Stay gold, ponyboy

it__s_a_trap_by_avpfan1102-d59hr0nLately, I’ve been reminded of a conversation I had when I was in my early 20s. It’s probably a conversation I had many times over the years, from teens to mid-20s. It went something like, “We may age, but we will never get OLD. We will still be out dancing on tables, seeing shows, staying out til the sun comes up forever. Even when we are 50! Let’s never get lame.” Like every teenager, I was always absolutely convinced I knew it all. That’s a theme that permeates pop culture, both then and now – don’t grow up. Keep the fire of youth burning inside of you forever.

I suppose there’s several reasons I’ve been thinking about that lately, one being that my oldest friend just turned 35. We have been close for over 20 years, that’s a very long time. I had some really amazing times in my teens and early to mid 20s. I saw concerts I’ll never forget; I traveled to Europe for the first time; I made incredible friends and had some pretty amazing experiences. I also worked a lot of shitty jobs; worried a lot about money; drank too much, and wondered what the f*** I was going to do with my life. My boyfriend of a year told me recently about a conversation he had with his 15 year old son. His son asked him, “if you could go back to any age, which age would you choose?” I realized that for myself the answer would be that I would not go back, or if forced is go back only a year or two. It funny how many mistakes you make when you still “know it all.” Truthfully, I look back on those conversations about never getting “old” and “lame” with amusement at our naivety. Why on earth would you want to be at 30 the exact same person you were at 20? Or at 40 the exact same person you were at 30?

How many missed opportunities must you have to have to go through you life without learning, changing, and growing? How much out and out resistance to growing as a person must you have to make it through a decade unchanged?

I have the pleasure of working every day with individuals who – for the most part – have identified that what they have been doing is not working for them and who would like to learn a better way to be. No one gets out of childhood without learning some dysfunctional ways to act and really unhealthy ways of thinking. For some those are relatively small things that don’t impact their lives greatly one way or another, but I think the vast majority of us are walking around with some unhealthy ways of thinking and acting. Especially in our teens and 20s! For some people it takes an incredible amount of bravery to say, “I’m not perfect” but good lord, who is? If you think you are, you likely only have yourself fooled. The rest of the world is probably on to you. Five years ago I was not a very happy person, but I was working on bettering myself and my life. I was about to finally graduate with an undergraduate degree and I wasn’t sure what my life would look like in five years. If you had told me that it would look the way it does today, I would laugh. In a short time, I worked hard and acquired many things that back then fell solidly in the “dream” category. Today, I am lucky that those dreams are my actual life. None of that happened by chance, the vast majority of it was through intention and very hard work.

I realized last night, as I sat in the car outside Baskin Robbins in my pajamas, waiting for the person that I love to bring me my favorite ice cream, that I am content. I am in a state of peaceful happiness in my life. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stress or bad days, but it means that overall there is much more good than bad and I am infinitely thankful for that. A lot of it looks absolutely nothing like I thought that it would look 5, 10, 20 years ago, and I realized that I am perfectly ok with that. I never thought that I would end up with a man, I never thought I’d be living in Mississippi by choice, I don’t know that I really thought I’d be a therapist although it was always something I was interested in. I’ve learned that the secret to having the life that you want is to both work very hard at getting what you want and also to be flexible enough to allow what you want to look differently than what you always imagined. I would have passed on several amazing opportunities had I not been willing to bend like the willow tree.

tao1It used to be very difficult for me to really trust another person 100%. I don’t mean just lovers and partners but also friends. Trust, it seemed to me, was leaving yourself open for hurt. What I’ve learned in the last decade or so is that it is not trust that is the problem, but whom we open ourselves up to with that trust. If you pick the right people, listen to your gut, and never compromise your boundaries then trust is not a scary prospect. I don’t have to accept your bullshit to receive your love, and the same goes for you of me. As I reflect back upon the last year with Jon, at first I honestly can’t believe it’s been a year. It seems both shorter and longer, simultaneously. I suppose the best relationships always do, when you can barely remember life before them because it’s nearly impossible to image life without them. The irony for both of us has always been that it was only through learning and growing into different, better people, that we were able to finally find each other. The people we were five years ago would not have been attracted to each other and rightfully so!

I used to think that being independent was absolutely necessary in the sense that I should not allow anyone to do for me what I could do for myself, especially not a man. Aside from one cranky afternoon where I snapped at Jon, “I can pump my own gas!” I’ve learned that when both people give equally and both take care of each other it’s not an imbalance but a perfect balance. Every other relationship I’ve ever been in, even most of my friendships, one of us has given more and the other taken more. I think givers and takers are attracted to each other, because we fulfill so many unspoken needs in each other. Balance is difficult to find in one’s self, let alone in tandem with another. If I had decided to not grow as a person, I know without a doubt I wouldn’t have this kind of relationship with anyone. It was absolutely imperative that I grow for my own sake, or grow for growing’s sake, with no thought of whatever prize might be waiting beyond being the absolute best person I knew how to be. Now I have the ultimate gift of growing with someone else, and watching them continue to learn and grow as I do too. Jon has taught me so much over the last year, and I know I have taught him a lot as well. Not overt lessons that we set out to teach each other but simple revisions in what we knew to be true about life and love and happiness.

Here is what I know today that I did not when I was 25:

  • Time is our most precious commodity. You can make more money, you can get more things, you can even replace people in your life with new ones but you will never ever ever get your time back. For that reason, you must use it mindfully.
  • It is possible to be loved for exactly who you are, but who you are may not deserve that love. Try to deserve it.
  • No one can love you if you don’t love yourself.
  • You cannot ever truly know a person’s thoughts but it is possible to trust them so much that you don’t need to.
  • There are mistakes that you can never, ever fix. There are things there is no coming back from.
  • It is impossible to have a healthy relationship if you are not healthy first. It’s not possible to have a healthy life while in denial.
  • Nothing anyone else thinks about you is your business, so don’t worry about it. You can’t change it anyway.
  • You will repeat your patterns until you acknowledge them.
  • Nothing is ever just one person’s fault.
  • You control nothing and no one except yourself.
  • If you cannot be alone with yourself and like what you see, change it.
  • We often deserve much more than we accept – and we accept much less than we deserve and try to say that it’s ok to do so because of love. As though love was both tangible and finite.

And lastly, stagnation is worse than death. So dance on tables while you feel the need to, but don’t be afraid of getting older and wiser. If I don’t know more at 40 than I know today I will be vastly disappointed in myself.

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Finding balance

I didnt make this image I found it on pinterest

Balance is something that is essential in a healthy life. Everywhere we look, we see balance – in the seasons; the land bleeding into the sky; light and dark. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang tells us that different yet complimentary forces that are interdependent on each other. (That sentence is pretty much lifted from Wikipedia, there was just no better way to say that.) In contrast, entropy tells us that disorder – or chaos – is much more common than order. Real Clear Science explains: “Put simply, entropy is a measure of disorder, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all closed systems tend to maximize entropy. Reversing this ever increasing tendency toward disorder requires the input of energy. …However, the energy put into preventing disorder in one place simultaneously increases it somewhere else. Overall, the entropy of the universe always increases.”

Think about that for a minute. Even in chaos, there is balance. When we decrease the disorder in this place, disorder in another place increases. Balance, it seems, is an inescapable part of life in our world, but balance isn’t something that is easy for people with emotional sensitivities. All or nothing, black and white, bad or good, these are the extremes that we traffic in when we have BPD (borderline personality disorder). I love you or I despise you; you make me happy or angry; I’m elated or scared; I’m flying or falling; these are the places where the BPD mind and emotions live, but these are not places where we as healthy, functioning individuals can live. Life happens in places that are warm or chilly, not full on hot or cold. People aren’t simply bad or good, they are simultaneously both and that is really difficult to deal with when you have an emotional sensitivity.

I’m also a love addict, so being in a fairly new relationship I am extremely conscientious about elation. I can’t “ride the high” like I like to. I can’t even do it like a normal person does, after all studies have shown that love effects the brain the way a drug does so everyone gets a high off falling in love and new relationships. The high of infatuation wears off though, because eventually balance returns. Still, even when we are actively trying not to be swept away, love is a fucking awesome thing. It feels good to be around the one that you love. A bad day becomes better, a good day becomes the best day possible, the simple presence of the one we love is a powerful and moving thing. The problem is, that I also have an emotional sensitivity and as I grow closer to a person, I grow more frightened. Love, when one has BPD, is a weird, churning mess of wanting to be close while simultaneously wanting to make sure that the person doesn’t leave and hurt you. There’s a concept in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) called “wise mind” which itself is a balance.

wise mind

Wise mind is where rational mind and emotional mind overlap. It is not only feeling, but it is also not just cognition, it is combining the two, to get closer to what is rational. My feelings often take over and they make my thoughts irrational, feelings can seep through my thoughts like a poison. My feelings tell my thoughts that I need to be scared, not because of anything happening right now, but because of things from my past and possible hurt in the future. My feelings tell me to protect myself, to build walls, to withdraw, to force my loved one to “prove” their love for me over and over and over again in the hopes that I will eventually stop being afraid. Unfortunately, no one can prove to emotional mind that it’s safe to be vulnerable. It’s never 100% safe to be vulnerable, that’s what makes it so difficult. Conversely, rational mind tells me that I have a bad track record in picking partners. Rational mind tells me that I often ignore red flags and outright problems in relationships because it feels good right now. These are true statements. When I am in wise mind, my emotions and thoughts have to work together. My emotions tell me that I need to protect myself, my rational mind tells me that I have a track record of not protecting myself, but wise mind reminds me that I can choose when to protect myself based on real threats that are happening in the present. Wise mind asks me if I have a reason to start to build a wall of protection, beyond fear, beyond past experiences, because building a wall is not the way to protect one’s self – leaving the relationship is. If there are reasons to protect oneself, staying in a relationship while withdrawing isn’t the answer. If it can’t be worked through, the relationship should end. Wise mind is a really practical place. When it comes to romantic relationships, I am never in wise mind without concerted effort. Wise mind has become like second nature to me in other areas of my life, but wise mind is never the default when it comes to love.

There is no healthy existence in just emotional mind or just rational mind. Wise mind is a balance of the two. There is no peace in extremes, when it has to be all or nothing we can’t be at rest. Emotional mind tells me that safety exists in rigorously protecting myself from hurt, regardless of whether or not there is a legitimate need for protection. Balance is the only way that I can live in recovery. Without balance I am allowing myself to be controlled by my disorder, I am not making decisions but reacting like a frightened animal. It’s hard to live in balance, it’s probably impossible in fact. I sway back and forth, attempting to stay upright. I lean into rational mind and bounce back into emotional mind, overshooting wise mind completely. I stumble and lean back, toward wise mind. I dance a clumsy ballet on top of precariously balanced stones, trying desperately to keep it all from tumbling down. When I am scared, I want to live in emotional mind; it’s easier than struggling for balance. It’s more familiar, it’s almost comforting even though I know that it ultimately leaves me without intimate relationships. Today I strive for balance. As uncomfortable as it is for me to live as closely to wise mind as possible, I know that it’s the only way to live authentically, and at some point that became less of a decision as a blatant defiance of the disorder that is not me and does not have to control me.

Tomorrow, I am going to have a post with more info about DBT, for those that are interested in learning more!

balance

Unicorns and healthy relationships, part 2

relationships

Continued from my previous post

As it turned out, the cute math professor liked my crazy socialist rant. There are some guys that will do just about anything to get laid, but it seemed counter-intuitive that this guy would be willing to talk to me about liberal politics in order to do so. I texted my friend Kat and she warned me not to go back on what I had said about him not being sober for long enough. I had legitimate reasons for keeping things with this dude strictly as friendship; I’d ignored red flags in the past and it never turned out well. You can go back and read my posts about red flags here and here. My relationship with the alcoholic that wouldn’t/couldn’t stay sober has been well documented on this blog. Doing things I know I shouldn’t never ends well for me. So we kept talking with me vowing I wouldn’t actually ever meet him in person, but then an unexpected thing happened – I really started to like him. He was cool, and he was really insightful. Then he awkwardly flirted with me and I gave him my number so that we could text.

Getting healthier emotionally and psychologically is an odd thing. I had been single since December 2012, for all intents and purposes. Even though I had hooked up with an ex in early 2013, I had been single for a significant chunk of time. I had all these ideas about what I’d do differently if I was confronted with any of the things that I had ignored in the past. Red flags, deal breakers, lies, addictions, sharing a house and a bed with an ex…these were all things that I thought that I would handle differently if confronted with them again, but would I really? There was just no way to know until I was in a situation again where I had a choice to make a good decision vs a bad decision. I really didn’t think I had it in me to fall in love again. My trust was pretty shattered after the alcoholic. I still have grief around Patty’s death and losing her. I honestly didn’t think I would want to open myself up to potential hurt again, or that I could even if I wanted to. Still, this guy was something different. The way he thought, his commitment to his recovery, his blog, he honestly reminded me of me. Someone who had experienced things and done things they weren’t proud of and found a way to find the core of who they were and become someone different – someone closer to who they were inside, that they hadn’t been able to be before. The more we talked the more I realized that his labels or diagnoses were not the only thing to base my opinion of him on. So after a fair amount of flirting over about a week, when he asked me to a lunch date, I said yes. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, or what would happen, if anything, but when something inside you wants to say yes, you have to say yes. The alternative is staying safe in a bubble and I’ve never wanted safety at that cost.

That date was the beginning of what has become the healthiest relationship of my life. It’s odd and fascinating and entirely unexpected on every possible level. I’ve never met another person as intent on communicating what is in their head and heart as much as me, until I met Jon. There’s really no games at all because we both tell each other what we are feeling and thinking. There’s a level of safety in that honesty that I have never experienced in my life. We somehow accept each other exactly as we are, neither of us is trying to change the other into something else. I feel like there’s nothing I could tell him that would change the way he feels about me and that’s not something I am at all familiar with. Love in my life has always been very conditional, it’s depended on acting a certain way or not saying certain things, or being perfect. I had read that these healthy relationship things existed but I wasn’t really sure that it could be true, it was just much too far from my experience and reality to seem plausible. Yet any time I felt uncomfortable, I would tell him and we would talk about it. We can just talk, no one gets angry or defensive, we aren’t competing to see who will “win.” That’s not to say that everything we talk about is easy to talk about, or non-threatening, but so far we have had nothing but really respectful, open, honest communication. The beginning of a relationship is where you adopt the habits you will have throughout it, so it seems like we are doing the right things.

It is the beginning, we haven’t been dating an extremely long time, just a little over a month and we have only been officially in a relationship for about half that time. It’s too early to say that there aren’t deal breakers or red flags for one of us down the road. I can’t see the future but it’s hard to imagine a red flag that either of us could spot that wouldn’t lead to a conversation, and that’s a really cool thing. At the beginning of part one I said that when you meet the right person you just know, and I found that it’s true. Does that mean I think that Jon is THE ONE? No, because I don’t believe in concepts like that. It would be ludicrous to sit here and think or say that the person that I’m in love with, that I’ve been dating for a month is going to be someone I will be with forever. It’s just too early to tell. That’s not especially romantic to say, but so fucking what. I have said all sorts of starry-eyed romantic things that ended up being bullshit lies I told myself and I much prefer this to that. Is there a lot of potential here? Most definitely. We have a lot of weird things in common. We’re compatible in odd ways that seem to defy coincidence. We love being together but have no trouble being apart and in fact enjoy it although we do the cutesy “I miss you” stuff. All the things I’ve done wrong in the past, I’m not doing now and that’s weird and great and sometimes it’s scary because it’s so real. It’s different because I am different, and it’s different because he is different. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I’m excited about what the future holds. There’s no trepidation, no voice in the back of my head telling me that the things I’m actively ignoring are going to be what ends the relationship. There’s a lot of trust which is also really odd. In the end, I guess all you can do is do the work and hope to god that some of whatever you wanted/needed to learn has sunk in.

Another thing you hear a lot is “we accept the love that we think we deserve.” I know that I accepted a lot of things in the place of love because I didn’t think that I was worthy of real, sustaining, empowering, glorious love. I had to learn to love myself before I could accept love from anyone else. I’m not actually sure that I believe I deserve quite as much love as Jon has for me, but I’m accepting it anyway. It’s exactly the way that I always thought it could be, and that’s abso-fucking-lutely amazing.

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Unicorns, healthy relationships, and other things I did not know actually existed*

There’s an old adage that when you meet the “right” person, you just know. Me being me, I’ve always wanted to know, how do you know that you know? I’m a recovering “love” addict, a codependent, and I have an emotional sensitivity disorder among other things. I’ve thought everyone was the “right” one, even though I always had doubts and I knew things about them were deal breakers and vice versa. I figured that is just me though, I will always have doubts. As it turns out, some of those old adages are really pretty accurate. You know you know because you know. You know? 😉

I was also pretty vocal about the fact that I was never going to meet anyone locally that I wanted to date, nor was I going to meet anyone on Ok Cupid. I’ve been on OKC since it was a fun place to take quizzes to post the results on livejournal. I stayed on there for two reasons, ok maybe three: I have met a couple really amazing friends there; I think it’s important to put yourself out there, it can’t hurt right? and because the OKC app was a fun way to kill time in the middle of the night when I was restless and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t mind wasting time conversing for a minute with poly women in other states I knew I’d never be attracted to or politely rebuffing the random dudes who were nice enough to deserve a polite “no thanks.” I figured I’d meet someone whenever I moved to a larger, more queer city, and until then life is pretty damn good. I love my house, my neighborhood, a lot about my town, my friends, and grad school takes up a lot of time and energy. Not to mention all the time I’d been spending on personal growth – working out, getting to my goal weight (which is like 8 pounds away! I now have a new, lower goal weight), becoming a better person, learning how to meditate and studying Buddhism… I had a lot on my plate becoming the person I knew that I could be.

I guess that my theory that if I focused on being the kind of person that I want to be, the best version of myself imaginable, that I could attract someone I might actually want to be with too was pretty wise. It was just a theory and I figured that at worst I’d become a healthier person. Not too shabby a result! Then one day I got a message on OKC. I got a lot of messages on OKC, and they’d at least tripled since I changed my “looking for” to include men. Around the end of 2013, I finally let myself admit that the close (male) friend I’d had a crush on for years was someone I was interested in actually dating and decided to see what might happen if I made my feelings known. That did not turn out as I had hoped, but in hindsight, being someone that believes everything happens for a reason I’m fairly certain that the point of it all was to make me open to the idea of dating men again. Not that I would date just any man, but I wouldn’t date just any woman either. I’m fairly intimidating to people or so I’ve been told. I’m ridiculously liberal by any standards, especially Mississippi standards, and I am queer and will continue to be queer no matter who I’m dating. A queer feminist whose OKC profile says “heteronormative gender roles bore me” is not going to get many men that read her profile and send a message and it’s fairly easy to quickly determine who didn’t read the profile. So after receiving a pleasant message from one of the guys who actually read my profile and liked it, I checked out his profile. It said that he was in recovery and had been sober for 10 months. After I browsed his questions, I sent him a message back and nicely told him that he hadn’t been sober long enough for me to see him as any potential romantic interest but I was happy to get to know him strictly as a friend.

We chatted a bit back and forth and, as OKC conversations inevitably do, the conversation got boring and eventually one person (ok, me…) just didn’t respond to the last message. I didn’t think anything about it, the summer passed, and life went on as it had been. I decided that Buddhism interested me a lot and decided to start practicing, which if anything was just another nail in the “no one in Mississippi will ever want to date me even if I did want to date them which I probably don’t” coffin. Then about a week before the fall semester of school started, the cute math professor sent me another message on OKC. I was actually quite surprised because by that time all the really creepy mullet dudes stalking my profile had freaked me out to the point that while I was still open to the idea of dating a man, I had changed my profile back to lesbian just to not show up on as many creepy scary guys’ radars. Because unlike most of the lesbians on OKC that viewed my profile, these guys were local and it freaked me out that they might recognize me in Kroger and club me over the head, stuffing me in the trunk of their trans am, never to be heard from again. The math professor did not have a mullet and had seemed like a cool guy in general so I didn’t have any reason to not message him back and say that the fall semester hadn’t started yet for me but thanks for asking.

Somehow we started talking politics, I can’t even remember how, and since I didn’t care if I scared him off, I told him what I actually thought. All unvarnished, anti-capitalist, liberal, extremist views that I have came through in my rant and I figured that would be the last I’d hear from him. His profile didn’t indicate that he was a racist or misogynist, or gun nut or anything, but I really do know everyone in jxn as liberal as me. Or so I thought…

To be continued

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* The unicorn reference is a private joke. Unicorns do not actually exist. Sorry 😦

I was sexually assaulted by an ex

This is the piece that preceded the “Why I Stayed” post. I shared it in a note on facebook but then I lost the nerve to post it publicly.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to type these words:

I was sexually assaulted.

It took me a long time to be able to call it what it was, even before I could say it aloud.

I’m the biggest feminist, supporter of women, of survivors, but when it came to myself I kept coming back to “I should’ve known better.” As though the world should not be presumed to be a safe place, as though those we have once cared about should never be trusted again once they’ve betrayed it.

I was sexually assaulted by an ex, and I should’ve known better.

Because dating someone means they have access to my body without my consent for the rest of my life? No, that’s silly, but that’s what I thought. She was my ex,that means it wasn’t sexual assault. I believe in marital rape – the idea that just by marrying someone, one does not grant them unlimited access to sex whenever they desire it – but I thought it was somehow less a violation because I had consented sometime in the past.

She– oh that’s another thing. Could it really be sexual assault if we are both women?

There are probably many people who say a woman can’t sexually assault another woman.But does an entire gender or sex, 50% of the population have unfettered access to me because we happen to both be female? No, that can’t be right. 50% of the population don’t have the right to touch me if I say no, but yet I couldn’t name it for the longest time.

I went over to her house of my own volition. So I must somehow be culpable. I had alcohol to drink. Because going to someone’s house and having alcohol means in itself that I consent to sexual activity. No, that’s not right. My brain knows these things don’t add up. That if someone else was saying them to me, I would be saying “No, you can go to someone’s house and that doesn’t mean you consent to sex just by showing up there.” I couldn’t say it to myself for a very longtime. None of these things, none of these things mean that no doesn’t mean NO.

I do know that.

The person I am now would not date her. I do know that, too. It’s everything that led up to that night that makes me feel culpable in what happened. I was instantly attracted to her when we met. She was good looking, physically, and she was smart, really smart. She was funny, a feminist, more butch than me, she was everything I was looking for in a partner. I should’ve been frightened when she showed me the bookcase she shattered one night when she was angry. She said she had left it there on the floor so I knew what I was getting into. I thought she was tortured and I could get her to see how amazing she was, because I could see it. Instead everything good had a scary flipside. The night we danced to “Brown eyed girl” over and over in her dining room, restarting it every time it ended; the night I locked myself in her bathroom contemplating whether or not I could crawl through the window to escape her rage.

You would think that would have been the end, but it wasn’t. My fear always evaporated in the daylight, when her smile was warm and my heart told me that I had misunderstood, overreacted, that it wouldn’t happen again. That the anger that erupted over me getting takeout from the wrong place was an isolated thing; that it wouldn’t happen again. Maybe I didn’t know that I deserved anything better than that. I hadn’t always been a good person, I had treated people badly, maybe I only deserved the laughter and fun and sex with the anger and fear attached. Maybe some of us don’t get one without the other.

You would think that all of that would have kept me from going over there that night, six months later. It should have. That’s probably why I felt responsible for so long, but the thing about abusive relationships is that we brainwash ourselves into believing that every act of violence, every outburst, every out of control situation is an isolated incident, a fluke.

Even when we stopped seeing each other socially, our paths still crossed. We had both attended a conference out of town, and I was still processing some of the things that had happened there when we spoke. I don’t know if she texted me or I texted her, it’s long enough ago that I simply cannot recall how we began talking that night. After a while, she asked if I would like to come over to talk in person, and so I went over to her house. I didn’t think that it was anything more than that. I had a girlfriend, a girlfriend that she knew, who I was in a committed monogamous relationship with. I actually thought that maybe we could salvage some sort of friendship, it was naïve looking back, but I still didn’t see the big picture clearly. I went to her house, and she made me a cocktail the way that she always did. We sat on her front stoop and we talked about the conference, until she said, “Where’s your girlfriend tonight?”

“At work.” I said.

“Does she know that you’re here?” She asked me.

“She trusts me.” I told her. And then she leaned in to kiss me. I pushed her away,with both hands. I said, “No. I didn’t come here for that.”

I dropped my hands and I turned away, I guess that I thought that would be enough.

Again,she said “Where is your girlfriend?” and then she kissed me.

I pushed her away and said “Stop it!” and she picked up the empty beer bottle at her feet and smashed it against the steps.

I don’t know if she wanted to intimidate me or just show me she was angry, but six months had given me the strength to stand up and walk away. I wasn’t scared of her anymore, she didn’t have any power over me. I got in my car and I drove away.

I told my girlfriend what had happened, and she was understanding. She believed that I hadn’t been asking for any of it. I told a couple people about it after it happened, people that I thought might be able to help. I wasn’t concerned for myself so much as I wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen to someone else.I had gotten strong, somewhere between the shattered bookcase and the broken beer bottle, but I wondered who would be on the stoop next and I didn’t want her to have to be strong. I wanted her to be safe.

As it turns out, no one knows what to do about this kind of thing. Not feminists, not people who are supposed to be doing something about all the shit that happens to women. No one knows what to do when a woman sexually assaults a woman who happens to have consensually dated her at some point. So I got tired and I got quiet. I got sick of always being the person who is making the fuss and causing the problem. I pushed it all into a tiny place inside me that stopped aching after a while, as long as I didn’t push on it. Eventually someone else got loud and spoke out about the woman who had done this to me,but I was still too wounded and felt too alone to care about whatever she had done to anybody else. No one really wanted to listen when it was me and I just didn’t have the strength to be anyone else’s advocate. Years went by and we all went on and you know the sickest part? She got away with it. What she did tome, what she did to the women after me and what I’m sure she will keep on doing because no one knows what the fuck to do about an adult female who preys on other adult females. No one really seems to know what to do with anyone that preys on other people, but doesn’t do it in a way that’s overt enough to make us feelgood about labeling them.

If you’ve gotten this far, you already read through my reasoning. Dating someone doesn’t give them unlimited rights to my body for the rest of my life. A woman doesn’t have the right to violate me because we happen to be the same gender or sex. Going to someone’s house and having a cocktail isn’t consenting to sex, or even to a kiss. I know these things and this is what I would say to my sister or my best friend or my daughter if I ever had one, this is what I would say to her if she experienced that. I still blame myself a little. My heart knows that it is rape culture though. I don’t remember what I was wearing that night, but it’s not relevant. Nothing we do or say gives ANYone the right to do something to us against our will, there is no implied consent. I lost a lot of my faith and my idealism during that time, but what I never lost is my voice. I will not be ashamed anymore. I did nothing wrong.

I define myself

Why I stayed

When I was about fourteen years old, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. It was my first “love” relationship, one that would set the stage for what I believed a love relationship should be. He controlled me as completely as he could. He implied to me that I was fat, I was 5’4 and 120 pounds. He would stand me up when we had plans, and be with other girls. We would break up, he would apologize, we would get back together, and it would all start again. It was during that time that I started purging. I didn’t binge, but when I ate something “bad” I would throw it up. I still have a very vivid memory of kneeling on the floor of the Wendy’s, my fingers down my throat, feeling out of control. Purging never made me feel in control and I hadn’t found restricting yet. My relationship with that boy ended the night I swallowed 100 pills like I was chugging a glass of water. A pregnancy test and a tube shoved down my nose as I fought the ER staff, I woke up the next morning in a hospital gown with an IV in my arm and a fresh start to my teenage life.

This is not that story, however. This is the story of what happened decades after I vowed that I would never allow myself to be abused again. This is the beginning of the story that ended in my sexual assault. I didn’t post that blog publicly, but I am going to post it now.

When I met her, I was instantly attracted. Everything about her was everything I thought that I was looking for – she was attractive, passionate about what she did, incredibly smart, and determined to change the world. I learned way too quickly she was also a heavy drinker, emotionally tortured, incredibly insecure and filled with an anger that was as directionless as it was intense. One of the first times that I visited her house, she pointed out a pile of wood in the hallway. She said it had been a bookcase, she had shattered it when she was angry, and she had purposely left it there so that I would “know what I was getting into.” I’ve asked myself hundreds of times why I didn’t leave that night and never look back. She took my staying as a tacit agreement that she could do whatever she wanted – and she did. I’ve decided that I thought she was exaggerating. I thought she had darkness inside her that she needed to get out, but I didn’t think it would ever be directed at me. I decided, as I have done way too many times in my life, that my love was all she needed to heal her. I decided that I could be the one to save her.

Why did I stay when it started to get worse, when I became afraid of her? Because my work, my future work, was tied up in her and our relationship. We had no boundaries between the work that we did and our personal relationship(s) and rejecting her seemed to mean giving up the work that I was doing which was very important to me at the time. Also, no one from the outside had any idea what was going on inside that house. She was really great at pretending to be this amazing person and very few people got to see the person she was when she didn’t have an audience. For some relationships, the highs are so high that they cancel out the lows in our minds. Sure, I locked myself in her bathroom once and contemplated going out the window, but I let the night we danced to brown eyed girl, over and over, restarting the song every time it ended cancel that out.

As afraid as I was of her, she never hit me. There was one night where she basically imprisoned me in her house and wouldn’t let me leave. I tried to get out the front door and she smashed my fingers in it as she closed it. I yanked it open, oblivious to the pain, and she picked up a glass from the coffee table and held it up like she was going to smash it into my face. That moment will be forever branded on my mind. That was the moment that I felt most helpless. That was the moment that I knew that I somehow was back in an abusive relationship after vowing never to allow myself to be treated that way again. That moment lasted hours it seemed, I can still close my eyes and feel the doorjam under my hand; I can still see her face contorted into rage so completely that she didn’t even look like the person that I loved. I will never know why in the split second that glass started to come down toward my face that she decided to throw it over my shoulder onto the front porch. Maybe there was a part of her that didn’t want to be that person either. That was the night I texted my best friend and asked her to call me and pretend that her infant son who had been ill was back in the hospital. For some reason I knew that I’d be able to leave, and she let me. I drove two blocks to a gas station parking lot and broke down. I called my friend and I sobbed “I’m out. I got out.”

But I didn’t get out. In the end it was essentially she who ended it. She decided to make out with one of my best friends, in my home, on my birthday, while I was passed out in the other room. The ultimate fuck-you. After that, there was no way it could continue, even I wouldn’t have let it but it didn’t matter because she had replaced me. I wish that I could say that I stood up to her, but that didn’t happen until much much later. Standing up to her was the one of the scariest things that I have ever done, and the night I confronted her after she assaulted me, I saw her for what she really is – small, scared, sad, and broken. She’s not so good at pretending that she can fool herself the way she fools most everyone else. She will never be good enough or smart enough or live up to her potential and she takes that out on the people who care about her instead of doing whatever work she needs to do to not hate herself. The hatred for herself bleeds over into hatred for anyone that can love her when she can’t love herself. Ultimately that is very very sad. In the end, I think that Why I stayed was that at that time, I still didn’t believe that I could have the good without the bad. I was punishing myself for all the mistakes that I had made, and I didn’t think that I could have love without pain & abuse. I thought that it was a trade-off, at least for me.

I’m incredibly grateful that I no longer believe that. It’s taken a lot of work but I have separated love from fear and pain and sadness. I know that I deserve a love that quenches my thirst for passion without putting me in danger. I know the difference between anger and passion now too. Most importantly, I learned to love myself. I really believe that I deserve a love that nurtures me, not one that destroys me. Love is not pain.

Women have to either get married, or learn something

I started to ramble about this over on facebook, but as I went on I realized it was more of a blog post than a facebook ramble. I’ve been enjoying the articles on Elephant Journal quite a bit. This morning I read Learning from Good, Bad & Ugly Relationships by Andrea Charpentier. I identify quite a lot with most of what she says. I think and blog so much about relationships, it’s fun to find similar perspectives. Carrie Bradshaw (yes, she’s a fictional character, I know) said: “People say ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ These people are usually women. And these women are usually sorting through a break-up. It seems that men can get out of a relationship without even a ‘Goodbye,’ But, apparently, women have to either get married or learn something.”

I think that learning something from each “failed” relationship is not just a woman thing, it’s a human thing. It’s important because from each relationship we can learn something about ourselves: what we want out of life, or more importantly what we DON’T want from/in a relationship; where the boundaries are and where they need to be, for those are often very different; etc. It’s also important because no one wants to waste time. If we can come out of a relationship having learned something, we can reassure ourselves that it was time well-spent. In the aftermath of a romantic implosion, simple need-meeting like companionship, sex, or even just something to do with our time don’t feel meaningful enough to justify the pain. Heartbreak seems less devastating if we can tell ourselves that we’ve learned something that will keep us safer the next time we open up. Because the vast majority of us will want to open up to a romantic partner again, no matter how long it takes for us to heal and build up the courage again.

I think it’s ultimately an exercise in control. If we figure out exactly what we missed about the relationship that did not last – red flags, trust issues, attraction to those that need “fixing”, or any number of things that in hindsight show us that the relationship was doomed from the start, then we can make sure that we don’t overlook those things in the future. At the very least, it can make us feel that we will not make those same mistakes again. I have spent countless hours analyzing my last two relationships, trying to figure out what motivated me to get into two long distance relationships after I said I would never do long distance again. Pondering why on earth I decided to date an active alcoholic and realizing that I actually find it easier to open up to people I know it cannot last with because it’s not scary when I know the ending. Learning about how when we do not let go of people and the past we will seek out closure even against our own best interest – because the last two relationships were for me really to prove to myself that neither of my two great loves from the past were who I was “supposed to be with.” I call it “wish-fulfillment,” a phrase I picked up from one of my therapists over the years. Getting exactly what I always thought I wanted, even when it was more about my feelings and wants and needs than it was about the person, allowed me to in a very limited way live in the fantasy that had always accompanied “the one that got away.” As it turns out, and it should be of no surprise to anyone, fantasy and reality are polar opposites.

I like to think that what I’m left with, at this juncture, is the very first emotional clean slate I have ever had. There is no one from my past that I think was “the one” because I no longer believe in the concept of soulmates as lifetime lovers, but believe they are meant to teach us the things we need to know. I don’t have a nagging suspicion that maybe I should be with either one of them. Both unfinished relationships were allowed to run their course, and because of that I believe that for the first time in my life I am able to give myself 100% to another person, physically, emotionally, spiritually, not a single bit of my heart is residing anyplace except inside of me. It’s a ridiculously frightening feeling, to no longer have that “out”, to no longer be able to say “well it didn’t work with this person because really I’m supposed to be with F.” I just hope that I’ve also learned what I need to know to make a smarter decision about whom I choose to open up to in the future, because I’m afraid there’s still a part of me that wants to follow my feelings and ignore my mind – which has never turned out well for me before.

funny text from the internet not mine