We Can’t Be Fixed

And that’s okay

My counsellors get mad when I say that I’m broken. I kind of get it…saying that reflects a certain attitude about my state of well-being that seems unhealthy. My one counsellor, Daniel, would likely remind me that I need to re-frame my thinking.

Ugh. Fine, I’ll try:  I feel broken.

Okay, I’m being a smart ass. Sorry Daniel…

But sometimes the word “broken” is the best way I can think of to describe myself.

My brokenness stems from  a bunch of things. In the past, I often felt confused. I was so mixed up because of the lies I was being fed and the stress in my life that I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. I felt and still often feel fragmented, like I have too many parts of myself chipped off and spread too far. I get frustrated by my inability to do the things I used to be able to. I am aware of all the things I can’t do anymore—my brain and my body just don’t work like how they used to, or how I want them to, and that makes me feel broken.

I am happy to say that lately my okayness has seemed to outweigh my brokenness, but I know that at any moment the scales could tip and I’ll relapse. I’ve reached my depths before and risen up from there, but more stress is inevitable and change is inevitable and I accept that I will never stop being a person with anxiety, depression, and a history of abuse.

Back in 2016 I attended a life-changing mental health day program at my local hospital. Before going, I had some pretty strong assumptions about what my experience there would be. First, I thought I was going to be judged harshly by everyone and told that I didn’t belong. Second, I assumed that I would struggle to connect with my fellow participants. And third, I figured I wouldn’t learn anything new.

Wow. I was SUCH A JERK. 

Actually, I was just super nervous! 

What I got from the experience of attending this program, was that a) people in a mental health day program are, in general, exceedingly compassionate and kind; b) I found in these struggling, but warmhearted individuals so much common ground that I couldn’t wait to get to my workshops every day; and c) I learned so goddamn much more than I ever thought I would.

(I promise this story is getting to a point… pinky swear.)

But, the number one, most important, most life-altering lesson I learned at Day Program is that those of us with mental health issues will carry that diagnosis for the entirety of our lives and that this doesn’t mean we will always be unable to function, but that our goals and plans need to be adjusted with the understanding that we will always have to bear these struggles in mind. 

In other words: we can’t fix ourselves, we can only manage our symptoms. 

Boom! Take that one and throw it into your emotional health tool belt, because THAT is a quintessential moment of learning how to talk about and understand mental health problems.

Think about it like this: Cancer survivors who are in remission continue to have checkups and tests even if they remain cancer-free, and they will always keep an awareness of their diagnosis in the back of their mind, no matter what their state of health. Those of us who have depression, bipolar, anxiety, mania, or other mental health diseases have to follow a similar approach to maintain treatment for our illness. Once you go down the rabbit hole, you carry a piece of that experience with you forever. 

Knowing that we can be accepted regardless of our mental health diagnosis is vitally important. You wouldn’t expect someone without an arm to continue operating as if they have two; why do we expect people with mental health problems to behave as if they don’t? Why strive to “fix” us when we will always operate differently?

I hope Daniel will forgive me for continuing to say that I feel broken. Because if society continues to expect me to function like the elusive “normal” (Come on, what’s normal anyway? A post for another day, I think.) then I’m going to fail. Every day. And so are millions of other people with diagnoses and symptoms like mine. 

We can’t be fixed, we can only manage our symptoms.

I’m not being cynical, I’m just accepting that it’s okay to not be okay. That it’s okay to not be normal. That I still feel broken but instead of striving to put myself back together how I was before, I’m going to focus on using those fragmented pieces to build a version of myself that meets the needs I have now. 

xxJ

It’s okay to not be okay. 

Damn, I Wish It Was Easier.

Grief is a tricky, messy feeling. It manifests in many different ways and goes at a pace that is unique to each person who struggles with it. I’ve personally experienced the death of loved ones and I know what that grief feels like.

I still carry with me a sense of loss for those people I no longer have in my life, but I’ve learned that grief can also be a response to things other than literal death. In the counselling I’ve done these last few years, I’ve come to realize that I am living in a cycle of grief. Not because someone I loved has died, but because the life I thought I would live ended.

Just as it does when we grieve the death of another person, my grief ebbs and flows; it changes, but it still persists. Some days are easier than others, but last week, when I wrote about struggling at Christmas time, my grief was very present. The holidays bring out all the symptoms of my grief because this time of year highlights many of the difficult and lonely situations I have to face in my post-divorce/post-abuse life.

I’m not sure how many people consider the experience of a break-up, or divorce, or another significant life change, as something to grieve, but I now believe that part of what makes these break-ups so difficult is that in these situations, we have to learn to accept life without the person or things we thought we were going to have. The plans we made, the future we envisioned, the expectations we created; these are all things that may contribute to our sense of grief at the end of a relationship or during a big change in our circumstances.

The grief I am living with now is for losing the life I envisioned as a mother and the life I thought I would have as a wife. It’s also because of a deep sense of injustice that I haven’t been able to get over yet.

Imagine being away from your kids every other weekend and committing to this schedule until your children have grown. Consider for a moment what it would feel like to wake up on Christmas morning and not see your own kids. Imagine how it feels to answer phone calls when your child is with their other parent and tell them, as they beg you to let them come home, that you can’t come and get them (because a court order says they have to be with your former partner). Pretend for a minute that your baby is sick and you can’t hold them because you can’t be with them during their other parent’s access. Imagine that you have to explain to your kids over and over again why you and your partner have separated, but at the same time, you can’t say to them that the reason for this is a long-standing history of domestic abuse. 

This is how I experience life in a family of divorce and I will readily admit that it has been a devastating change for me to try to accept.

I once had someone tell me that giving up Christmas mornings and living through those teary phone calls are “necessary sacrifices” in order to save ourselves from an abusive or unhealthy partnership. It’s become a small comfort to tell myself that and I’ve looked for other ways to help assuage my grief. For example, soon after my separation from my husband, I wrote a little sentence that has become somewhat of a mantra to me, and I keep it in mind whenever my grief bubbles up and I feel guilty, sad, or angry about my circumstances.

I tell myself,

“I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.”

These words offer a little assurance when I start feeling triggered, but my grief is a constant in my life. It is present all the time and every day that I miss with my girls, every Christmas I don’t wake up to their happy faces, every birthday when we’re not together, every time they call and ask to come home, every time I am surrounded by friends and family in loving, intact relationships, I am reminded of my loss and reminded that this is how it will always be from now on.

Always, in the corner of my heart, I hold my grief.

Always, I feel it in my gut.

It is always there.

Much like how we need to acknowledge and accept that mental health can be just as debilitating as any other disease, we also need to see that grief is a reasonable response to loss and not just to death. As I said before, I used to think of grief as something we only experience when a person we care about dies. Now I see that grief really means experiencing profound loss of any kind and trying to come to terms with it.

So I allow myself to acknowledge my grief and I know that’s the best way to deal with it. I also know that I need to give myself permission to feel shitty sometimes; grief has no timeline, no schedule, no checklist and I need to make space for it on the difficult days. The only way to move through grief is to live through it.

Damn, I wish it was easier.

xxJ

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“Some pain is simply the normal grief of human existence. That is pain that I try to make room for. I honor my grief.” – Marianne Williamson

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.

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

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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

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.