately, my romantic relationships haven’t been partnerships. They haven’t been reciprocal, or secure, or healthy. They’ve been the opposite, in fact.

I’m a 33-year-old single mother whose friends and family are all in committed, long-term relationships. I have to admit that it’s a struggle to be surrounded by couples who have grown together as they’ve moved forward in their lives. (I think that was the most polite way I could have said that…) I have friends and family who care about me, but I know that regardless of how much they love me, or how much they want to help me, their partner takes precedence. Always.

Let’s be clear: I don’t hold this against them. I just want it for myself.

I know that no relationship is perfect and that is not at all what I’m seeking—compromise is part of any relationship! Ohhhhh, but I envy my friends and family! I envy those of them who have real, authentic partnerships. I envy them for having someone to make dinner with. I envy them for having someone to miss them while they’re gone. I envy them for the arguments they have with their spouses that don’t come from a place of fear, but instead come from a place of security, because the baseline of love and trust is so firm that the conflict doesn’t rattle it.

#tbh The people who have solid relationships kind of annoy the shit out of me sometimes, but it’s because I want what they have!

I want it! I want it! I want it! *cue adorable pouty face/pathetic foot stomping/obnoxious whining/arms folded over chest

Fine, I’m being ridiculous and dramatic on purpose. But I’m also being honest. And the feelings I’m trying to convey here come from a place of deep disappointment and frustration. I was promised partnership…it was promised to me quite a few times. And I jumped into those promises with both feet. I was there. I was with them. I was invested.

And they weren’t.

I had the rug pulled out from under me every goddamn time. Point fingers at me if you want, because yes, it takes two to make a marriage or a partnership work. I accept my role in those relationships. but I also know that I put everything I had into them. I was honest and present and giving and affectionate and resilient and reliable… I made my partners feel secure, but they didn’t do the same for me.

I really want to shout a battle cry here—“I’m a strong and independent person and I don’t need anyone!”—or something like that. But you know what? It fucking sucks to be alone.

If you are alone, if you can relate to what I’ve been talking about, then what I really want to say is that I understand. I understand the feelings of sadness, anger, resentment and fear. I understand. And it fucking sucks, but it’s okay because you keep feeling those feelings, and I keep feeling them too, and yet we keep getting through the day. We keep facing the nights. We keep going. And every step builds resilience. Every moment brings independence. Every feeling teaches us something about ourselves.

There’s no magic way I can help you stop feeling lonely, but shared understanding brings some comfort, at least. I hope I’ve done that for you if you’re struggling with loneliness, and I hope you’ll do it for someone else if you’re not.

xxJ

2018-08-28 14.30.57
Climbing up or falling down, all I have is me. It might be lonely, but it makes me strong.

Now You Are Lost

Rediscovering your identity after abuse.

Emotional abusers make you into whoever they want you to be, so whatever identity you have is the product of the screwed up environment you’ve been in and the screwed up messages you’ve received. When you leave that toxic person and that toxic environment, you lose whatever person you were. You lose the identity you abuser gave you; when you leave your abusive partner, you leave yourself behind too.

I lost myself in every significant relationship I’ve ever been in. In each of them, I fulfilled my partner’s needs and wants to my own detriment. I took on, or was given, roles and responsibilities that I didn’t want. I was told and shown that I was worthless and stupid and wrong all the time, and that everything was always, always, always my fault!

I ended up believing that was who I am.

And when I found myself alone two and a half years ago (How has it been that long already?!) I realized that the only identity I had was the one I let other people make for me. And I came to understand that I had absorbed, most especially, the identity my abusers had given to me.

It was the worst kind of personal epiphany.

It was so hard to recognize how little I knew about myself; it felt shitty to see that I was screwed up and feel so completely unsure about myself.

As time has passed, though, and my life has settled a bit, I‘ve had time to learn more about my authentic self and I’ve gained a few nuggets of wisdom about rediscovering an identity after abuse.

Actually, I’ve worked really fucking hard to figure it out, so I want to share it with you. (Because caring is sharing, right?) Here’s the head/strong guide to finding yourself post-abuse, in six [not so] easy steps.

Enjoy.

HOW TO FIND YOUR IDENTITY AGAIN
(After Leaving That Shit-For-Brains Piece Of Slime Who Treated You Like Crap For So Long That You Learned To Believe It)

Step 1: Get the hell away from anyone who isn’t treating you well.

If you feel like crap around them, stop engaging with them! Or, if that’s not possible, get help establishing and maintaining some firm boundaries to protect yourself around them. Hopefully you have someone you can trust and call on at this time. If not, seek someone out at a shelter, hospital, doctor’s office, counsellor’s office, or mental health program. There is always someone to talk to, but you do need to be willing to ask.

Step 2: Make your home a sanctuary.

Or your room. Or wherever you spend the most time. You don’t need to hire a designer and bring in tasteful accents to make your space feel like an oasis, you only need to make it feel safe—whatever that means to you, whatever that looks like to you, whatever you can afford.

For me, having photos of my daughters and I, and our friends and family, up on the walls of my house was really important in asserting my identity as a mother and a single-parent. Getting a new bed and having comfortable bedding was also a priority for me, especially since anxiety often robs me of sleep. I love bright, rich colours, so the art and furnishings I‘ve found for my space reflect this (I also love me some secondhand treasure-hunting! A go-to for decorating on a budget). I need music in my life that reflects my moods, so having speakers and a personalized digital music library was an essential addition to my space. I also established very early on that all pick-ups and drop-offs with my children would happen in a neutral place or out on my driveway, so that the sanctity of my space was maintained.

There are so many ways you can manifest your sanctuary: colours, scents, sounds, art, food, furniture… As much as possible, be intentional with what you put in your space.  

Step 3: Surround yourself with people who are authentic and who bring you up instead of down.

It’s time to weed out the baddies. This part SUUUUUUUCKS and it takes some time, but it is massively important to revitalizing your identity.

You already took the courageous step of leaving your abuser/s (you’re such a legit badass!!) now make sure that everyone else in your life supports, loves, and nourishes you because you will be fragile at this time. You will be scattered and scared and messy, so the ones who show up and who leave you feeling better than when they arrived, those are the ones to keep around. Anyone who leaves you feeling worse than when they got there needs to be shown the door (good-bye!). We can’t avoid all annoying people (if only, eh?!), but we can control who we let into our inner-sanctum both literally (see Step 2) and emotionally/figuratively.

Step 4: Do something that you love.

Find something that you enjoy and just fucking do it! It does NOT have to cost a lot of money. It does NOT have to take up a big chunk of your time. It just needs to be something you can do reliably and regularly.

I returned to writing when my “Life 1.0” ended. I returned to making music at the same time. I began reading again. I gardened. I went out and started rock climbing with a friend. My life as a single mom means that I have limited free time, a limited budget, and a limited amount of energy to put towards things, so I found activities that were easily accessible to me and slowly increased the amount I time I spent on them. Regardless of budget or lifestyle, you can find a hobby you like to do. The only criteria is that it has to make you feel good.

Step 5: Put effort into rediscovering your identity.

Duh. That’s what this blog post is all about! And Steps 1-4 lay out some clear ideas for ways you can work on finding yourself after abuse. But Step 5 is here because the previous four steps don’t talk about the emotional work that needs to go into rediscovering identity.

Counselling, if it’s available to you, is hugely helpful with this step. Keeping a journal, doing monthly check-ins, picking up an inspiring and motivational self-help book, joining a support group, or participating in a mental health day program like the one I went to, can all be super-duper helpful in maneuvering the path towards self discovery post-abuse. You need to tune in and acknowledge yourself: your needs, your wants, your skills, and your faults (see my previous post for how to identify healthy self-beliefs). You need to take sometime and figure out not “who am I?” but, “who am I right now and where do I want to go from here?”

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5, as needed.

Rinse and repeat, people! Check in with how you’re feeling and adjust as necessary. This is an ongoing process. The definition of yourself can change. In fact, it already did when you left your abuser! But when you craft your OWN identity, these changes happen fluidly, which means they’re a hell of a lot more manageable and you stay in control of how things flow and who you are.

Your abuser(s) may have handed you a shitty deal, but you now have the opportunity to trade some cards in and get a royal flush. Jackpot!

Okay, I know honestly know shit-all about poker, but you get the point, right? Your abuser was (is) an asshole, but you’re not (I’m assuming) and you don’t have to let that jerk control your life anymore. You get to rediscover who you are after abuse. You get to decide what your identity looks like. Confident, crafty, gritty, humble, kind, tough, simple, fancy…whatever! You can find your identity after leaving your abuser, you just need the right steps to follow and the right supports to climb them.

xxJ

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This cheery reminder hangs in my living room for my daughters and I to see every day. Artist credit: Becca Cahan for Society6

Turning Paper Into Diamonds

Or, “I Bet You Look Cute in that Emotional Tool Belt”

After my divorce, I spent some time working with an abuse counsellor named Alanna. She was one of the last stops on my roundabout tour of finding caring, knowledgeable support when I was at my lowest point and needed help getting up from rock-bottom. The partner abuse program she facilitated ended up moving to a different agency and she ended up moving elsewhere as well, but the months I spent attending sessions with her had a profound effect on my daily life.

The biggest take-away from my time with her has been a single piece of paper that I keep taped up above my writing desk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at this flimsy, white sheet and felt stronger because of it.

Good counsellors offer a wealth of helpful and insightful information, but great counsellors listen closely to their clients and offer little gems of wisdom that hit just the right note at just the right time and give the people they work with exactly what they need in that moment.

I bet you most of the time my counsellors do this and then giggle to themselves as they watch me unfold my understanding, thinking that I’ve come to some great realization all by myself, when really it’s because of their sly influence.

Damn they’re good!

Alright, I won’t keep you on tenterhooks (how’s that for a word of the day, eh?) any longer. Obviously you’re all dying to know what the hell is on this glorious, life-changing piece of paper.

Shit…now I’ve built it up too much! Ugh. Okay, it doesn’t matter, because even if you think it’s lame, it was/is totally the exact right thing I needed from this counsellor and she fucking nailed it.

Here it is, in all it’s simple glory:

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Pretty fucking awesome, right?

Okay, fine. It’s just a piece of paper with a some lines and a few very important words that suggest one simple idea: think about what your stupid, anxiety-ridden/depressed brain is telling you and then call yourself out on that bullshit and use objective proof to throw it the fuck out the window!

Or in different terms: figure out your self-critical belief, use that to identify what’s really true (your new, positive belief), and then prove to yourself that the new/positive belief is real by coming up with examples that support it.

It’s gotten to the point where I can just glance at this paper and be reminded that I’m not crazy. It reminds me that I can handle my shit. That what my abusers have told me isn’t the divine truth. That my mental illness doesn’t have to stop me from living well. That I can fucking DO THIS.

Feel free to borrow it.

Print it out, or draw your own fancy version, or scrawl the words onto a Post It and stick that shit up somewhere you’ll see it.

You’ll find that you’ll catch yourself glancing at it and thinking about its message, whether you have anxiety, or depression, or not. Whether you’re an abuse survivor or not. No matter your circumstance, you can use this tool to improve your life.

I like to think about techniques like this as tools that I keep in an emotional tool belt (a metaphor gifted to me by my other kick-ass counsellor, Daniel). My emotional tool belt used to be filled with rusty, dented, useless objects that caused me more pain and confusion than I ever needed in my life. I’ve been slowly scrapping those old, dysfunctional tools and refilling my tool belt with useful shit like this worksheet. I keep it next to my #2 Robbie (screw you Phillips screwdrivers!), a copy of Rupi Kaur’s “milk and honey”, my “DIVORCED AF” tank top, and the same stainless steel water bottle I’ve been slurping from for years (gotta stay hydrated!). I keep it with my dearest, most important possessions, but I know it’s better to share, so it’s yours to borrow now.

Use it to remember: you are more than your mental health diagnosis.

You are more than what your abusers say you are.

You are capable and smart and strong and brilliant.

You can change and you can get better tools to put in that cute-ass emotional tool belt of yours.

This paper may as well be made out of diamonds, because it’s become completely priceless to me. And I’ll keep it on my wall until it yellows and fades. I’ll keep it until I don’t need a daily reminder to re-frame my thinking, because I’ve got practices like this to grab from my cute-ass tool belt at any moment.

xxJ

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This is also usually found near my writing desk. It doesn’t fit well into my tool belt though…