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

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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

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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.

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