Do It Anyway

“You might put your love and trust on the line
It’s risky, people love to tear that down
Let ’em try
Do it anyway
Risk it anyway”

Ben Folds Five

When I was a kid, I was terrified of roller coasters. There was absolutely no way in hell anyone was getting me to strap myself into a rickety bucket seat and go hurtling along a bumpy, terrifyingly tall and twisty train ride.

Nuh-uh. No way.

The truth was that I desperately wanted to be brave enough to ride a coaster. I was embarrassed of being wimpy and emotional about it and I hated feeling left behind by my peers. It took me until I was 14 to get up the courage to try a roller coaster. In Ontario, where I live, the quintessential theme park is Canada’s Wonderland. Living nearby in Brampton, my sisters and friends and I spent many summer days hanging around this wondrous playground. Resolutely determined to NOT be left behind again, I had to come up with something that would make the big rides less scary.

So how did I do it?

I told myself that all I needed to do was get in line and nothing more.

If I could just get into the line-up (which often took 1-2 hours to work your way through), then I could consider myself committed and unable to back out. (I know that technically I *could* have backed out, but in my mind that was NOT an option.)

This idea—the idea of just “getting in line”—has become a quintessential tool for me whenever I face seemingly scary things in my life. When I’m feeling anxious in anticipation of something new or something uncomfortable, I can simply tell myself that if I just take the first step and “get in line”, I’ll be able to manage whatever comes next.

I mean, I haven’t lost a limb on a roller coaster yet, so clearly the technique works!

This week I’m doing my first ever professional speaking gig. Damnit I’m scared! And excited! (But mostly scared…)

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I couldn’t get myself in line to do it. Finally, a few months ago, I felt ready to step into the queue and commit myself to whatever happened.

It’s been a slow climb to that inevitable drop at the top since then, and tomorrow, my stomach will lift into my chest and I’ll be free-falling into my first experience of talking publicly about my history as an abuse survivor and person with mental illness. Yikes!

The song I quoted at the beginning of this post, Ben Fold Five’s “Do It Anyway”, takes to heart the idea that I’m hinting at with my roller-coaster-line-up analogy. We all have moments in our lives that feel scary or uncomfortable, but we have to do it anyway. The cost of NOT doing it is far too high. And in a world of too many people ignoring or undermining what really needs to be done, those of us who are brave enough to speak up and face what makes us feel icky are desperately needed.

So tomorrow, I’m doing it anyway. I’m going for it; taking the leap. Jumping off the cliff. Putting it all out there… Choose your cliché; I’m doing them all!

And on the other side will be the thrill of the ride; the rush of trying something new and the pride of speaking my truth. All of head/strong is an exercise in speaking up and speaking out, so I feel armed and ready to take another big step (publishing my blog was one of the first ones, obviously) and reach out even farther into the fray.

xxJ

Here we go! Weeeeeeeeeeee!

What We Need to Hear

“I believe you.”

Once I started speaking up about my experience of abuse, those three words became a crucial message I needed to hear.

“I believe you.”

It was even better if they were followed by the words, “What do you need right now?” or, “What’s his address? My fists would like to meet him.”

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Not really…people did say things like that to me and I kind of loved it #sorrynotsorry

Violence is not the answer, friends! But dear god did it feel good to know that someone else felt as upset as I did!

I needed to know that the people I cared about understood what I was telling them.  In sharing my story with my trusted friends and family, I was able to gather support around myself. Even those tongue-in-cheek threats to go rough-up the people who messed with me helped me feel safe enough to ask for help and to open up about my experience. Overwhelmingly, the people I told treated me like my experience was valid and they stood by me as I disentangled myself from my past and started to recognize and deal with what had happened. 

Emotional abuse is most insidious when it’s subtle; it is difficult for outsiders to see and virtually impossible for its perpetrators to recognize (and tbh, even if they could recognize it, chances are they’d be disinclined to change their behaviour!). I didn’t have bruises or scars. I had, however, endured years of being controlled and manipulated through gaslighting, neglect, put downs, and blame…none of which were obvious and none of which left marks on my body. For a long time I yearned for my abusers to recognize what they had done to me. I wanted them to look at me and identify as abusers. Maybe they’d go to rehab, or AA, or therapy, or have an epiphany, break down, and beg me for forgiveness in front of all my friends and family…

Kidding again.

Sort of…

Eventually, my healing journey brought me to a point where I no longer craved that affirmation, but it wasn’t easy to reach that level of self-assuredness. I had to accept both my victim-hood and that fact that I would have to continue standing up for the legitimacy of my experience with outsiders to my community and with my abusers. I realized, too, that the weight of my truth came only from the consistency of my story, so I kept telling it! And I keep talking about it, because it’s real and others need to understand that! The more I spoke up, the more I wanted to speak up, and the more I understood about my experience. Now, I want to help other survivors feel like they can speak up and be believed and I want perpetrators of abuse to be held accountable. Because of the support of those around me, I can now share my story more widely and hopefully help more people understand emotional abuse. 

I often think about how our society has become incredibly adept at downplaying uncomfortable truths. We don’t want to hear the “bad” stuff, even if it’s true! I know my experiences could be dismissed by people because “nothing bad happened” (i.e. I didn’t end up in the hospital, or dead, or my partner/s didn’t go to jail). But even when faced with irrefutable evidence that abuse of any kind has taken place, people tend to dispel its authenticity, ignore its credibility, and treat its victims as though they are snotty, selfish whistle-blowers trying to slander the “good” name of the accused.

It pisses me off that at this point I feel compelled to point out that yes, a very, very, very small number of people claim abuse in order to stick it to another person out of spite or anger or selfishness. Because that does happen. It does, I know. But overwhelmingly, abuse victims who speak up do so from a place of honesty and authenticity and at great personal cost, so can we just move on from this technicality and support the people who have struggled to speak up in spite of the trauma they’ve experienced?

Mmkay thanks!

Imagine standing up in front of the people you care about the most and admitting your deepest, darkest secret to them. Imagine looking out at them and forcing yourself to share the part of you that brings you the most shame. Imagine that feeling of intense discomfort, the feeling of letting them down, of embarrassment, of anger, of sadness, of guilt… Then imagine doing this completely naked. In the winter. Outside. With all your neighbours looking at you. While your dog takes a dump and your children start to bicker about who got the bigger piece of cake for dessert while also complaining that they’re cold and tired and can we just go inside now pleeeeeeeeeeease???

Okay, okay, I’m being a bit facetious… forgive me for trying to add some humour here!

What I’m trying to express is that it comes at great cost to an abuse survivor to speak up. It is fucking terrifying to utter the words “I’ve been abused” or whatever other version of that you say. It feels like an admission of personal failure, regardless of how understanding your audience is. Chances are, your abuser taught you that everything is your fault (mine did!) so admitting to the abuse is admitting to being wrong—they weren’t who you thought they were, you aren’t actually happy, you stayed for way too long, you couldn’t “fix” them, you couldn’t make it better.

I tell myself everyday that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. That it was real and that the time I need to heal and recover is necessary and reasonable. I‘ve been very fortunate: my community has always believed me, even when I didn’t have the language I do now to describe my experiences. Even when I was a blubbering, suicidal, manic mess! Even though I pretended for a very long time that nothing was wrong.

They believed me.

And I believe me.

And if you speak up, I’ll believe you too.

And then we can have a conversation and I’ll listen and together we can unpack the experiences and struggles that caused you to speak up because I know how fucking hard it is to do that.

“I believe you.”

xxJ

2016-07-14 15.27.52
We, as abuse survivors, may feel scratched and broken, but solidarity from others can help heal our hearts and make us stronger.

Why the hell am I here?

By all accounts, I shouldn’t be here. I’m well aware that the world is already overwhelmed with plenty of bloggers, most of whom fall into one of the following categories: perky and insta-perfect, or cynical and raging. I’d like to think that I hit a sweet spot somewhere in between those two categories. Don’t get me wrong, I have some deep-seated rage lurking within me and I can be pretty damn chipper sometimes! But those aren’t really the reasons that I’m adding my name into the deep, dark pool of online writers.

I’m here with head/strong because my life has profoundly changed in the last few years. As I’ve been learning and fighting and changing and trying to sort my shit out, I’ve also been looking for people who have struggled in relatable ways. In early 2016 I escaped my marriage with no job, no clue what might happen, and two small children who had no idea why their comfy life was being destroyed. I had a complete mental breakdown. I was suicidal. I got forced into a two-year court battle that devastated me emotionally and financially. I lost things that were incredibly dear to me. I lost myself for a while too… But in the end, I survived and that’s why I’m here.

I don’t profess to be an expert in the things I’m going to write about. In fact, the only thing I can claim expertise in is knowing what the fuck is happening in my own life. So that’s what you’ll get here: a big pile of me, wondering and sometimes worrying, writing down the things that I wish I could have read. Offering the support I wish I’d had. Sharing all the things I wanted to find when I started disentangling myself from my abusive, codependent relationships and started learning how to live a new and unfamiliar life as a single parent, an abuse survivor, and a person with anxiety and depression.

We all have shit to deal with, but it’s so much easier to get through that crap when you feel a sense of community and can connect with other people who share some of your experience. I hope that you’ll participate in the learning and exploration I’m putting here. I hope you’ll question me and challenge me and goddamnit I hope you’ll stick with me through it all and find that you, too, can be headstrong and badass. I’ll share more of my story going forward, but for now, I’ll give you one of my favourite quotes and leave it at that…

_There are two powers in