“R is for Regression”

Last week I had a very bad week. It felt like a lightening bolt had struck down from above and stunned me into a negative, off kilter, zombie like state of functioning. I had no desire to do much of anything. I emotionally worked myself up to being physically ill. Sick to my stomach and in tears….leading me to have to leave work. Leave work with wide eyed stares of colleagues wondering what the hell was going on with our “happy-go-lucky, energetic, workhorse Kate.” I isolated and became a person many people in my current life do not recognize. The thing is I recognized her. I have  been her (THAT version of Kate) before. I somehow had regressed back into this state of being.

I had regressed from thriving all the way back to victim.

I have the education and copious amounts of reading background to intellectually understand healing is not linear. I know what triggers are and what they can do for others. The hard part of moving on from a sexual assault, personal trauma, relationship hurt, professional heartbreak, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and two eating disorders during my teenage years is that I have not figured out my own personal triggers. My personal mentality is that moving on is fragmented into different levels. Set to the same parameters my Nike RUn app is, first you are at the green level, then you graduate onto blue once you have accomplished 700 miles, then you hit the milestone of purple when you hit 1000 miles, and so forth.

So it would appear that I have set my own set of rules to apply only to myself similar as I have with physical fitness goals. Well knowing its unattainable, knowing healing is not linear, knowing its unreasonable, but making myself go through it anyways. A bit of regression into perfectionism…shit.

I have spoken in pieces of having moved on from two eating disorders I struggled with starting as early as junior high. I self taught myself to withhold food as a method of control and staying “skinny.” Once my hormones and heartbreak of high school set in, I learned how to eat an enormous amount of food, stick my finger down my throat, and purge everything inside of me. It felt great, cathartic, and cleansing. I was thin, popular, in great athletic shape, and in a false “sense of control.” Then it started to become apparent and I developed shame over my control tactics. I have not purged since my early 20s or regressed into anorexic like behavior since I was assaulted in Fall 2015. (I refused to eat for the most part, I just …well..I just couldn’t…)

My reason for sharing all of this is that I realized last week I haven’t figured out my triggers, but I have figured out my own personal “tells.” I can’t manage triggers or how they make me feel, but I can manage my coping skills much more efficiently. I skipped meals and felt proud of it last week. I stared at a piece of food and wondered if I would absorb any calories if I devoured it and purged for the first time in over a decade. I chose chardonnay over protein shakes and longer planned runs. I lashed out at others, my stomach hurt, I slept too much, and then too little.

I knew what was happening and fought with myself internally about it. My mind trickled back to my best friend staring at me in our high school bathroom asking me “Why do your teeth look yellow again? Please be honest!” (She was one of the few that knew about the bulimia.) I looked in the mirror at my 32 year old smile, down at the whitening trays stored in my vanity and briefly flashed back to my 17 year old self scrubbing my teeth with baking soda and peroxide in the mirror.  I do not want to go back here, I don’t have time to go back through the exhaustion of this. I regressed, but I found a way to talk myself out it. I went for a walk with the dog instead, and went to bed early (with something to help me sleep because I knew I needed too.)

My own word definition for 2017 is growth. Just as I am working to redefine forgiveness and where it fits in my life; I have to understand growth may have to be a fluid definition. Anytime I have a setback, I need to acknowledge it versus chalking it up to utter failure. Chunks of miles are measurable, unwinding of emotional damage are not. It’s not a marathon I get to finish and sign off as “check” completed. All of my past happenings are components of who I am today. For the first time in years, I have admitted to a part of myself I blocked out. My attack and assault at 31 was not my first. There is 20 year old inside of me that has also been stunted. Isolated until the next trigger comes forward.

My healing growth is going to have to be a roller coaster, one day at time, and working through the destructive coping skills I have. I regressed and felt useless to helping myself and others. This is not growth thinking. It’s hurtful.

I am far from the growth I wish to have (in all areas of life), but admitting my imperfections, thoughts, areas, of weakness, are the first steps. Crawling, walking, and running have to be interchangeable depending on the day, and that is OKAY!

May be the R in growth is also interchangeable between regression and renewal…its a thought.

“Underlying Cracks”

“If it keeps on rainin’ levee’s goin’ to break
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay.
Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan”

~Led Zeppelin, When the Levee Breaks~

 

Ever feel that innate feeling of satisfaction of fixing something? A thrilling moment of gluing back together the pieces of a vase you knocked over. Reconfiguring a new electronic system to stream your shoes. Sewing a snag shut or a button onto a favorite piece of clothing. I’ll even admit to taking a Sharpie to a piece of black furniture and a favorite pair of stilettos. Viola! When we put something back together again or make it “good as new” there is the secret excitement that we took something broken and made it whole again. We didn’t have to discard or throw out away something we wanted to hang onto for much longer. This is something many of us (myself included) do with prized material items. We enjoy taking something broken and making it shiny, new again. What happens when the item shattered, torn, dismantled, scuffed, wilting or more isn’t material? What happens when its not material, but it’s ourselves that needs to be put back together again?

If I were a vase, I would’ve required the owner to own stock in superglue. I am a woman who has been completely shattered. Scattered porcelain pieces. A large piece my bleeding heart scared from the hurt of relationship heartbreak. A jagged spear of professional shame for not being as successful as I craved to be. A large, shiny fragment representing a physical beating and attack. Splinters of glass from lost friendships that left residual hurt. Shards representing internal struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, body image, perfectionism, and shame.

I am not a vase, I am a 32 year old woman.

I am also grateful for having been broken.

Being broken has allowed me to examine what was under the surface needing to be fixed before being put back together.

Being broken has forced me to be human.

I use the vase analogy, because I have an imaginary doctorate in the “quick fix” theory. My lifelong dissertation of covering up hurt has consisted of temporary stitches, band aids, duct tape hems…you name it. The quick fix to my heart and healing have only allowed the cracks to permeate deeper, and be more profound when “dropped again.” Deep down this has always made me feel like a fraud, like I have been plagiarizing my life to appear, “whole, happy, unmarred.” A identify with the vase’s beauty above the real cracks. Just as some injuries are meniscal, I have realized my biggest traumas have forced me to pick up the other shards I’ve been piecing together. To admit to myself, at some point, a huge crack was going to put things in perspective to me.

That huge break to me was an aggressive physical and sexual assault. It broke the vase in half, and took along with a few other deteriorating pieces. This break shouldn’t have ever happened, but it did. It is exhausting to appear polished and perfect all the time. Its also a catch-22 to be honest, vulnerable that parts of your life are a struggle; wouldn’t want to called a complainer or a whiner after all. I could point a finger at the largest break and allow everything else to be placated on that one occurrence.

Doing just that will never glue me back together again. It would be a façade. The reality is trauma, truly and profoundly changes a person. I have come to realize, its not just the initial trauma. Its being forced to look at everything else about ourselves that has been hurt, that we’ve tried to move past, that we didn’t allow ourselves to feel, or (ouch) that we weren’t honest with ourselves about. I will never be grateful for my “big break” or assault, but I have to be honest with myself (and others) that I have (had) other pieces that needed to be put back together.

I am strong enough to hold a bouquet of flowers these days, but there are still cracks not properly adhered.

Just as old antiques with flaws are stunning, there really, truly is beauty in the human breakdown.

“Drawing my Line in the Sand”

“And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me”

~Don Henley, Heart of the Matter~

What is your definition of forgiveness? Forgiveness is such a simple concept and complex ideology rolled into one word that glides off your tongue. We teach toddlers this concept before they can even form a complete sentence. You hit, kick, or physically do something considered “bad” you look the victim in the eye, and mutter, “I’m sorry.” Most young children are taught to hug or show affection after words, to inherently drill into their little sponge like minds, “poof, you are good again, forgiven.” When behavior is deemed as wrong in elementary school, more formal apology methods are implemented. Written letters, meetings with both sets of parents, you get the picture…its more structured. (I only found myself in a serious setting like this the one time-again, Matt Chaput, I’m sorry spitting is wrong. I got sent to the principals’ office, you still were a jerk to insult my team of choice worn on my sweatshirt for non uniform day.) I had to write an apology letter, and was “forgiven.” Little shit smirked at me knowing he didn’t care I acted out towards him, he just wanted to tattle on me (as a well behaved student.) I paid him back the next year in the third grade, when he purposely ate glue to show off.

The rolling theory of forgiveness theory and modeled teaching, appropriate behavior is further complicated for me. I was raised Catholic, and, a cornerstone of our religion is the sacrament of reconciliation. So around the age that I was figuring out other classmates will throw you under the bus to humiliate you into an apology (and karma for future tattling); I was learning to bottle things up and save them for confession. I remember being terrified to go in the first time I had to go to confession, to the point my stomach hurt the entire day at school. But, like a good Catholic school girl, I made my list during theology class, marched in, hung my head, and said what I had done wrong (mostly fighting with my younger sister.) So then I was told to recite certain prayers until the next confession, patted on the head, and avoided making eye contact with the priest during Sunday mass from then on after. Why, because one of the very first male authority figures I wanted to please in my life now knew that I was bad. I sinned, and any future wrong in my life I would have to ask to be forgiven for.

Huh. What a concept and its no wonder why in my early adult 30s I am struggling with the paradigm of what role forgiveness plays in my life, within relationships, and perhaps with the most important relationship I need to cultivate, with myself. Putting the successive thoughts down, upon reflection of recently reading “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton have put me into a mental swirl. It’s no wonder I am struggling to keep my head above water in an ocean of perfectionist hell. I was never once explained why it was so important to forgive someone, or why any wrong I had done was wrong and should not be continued behavior. It was black or white, you are either good or bad, absolved or with sin-there was no middle ground to help sort out behaviors, lies, wrongs, hurt, or open space to not internalize things. I have been taught my entire life to take the high road and forgive others, confess my own wrongs, and basically to “suck it up buttercup.”

How could a child not develop a complex as they mature into adulthood?

I have forced myself to do some serious digging into this topic as I’m mentally exhausted from beating myself up for mistakes I deem as “greater sins.” Past behaviors I have tolerated. Majority of them with men I was trying to keep happy or please. I will use a solid example. One of the best relationships I have ever had started in a whirlwind of pure bliss. We were in that amazing state of wanting to spend as much time together as possible, while learning about each other, and molding into one another’s lives. I was a tad over 27 at the time, and felt so grateful to have finally have found a great man who treated me so well. Remembered I took my coffee black, brought it to me in bed, was not afraid to be affectionate in public, would put Elvis on the jukebox at a dive bar and twirl me around (still a favorite memory), and I was falling for fast. I consider trust to be a huge part of a relationship, and was very open about a past ex who had strongly violated my trust. I voiced my need for trust, but never found a way to break out the fact that I needed him to love me for me. As I was, as a I looked, without question or conviction. I will own that I was in the best physical shape of my life when I met him, and darn proud of it. Mind you my new time spent sleeping next to him cut into my 6 am Boot Camp classes I attended religiously. Morning sex trumped burpees and sprints. We also dined out a lot, I drank more than usual, and I had a serious asthma flare up that put me on prednisone (steroid.) So guess what; I gained weight!

The thing was I had noticed it, but wasn’t as upset about it as I was in a happy relationship. I knew things would even out, the “crazy steroid pills” would no longer be needed etc. I was happy, I didn’t care. I will never forget waking up on my side of the bed next to him one Sunday morning, and him rolling over to what I thought was to spoon me. Smiling in the morning sunlight trickling in at another morning happy next to this man. Instead, he grabbed my stomach and said, “jelly belly.” I smacked him off of me and instantly said, “What the hell? do not do that to me!” I plodded to his bathroom and stared myself in the mirror. Did that really just happen? Did my amazing boyfriend just fat shame me before I had even had a chance to take a morning pee, brush my teeth, coffee? I felt defeated and as if I had been punched in the gut. He had started coffee and I awkwardly got dressed in my gym clothes as he made breakfast for us. THEN, he brought it up again. I can still seem him sitting on his brown leather couch, coffee cup in hand stating this to me. “As for what I said to you this morning, you know I make it a priority to take care of myself, and I expect the girls I date to do the same.” I literally stood there with my heart beating out of my chest. I wanted to scream and cry, I was so happy just an hour ago. Wtf was happening? Why wasn’t he loving me for…ME?

This turned into our first fight because it was pretty noticeable I was trying not to cry and had turned to silence before trying to leave. He actually stood in front of the door and tried to hug me stating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t cry. You can’t drive or leave when you are this upset.” I broke down sobbing and shrilly yelled, “how do you expect me to feel?” He took my coat off, stumbled me to sit down, put his arm around me on the couch, kissed the top of my head (in effort to calm me down), and rambled a long apology about how neither of us had been eating healthy, and lets just work a bit harder on it during the week. That he was sorry, he hadn’t meant to go about talking to me that way, please eat something before you leave (seriously…in front of you who just fat shamed me) and please forgive him.

So I did. I managed to mumble out, “you really hurt my feelings and yes I forgive you.” So then I internalized what I really felt at that moment, and turned it on myself. I did this, I should’ve been keeping up better appearances. I turned my anger to myself and “forgave for the sake of forgiving.” I get so upset when I look back at this and reflect on my pattern of forgiveness. I wish I would’ve stood my ground and said I’m not a Barbie, or perfect. Shouted how broken I felt at that moment, and who the hell was he, I was 12 years his junior for Christ’s sake-his friends all teased him about have a “hot” girlfriend. Instead I said I forgave him and left completely dejected. I never felt 100% around him after that. I never let him touch my stomach again (which made him mad and then I would snap, “its YOUR fault!) I used to report back how much I had worked out, if I had lost a pound, you name it to compensate for insecurity I felt with him. The thing was, this was not forgivable behavior in my mind and I knew it. I remember hearing a little voice in my mind saying, “leave, walk out right now and don’t ever come back.”

I remember thinking I was the one that needed forgiveness or to say I’m sorry. I had put on about 7 lbs, and it showed. So just like I had done in 2nd grade with another male, and a male authority figure, I tolerated, endured, and internalized for the sake of putting on an “I’m sorry face,” Guess what 27 year old Kate, I am sorry, I am sorry you thought that behavior was acceptable and something you needed to allow.

The thing I am learning about forgiveness, is that not everyone deserves it from me. People want the validation of “I’m sorry” because we learned so young that is how we move on. Sometimes, an apology isn’t appropriate. Sometimes we have to say I am really not okay with the way you treated me, talked to me, etc and voice that you need space to compartmentalize yourself away from the situation. “I’m sorry” should not juxtapose the framework of a relationship and friendship. Saying I understand someone is sorry, and stating you need space is completely appropriate. I have forgiven quite a bit in my personal relationship world. I have allowed lying, cheating (during our entire relationship), yelling, name calling, disrespect and more. None of it was helpful to me in the long run. I need to think about space and how I should forgive others. It allows me to dissect on my own timeline, and to not revert back to the horrible habit of internalization. Internalizing creates havoc and further allows that person to have power over me.

In the book mentioned above, “Love Warrior” Glennon is forced to evaluate her own habits of internalizing things because she was not holding herself in a position of true worthiness. She didn’t like her body or herself, so tolerated and forgave bad behavior. I found myself relating and reflecting back on past patterns of forgiveness. I’ve put up with enough shit and think sometimes a hard line in the sand may be appropriate. I do not have to accept forgiveness from anyone. Tolerance and allowing resentment  fosters negativity. Fosters feeling of unworthiness. I am worthy. I am so fucking worthy of happiness, respect, and getting what I want from a relationship.

I am not saying I will never go to confession again, or forgive petty disagreements (for the sake of moving forward.) I know this, my forgiveness moving forward in life is not going to bountifully given out at an all you can take buffet. Also, to the 27 year old Kate who has been mentally kicked across my mind for not making a different decision that day, you are forgiven. You did what you were taught, trained, and what you knew to be right. Live, learn, and sometimes, stand the fuck up for yourself.

“Let’s talk about Sexism, Baby…”

“Yes I’ve made my mistakes, but listen and understand, my mistakes are no worse than yours just because I’m a woman.”

“Just Because I’m a Woman~ Dolly Parton”

Photo credit to AAUW

Let’s be very real about how glaring the topic of sexism has been in our lives for the past year.

I am currently home sick with the flu. A nasty, consuming, had to leave work early flu. Its embarrassing enough to be ill at work (especially in a public bathroom.) What is further worse was that a female supervisor chose to subject me to sexism in front of other colleagues. I had my arm rubbed and was asked, “Is it flu or is there something you want to tell me?” Because I’m a woman of my early 30s, the assumption was that “she must be pregnant.” I retorted back a snarky remark of “don’t you think I would be even more awesome if I was getting some?” rubbed her arm back, and excused myself to be sick again.

Sick and pissed off.

A man would never have been asked such a question or had their personal reproductive health issues brought forward. I also have huge reproductive insecurities. I had the shock of an accidental pregnancy & miscarriage in my mid 20s. This was also during the midst of a very emotionally abusive relationship ending. I had cancer removed from my right ovary when I was 27. If I ever do choose to attempt to have children, I will be keeping this very tight lipped. It’s personal, and if I was experiencing morning sickness, not something I needed discussed out in the open. But I’m a woman, right, so my reproductive system is common discussion for everyone?

In a sexist society this is very true.

Spending the day in bed gave me time to reflect about some of the sexist behavior I have personally experienced both personally and professionally. It is hurtful and hard to dwell back on. (words and stories are my own.) Based on the public avidly following #shepersisted and marching for all women; I know I am not alone.

I can recall being out to a “wine Wednesday” at a popular location when I was in my younger 20s and working in off campus housing. Quite a few employees for this company would frequent these evenings, and it wasn’t uncommon for the company CEO to also be there. It was unspoken work event, and it wasn’t uncommon for the CEO to strike up conversation with me. I’m outgoing and not shy (especially after a few pinots.) One of these evenings, the CEO told me how much promise I showed professionally and how lonely his friend was after a divorce. It was very much implied to me that it would benefit my career if “a young, good looking thing like me” helped his friend physically not feel so lonely. So, I was told to sleep with someone 20 years older than me to move up at that company. I wormed my way out of that conversation and stopped attending those “Wine Wednesday off campus events.”

A few years back I walked over to the sports bar near my apartment to watch my Chicago Bears on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t have the channel the game was playing on. I am very comfortable going places alone, ordered lunch, a cold beer and sat down at the bar in front of the game playing. There were two men about the age of my father sitting near me, who struck up a conversation asking me which team I was watching. I would chalk it up to light banter you’d find at any sports bar with strangers. Near the end of the third quarter one of the men said to me, “why aren’t you married or taken, you are HOT, drink beer, and watch sports!” So despite the fact that I knew stats of my team, had a promising job interview the next day, and was independent enough to go out for a game alone-I should be married.

Because sexism….

I had a conflict with a male coworker that kept building, getting worse, and others were aware of it. My male supervisor (supervisor’s supervisor actually) asked me to discuss it with him in his office. I was at a loss for how to move forward with this situation so obliged. I will never forget sitting there and hearing these words, “I am concerned about the amount of anger he has towards you personally.” I looked right back at him and stated, “What you say if your wife came home from work, and told you that her male supervisor pulled her into an office to discuss another male’s anger towards her.” He started to answer and then caught himself before answering as a partner, not my boss. So basically I was told (as a professional woman) that I was responsible for a male coworkers behavior. If had been volatile towards another male, it would have been addressed immediately. As a woman, the initial problem of his anger problem was deflected back to me to correct.

I left that office stunned….

I was a late bloomer and avid runner in my late teens/early 20s. I came home from my first semester of college, finally, well….blossomed. Instead of people asking me how I was enjoying college, I was accused of having plastic surgery openly and from men who shouldn’t have been critiquing my body. Period. I deflected with humor and said, “I started drinking beer, I can’t help where it went” and would walk away from the conversation. Yes its snarky and humorous, but it taught me to be very self conscious about my new found curves. Weight distribution on women often results in curves. So my male friends were asked about gpas, housing, sports teams, and I, was asked why my body looked different.

I have various fleeting examples. I was told by a female supervisor that I should just “play dumb to get ahead” at times. She said it would be easier for me in the long run versus standing up for things I am passionate about. I brought up that the dress code needed to be enforced as a female coworker’s very low cut attire was causing issues and was told if I was saying something out of jealousy…”Is this the hill you want to die on Kate?” My attire was critiqued as being too dressed up in the work place, where a male coworker was praised for his new suit and tie. I’ve overheard conversations about my chest size and marital status by male coworkers who thought I was out of ear shot. I’ve been told repeatedly to “be careful” when out running as I am a woman.

I could keep going with a longer list of things I have experienced. My point, women are routinely judged, treated differently, physically critiqued and sexualized. We just came off of a long election that nearly resulted in our first female president. The media have been swirling with objections and examples of how sexism does or does not exist. I will close with the term “nasty woman” that has become a feminist mantra after our new elected president attacked the female candidate with this term. He didn’t demean her politics, or what she was saying at that time. He, instead, attacked her character as a woman. Because in our sexist society she had committed a solitary crime of being born female and acting female. Being female means you are open to critique of everything. All bets are off.

Still think sexism doesn’t exist?

Miss Weber, if you are nasty, sure as hell does.