And suddenly, she was dating…

Healing from abuse is a crazy ride. Just over two years ago, I walked away from an abusive guy, cut off all contact and decided it was time to ‘deal with my shit.’ No more distractions, no dating, just me and my mountain of baggage.

I cried, I drank, I got depressed, I ate Nutella by the truckload, I got confused, I ran, I got angry, I did yoga, I felt like giving up on life, I isolated. I blogged about it, a lot, and will forever be thankful for the online community of caring strangers who caught me every time I was falling, strangers who knew exactly what I was going through because they had been through it too.

Over time I slowly started to find my footing, but still didn’t know if I’d ever be able to take the plunge into dating again. It’s a scary prospect, once you know for sure that there is evil in the world, that there are people out there perpetually hunting for someone to hurt. It feels safer to stay behind the wall.

I told myself as long as I felt any internal drive or pressure to date, it was a sign that I wasn’t ready to be dating. I told myself that for two years and eventually settled comfortably into imagining the rest of my life as a single woman. (With cats, of course.)

I learned to travel alone, and to set goals that were mine and mine alone. I learned to hold my own in a room of married people, I learned how to cheer myself up on bad days and how to stop binging on that damn Nutella.

And now suddenly, unexpectedly, here I am… dating.

As it turns out, all this time I’ve been figuring myself out and making sense of my life, I’ve also somehow figured out where to draw my lines – boundaries, if you will – and how to enforce them.

It turns out I can tell the difference now between good and evil, between caring and controlling, between genuine and manipulative. I know there are evil people out there but now I can recognize them, and that gives me tremendous power and protection.

I can also recognize the good people and appreciate them. I can take it slow, proceeding on my own terms, because good people understand and respect that. Good people treat me with consideration without me having to ask for it, they just do it because that’s who they are. As “he” says: it’s nice to be nice.

To my utter amazement, on my first swim back in the dating pool, I managed to avoid all the sharks in all their different forms, and find a good guy – one who is open and honest and thoughtful and smart and funny and all the things I want and deserve in my life; one who recognizes and appreciates all those things in me, too. One who I can hang out with easily for hours with endless conversation meandering between utter hilariousness and sincere seriousness. One who is as amazed to have found me, as I am to have found him.

Two years ago I couldn’t have imagined this would ever be possible again, but here it is – proof that there is light if you fight your way through the dark, and that there is good in a world that is also evil. Through all the inner wars and doubts and fears I have somehow emerged victorious – stronger, smarter, and surer.

Who knows what will come of this new relationship, it really doesn’t even matter. I am just taking every day as it comes, still marvelling to be suddenly in this new world, in the light again, very unexpectedly but quite happily… dating.

Dating

 

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Flawed

I hate that feeling some of us grew up with that we’re not good enough, that we need to try harder, harder, harder to be perfect. To become acceptable. To become lovable.

I believe my friends know my flaws, but probably no single friend knows them all. Each one has a glimpse into my neuroses and insecurities, but only collectively they would have the whole picture. I envy people who have that one person in their lives who knows all their flaws and loves them anyway; who doesn’t keep those flaws handy in a box nearby, ready to be hurled at the first sign of an argument, using them like a defense shield just to protect himself (or herself) from feeling too vulnerable.

My best friend recently said she’ll be devastated when her father passes away because he’s the only person in the world who still thinks she’s perfect. What a beautifully safe and loved feeling that must be. I can’t relate, but I can imagine. The very thought of it smells to me like home-cooked muffins and feels like warm sunshine on my skin.

So this is where I say f* it. Nobody thinks I’m perfect anyway, what’s the point of trying so hard to hide my flaws? So here they are:

I am terrified of trusting someone and having that trust broken, and that makes me hypervigilant and overly analytical of the behaviour of those who are closest to me. It’s exhausting.

I want to be the most important person in the world to somebody – just one person – and sometimes that makes me act like a crazy jealous person.

Sometimes when I’m hurt, I hurt back.

Sometimes I’m passive aggressive. Other times I’m just flat out aggressive.

Sometimes I can’t find the courage to say “I’m scared” and it comes out as tears. Sometimes that happens a lot.

I’m not a good daughter. I’m tired of being let down by my family, so I have given up on trying to make them happy.

I’m pretty selfish. Except not really. Except I am.

I am so unsure of myself, I have trouble making decisions about even the smallest things sometimes.

Sometimes I do things that I know are bad for me, just because I want to and because I’m so tired of trying to do everything right all the time.

I get nervous speaking in groups because I don’t want anybody to not like me.

I beat myself up constantly for not being a more level-headed person; a more self-sufficient, not-needing-others person.

I keep almost everyone at a distance so that I don’t risk letting them down or being let down by them.

I lie. Not often, but not never.

I resent when people talk about themselves all the time.

I’m a feminist, but I want a man to fix my broken faucet and mow my lawn and put his big strong arms around me and tell me everything’s going to be ok.

When I’m most scared and need most to be held, I push people away the hardest. Then I panic that they’ll leave, so I hang on too tight.

I like being in control of situations because then they feel less scary. But yes, that makes me controlling.

If I could get away with stealing (not from a person, but from a store), I would probably do it.

If I could have gotten away with murder in the past, I would have done it.

I feel like a more worthy person when I’m skinny. But I never feel skinny enough.

I am judgemental. I try not to be, but I am.

I am a little bit racist. I try not to be, but I am.

I’m inherently lazy.

I am addicted to sugar.

There. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of right now. I am flawed, I know that I am, but I am also a good and loving person and I deserve to be loved whole-heartedly. I know I’m not always an easy person to love, but I don’t need to be reminded of that and I certainly don’t need it to be amplified. Goodness knows I already live under my own giant microscope.

At the end of the day, I just want someone to know all my flaws but still look at me like I am the greatest gift in the world to them. Am I crazy for thinking that’s possible?

Such a pretty little girl

When I was 4, a well-meaning woman walked up to my sister and said “your little brother is so cute”. I’m sure my face contorted into a very displeased scowl as I responded tartly, “I’m her sister“.

When I was a ‘tween, at least I was recognizable as a girl now that I had grown out that awful bowlcut, but I certainly wouldn’t have been called a pretty girl. I sure would have been called smart, though. In fact, in grade 3, I was labelled gifted. At first, I was tremendously proud to be only one of two children in my grade to qualify for the gifted class, but as my classmates started having their first experiences coupling up over the next few years, I began to wish with all my heart that I was pretty instead of smart so that I could couple up too.

Through the following decades, I struggled to conform to the identity I thought the world wanted me to have. I became acceptably pretty, but then needed to work on being more outgoing. Once I became outgoing, I needed to work on being sexually adventurous. Once I became that, I needed to work at becoming a good housekeeper. And so on. Frankly, I’m exhausted. It turns out being pretty is just the beginning of a lifelong set of ridiculous expectations imposed on women.

This morning, a 3-year-old girl was approached by a woman whose first comment to her was “Ooo you’re such a pretty girl. Look at your pretty hair. Veeeery pretty girl.” Can we pause to think for a moment about the message that is sending to this little girl? My looks are what is most valued in the outside world. Being pretty is very important. People like me when I’m pretty. Of course, as she interacts with men throughout her life, they will reinforce this message, as will the media, as will other women in her life. We’re all doing it to her. We’re all doing it to each other.

Eventually, at some point maybe in her twenties, or thirties, or forties, this little girl will realize how much of an impact this messaging has had on her life, and how completely wrong this thinking is. Hopefully.

She’ll realize that her value as a person is in the original thoughts, unique perspectives, and positive actions she brings to the world. She’ll realize that her own belief of her physical beauty being of paramount importance is rooted in our patriarchal society, and has become so normalized that she has bestowed it on girls younger than her without even realizing it.

Or maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll live with this belief her whole life, feeling that her words have no weight, and her feelings have no importance, and her actions are irrelevant. She’ll go shopping for new clothes, spend hundreds of dollars on haircuts and makeup, and she’ll wonder why she’s still not feeling satisfied when she’s acquired the latest Coach purse or Manolo stilettos.

But wait, here’s a thought. What about if we all took a moment to pause before reinforcing these messages with our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, aunts, neighbours, friends, etc. What about if instead of regurgitating ‘such a pretty little girl’, we trained ourselves to actually engage girls in conversation and comment positively on their thoughts and ideas. “You have such smart ideas.” “I love how you told that story.” “I’ve never of thought of it that way before, you have such a cool way of looking at things.”

What if we started treating little girls that way from the moment they were born? What if we started treating women that way consistently, no matter what their age? What would women start to believe about themselves? What would the next generation of women be able to accomplish? I would really, really love to find out.

The Big Five

I think at some point in their lives most people have had some kind of encounter with a therapist / counsellor / psychologist / psychiatrist. There are a lot of stories of bad encounters out there, which makes me all the more grateful that I was lucky enough to finally find someone who was able to work with me in exactly the way I needed.

From our first meeting, we seemed to have a shorthand between us, we just clicked, and over our six sessions together she guided me with warmth and purposefulness to many life-changing aha moments, many key learnings. Here are the big five, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life:

1. I can and should trust myself. I already know what I want, what I need, and how I’m feeling. I don’t need to second-guess myself. I can trust it to be true.

2. The only relationships worth having and investing in are those in which I feel safe, authentic, and comfortable.

3. Compromising and compromising myself are two very different things.

4. It’s ok to have a pity party once in a while. I just have to pre-determine an end time, pre-arrange for someone to check in on me at that time, and make sure I enjoy every last minute of the wallowing. I will be ok.

5. That inner voice of my critical parent telling me to try harder and that I’m not good enough, that voice is NOT on my side and does NOT have my best interests at heart. It’s a bully and I should never believe what it says to be true. I also have my own inner voice of a loving, nurturing parent. That one can always be trusted, and it can stand up to the bully and win every time.