Bent

I’ve struggled for three days to find the words. It was like holding my breath for seventy-two hours under water. I was confused and couldn’t make sense of things. No way to tell up from down and no way to understand what was happening to me or why. In my three silent days I’ve been plunged light years from who I was before. This post is the story of that journey. 

Sunday night I was raped. After first expressing consent I said no to other acts and my wishes were dismissed. That and several other acts ensued until it was done. And I was left in a pool of grey confusion around what had just happened. Sore enough to look for bruises from being held down or held in place I wondered if it was just a matter of misunderstanding. I continually asked myself, “It wasn’t rape…was it?” I could not bring myself to say the word. 
I reached out to friends. I shared the experience and sadly almost every woman I told had a similar one to share. Sexual assault, I thought, should not be our admission ticket into womanhood! As I calmed from the shock of the event it became more evident that what I’d experienced was in fact sexual assault. I had said no. Multiple times. It wasn’t a “weird experience” as I had previously described it, it was a crime. 
Telling my mother was difficult. Talking to my younger sister, a college freshman, was worse. I tried to be as transparent with her as I could. Her big sister who felt anything but capable or competent, her big sister was disappointing her because I had, up until that point, decided not to report the assault. I later had a change of heart and did report it. To the police and to my campus police and sexual assault advocates. Having to detail the horrific story over and over again. “How many times approximately, Ms. Williams?” “Why did you continue?” I felt stupid for having to explain my fear. Worse knowing that as a counselor, a professor who trains couselors, a professional who trained sexual assault advocates, that in that moment I failed myself. I am working on forgiving myself for simply surviving in the best way I knew how in that moment. In those moments. 
I also told my direct supervisor and my dissertation committee. Why? Because beyond academic support they are the three people who have supported me personally spiritually emotionally and mentally throughout my time here. I wanted them to know what was going on with me. I wanted to ask them to be patient with me. I wanted to ask them to support me now more than ever. But not to lower their expectations. 
In the three days I’ve just wanted to feel like myself. A friend and colleague told me “he stole your ‘used to’ you’re going to have to find a new one.” In a way her reflection gave me permission. Permission to reframe this experience as an opportunity. I am choosing to find purpose in my suffering. I am choosing to share this journey as I do all my others because that is a part of why I’m here; Why I was allowed to remain all those years ago. I am choosing to be candid and open and honest because that is who I am. 
Something so incredibly private….in it houses so much shame. And so much secrecy. I thought about how I’ve felt in the mornings. Not wanting to wear make up. Or do my hair. Or put on perfume. Or wear fitted clothing. Somebody out there needs to know that they aren’t the only ones feeling like that. I need to know I’m not the only one feeling like that. And why should I house the shame? It was an act of such intimate violation and yet you ask Me to bear the scarlet letter? I respectfully decline. I have nothing to be ashamed of; this was not my fault. ((Sidebar: I’d be lying if I said I fully believed that. I am trying very hard to fully believe it. I know at my core it’s true but I still indulge in the self-blame game)) 
Lastly I shared with my roommate the story of the nun I met who when being raped continually told herself and her perpetrator “I will NOT turn on you.” The man who disregarded my voice and my expressed desires, my boundaries and my comfort…he doesn’t get anymore from me. No more. I have been split in two but I will not turn on you. I will not become some broken thing filled with hate and malice. I will heal and I will thrive. 
Much of what I tout is aspirational. But maybe just saying it out loud is one step towards becoming the woman empowered from this situation versus the woman victimized in this situation. Being a victim was never a role I cared to play. I was not sent here to play small my life and my purpose are much bigger than that. And I choose to believe that I was given my talents and my trials to become. He may have taken parts of me, but I am mine. I will remain mine. The most important parts of me cannot be taken. 
If it is one thing I want him or any woman who has experienced sexual violence to understand its that. Your most precious parts are unable to be stolen or even extracted. Your essence is yours and belongs to you alone. Your light. The world did not give it, the world cannot take it away. Do not electively dim because when you do, you’ve turned. And they continue to steal from you. 
I feel afraid. I feel as though I’m never warm enough. Cozy enough. I don’t want to eat. I can’t stand the idea of being “beautiful” which is what he kept calling me. I am healing. But I am going to do it without shame. Without abusing drugs or alcohol. Without feeling like I have to do it alone. With love. I asked myself how I could love myself through this process? And all I got was that I had to give myself what I needed and what I needed more than ever was kindness. Was loving care and kindness. I decided I would remain open and share my pain as I always do. Finding courage along the way and bravery in the rearview of fear-filled over share. 
So this is me trying.  Not to heal the whole world, just to heal myself. This is me trying to find my new normal after experiencing violation of the worst kind. This is me being honest in my pain and open in my struggle. This is me not having answers but struggling through options. This is just me. Bent though I may be but not broken. 

What it Means to Love Yourself

“Are you going to let the shame of imperfection keep you quiet or in your shoes?”

It was the thought I just had about two separate yet connected occurrences. I was taking part in a drum circle and we were told to keep a steady hushed beat. Stepping in for solos when and if we felt compelled. I noticed myself wanting to sing. Then wanting to drum loudly and with a specific rhythm I was feeling in my body. For a long time I did neither. Not until I closed my eyes and erased everyone else in the room. Focusing on my own sound, my own rhythm. Then I struck out on my solo. Well…except I noticed I partly interrupted someone else. They bowed out and I kept going until the end. It felt so good to keep my own pace that I decided not to go back to the original beat so I didn’t. Attempting to make sense of it in relationship to my being, I became curious about my own propensities towards perfection. I didn’t think I had one. And it’s not exactly perfection, if we are calling a thing a thing, it is not that I need to be perfect. It is more that there is a specific way in which I wish to be seen. Flawed, but in this way (not that). Competent, but in this way (not that).
-1Which brings up the point about shoes. I was sitting out and enjoying a sunset reflecting on my day and how I felt. And I wanted to take my shoes off–as I often do whenever I am not in motion. But I did not. Why? My skin was ashen from the dry desert climate my toes were unpolished as my work schedule the past few days had prevented me from getting a pedicure. And so I asked myself the opening question. Was I REALLY going to let unpolished toes and an improv solo keep me from fully experiencing the moment as my body was asking to experience it? I took my shoes off. And I put my feet up and I began this post.
This time I caught myself. And I suppose I can take small comfort in my knowing that I was able to call attention to my own behavior. Modify it and engage myself in critical inquiry. However, how many opportunities have I missed? How much of my life have I allowed to be governed by how I think I’m going to look to other people?
-1Liz Gilbert posted a picture on Instagram that made me chuckle and then made me pause and really think. The caption alluded to the fact that sometimes in order to do great things you really DO have to not give a fuck. You have to let go. Not only of what other people might do or say as a result of your actions (aha!) but also the judgment you place on yourself which honestly are probably ten times worse than the things others say. We can be our own worst critics. Yet we also have the power to be our own biggest advocates.
I want to become a better advocate for myself. I want to assure myself that it is okay to try and it is okay to fail. Isn’t that what my last post was about? Because you learn. And at least you tried for something. Having your heart broken is nothing to be ashamed of, it means you had the courage to surrender your heart in the first place. This is what Jeannie meant when she told me the key to life. Be present. Tell the truth. Let go of the consequences of telling the truth. It wasn’t just a telling of truth she was speaking to. It is also a living of truth. I have to let go of the consequences of living my truth. That rocked my whole body to type that sentence. Again.
I HAVE TO LET GO OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF LIVING MY TRUTH.
That sort of unbridled affirmation, the lack of judgment, that freedom, the forgiveness for who I am not and the acceptance of who and what I am? That’s love. That is what happens when I love myself. I feel as though I just got it. It just clicked. That. Jessica, is what it means to love yourself.

334 lbs of silent average

How do you get to be 334 lbs? That’s how much I weighed at my heaviest in 2008. I hated everything. Literally. And everyday I woke up still trapped in that body, in that life, I hated it more. I had to do everything twice as much just to feel it. Drank more, ate more, even took death just to cry. I was somewhere living under layers of disappointment and stretch-mark covered skin.

The reason I’d buried myself alive, albeit in a tomb of flesh, was because I didn’t know how to make sense of myself. I’d always felt special yet here I was feeling physically unattractive, “dumped”  by P2AD and my dad months before, in a dead end job with no reprieve in sight. Looking back I can aptly articulate that in the time of my greatest despair and turmoil, I never felt so ordinary.

I get asked a lot how or why I’m so honest on my blog. I give a varied version of the same response everytime.  But I think that it boils down to presence, engagement, and awareness. I am not solely defined by my past nor my potential. I am who I am (right now) and that’s all that I am. In having a clear idea of self, I’ve grown to better appreciate others. Of course, right?  But I could no longer look at a 300 lb woman and not want to silently pray for her to put down whatever she’s carrying and to shrug off her excess and allow herself to be seen. Easier said..but I found compassion. Patience. Empathy, all through my own engagement with life. Lastly, awarenesses.  What do you want? Why? When did you first start wanting it? I make it a priority to check in with myself. To pay attention.

So when it comes to sharing, I do it because it scares me a little. What will people say? Or do? Or think…will people comment? Will they think I’m __________? I consider it all. And then I remember fear. The all too familiar feeling of nothing special. The sinking weight of mediocrity. And I publish.  Because fear of average got my to 334lbs. Shame that I did not measure up to my own impossibly high standards I set for myself. I was never going to. I had to accept myself. I was never going to be perfect. But I did have the awesome pleasure of being myself.

It took a great deal of remembering…that I am more than a number on a scale, or in the waistband of jeans. I am not my paycheck. My degrees,  not even my family. I am bigger than all of if, and life is bigger than me. I figure when I strip down to my secrets…someone needs it. I am playing my part. I am fulfilling my purpose.

So…how do you get to 334lbs? Silence. Not saying you need help for fear of judgment, ridicule, confusion. Shame. Of being too much of all the wrong things and not enough of all the right ones. Vanilla. Passing up opportunities because you’ve convinced yourself that only the thin/beautiful/intelligent/wealthy deserve good things.

Speaking up saved my life. It gave me life. And in sifting through the 334lbs of lies and secrecy I came across truth. And love. And divinity. And while I work to transform a body built by quiet mediocrity, my true self shines extraordinary.  Sure of my strength, mostly. Willing and happy to be flawed and myself. But utterly convinced I am anything but average. 

Brene Brown and the entire kitchen sink

I have mini panic attacks that my advisor is going to me angry with me. I keep finding elements that have to be a part of my dissertation. Right now it feels like I’ve got all these extremities of work and yet I sorely need them to be a body. So far I have:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Leadership
  3. Creativity
  4. Grief
  5. Decision Making

While that does not seem like a lot…it’s a lot. What is even more frustrating is that I have become increasingly more patient through uncertainty, despite myself really.  I have developed the ability to sit and wait for things to unfold rather than force them or manipulate them in any way. So, I’m waiting, and in the meantime I think my advisor is going to kill me.

Very few writers, researchers, “storytellers”, have influenced me in the way that Brene Brown has; mind you this is an extremely recent thing, too.  The way that she talks about her work, the way that she conducts her research it does not seem like work! It looks joyous, and fulfilling, and there is so much passion in that work–she’s inspirational on different levels.  And while I realize that she has been researching for many years, it appealed to me, and I cannot do it any other way.  Again, my advisor…

When I think of what I want to do, the outcome of my own work, I want to understand the role that spirituality plays in the decision making process.  In that, I believe I will find themes of guilt, grief, creativity, and self-care practices along with many others–I am open to being surprised. I also assume that as people are more developmentally mature, they will experience and describe spirituality in very different ways. I definitely find that where we are in life greatly shapes the perspective we have on it.

My work is on the individual, but it is about a collective. Are “we” recognizing that “we” are connected to one another? Do I consider this connectedness when I made decisions? Do others? My guess here would be that if there is an external consideration that it is likely family, or if its a professional decision, the system or organization.  However, how many people are thinking globally? Jung describes the presence of a collective unconscious and I wonder how many people not just know about it, but live in constant awareness of it?

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”
― Brené Brown,The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

When I heard Brene speak about her work, specifically her experience with her research topics, I felt like I was given permission to be present in my own work.  Honestly, how could you not be? There is something in us all that draws us to our passions, our vocations.  I loved that her cognitive aptitude did not excuse her from the very human experience of shame that she was studying.  I love that she admitted that.

If I sit back and think about what got me to this topic it was literally a moment sitting in Terri’s office crying thinking, “How did I get to this place? How did I arrive here?” My answer, that came later, was that a series of very spiritually governed decisions led me here.  And an idea was born. Brene says to “dance with the one who brung you.” And for me it is going to be those two things: spirit and choice.

Perhaps it’ll be as “simple” as this: Understanding the role of Spirituality in Decision-Making: A Comparative study between Student Affairs Professionals, and Tenure-Track University Faculty.  And perhaps it won’t.

One last thought, Brene mentioned that shame will often try to make us question ourselves by asking, “Who do you think you are?” I experienced that earlier this week, and earlier this month. Those moments where I call out my audacity, and side-eye myself.  WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE.  My mind answered in a small tiny quiet faux-humble voice and began, “I am just…” and my heart said with great certainty, NO. You are ANYTHING but “just”.  And I liked that answer. I told it to shame and I haven’t heard anything since.

 

Sincerely, Jess, “Anything but Just” J.

After the fact: delayed gratification

I was sifting through my twitter account looking at how much junk ends up on my feed. So, I started to delete some people and follow others.  I started with Wayne Dyer, poaching his followers then Marianne Williamson, then Louise Hay…and as I read the bios of the handful of people they follow it started to get repetitive. New York Times Bestselling Author! Spiritual Healer! Psychic! Etc. I found it a bit obnoxious then asked myself, why shouldn’t they be proud of their accomplishments? It was then that I realized I’d gotten past the “You’re not ____________ enough” part of shame and was now in the “who do you think you are?!” loop. Yuck!

So I thought back to a desire I have sometimes, to be one of these great spiritual leaders. I was literally considering that perhaps there is a new generation of healers, gurus, mystics, that are blossoming right now, and maybe I am one of them. Then I thought, but I want to know the now generation! Then it dawned on me that (omg) I met the Dalai Lama!

image

His Holiness the Dalai Lama shaking my hand

I shook hands, was blessed by, have a picture with THE Dalai Lama! Of course, if any of you recall that actual day I met him, I felt so numb to it because I was worried about all the wrong things. Now, however, I look back and am like wait…this happened for a reason. This picture was captured for a reason. The only photo that was taken of him with the 6 students in the entire university and I was the sole graduate student…it has a purpose. I allowed myself to consider it as foreshadowing and total joy washed over me.

Taking also into account my meeting with Jack Canfield (the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Chicken soup series) I laughed as I wrote that. But I met him at age 8 or 9 and he said to me, See you famous! I have to believe that its no coincidence I’ve met these great influences in positivity and well-being. Oprah is coming.

I feel, sometimes, that my Self is the most patient being on earth as she often has to wait for me to “get it”. I worked for 3 years diligently on knowing that I am enough. I plan to get the “who do you think you are” much more quickly. I’ll borrow the words from Marianne as I often do,” We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Now that is something.