Not Broken After All

It is not my intention to use my blog as a platform for airing my stories of heartbreak, but it’s been a difficult few weeks. The trials have been piling up. I am tired and feeling tried to my limits, and I think only able to persevere through my days by taking them one at a time. This morning, the emotions hover in my throat and chest, threatening (more) tears and urging me to retreat from the world. But I won’t give in.

PTSD and the fall into shame and depression and anxiety thrive like parasites on negative emotion and on isolation. They depend on you turning in on yourself and forgetting that you don’t have to do this on your own. And so I’m reaching out, “getting out of my head,” as a good friend described it.

Go to a coffee shop or a place where there are other people. Call a friend. Get out of your head.

And I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself, to give myself grace. And the only way I can think to do that right now is to share what happened, to confess how much I hurt right now.

I fell in love a few months back. It was unexpected and not necessarily wanted—I wasn’t ready for anything serious. But I felt a connection I couldn’t deny. The spark between us was Tony-and-Maria-like, and I felt it from the first cup of coffee—and slice of espresso cake—we shared. I felt it when he offered to hold my hand after the first hour and when he stole his first kiss at the end of our first date. I knew I’d found someone amazing when he said he wanted to go slow because this felt like something special and he didn’t want to mess it up. I knew exactly what he meant.

He was like me in a lot of the ways I worry people will avoid me for. We both have PTSD and dark histories and deep sorrow in our pasts. We both have chronic health concerns and medicate to make our bodies work as they should. From the first moment, he accepted all that I was, including that I’m a mom. He cared about my children and went the extra mile to show that to me and to them.

The first month was perfect, the second filled with the need to overcome challenges—and we triumphed. And then, in the past few weeks, as so often happens with romance, it all unraveled. Rumors of alcoholism and a few scary moments that proved the rumors might be true. But I trusted him when he said it wasn’t and we moved past it. A week later another frightening night changed everything. In the end, I’d had to kick him out of my apartment twice—for his sake and then to feel safe in my safe place—and the second time he threatened that we were done if I made him leave. I drove him to the train station that night and watched him walk away. It was difficult to do.

We met two days later to exchange items left behind and find closure. We ended up talking about how much we’d loved each other and what went wrong and how there might still be chance to make things work, if we moved slowly and remembered those first weeks and took care of ourselves and each other. And so we made a final bid to make amends and share our hearts and our love.

Without meaning to, I again gave my heart fully, but he held back and told me he was doing so, and when I asked him to trust me, he stood me up and “ghosted” me, as the teens say—he completely ignored my calls and texts, as if he’d forgotten I existed. It took me more than an hour of waiting on the front steps of his new apartment (I went to help him move in) to convince myself he really wasn’t going to show and that it wasn’t an accident this time.

I know we have ground to regain, and I know we’re going slow. But I promise you I will fight for us, like you asked me to. I will fight with all my heart, because that’s how I love you. Please don’t give up on me. Please don’t stop fighting either. My heart, like yours, is vulnerable, and will hurt unbearably if you break it. But I trust you with it, my love. I trust you.

I wrote these words in a love letter he wouldn’t read because he was “afraid to feel too much” for me. Maybe he should have read the letter. Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted him so completely. Maybe it was all destined to end badly.

But as the shock of being deserted wears off, and I remember the hopes we had and the love we shared and how deeply I cared about him, as I let the tears fall with abandon and without shame, one thought persists: at least I was honest. And I loved him unconditionally. I couldn’t have given more. It occurs to me, too, that after over a year of fearing I’d never know love again (irrational but true), I loved. And this love, however tumultuous and briefly reciprocated, was sincere and whole-hearted. As it turns out, I haven’t been damaged irrevocably.

So, yes, it hurts, and that pain runs deep. But I realize now, after these words to you, that I’ve earned that pain and the right to own it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I loved and I lost that love. The pain just means I did it right. Welcome back to the world, Kate.

Do Not Be Silent

A friend reminded me today that those of us who have been hurt cannot stay silent. This is something I have known for a while and something I try to honor daily. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. It’s a struggle. Silence is so much easier than speaking out, than admitting the truth. If you are silent, you can feel numb, you can pretend you feel safe, you can try to forget. But the truth is always present; it doesn’t go away because you want it to. Instead, silence perpetuates the lies it hides. We must tell the truth.

I’ve done this here in my blog, used it as my media for being honest. Here, I am not silent. Here, I speak about what has happened to me, even when it’s difficult, even when I fear what others will think. I share my struggles and what is on my heart. And every time I do it, I heal little. I grow a little stronger; I gain a little power. I fight the pain and trauma and evil in my past. I stand up to the people who hurt me. I want to encourage you to do the same.

I realized today that it’s been nearly five years since my journey to uncover the truth inside me began. The inciting event was a late-night conversation with a friend. In the midst of our talk, I told him what I considered at the time to be my greatest secret: I was pregnant before I was married. This fact had caused me so much pain and had been used to shame me my entire adult life, and I hadn’t told more than two people in over five years, not even some of my closest friends.

But this friend had his own demons, and I trusted implicitly that he would not judge me for mine. And he didn’t. I told him how I’d been shamed but that I was past my guilt—I called it guilt because I believed what I did was sinful and made me unworthy, but God forgives, and I believed I’d done so as well. But my friend saw through my lies even when I couldn’t.

“You still feel shame,” he told me.

I denied it, but he persisted. In my memory of that night, I can still hear the tone of his voice and see him calling me out for my lie.

“You still feel shame.”

Those four words changed my life. They saved me. In that moment, I knew he was right. I hadn’t forgiven myself; I hadn’t put the shame—the guilt—behind me. I’d been numbing myself and my mind, lying to protect myself from the trauma that shame is—and to protect myself from memories I wouldn’t understand until later. I didn’t know the difference this discovery had made in me until the next morning when I journaled about it. Logically, I wrote about how now that I knew I still had shame, I could work on it; I would finally be able to move past it.

But there was something else in the back of mind, another truth that had been hidden from me until my friend’s words: I knew my marriage, from the very beginning, had been based in shame. I’d told myself so many lies to believe otherwise. They unraveled when I admitted the truth, the same way they did over three years later when I admitted I was raped, the same way they do every time I tell the truth today, every time anyone tells the truth no matter what it costs them.

So many of us have been hurt; we’ve been raped, abused, assaulted, threatened, tortured. We feel fear and shame and depression and hatred. It plagues us. Sometimes it’s used against us to hurt us more. No wonder we bury it, we lie about, we stay silent.

We need to stop that. We need to stop being silent. For our sakes and for the sakes of others. Tell someone you’re being hurt. Tell someone you feel ashamed. Tell someone you were hurt in the past. Tell someone you’re losing hope. Tell someone you’re in danger. Please. It won’t be easy, and you might not see the difference it makes right away, but it matters; the truth matters. You matter.

I was blessed. I couldn’t tell the truth because I didn’t see it, but my friend saw the truth in me and spoke it. He showed it to me and taught me that I didn’t have to be silent any longer. He changed my life, saved me. For that I will be forever grateful. But not everyone has someone like that in their life, so you need to speak up for yourself, every day. Be courageous and say what you have to say. Speak it, put it in writing, draw it, paint it, record it on video, post it on Facebook or Snapchat, just tell the truth. Do not be silent.

I Decide Now

There is a certain amount of shock—and in my case panic—that comes with realizing that much of what you believe and trust in is false. When I learned just how much control shame had of my life and that the things that perpetuated it were a combination of lies and false beliefs, my world, in a word, shattered.Imagine life as a game of Jenga. You start with a sturdy foundation, three wooden blocks on the bottom, topped by three more laid perpendicular to the first three. The building of the tower repeats this patter until its builder runs out of wooden blocks. The result is a rectangular cuboid. There will likely be a few wonky blocks, but for the most part, the tower is stable.

In the form of a life, this stable tower represents the average child with his or her basic understanding and rules, values, and beliefs laid into place by parents, guardians, family members, caretakers, churches, schools, etc., in essence, a child with a steady base for healthy functioning, making decisions, and moving forward in life.

Now, as the child grows and adjusts his or her understanding, rules, values, and beliefs according to new experiences and the input of new knowledge, the tower that represents the child’s basis changes shape slightly. Some of the initial structure will shift a little, parts of it will disappear completely to make room for new information (imagine the delicate removal and placement of Jenga blocks). But most shifting, changing, growing will take place with the firm foundation (the tower’s first two rows) in place. Everyone who’s played a game of Jenga knows the tower stays steadier if the bottom-most row and the one just above it stay fairly intact.

In the lifespan of the average person, the game of Jenga would go on forever, beliefs and values (the blocks), always growing and shifting while the base remains firm. But in the game itself, there is a moment when the tower becomes too unstable—perhaps when it becomes necessary to pull blocks from the foundation—and it tips and the wooden blocks scatter to the far ends of the table, some even to the floor. If you want to start another game, you have to gather these blocks and rebuild the tower.

My tower built upward as I went to college and got married and had children and worked and went to church and met new friends, always on the solid base of religious beliefs and family values and the dos and don’ts of a righteous life burned into my brain. I depended on this base for everything: guidance for decisions and behaviors, judging right from wrong (in my eyes it was only either/or), how to raise my children, how to process new experiences, how to be a good wife, that shame was normal, even how I viewed and felt about sex and my body. Everything.

And then I discovered that much of what I’d been told religiously about sex and my body and marriage was a lie, and it changed everything. Nearly every block of the first two rows, the foundation, of my tower were pulled out from under me, and lies upon lies that I’d grown to know as my belief and value system tumbled. My tower crashed.

So here I am, in my mid-thirties, gathering up all of these blocks that have scattered and trying to rebuild. I need a new foundation, a new set of values. I have my faith in God, but that’s a single piece, and lacking the religion that goes with it, it seems to mean very little. Essentially, I am beginning over again.

What about divorce? What about shame? What about sexual orientation? How do I feel about sex outside of marriage? My church says stealing is wrong, but it also told me I should let my husband rape me. Now that I know the latter is wrong, I have to ask how accurate the former is. And do the same thing for adultery and coveting and killing. Every part of my belief and value system needs to be reevaluated, even those things written in the Bible.

Now, some of these are easy: for example, killing, stealing, and adultery are generally accepted as wrong by society’s standards, and I agree with this. And I’ll teach my children these things. I will also teach them kindness and generosity. I will teach them to love people for themselves and to not judge by looks or behavior or gender or whatever. And I will lead them by example. I will be tolerant and caring. I will not be prejudice. I will not shame.

But what about sex? Everything I have known about sex and dating was based on what my religious beliefs told me, no questions asked. I determined right and wrong the same way. And how men and women are supposed to behave in relationships. I was told and I accepted, rarely asking.

(Yes, I know there was a HUGE flaw in my thinking; I’m working on that too.)

Even when my feelings told me something that contradicted my belief system, I lied to myself, manipulated my own emotions to match what I was “supposed to” feel. I trusted it all without doubt or hesitation.

So now I have questions, lots and lots of questions. And I have very little foundation to base my answers on. I could ask friends, but people can be wrong and they can lie, just the same as family members or the church. No, I must actually learn and experience and answer my own questions and make my own decisions as to those answers.

It is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, to create my own set of values to live by, and sometimes I am completely lost. Never mind past trauma, my anxiety, PTSD symptoms, old and new shame, the resurgence of former beliefs, or that others want to weigh in. Making a decision or choosing a path is never just making a decision or choosing a path.

Some days I don’t know the answers or how to find them. Other days I don’t even know my own opinions, let alone my feelings. Sometimes I change my mind. Sometimes I don’t trust myself. Sometimes my perspective changes and my new values shift, and sometimes the values do a 180. Some days I believe opposites are both true. And sometimes, like yesterday, like today, I don’t know what I believe.

I’m holding fifty-four wooden blocks in my hands and sitting at the table ready to begin, but I can’t place even one block because I just don’t know.

So shock and panic. My instinct is to curl up and try to be small and invisible, to disappear from the world so that I don’t have to decide or know or believe anything. But I don’t. I maybe hide for a few hours, an evening maybe, but then I go to work, and I talk to friends, and I laugh and cry, and I face my questions head on. I tell myself this state of unknowing isn’t permanent. I remember the only way to find the knowledge is to experience and learn. And so I search for my answers. It is not my only option, but it is the one I choose.

And piece by piece, block by block, I put my life back together.

Unfreezing

Rough days come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re caused by people or stressors outside of ourselves; sometimes they’re caused by what’s within. Sometimes both. Sometimes they freeze us so completely we can’t go forward or backward. Sometimes they last 72 hours.

I’ve been having one of those days, but I’m inching my way out of it, bit by bit, and wanted to share how, because I know I’m not alone. My advice, ask for help (you don’t have to do it alone); ask for prayer (if this is a thing you do); do the next tangible, logical thing (for me this morning, this was getting out of bed and making breakfast and coffee); and then the next thing and the next; and go slow (stop to take care of yourself between each thing if you need to). Most importantly, be brave.

The problems, concerns, worries, sadness don’t go away in this, but I am moving, not frozen, which means I’ll be able to change, deal with, cope with, fix things in time—my time.

Basic Human Rights

I’ve read that a lot of people are praying for, sending thoughts to, supporting Paris in the aftermath of its recent tragedy. But I think it needs to be about more than just what happened in Paris this weekend. It needs to be about recognizing that there are evil and terrifying things in this world, that violence and murder are extraordinarily sad and terrible and overwhelming and happening constantly.

The terrorist attacks in Paris remind us that violence happens in our world on a daily basis. It makes visible what is easy to ignore in our safe and peaceful lives. Every day people are dying in war and terrorist attacks and seemingly senseless acts of violence, in numbers that make Paris just another case. The massacres have been adding up this year: 43 in this September alone. A search online told me that a massacre is defined as five or more unarmed people being killed at a time. That means at least 215 people died in massacres in September.

But the numbers are far worse than simply “five or more”: 2,000 people in a Nigerian village in January; 147 in a Kenyan school in April; 143 in Syria in May; 42 in Mexico in May; 38 on a Tunisian beach in June; 43 in Turkey in July and another 105 in October; 40 in Beirut, Lebanon, one day before Paris; and just days before Paris, 200 children in Syria were lined up and executed. All in 2015, and these are just the larger ones that made the Internet news. Plus, they don’t include smaller scale massacres or those in schools, churches, city streets, people’s homes, etc. And these numbers only include the dead, not the injured, traumatized, or mourning.

It is the pervasiveness of the violence that rocks me when I look at these numbers: it’s everywhere, in great numbers. No one is exempt; no one is safe. It’s not a world war or gas chambers, but it is people taking the lives of other people, people thinking they have the right to do so.

Sit up, look away from your screen for a moment. Look around you. Who do you see? Your husband, your daughter, your mother, a man at the table next to yours, a woman at the next desk, a group of teenagers across the street? Now ask yourself, do you have a right, any reason to harm those people in any way? There is only one answer: no, you don’t.

You don’t have a right to their lives, to their safety, to their livelihood, to their friends or family. You cannot take what is not yours. They don’t even have to say no, because it is basic common sense, basic human rights that what they have and what they are is not yours to take from them.

And there is no excuse good enough to change this, to give you the right to hurt these people. You can’t hit them, shoot them, blow them up, rape them, stab them because you want their land, or you hate them, or to make a point, or because you believe something different than them, or you want justice, or even because you love them. Nothing you want, nothing you have or don’t have gives you the right to use violence against others.

Paris reminds us that our world is terribly broken. There are too many people who believe they have rights to the lives of others, who think that 100, 200, 2,000 lives aren’t too many to take to send a message or exact revenge or just plain murder. But one life is already too many. Paris needs to be more than a reminder of humankind’s affinity for and ability to inflict violence. It needs to remind us that this isn’t going to stop until something changes. Until people start to understand and believe that all people have rights and that those rights should be honored.

And when I say rights, I mean the bare essentials: the right to live, the right to be safe, the right to feel safe.

Fear and sadness will come out of what happened in Paris, most likely more deaths and more hatred. Tomorrow morning things will be a little rougher than they usually are on Mondays. We’ll look over our shoulders when we leave our homes and we will notice for the first time the ethnicity of our baristas and coworkers. We will say prayers to one god or another, “God bless Paris.” But in a few days, a week or two—until a moment of silence on November 13, 2016—life will go back to normal. Most of us still won’t notice large-scale death in countries we can’t locate on a map.

I am asking you not to go back to normal. Notice death. Notice violence. Notice your thoughts and beliefs about human rights. Honor people’s rights to live and be safe. Make sure they feel safe. Know they deserve it. And tell others what you believe.

I won’t be silent anymore. There is little I can do to effect change amongst the billions of people on this planet. But for the handful of lives I touch, for those who might hear me, for them I will no longer hold my tongue. I will teach my children to honor the rights of others—I will show them how it’s done. I will heal from the times my basic rights weren’t honored and be brave and tell my story so that people might better understand what it is to value people’s rights.

I’m sad for what happened in Paris on Friday, and in Beirut on Thursday and Syria on Monday. So many innocents lost. But let us learn from these, let us go forward more aware and more confident in what we can do to change things.