Braving the Past & Telling Your Story

 

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I have a slight obsession with freedom. My tattoos speak for it. I have five tattoos all of which symbolize freedom.

 

One is a tattoo on my right wrist of the word Moksha in cursive with pink autumn leaves, the moon and stars around it.

 

I got this right before I moved to New York after I got out of the military.

I was a photojournalist for the Navy and while on deployment I took a class on religions.  In Hinduism they have many ideas and one is moksha; freedom from suffering.

 

This reminds me that I am immortal. That I can be free any moment from suffering, from the past and from the cycle of pain.

 

The other tattoo is of a heart with wings and a banner in the middle with the words Set Free.

 

I got this when I was seventeen right before I joined the Navy. I remember sitting on a small stool for hours for this tattoo.

 

It was so important to me to have this tattoo. It symbolized my journey forward from the past.

 

There was a man beside me that I looked up to and saw as a Father.

 

He was a born again Christian. With tattoo sleeves of Jesus Christ on his arms.

 

He was also a former drug addict. And biker gang member.

 

His name was Glenn. Glenn Johnson.

 

He was a father of two that he knew of. I lived with him and his family for two years until I joined the Navy.

 

They adopted me when I was sixteen.

 

I remember sitting at the dinner table doing my homework while he made dinner.

 

He paused from his meal-making and said, “Emily, what if I told you that I wish I had you years ago before my wife?”

 

I laughed.

He couldn’t be serious.

 

Could he?

 

How could this happen to me again?

 

Is there something wrong with me? Did I ask for this?

 

No thought really could make sense of his question. No thought could give me answer that made me feel better.

 

My Set Free tattoo was a symbol of freedom.  

 

A celebration of me finally being free from them.

 

From him. From the past. From memory.

 

The thing about freedom from the past is not that we never remember it.

 

Or that we forget.

 

I tried to forget what happened to me.

 

Even now I am still recollecting fragments of memories.

 

We can never be truly free from the past because it always is a part of us. But we can be free from the power it can carry in the present and in the future.

 

I have a sparrow tattoo on my left wrist. I love birds. They also symbolize freedom.

 

Down my left forearm are the words Fortitude; courage in the midst of adversity.

 

A reminder that even in my darkest moments, in remembering, in sadness I can still be courageous. I can still find the silver linings to every storm.

 

Get the picture?

 

Tattoos tell the story of memory. Of time.

 

Of what I have overcome. And also what I must remember.

 

Remembering gives us information.

 

Here we can go back in time like magicians and manipulate experiences.

 

Say what we always wanted to say. Visualize the conversation we always wanted to have.

 

Overcome the fears, heal the past, write a new story for the future.

 

Remembering also gives us the truth. There are no lies in facts.

 

It gives us grief, joy, happiness, laughter,  anger, rage.

 

It gives us moments of softness. Tenderness.

 

Forgiveness and acceptance.

 

When we remember we have the power to see life from a 360 degree view. That is how powerful the mind can be.

 

Remembering gives us insight into growth. Into who we were.

 

In my journey of healing from trauma there have been many times that I didn’t want to remember. My brain tried to keep my safe from seeing, feeling or experiencing memory again.

 

It is only now in the journey of being brave to face it again in a new light that I can sit with the memories that once were terrifying to feel again.

 

A tool that has been an anchor in my healing and writing process that I would love to share with you is from the book Wild Mind.

 

The author shares a writing prompt: “I remember. I don’t remember”.

 

I practiced writing my story using this writing prompt and uncovered so much more.

 

My invitation to you is to brave your story. To go where your mind may fear to go.

 

To ask for support in the process of remembering and to gather all the tools you need for this quest.

From the Abused Daughter: Father’s Day Reflections

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Photo by Sheryl Nields. 

Today I asked Father’s day what I could learn from it.

For years we haven’t had the best relationship.

I dreaded the day it came and wished I could ignore the loud messages of happy moments of little girls with their fathers.

If only I could know what that feels like.

Father’s day responded and said self-love.

Celebrate the men who are good fathers.

The great men who love their children with pure love unconditionally, who show up consistently and relentlessly for their children no matter their life circumstances.

My wounded self wanted to come out and play the same story of hatred towards my father but that story just doesn’t sit well inside of me anymore.

I have grown past the wound like an overgrown toenail ready to fall off.

I can’t celebrate him but I can celebrate my growth, my resiliency and my strength after.

I grieve the opportunity to have a father to call to say I love you and feel safe in saying it.

I see today as a gift to myself and to the great men in my life who show up for their families, children and loved ones and me.

You will be the heroes for the women who have lost faith in men.

Happy Father’s day.

When Your Grief Takes Over

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Grief is such a personal process.

For me I know that I can take my grief out on others.

I retreat, isolate, get irritable and want to be alone.

I lose interest in the things that once made me happy and start to see life as the glass is half-empty rather than half-full.

We all have different coping strategies for grieving.

In my work as a spiritual teacher and medium working with people who have lost their loved ones grief comes up a lot. They all have different ways to cope.

And the one thing that stays the same is that is is hard.

If you are grieving or know someone who is grieving sometimes the best thing you can offer yourself or another is time.

What do you need? What does this person need?

I am learning in moments of grief to ask for support and to not go about it alone.

To be visible and transparent. To let others in and to also get support and resources from expert when I am struggling.

When your grief takes over, pause.

Breathe.

Ask yourself what do you need right now?

The goal isn’t to avoid the pain but to find ways to cope in a healthy way.

To feel better than 5 seconds ago. 5 minutes ago.

Gentle acts of self-love can be big stepping stones for yourself and others.

The road to recovery in grief is your journey.

Look within for the right tools to get you there in a healthy way.

You are not alone.

Telling Your Deepest Dark Secret

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Secrets in the Night (shh, don’t tell anyone)

I have a strange relationship to the night.

If I were to personify it, I imagine the night would be a man.

The night was a man.

An older man with a bald head and black mustache shaped like Hitler’s.

A man old enough to be my father.

Hint: What if he was my father? 

The night had no respect for me.

He would come to me half-naked waking me.

In thirst. Wanting me.

Desiring to put his dick inside of my thirteen year old vagina.

At 2 a.m. relentlessly he came to lie next to me.

[Are you awake?

I want to talk.]

Poking me with his long finger shaped like a penis.

The night would be a fear that would haunt me for years.

I would wake up in the midnight hour kicking and screaming like clockwork.

“GET AWAY FROM ME!”

This time the night wasn’t there by my bedside.

Sleeping next to me. Whispering in my ear how he wanted to fuck me.

This time the night was my partner.

A friend. A stranger.

And sometimes…

No one.

But the shadows.

I hated the night for years.

I had dreams of killing the night.

Murdering him slowly. Torturing him until he was sorry.

[It was your fault.

You wanted it.]

The night never lies.

It shows us the truth of who we are of the darkness that lives inside all of us.

He lived like a disease inside of me until I too was slowly dying.

From the memory of his hands on me. Of his words that haunted me.

That’s why I tell this story.

The night comes to show us the secrets that we are hiding from.

Something I have learned about the secrets we keep is that some of them do slowly kill us.

Which is why I tell this story.

Sharing a secret is like giving away an all-access pass to a room in your house.

It gives us a moment to remember what happened.

It gives us the truth.

And the truth shall set you free, right?

The Tale & Healing from Sexual Abuse

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Last night I watched The Tale, a new movie on HBO based on true events of the director Jennifer Fox’s life. She was sexually abused by her running coach at thirteen.

Usually I opt out of watching these movies because they do trigger me. For anyone reading if you watch the movie, know that you might be triggered.

There are some graphic scenes that made me sick to my stomach.

I saw myself in the main character. She resonated with me in her journey of discovering that she was sexually abused and accepting it.

I don’t know about every woman but I do know that for years I couldn’t accept the truth. It was a slow agonizing process to realize that my father wanted to have sex with me.

Even as I type these words I feel sick to my stomach.

Watching The Tale last night only magnified my feelings around sexual trauma.

I was very promiscuous in my twenties. I experimented with women. I experimented with polyamory relationships. I have wondered if my experimenting had anything to do with the trauma around intimacy.

In the film, the perpetrator tells the victim it was her. He was in his forties and she was a thirteen year old girl. It was her fault that it happened.

I remember many times my father saying the exact same words.

It was my fault. I wanted it. 

The journey of sharing my story has been a slow process.

I have held shame around it as if I was the cause of all the abuse.

I know now that it isn’t the case.

I felt an obligation to protect my parents. I shouldn’t talk badly about them. 

Or talk about what happened.

If you ever find yourself saying shouldn’t remove it from the sentence immediately.

It only brings guilt.

I lived with another family at sixteen.

In the film the main character idolizes two adults who become like her family.

I remember idolizing this family as well.

They adopted me and I moved in with them.

As the adopted father and I grew closer I remember several conversations of him sharing that if he had met me years before his wife we would be together.

I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework.

I remember thinking, “Oh no. This can’t be happening again.”.

It was a scary life for me as a budding teenager.

I know that many times I thought I should try dating women because then I’d be safe.

I wasn’t particularly sexually attracted to them as I was emotionally.

I wanted to feel safe.

They made me feel safe.

The Tale shows that a young girl wants to feel special especially by her family.

To feel safe. And loved.

We all do.

The main character freed herself in her own way by speaking her truth.

But remember this is based on the director’s life.

I admire Jennifer Fox for taking her pain and creating a powerful message with it.

I am just starting to really talk about the years of trauma I experienced.

Thank you Jennifer for being a voice for us. For giving us perspective into your journey.

I look forward to taking my story and impacting millions of women with it.

 

From Confused to Clear: Letting Go of the Relationships that Bind You

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After a week of processing some pretty grey areas of my life with my relationships to my parents and family, I finally feel clear.

I went to therapy and shared how my week went. From the heavy discussion with my mother and intense banter with my father I knew what the path was for me.

To simply not have relationships with these people. Not because I don’t care for them. But because I care more for myself and my own well-being.

I had a discussion with my mother a few days ago about our past. I asked her a question.

“Have you ever thought about why Dad did what he did to me?” or “Why did you team up with him to hurt me? Why did you put a towel in my mouth?”

I paused after I asked her that.

My mind questioned me in the same way.

Why did she put a towel in my mouth? And matter of fact, why am I even talking to her? 

If it weren’t for the label “family” I wouldn’t have a relationship with this woman.

Or anyone who hurt me in such a destructive way.

But because of our biological tie and emotional connection a part of me was confused and hopeful.

That she and I would grow together in a healthy way.

She never gave me any answers which only showed me that she really hasn’t put much thought into her actions as a mother.

In my pregnancy my past has become VERY CLEAR. There is no hiding the truth. No living in the shadows or in false ideas of hope, happiness or healing.

I think there is a sadness to the loss of them. That I really don’t have a close relationship with my parents and I never will in a healthy way.

That they lose the chance to be a part of my life. And of their grandkid’s life.

Pregnancy has shown me how I could never imagine my own child experiencing horrific acts of treatment.

In therapy today I shared all of this.

I realized how much more clear the path with them has become.

And how much more clear I feel about my choices.

Who gets to go in my tribe and who doesn’t.

I am so impressed with how much I have grown as a woman.

From a dark place of once suicide to a thriving woman making healthy choices, creating healthy relationships and most importantly one with myself.

Cheers to resiliency. May it show us the truth.

For the Sexually Abused Woman

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My father reached out to me to congratulate me on my pregnancy. He also mentioned a message of now I will never be alone.

I couldn’t help but to reply that yes, I will never be alone because I don’t abuse people.

We don’t speak.

He knows I don’t want to have a relationship with him yet he oversteps my boundaries.

He has never taken responsibility for his acts of sexual abuse to me.

He has never changed, grown, gotten help or acknowledged the damage he has inflicted on his family.

And even if he did, it wouldn’t change anything.

I could never trust him.

For years he made me feel that it was my fault for his sexual advances. That I asked for it.

As I embrace motherhood I can’t imagine my child ever experiencing what I went through.

The inhumane treatment I experienced.

There was a moment that I thought my parents would kill me.

A memory of my Mother stuffing a towel in my mouth so that the neighbors wouldn’t hear my screams while my Father beat me on the floor.

This is only one of the many violent memories I have been healing from in therapy.

There was a time that I felt guilty for not wanting a relationship with him. He drilled this belief in us that no matter what happened we were family always.

So he could treat us any way and we still had to love him in the end.

I wonder why life still gives him and people like him a chance to live.

For the women who have been sexually abused and abused… you have every right to speak up. To say something. To feel angry. To feel complete utter rage.

I got to say what I wanted to always say to him today.
That he is a sick man.

And one that will never get my pardons.

I refuse to play in a relationship that is built on the past is the past and let’s move on. On an idea of false happiness.

He still treats my Mother will little to no respect. He preys on young women. He is abusive towards everyone. And this year he spent his birthday alone. With no one by his side.

Karma = action = consequence.

We have no obligation to the people who violate us regardless of the title “family”.

I have grown immensely over the years into a pretty phenomenal and healthy woman. I had to save myself during moments when I wanted to end my own life.

I am still decompressing the years of violence and abuse in therapy. I still have moments of PTSD and triggers. My therapist and I have done serious work to get me to where I am now. And I am super proud of myself.

My friends who suffer from trauma, you can’t change what happened to you.

But you can change how you live with it and how those people live inside of you.

They don’t get to have your power.

They get to hear your voice.

You get to be here.

You belong.

When Your Family Hurts You & It’s Time to Let Go

“At some point, you have to realize that some people can stay in your heart but not in your life.”

Blood is thicker than water or so they say.  All my life I’ve been taught that no matter what happens you will always have your family and to never turn your back on your own blood.

However, what if the people we call “family” end up hurting us more than loving us? Do we hold on and forget our feelings? Or do we let go and realize that sometimes we have to love even our family at a distance?

Recently, my brother who I haven’t spoken to in two years (of his own doing) sent me a series of hateful text messages. Mind you, the last memory I have with him is hugging and wishing him a safe deployment.

Upon his arrival home from Iraq, he dropped off the grid with his wife and isolated himself from me and all of our close cousins. We tried numerous times to contact and connect with him but he was adamant on cutting ties with all of us.  We had no idea why and couldn’t understand what could have possibly happened. So you can imagine when I woke up to hateful text messages two days before my birthday, I was in shock, appalled and hurt.

These messages were filled with hate, anger and curse words calling me every name under the sun and disowning me as a sister. I couldn’t believe he was okay with talking not just to his sister but a woman in such an abusive way. It was a wake up call about the relationship I have and tolerate from my parents and brother.

Through some sleepless nights of crying and feeling sorry for myself, I realized I had to let go and really say goodbye. It’s never an easy decision to close the door between you and your own blood. In the end, I realized the only person who I could change is me and that my family had been only bringing me unhappiness and toxicity.

I couldn’t allow them to drag me into their own dysfunction and abuse again. I had to reclaim my power as a person with feelings and boundaries.

Often times in situations with family, we tend to feel guilty or shame if we decide to cut ties or lessen communication. However, if the relationship is becoming extremely unhealthy, abusive or toxic it is necessary to place some space between you and them for your own well-being. Someone once told me that sometimes you have to teach people how you want to be treated.

If you are in a similar predicament with family or close loved one, here are some tips to help you cope with the loss of saying goodbye:

1. Set boundaries- I have always had trouble expressing my boundaries with my family. I always feel like they never understand my perspective. However through the years I have learned boundaries aren’t for them, they are for me. Whether they choose to listen or respect my concerns is on them, I know I have voiced it. I can then decide how to move forward with the relationship and evaluate whether it is healthy to be in communication or not.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your family and express them many times if need be. If they aren’t listening or understanding your concerns then you may have to reassess what type of family dynamic is healthy for you.

2. The Funeral- This is an intense and powerful exercise if you are faced with the decision of possibly saying goodbye to your family or cutting all ties.

Write down letters to the family members who have hurt you. Make sure you to do this in a quiet and undisturbed space where you are most clear and at ease. Write from the heart and don’t be afraid to share how you feel. These letters won’t actually be read by those family members.

Imagine that they have passed and you are attending their funeral. What would you want to say to them? After you finish writing your letters, burn them and find a place to hold a memorial or ceremony with their “ashes”.

3. Release Guilt & Blame- If you are feeling guilty about putting space between you and your family, don’t. You are a person with feelings and don’t deserve to be treated less than. Don’t blame yourself or start thinking if you were a certain way or behaved differently perhaps they wouldn’t be the way they are. You are not in the wrong. Whenever anyone treats with you disrespect or abuse, you are never in the wrong. Let go of your guilt and don’t blame yourself for their actions or dysfunction.

Lastly, love yourself and start the journey to heal from the wounds of the past. You deserve it. You are stronger and braver than you know and no one can take away your power unless you give it to them. Trust in your decision to take your space and love your family from a distance. You are giving yourself the best gift of all, true self-love.