Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"It's OKAY..."

San Joaquin Valley, CA

When I left the central valley of CA, I thought, "YEAH! My poor body that has suffered from all those allergies due to the multitude of farming crops will finally get a break!"

Little did I know.

Pretty sure this is the culprit - Oak Pollen
I wasn't moving to Austin, TX; I was moving to "Allergy", TX.  Austin = Allergies, and for the past month (plus), my body has been battling intense allergic reactions the likes of which I've not experienced in my (nearly) 39 years!!!!  Eyelids and under my eyes - itchy, red, sometimes swollen and puffy, painful and peeling!

It's starting to take it's toll.

Monday night, as I sat there on the comfy couch waiting for group to start, I was honestly exhausted - not even sure how much I had "in the tank" to offer the women who would be coming to group.

I had made myself a cup of hot tea (side note: Good Earth "Sweet & Spicy" is THE BEST tea ever.  Try it.  You're welcome!) and grabbed two pieces of Dove dark chocolate bites. (It IS a women's group.  Dark chocolate is basically mandatory!).  I settled into my spot, determined to prepare some SUPER reflective and impacting questions/observations for group that night.  As tired as I was, physically, my focus on that task lasted for about 10 minutes.  So, I resigned myself to focus on some "self-care".  (I started eating my Dove chocolates!)  And that's when I found this:

"It's OKAY to be fabulous and flawed"
Now, here's where I pause and say that some of us, in our NEED to fulfill our chocolate "self-care", tear open our little bundles of foil wrapped chocolaty goodness and are so over-joyed upon the delicacy we are about to enjoy, miss the little messages that Dove puts on each and every individually wrapped piece of chocolate (I can't tell you how many of these I ate before I discovered these little messages!).  So, if you did't yet know about these messages, I recommend going out and buying a bag so you can discover them yourself (Again - you're welcome!).

But seriously, back to the actual message on the wrapper.  "It's OKAY to be fabulous and flawed".  I sat there and looked at that little piece of foil, and was dumbfounded by these words that were staring back at me.  I hadn't expected to find validation from a chocolate wrapper! I was feeling so tired - so "flawed", and here was this little note, telling me it was, "OKAY".

How often do we truly feel this way - that it's really okay to be flawed?
Seriously?  Who has time to do this?
I want to know!
That being flawed, and admitting it, doesn't take away the feelings of self-confidence and acceptance of ourselves?  I mean, just being a woman we struggle with comparison among ourselves, and perfectionism projected at us from society.  We see the titles on the magazines ALL the time - How to be the best at this, how to wow them at that...  We need to: wow our co-workers with mind-blowing ideas/presentations at the next staff meeting; be the kind of mom that can create lunch box magic that will inspire our children to eat ALL of their fruits and vegetables; keep our houses so spotless we could eat off the floor; be so ridiculously funny and entertaining that everyone wants to be our friend; have the patience, understanding, and communication skills of a therapist, and look like we're a zumba instructor all at the same time!

Yeah, this is EXACTLY how I
look when I'm cleaning!

This image - this picture we have of the perfect woman - 
you know, the one who has ALL her shit together?  
It's not.  
There's only one place that this woman exists: 

Now, here's the thing.  A "normal" woman would struggle with all these things.  The partner of a SA has to do that AND much more to combat these false messages AND the additional (false) messages heaved at us because of our SA's acting out.  We often struggle with feeling inadequate/like we're "not enough".

If you've ever been in a group that I facilitate for very long at all, then you've probably heard me call myself, "damaged goods".  It's true.  There are aspects of me that are broken in a way that will never be fully mended (this side of heaven).  I will never be able to see the world the same again.  Trust is something that is a lot more fragile than it used to be for me.

And yet

It's OKAY.

It's okay that I'm damaged.  It's okay that trust is fragile.
It's OKAY that I'm flawed.

Because, on the flip side, I can say that though I'm no Stepford wife; though I'm nowhere close to making lunchbox magic, I AM: loving, loyal, (I think) pretty funny, intelligent, a good friend; I'm doing my best at being a mom; I'm working hard in my job; my house is (kind-of) clean - well, at least the laundry is done; and I am trying to take good care of myself.  For the most part, I like who I am, and who I'm becoming.

I don't have to be perfect to be fabulous.  I CAN be FLAWED and FABULOUS.  It's okay.

And so can you.  The only thing keeping you from being "flawed and fabulous" is you.  So go ahead - give yourself permission to be flawed.  IT'S SO FREEING!!!  And please, PLEASE take the time to see and recognize the fabulous things about you, too!  Choose - today, to see yourself for who you really are - beautiful AND a hot mess, all at the same time!

So, what's keeping you from feeling "flawed and fabulous"?  Are there any false images/messages you need to let go of to get this freedom?  What are some of your flaws?  Can you name them and still accept yourself?  What are some of the fabulous things about yourself?  Can you name them?  What other thoughts/observations do you have?

This will take some time to reflect upon.  You may want to go get those chocolates and tend to some "self-care" while you process.  (Once again, you're welcome!)

Take care, ladies.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Finding My Voice - My Journey of Understanding and Empowerment

When I was a child, I had some issues with how I dealt with my anger.  Today, with much work, I now understand that due to some crappy stuff that happened to me as a child, whenever I felt fear, a loss of control, or that someone might harm me - physically, verbally, or emotionally - my automatic protective mechanism was anger. 

When I was angry, I felt strong and I felt heard. 

However, when I was a child - 1. I did not know or understand the complexities of what I was feeling; and 2. I did not know how to communicate what was going on inside me in a healthy way.  UNFORTUNATELY - during that era (late 70's early 80's) the message, by and large, that was given to children both from parents and from the church (which I was actively involved in), was that it's not really okay to be angry.  Anger was looked upon as a "bad" emotion.  That whole, "In your anger, do not sin." message I internalized as, "Don't be angry, it is a sin." I heard, "When you're angry, you need to stop and count to 10.  And then you need to be over your anger."  I don't fault those who were giving me this message - they were doing the best they could with what was understood and "preached" at the time.

That being said, here is where I took my first SIGNIFICANT loss in knowing and having my own voice.  I began to doubt the validity of my feelings; I began to not trust my perspective on how I saw my reality.

Little did I know how this set me up for not feeling confident or comfortable with expressing my voice.  Little did I know how perfectly this set me up to be the partner of an SA.  Now, mind you, I don't necessarily buy into that, "I chose my SA."  At the time I "chose" my SA, there was no evidence of any addiction; there was no gaslighting - no manipulation of my feelings, beliefs or reality.  There was secrecy, to be sure, but my SA was just in the beginning stages of his addiction.  There wasn't much of a need for any of that stuff yet.

Regardless, as I progressed from elementary to middle, and into high school, my methodology for dealing with things that were unjust/unfair/an infringement on my beliefs, morals, feelings, rights, or personal space - was all the same.  Anger.  But, by the time high school had rolled around, I had learned to be the "good little Christian girl", and do my best to stuff my anger.  The more and more I stuffed my anger, the more and more I was numbing my emotions - loosing my ability to get in touch with what I was feeling and what was going on inside of me; the more and more I was training myself to "be okay" with not being able to voice my feelings or concerns; the more and more I lost my voice.

Fast forward to over a decade of living with an SA.  Mine is one of the stories where I had never discovered the addiction until it all blew up in my face one day.  All I knew is that something wasn't right.  I wasn't happy in a marriage that by most accounts I should have been.  The damage to me and my voice came in subtle ways - like when I would want to talk to my SA about how I thought he was angry, or was not being loving, or not contributing enough around the house or to the family, and he would be SO CONVINCING of his twist on things, that I would leave the conversation feeling as though I was being mean or unfair or controlling.  Or like when I would try to voice that I didn't agree with him about something - and again, would walk away battling inside my heart and mind with feeling like my feelings and ideas were valid - but so confused, because how could they be when my SA presented such a convincing case of why they weren't!

Slowly but surely, over the course of 14 years, my confidence in my intuition was almost completely gone; the ability for me to trust my perspective on things, or even trust my own emotions, had taken blow after blow.  Slowly but surely, as I had done as a child, I stuffed my feelings - it was just different.  I wasn't stuffing anger; I was stuffing dissatisfaction with my marriage.  I was stuffing loneliness.  I was becoming numb.

There were days I was SO SURE that my reality was correct, but he would say otherwise - I literally thought I was starting to go a little crazy.

All those years; all the effort I had put into the work I needed to do for myself - kept hitting this impasse.  I just didn't understand.

And then came the day of my discovery.  I often say that I was broken that day - my heart broken into a thousand pieces.  But here's the thing - I was NOT broken beyond repair. No, instead, I was broken in such a way that I was able to be put back together differently. That day of breaking was also a day of new beginnings for me.  It was the beginning of me truly, freely, discovering my voice.  It was the beginning of me learning to hear and trust my intuition like never before.

So, what are some of the things that had to happen for me to be on this journey?

  1. The places of my heart that I had closed off and numbed out had to be opened and feeling again.  This is not easy or fun (I am a work in progress - I still discover places where I am numb and guarded.).  There's a reason we close places off and numb out - the alternative is feeling pain.  The thing I had to accept and embrace was that in order for me to heal, and find my voice, I had to feel again, I had to NOT be afraid of the pain.  I had to trust that the pain would not kill me; that I would come out the other side of the pain that I was feeling.
  2. I had to work on re-training my mind about my emotions.  I would remind myself that being angry was okay.  Being hurt was okay.  Being happy or optimistic was okay.  Whatever I was feeling was okay!  (As a side note, you should have seen how my parenting took a DRASTIC change at this point in my life!  Hahaha.  My kids have heard this message over and over in their lives - so much so that now they'll call me out on it - like when I loose my patience with one of them being sad or mad, and they say to me, "I though it was okay for me to be upset!"  That quickly calls me back to the truth, and I reassure them that it is, indeed, okay.)
  3. I had to do the HARD work of getting in touch with my feelings again - and NOT just the anger.  The anger was easy to feel and recognize.  I had to make the connections with WHY I was feeling anger.  What was happening that was either causing me to fear, or not meeting a need/expectation?  What boundaries were being violated that caused me to feel what I was feeling?
  4. Once I was making progress on these things, I had to learn how to put these things into words.  For awhile, I was (as they like to say in Texas) a hot mess.  I went to the other extreme and said just about everything that came to mind - without regard of how the way I was saying it came across.  I was learning to be okay with what I was feeling, and understanding why I was feeling it, but I couldn't stop there - I had to learn how to use my voice in a healthy, constructive way.  I had to learn how to communicate my needs, boundaries and desires.  And I needed to learn how to make myself heard when there were violations of any of these things.  (And not back down from what I was saying).
  5. I had to push through the DISCOMFORT of voicing my thoughts/feelings/opinions.  I had to push aside the self-doubt and embrace what I knew to be true.  I still do.  I am still finding ways (people, situations, etc.) where I finally am "standing up for myself" and using my voice.  Places where I used to dismiss wrongdoings by others and just let it be.  After all, "It is what it is." right?  
  6. Continue to seek connection.  Finding my voice has been a journey.  The more healthy I become, the more I find my voice.  It's in moments when I revert to old ways of dealing with things that my voice is not Sarah empowered - it is Sarah angered.  There's a glaring difference.  I need to keep making connections - understanding what my boundaries are, how I feel when they are violated, and how to respond in healthy ways.  
None of this was or is easy. But the effort is DEFINITELY worth the reward.  The feeling of finding my voice has been one of the most self-confidence building, freeing, empowering things I have ever experienced.

What about you?  Where are you at in your journey of finding your voice?  Do you have a "default" emotion?  If so, is it keeping you stuck?  What parts of my "things I need(ed) to do" resonates with you?  What were the circumstances that led to you loosing your voice?  What has helped you find your voice again?

Sisters, we are empowered as we find our voice.  Part of finding our voice that I haven't yet mentioned is sharing our story.  This is a safe place.  Will you consider sharing some of your story here, with us?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Lies We Face

"We're going to stop by the strip club after work tonight.  You gonna join us?"

It was a passing statement on some random TV show.  I think I was waiting for the next show to come on, and caught the tail end of some other show.  That was the dialogue I remember.  One male co-worker talking to another, inviting him (casually - as if it was completely normal behavior) to stop at the strip club and have a few drinks with the rest of the guys.  And the female (I think it was a cop show - can't really remember) just kind of rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We've all been exposed to pornography.  It's no big deal." 

A response I once heard when attempting to share the impact that my SA's exposure to pornography at a very young age had on him.

"That's just what men do."
"There's healthy porn use; not everyone who looks at porn is addicted to it."
"You're just not adventurous enough in the bedroom."
"It's not bad to watch pornography, if you do it together - it'll just spice up your sex life."
"My personal expression of my sexuality is my own; don't try to tell me that it's not healthy.  You're just a prude."
"Some people's sex drive is just bigger than others."

These are just SOME of the messages that our culture, at large, says to us.


Dirty.  Manipulative.  Uneducated.  Minimizing.  Belittling.  Justifying - LIES.

As if we didn't have enough to deal with.  Some of us have been subject to a wearing down of our beliefs, morals, values and self-esteem by the double-attack of our culture AND our SA telling us these lies.  Too often, this results in us either "allowing" them to participate in their addiction, or finding ourselves being dragged into their behaviors.  Even worse - some of us have had to deal with the triple attack of not only culture and our SA, but friends and family as well sending us these harmful messages!  When these messages keep pounding us on the head over and over and over - too often we find ourselves beginning to question what we know - deep in our soul - to be true, and we can begin to doubt ourselves.  Worn down, tired of the fight, we give in.


Too many times I've heard these lies.  TOO MANY TIMES!!!!  (Not from my own SA, but from others sharing their stories, or from our culture.  I was fortunate enough to only have to deal with the cultural lies).

When did we as a culture DIE - in our souls?
When did we so give ourselves over to the ripping and tearing apart of our soul that we don't even notice the hole that is left when we follow these beliefs - that everything is okay, as long as it feels good to you?

Sisters, please - PLEASE see these messages for what they are - LIES.

Here's the truth:
You are more than enough.
You are worthy of being valued and treated with respect and honor (not a sex object).
You should NEVER have to "give in" to expressions of sexuality that make you uncomfortable/you don't enjoy.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER NEVER.  NE-VER.  Just one more - NEVERRRRRRRRRR!
Pornography viewing is a serious problem.  It: ruins relationships; it's like a drug; it changes the brain; it affects your behavior....  you should not have to put up with it in your relationship - at all.

I don't have the time or space to "prove my case" about how destructive and harmful pornography is - at the core of what it is.  But if you don't believe me, or want to have some help communicating to others how/why it's NOT okay to view it, just go and spend an hour or two on this website:  They do a fantastic job of explaining (and supporting their claims) why and how pornography is harmful.

We are on a journey - of rediscovering our voices; rediscovering the truth.  Rest in the truth.  There is safety and peace and clarity and strength in the truth.  As the phrase goes: "The truth shall set you free."

What are some of the lies you've heard or been told?  Do you still struggle with believing the lies?  What are some truths you have (or can) used to free yourself/combat the lies?

I encourage you to share - there's power in sharing our reality.  Your sharing may also help someone else; your thoughts, your tools - they may relate to in a profound way.

Remember - You are beautiful. You are special.  You are worthy of love.  You are loved.  And that's the truth.