What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

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I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Surviving

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I am almost 37 years old.

I am still at a point where the majority of my adult years were spent in fight, flight or freeze.

I have a lot of nightmares. Even when I am doing well and not getting bombarded with ugly memories, I will wake up drenched in sweat from trying to run away from him.

Ku and I watch movies or shows sometimes where there is a character in an abusive relationship. I’m usually shaking my head as it happens, both as a reminder that I am not that character and that I am okay, and also because I don’t get it. I lived that life for over a decade and I still can’t comprehend WHY. I’m not just saying why it happens. I’ve read plenty of articles and attended events where phrases like toxic masculinity and gender norms and rape culture are explained. They make sense and I can see where the change needs to happen. I always leave thinking YES, we can FIX THIS, TEACH THE BOYS! Except, it is deeper than that, right?

Why me, though?

Not to say it should have happened to someone else, anyone else, as long as I was spared. No. Not at all. I’m saying why did I allow it happen? Why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I walk away? I can’t think of any situation where domestic violence makes sense. I also cannot think of one where it made sense that I would fall victim. You see, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA, honor roll, Honor Society, accepted to my first university of choice. I guess when I think about circumstances that people find themselves in, I think that education and book smarts should help play a role in how they handle themselves.

My book smarts didn’t save me.

My Dad taught me when I was young that I had to walk on the inside of the sidewalk and him on the outside because if it was reversed than guys would think I was for sale. This seems to be a pretty universal understanding, judging from popular culture. We have been taught to buy in to this belief that boys will be boys and consent isn’t always clear, and boys who are mean to you on the playground like you. That locker room talk is just that, and should be excused. Yet somehow, guys have a basic, universal understanding that if I’m closest to the curb than I am open for business.

Early on I learned that if a man behaves inappropriately to me than it is my fault. If I’m standing on a beach in Puerto Vallarta when I’m thirteen in a one-piece swimsuit and some male walks by and ogles me, I share the blame between myself and puberty. If I’m standing in a bar, chatting with the people I walked in with, and a guy walks up to me and inappropriately puts his hand on my shoulder to say things that I don’t want him telling me, I can’t make a scene because it would be rude. What I learned when I was growing up was that if a grown man did anything disgusting to me, such as rub his erect penis against my leg even when I was fifteen, it was my fault and that if I said something, I would be blamed. That easily translated to me being responsible if I was hit by my other half. We have been taught, as young girls, to be meek, quiet, accepting and to not embarrass our parents.

Before I got pregnant with Abraham, my ex and I were living in my hometown. It was a calm, beautiful summer day and my friend Yesenia had stopped by to make flour tortillas with me. My meanager, Sammy, was only two or three years old and playing in the living room. Everything was great that day, because it wasn’t always terrible. Except, my ex-husband didn’t like Yesenia and I hadn’t told him she stopped by. Of course his mom did, though and he came home from work so angry. I don’t remember the argument but I remember I got in my car and left. I drove to Yesenia’s house because I needed space. I couldn’t stay there one more second and I didn’t feel safe. I could always tell when he was going to get physical.

When I drove up to her house, I thought briefly about how he would probably guess where I was but I knocked anyway. I remember the wind blowing gently through my hair as she answered the door with a worried look and I distinctly recall sitting on her couch feeling calmer. What I can’t conjure no matter how hard I try is what he said when he called her house and made her reluctantly hand me the phone, my drive back because he threatened banging on her door until I left if I didn’t, or walking in to my house. And somewhere between the door shutting and me turning towards both him and his mom, he hit me. Hard.

She came in to the bedroom a short while later, and as I cried in to my pillow, she told me I should never have driven away, that I should never have gone to Yesenia’s, and that I should have stopped arguing before he got to that point.

I was blamed. And I spent many years thinking it was all my fault.

I’m still so hesitant to share my story. I would be lying if I said it was because I don’t want to be blamed. I didn’t deserve it then, when someone who witnessed it firsthand was quick to place it on me or by anyone who would continue to do it today.

We become a mean type of human when we use stories of survivors’ trauma to apply irrational justification. I hear a lot (usually as a joke lobbed at trying to ease the discomfort of a terrible truth that was just shared) of comments about how embarrassed my ex must be to have lost me to a woman. What I wouldn’t give for this to not be someone’s first response when we talk about something very painful for me, still.

In reality, his manhood was gone the second he hit me. The moment he dismissed my love and loyalty to manipulate me into staying. When he decided to use my feelings to make himself feel bigger. <–That is what is really embarrassing.

Bravery is an action that is hard to muster up.

I was a great student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class with a set determination to make something of myself. What took me a long time to realize was that even though I stepped back and chose to start a family over my education, I was still smart. Even though I fell into an abusive relationship, I was still strong. And when I got away, in those first few steps of freedom, I found the road lonely. I lost friendships. I fought with family. I was scared yet I was without quit in me. I was judged, sometimes to my face, even. I sat in my car and cried because I couldn’t immediately fix everything.

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I rebuilt, brick by brick, my insides. Somewhere in all the mess I had made, I began to see the beauty again. One of the best discoveries was that I could use my scared, shaking voice to recount my stories, share them publicly, and discover that I was encouraging women to stand up and leave. I don’t blog as often as I initially meant to about surviving domestic violence, but every single post brings at least ONE woman forward, who chooses to disclose to me a trauma she is currently or has gone through.

That fuels my fire. Telling someone your deepest secret is a big kind of scary. To each of you who has found the strength to break your silence to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And know I don’t judge you.

 

With one dress

Kulia turns to me, lightly touches my forearm just so to grab my attention. Touch is my love language. Wait, is touch one of the languages?

I digress.

She looks me square in the eyes and affirms to me, “Christmas is your favorite holiday.”

It isn’t true but I smile. See, I do this with things I love. I don’t give them as much credit as I should. Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie and yet I have a bajillion Little Mermaid items. Almost no NBC things. Doesn’t mean it isn’t my favorite.

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I have always loved Christmas. Almost as much as I love Halloween.

Perhaps it’s because I think of music when I think of my absolute favorite any thing as opposed to my second or third favorites because even though Kulia says you can only have one favorite “whatever”, I DO NOT LIVE BY THAT RULE. When you hear a song on the radio that catches your ear, you proceed to play it to death over the course of the next month or so until you absolutely cannot hear one chord of it for the next few years. I’m like this with everything. I beat all my second loves to a pulp. Christmas is no different. I make it Navi-dead. Not quite the same with Halloween.

We were walking through JC Penney two Christmas seasons ago when a dress stopped me in my tracks. I turned to her and loudly exclaimed that I had to have it. This dress made my heart so happy, complete with adorable little Santas all over it. Unsubtle in an artful way, much how I think I can be, but maybe that’s ridiculous.

Yes. The dress was ridiculous.

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The First Obnoxious Christmas Dress

Her look of incredulity surprised me. “No. You do not need that dress,” she replied. And with seven words she effectively brought forth the stubborn Vee, of which she has had the pleasure of dealing with so many other times.

Look. I don’t re-wear dresses. It isn’t my thing. When we get fancy I love to go all out and then that is it for that outfit. We always take a ton of photos and I don’t like to see myself in the same things. She reminded me of this in the aisle of the store.

“You are not buying a $20 Christmas dress that you will wear one friggin time and then never again. Let’s go home.”

Well, that became a double-dog dare if you ask me so I promptly promised her that I would not only wear it more than once, but I would wear it for a week straight. And it was game on. Every day I would wear it but with a twist to keep things interesting. It took my boss until day four to realize I hadn’t really changed. Friends on my social media pages were anxiously anticipating my new look each day and we were all laughing.

What started as a joke and an “I’ll show you,” became a fun week full of holiday spirit in 2017. What I realized was that it couldn’t stop with just that one year. Naturally, as Christmas got closer this year, faster than usual and with more gusto than expected, I had to find a new dress. Except, instead of wearing it for one week, this time I was going for two. And I announced it early enough and presumably with enough excitement that many of my friends decided to join us. Hawaii. Washington. Texas. Florida. All-over-friends.

Joined me.

It was incredible. Some for the two weeks straight. Others just during work days. A couple of us did not stop and went for the whole month. The whole month. It was  awesome.

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But more importantly, and the reason I began this blog post, is the power behind the dress.

It never ceases to amaze me when I receive messages from people I know and love about how fun seeing my Christmas dress posts are but what really floored me this year were the ones from people I have never met. What began as a silly challenge, really to myself more than anybody, became an inspiration and source of cheer for others. You see, up until recently, I was working really hard on some goals and then one day I woke up and I had lost my motivation. I know results take time, no matter what they are in regards to, but sometimes they move slower than a turtle in peanut butter and I lose my momentum. I have been told I can be encouraging to others but I struggle the most with doing it for myself.

When Kulia told me I wouldn’t wear the dress more than once, I made a pact as a WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT to her, but really it was to me. The friends following along that resulted from me trying to prove myself wrong was uplifting and reminded me that I can do more than I give myself credit for, as silly as it seems. You see, sometimes you need to reset your thinking with something that seems ridiculous so you can keep tricking yourself for the harder things. We can do the hard things. We just have to remember to sprinkle in some fun ones, too, while we are at. It lessens the load on our heart, I think.

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Flash forward to the dress challenge in 2018, and it was back to a fun goal. Wear a dress for two weeks that makes you smile and every day find a way to change one little thing about it to keep everyone else smiling. As people reached out and became a part of it, I felt my heart swelling. I know it seems small. And it was. But it was something.

During the past month, as I shopped for Christmas gifts or ate lunch with friends, laughed with others in a board meeting or met with colleagues at work, the dress initiated beautiful conversations. Some of them merely to ask, “WHY?” <–to which I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why not?” Strangers were smiling at me and sharing sweet words about how my Christmas cheer brought them joy. Co-workers hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas for the entire month and that warmed me in ways I never could have anticipated. Little kiddos’ faces brightened up at me just for smiling at them. My love in humanity was restored day by day. And the messages. “I had a rough 2018. I was dreading Christmas. This dress challenge helped kick me out of that funk. (girl, SAME)” “I cannot believe how much joy I brought to strangers when I was out and about and how many came up to talk to me because of this dress! (YASSS)” “You and your dress are wonderful and every time I see your posts, I am happier.(DITTO)” “I told my husband I’m joining you next year and I cannot wait.(NOW TO CONVINCE MY WIFEY)” On and on and on. All the best words that kept my mind spinning with how to keep spreading that joy in 2019 but not just at Christmas-time.

I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as it happens. And don’t ask me why, because that isn’t even really a question in my book.

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My Running Journey

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Yesenia and I, training for my halfsie

We are sitting in the living room, watching shows. Two glasses of red wine sit in front of us, half full. She is mine. I am hers. That’s what the glasses say, gifts we received at our wedding. Her heart is heavy from loss, just like mine. Not alone in our pain but each of us deep in our thoughts, I’m surprised when she breaks the comfortable silence.

“I am so proud of you.”

It’s a compliment. Of course, it is. Except my grief has veiled my eyes and I see it as pain. Why can’t I let her be proud of me? I respond that I walked most of it, would have quit. Almost quit. She doesn’t care that I want to tear myself down. She knows how hard it was for me. Physically, yes, but also mentally. Emotionally. She understands why I do that so she doesn’t allow it in a way that means more than I could tell her.

“You didn’t train. We had so much going on. I didn’t want you to do it and yet you had made a commitment. You are so stubborn with your goals and I just love that about you.”

She knows I need to hear it.

I nod in agreement. To everything. It’s such a problem of mine because I want to do all the things and I want to be there for all my tribe. When my younger sister asked me to run a half marathon with her a few months ago, yes came out so easy. I had four months which was plenty of time to train my body to get my mileage back up. I thought the running and our busy calendar would be great distractions for my soul, because grieving for my friend has been so exhausting and unpredictable. One minute I would be okay, head above water. Driving to work or to pick up my boys or to a meeting. The next, I would feel tears run silently down my cheeks or I would be uncontrollably sobbing and I couldn’t deal, drowning under waves of sorrow and raw again.

Loss isn’t new to me so don’t go thinking losing Yesenia hurt me more than others who have moved to the Land of the Remembered. What has changed is how I’m processing and feeling it. Kulia helped un-numb me, if you will. Gradually and with a tender care, she has helped my self feel again. For the longest time I was just making it through my days, hiding behind a smile and portraying that I was okay. Going through the motions of life and being in constant survival mode dulled all my senses. I could say meeting Ku woke that all up. I mean, she did, or rather, we did together. It’s just been such a process. Not overnight. Not immediate. Little by little over the past six years. And then one day they were there. Feelings I had forgotten about. A sister of mine, who remembers the tough-as-nails me asked if I thought these feelings would stick around and gosh, I hope so. She does, too. I would rather feel than be in that dull place again.

Ku said it was running. That somehow, that empowering runner’s high made me human again. Maybe she was right but not entirely. I think it was a lot of little things with her at the center. Either way, running was exhilarating. I felt so strong crossing finish lines, improving my mile times, hearing people’s surprise at my endurance. And it all began so innocently enough. Yesenia got me out and walking. For like a month we would walk this road by her house that down and back was exactly one mile. One day she casually started to jog. I followed suit because that is who I am as a person. And as intermittenly as my feelings were coming back we got ourselves to one mile of straight running.

That first mile was such a major milestone for us and we celebrated it enthusiastically. We did it together. When I decided to train for my first halfsie, Yesenia said she would train some with me. When she couldn’t, I would leash up Cali and off we would go. Running with Cali was perfect because I could just yell all the words of encouragement that I needed her way. And she would just prance by my side, happy for the attention and the outside company. We did it together. One of them was always by my side.

As I painfully ran a 15k in March this year, I thought about my gumption and commitments. I wanted to finish the run I had paid for but I kept thinking about how I would never run next to them again. Except, when I was asked about the halfsie, I said yes one more time. I thought maybe I could do it and things would change. But they didn’t because you can’t force yourself to get over anything, no matter how hard you try. And Cali was on her decline so her joining me was out of the picture. I realized, right after she peacefully crossed that dreaded Rainbow Bridge, that I just didn’t want to run anymore. I had registered and paid for this last one (well, Ku had on my behalf because she understands that about me) so I wasn’t going to back out of it but I knew I would say goodbye to each mile marker, water stop, treat break and photo op.

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TFlinn kept me going during my last run

Luckily a great friend was doing this halfsie also and promised to walk/jog with me so the first eight miles sucked in a better way. As runners would pass us I would comment about how they were crushing it and doing fantastic and she kept gently reminding me that so were we. Gawd, I needed that. Somewhere around mile nine she was ready to go and finish and I tried to keep up but just couldn’t. I was hitting a wall, not just physically, but emotionally. I missed my running buddies in a way she was but wasn’t. I have found you can be two things at once in this grief process. I have perpetually been happy but sad, whole with holes, surrounded by love but missing theirs. That was this run. Complete with running buddies but missing THE running buddies. The day we said goodbye to Rue I turned to Ku and said I couldn’t do any more runs. I meant it.

Feeling the grief of losing two amazing souls this year has changed me. As I learn to navigate the journey of having feelings that are not mutually exclusive of each other, I find that I recede a bit into my mind. When people ask me how I’m doing, which we are so inclined to do even if we don’t care about the answer, I am honest. When I am feeling grief I share that, which has taken many by surprise. I don’t mean to. I just can’t fake anything in my life, anymore, least of all my sadness. Where running used to help me focus more at work, grief has stolen that from me and I find myself chasing ways to stay in the now, in the here, rather than regress to past days, where we chatted about nonsense and the intricacies of life, Yesenia and I. Or how Kulia and I would come home and happy dance with Cali and call her dumb names in baby talk because her wagging her tail was such a happy picture.

A friend shared that grief was like standing on the edge of the ocean, with waves of sadness hitting you sometimes. I think mine has a different form. It’s much more hurricane-esque with gail force winds trying to knock me over unexpectedly.

So, with all of that, I remind myself that I have 754 miles under my belt and while I may pick it back up one day, I am thankful for saying farewell to running in my own way and on my terms.

And know that as I work through these storms of sadness, I am loving my friends and family harder. I’m just doing it in walking form now.

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The Mountain I’m Scaling

Arriba!

Everybody loves a chubby little but that love goes away at some point

I couldn’t sleep last night so my mind started writing. I’ve gotten into this habit where I can just begin, like I’m at my computer typing and it’s fantastic. There’s zero writer’s block and things are flowing and I try to repeat key sentences to myself so I can re-type them in the morning because they are that good. And then I’ll wake up in the morning, refreshed and bright-eyed but with no recollection. It’s okay. I’ll find them again, I’m sure.

Except, this morning I woke up and they were still there. So, here you are.

I have been scaling this mountain for as long as I can remember. Bright and bubbly and round-with-baby-fat seven year old me, at least. Seven year Vee was a mega-fan of rice and beans. I would greet the customers because it’s nice to be nice and they would smile at my chubby face. Most people are really well versed in saying the things that cut you to your core in a sweet voice with a smile that drips honey because they only ever would mean well, right? I figured this out early on.

Ten year old Vee is in the gym for recess and tries to play foursquare with some “friends.” Well, I wanted to be a friend of the Regina and Gretchen of my school who bounced the ball really aggressively at me in a way I could never catch because I wasn’t a runner then, and yelled “fat girls stink,” at me. Some of them weren’t trying to catch flies all that hard.

Thirteen and I was back from living in Mexico for a couple years. They are more forthcoming with their insults down south. Like Regina and Gretchen. It was hot there so I dropped some ellbees but either way I was plump still. I decided I would try Slimfast because don’t all teenage girls resort to a powder drink at some point? Start early so you are ahead of the game, I guess. We see our moms and our aunts and all other female influences around us focusing on their bodies or we see the complete opposite and you think, “Not me. I’m turning this around.” No matter how you slice this, we aren’t winning this battle.

Someone really instrumental to my upbringing and childhood and life in general told fifteen year old Vee in a very spiteful tone one day, which meant extra passion if you ask me, “nobody wants to love a fat girl.” And I believed it because it made sense to. And up until recently I had only picked crummy people to be with because they said they loved me. Because I’m fat. For so long the word fat has had a power over me and if I’m not careful, that would be the boggart coming out of the cupboard, hurling itself to demolish everything that is inside my thick soul.

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Sixteen year old Vee wearing a pair of jeans, size 16.

You see, my mountain has yet to show it’s peak to me. I’ve been continuing up this incline for at least twenty-eight years and it has minimal plateaus or flat parts. I have somehow become Sisyphus pushing a mound of fat up a rocky terrain and it hasn’t mattered what size I was or how many rolls I could count. There hasn’t been a number on the scale that has made me feel like I’ve conquered my mountain. And if I never do, will I be able to accept that? If I’m always a size 16 will I feel alright with that?

I’m encouraged by recent articles and hashtag movements of women sticking their middle fingers up at so-called “beauty standards.” In a technological age where even nine year old kiddos have a world of information at their fingertips, I am optimistic that they will see these lady warriors and listen to their messages so that they can choose partners who really love them even if they jiggle. Or that will be their biggest cheerleaders yelling positive things at them from the sidelines when they decide they want to work to jiggle less, because that is okay, too. Because, for me, that’s the thing. It has to be okay to want to work towards something and not feel bad about it or like you’re letting females down globally, just like it’ll be okay if you are okay with thick thighs and a midsection. You can be strong and thick and you can be skinny and sick. And I firmly believe that some people weren’t meant to be thin.

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Even at my most active, still a size 16

What I’m saying, friends, is that if you are working out and want to post about it all over your social media, I will be a fan. And if you want to wear a romper or a bikini and feel saucy AF in it, I’ll send love your way. I’m a firm believer that daughters (and sons) are always listening, because I always was. And I’m even more convinced that we can be beautiful regardless of size. <– that is what I’m going to keep repeating to myself, as I scale my mountain from here to eternity.

And if your mountain doesn’t have a peak either, I’m walking with you.loveyourbody

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

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Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

Advocate means voice, right?

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The calm AND the storm

 

 

 

Once upon a time I was a really judge-y a-hole. I thought I knew everything about everything and this wasn’t even my teenage years. Gaaaaah, I was exhausting. One of the things I knew nothing about but thought I did?

ADHD

Until not only Samuel, but Abraham as well were diagnosed with it. No, scratch that. That’s a lie if I’ve ever told one. I still didn’t know. And quite frankly, it was the beginning of one of the hardest uphill battles I’ve ever fought. Alone but with people, together but on opposite sides of the river. Different but the same words to apply to two of my three boys who just rode the struggle-bus-wave at school something fierce. It was hard to swallow because it was personal and I felt like I had failed them in some way, even though it had nothing to do with me but was about to consume my life. Our lives. Each of us in different ways.

Samuel’s diagnosis, as a Type 1, meaning he has inattention but not hyperactivity, was an absolute dream  in terms of handling it. He was put on a small dose of Ritalin and it was an overnight change, where he went from testing below grade level in every subject to making the honor roll no less than three months later. “He’s not dumb, he just needs a little help,” his sweet fifth grade teacher had told us. Learning about what he needed and why completing homework and turning it in was so hard made a lot of difference in understanding him better. Isn’t that what we all want? To be understood better? He started to gain self-confidence, boosting his self-esteem. You could see a visible change in him, almost immediately but also over time. Not to say he hasn’t had some ups and downs that have needed revisiting and adjusting. Sam still continues to be so much easier to handle.

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So, enter Abraham, who has been marching to the beat of his own drum since the moment he was born. Yesterday he asked me for a picture of that day, and you know what? I don’t have one. He was my fastest delivery, being born less than an hour after I finally got to the hospital because nobody believed that I was in labor and then when the nurse checked me I was dilated to 8. When they told me I couldn’t have an epidural or any other sort of pain meds because I was too far advanced, I broke down crying. I had been trying to keep it together for so long, thinking it would be coming. It wasn’t. He got stuck and the doctor had to help him get his head unstuck and I just screamed in pain. I remember it like it was yesterday, all the pain and commotion, but I don’t remember his face. I hardly saw it. He came early, was whisked out of the room so fast. I had only gotten to hold him for about five minutes and then he was gone but I didn’t even notice because then I was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I was hemorrhaging and they were working fast.

I don’t even know how much time went by before I realized he never came back to the room. And then it was a twilight zone because they started lying to me in ways I would mimic later, when my kiddos asked for something I knew I wouldn’t deliver on. “Maybe in a bit, not right now, etc” kept being fed to me. I remember wanting my Mom there but she wasn’t. Hearing false information in a hospital should be a crime. And you shouldn’t feel alone when you hear it.

****** You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about all of this. It’s most likely because I’m defending why I’m so Mama Bear with him. Ku thinks this is why and I don’t think she’s wrong. ******

Not even two hours later, after being told maybe and soon and a whole bunch of other no-in-disguise words, he was off, on a helicopter, to Children’s hospital. See, he couldn’t breathe on his own, he was considered a preemie and they didn’t have what he needed to keep him alive at St. Josephs. And then I was mad, because my doctor wouldn’t release me to go to him. You guys, I was straight up mean to that doctor and he took it like a champ. I’m still not even a little sorry, though.

Skipping forward, he was in the NICU for three a half long weeks where I was by his side day and night, practically forgetting I had four year old Samuel at home, being cared for by my ex’s family. It’s the one thing I’ve ever sincerely thanked them for. I wouldn’t allow pictures in there, not that we had many visitors, which I think I still struggle with, inside. I was so alone during one of the hardest months of my life. He was on a morphine drip, intubated, and not improving for so long. I could hardly take it and yet that’s what moms do; the hardest work and almost always on their own.

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AB and his tia at our wedding, where he unapologetically tore it UP on the dance floor and just lived his life

I still see him, so little and helpless in the incubator, muted and fighting for his life. I was willing his lungs to do their job for so long, and yet I couldn’t make him better. When he was finally home, I would stare at him in the night, convinced that something would happen and he would stop breathing, because joy forebodes fear because that’s what we are taught in the movies.

I taught him baby sign and he was full on signing sentences before he was even eleven months old. He started walking on his tiptoes. He taught himself to read at four years old. He learned cursive on his own, at home, because it was interesting to him. He has a signature, friends. And he’s barely eleven.

He’s also type 2 ADHD. Which means hyperactivity.

It isn’t even what I would consider severe but holy moses, it’s so true for him. He will sit and watch a movie but his body will not stop moving. In fact, from so many talks with his doctor and counselor, he needs the movement to focus his mind. And this has not come without difficulty at school. Difficulty and distractions and distracting. To say it’s interfering with his learning is an understatement, even though he is still so smart.

We’ve been lucky in that a) I believe it. The other side of his family did not. Frick, some of my own family didn’t either. The fact of the matter is that while ADHD has almost certainly been not only one of the most misunderstood medical conditions, it’s also been misdiagnosed and over-diagnosed in many cases. Not in Abraham’s. I mean that sincerely. It wasn’t something we could change with just eliminating things like food dye from his diet. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know that works for some kiddos.

It doesn’t mean that getting more activity in with your little isn’t the answer. It just wasn’t the sole answer for him. It isn’t a pass to just medicate and while Sam was such a big win with his, we have tried so many different kinds, stimulant and non stimulant alike without finding the best helper.

You want to know what one of the biggest helps has been? Having had some of the BEST teachers for him that understood or tried to understand him, that believed in his intelligence and that worked alongside us to help him thrive. It was such a weight off our shoulders to feel like we had an army behind us. Except, fairy tale elementary school is over and we have entered middle school and all its chaos and we are all drowning at our house.

We have entered a season of school struggle in a way we aren’t used to. Yes, middle school was tough for Sam, but it was Sam tough, so that still makes it sort of mild. I call him the meanager and that’s mostly from those rough years because he couldn’t figure out how to excel in school anymore. Getting him to do his homework, keeping him up on his assignments and learning how to actually study were so hard. Now, it all applies to Abraham and we are RIPPING OUR GAWWWWD DAMN HAIRS OUT.

I mean it. It’s been friggin tough as hell. It is straight up square peg, round hole time and all of us are at our wit’s end. I mean, I scheduled a meeting with his teachers and it was fruitless. Unfruitful. Without fruit? I’m saying I walked out of there feeling like I could have gotten more done trying to teach a giraffe their ABCs. It’s no wonder he’s having a hard time. If I feel like they don’t care, I can only imagine he feels like they don’t care because he’s pretty intuitive and you’d basically have to be blind to not see it. I even called, ten minutes after leaving and on my way to work, and spoke to his vice-principal and expressed how wasteful my time there had felt, was promised a call back and action, a commitment to helping him, etc. It was like being in that hospital room all over again, hearing fake news told to my face without an ounce of meaningfulness.

Today, I took my voice back and I Mama Bear’d it because I am not playing around. I don’t want to be that person that loses their patience with their kiddo over something they haven’t figured out how to control yet, because that’s bananas and not right. It’s not cool to get mad at a child with diabetes for having their blood sugar in the wrong numbers because they aren’t directly in charge of metabolizing their glucose and making insulin. <— wait, did I say that correctly? Do you get my drift?

What I’m saying is, if you have a little with either type of ADHD, or if you have ADHD, hear me on the following:

You are smart.

It is real.

You are not defined by it.

Use your voice.

What about if you don’t? You probably know someone who does, so read up a little on it, so you don’t sound like Vee2013 who was just a judge-y a-hole. Don’t tell people it’s made up because it isn’t. And offer some love.

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Abraham in fifth grade, on his way to camp which was a huge stress to us but he did wonderfully

Vee 2.0

Have you ever looked at yourself, fresh out of bed, with sideways hair and sheet creases on your face and thought, “Where the eff did I take a wrong turn?”

This was me. Almost two years ago I sat down with myself and I said, “Self. Let’s do this. Let’s go all the eff out, balls to the walls, and buckle down and get it done.” I was talking about my choices in life, that albeit were fun and all, but they weren’t always healthy. I knew I needed to get moving. I can’t change my ass by sitting on it, right?

The thing is, a friend had asked me to join her and start making an effort to lose some ellllllbeeees and after I gasped (HOW DARE SHE?! Where’s the GIRL CODE?) and got over my damn self, I realized she was right. I was the queen of hiding behind the camera, smacking a kid right in front of most of me, of the perfect angles, or just taking it chest up. You were either getting close ups or inauthentic Vee. That’s just the damn truth.

Sometime in these past two years, I got busy. Like, way busy. Busier than usual. A lot of it was my own fault, and Ku often jokes that I get restless when my plate isn’t overflowing (well, duh, I AM LATINA). While I admit that is partially true, the reality is that last year I handled it pretty well, considering. I was really kicking ass (my own) at keeping with my commitment to change my lifestyle and share it with my friends. I was posting progress photos and just feeling so damn empowered and strong. Strong as all get out. Ubes strong.

And then something changed inside of me. I started to let my overflowing plate create a shadow in my mind. Slowly and then all of a sudden, working out wasn’t my priority. Clean eating went out the window. A cheat every now and then became every damn day. EVERY.DAMN.DAY. I recognized it happening and kept telling myself it was ok. I deserved it. I could take a break and it would be fine because who is anyone to judge me?

Except, I was judging myself. All of my shame gremlins that I had worked so hard at shutting up started to grow and get louder. I mean, visually that is how I see it. These little nasty creatures that chase me and bog me down with self-loathing. I mean, Grinch, get out da way! I am giving him a run for his money! I constantly tell Ku how upset I was with myself, how ugly I felt, how I was just ballooning (I mean, quite literally) back to the old Vee. I stopped posting about my self-care because it would have been a lie. I wasn’t working out, I was eating whatever I damn well wanted to and I was sure as hell not trying to post progression photos. Who would even want to see that? Wouldn’t I just be proving everyone right? I mean, especially myself. I was already in a funk. Can you imagine what posting a reverse transformation would have felt like to me?

The thing is, motivation is a sword. It’s either a tool or taking your life.

So, where am I today? I’m in student mode. Learning. I learned, so far, that it takes waaaaaaay more work to lose inches and pounds than it does to pack it back on. No matter how you do it, no matter how you did it, it’s coming back if you stop. I think I told myself I just had to put the time in now, because I’ve given enough of my life to being unhealthy and overweight, and I could rest. I told myself if I spent 14 months eating healthier and being conscious of what I ate that I could just have a good ole time with food for three. Now I’m learning that fun is a sometimes thing, not every minute of your day. I’m learning that self-love is always a work in progress, just like the rest of me. I’m learning that I have to start over because I clearly stopped at some point. And I’m learning that nobody will ever judge me as harshly as I judge myself. I think, anyways.

So, why put this out there again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t fit in my clothes anymore and you might start noticing me wearing the same things in all my pics, or maybe because you’ve wondered and I feel like I owe you all some super, SUPER awkward authenticity…

Or maybe it’s because you might feel a lot of what I’ve been thinking and you’re thinking mean things about yourself and trust me, you are not alone. Over the past two-ish years I’ve had the honor of having some pretty damn phenomenal ladies in my workout groups and you know what?

I’m joining hands, linking arms and taking the plunge with my fellow boss babe, Erin, to get you back on track. Because we are getting back on track and we freaking need you. We need fellow friends on our side who also want to be uplifted and cheered on. Do you need a little nudge, some love pats and a program that will help you get that ball moving again? Or moving for the first time?

Reach out to us. Send a message. You can even start it with some BS like “Hi!” We will get there. We will get you on board and more importantly, we will show you some love. Being unhappy with yourself is hard. We get it. Mostly because we are there, too.

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Oct 2014                                         Aug 2017                       Sept 2017                                                                

15 Ways I knew I was in an Abusive Relationship

15 Ways to Recognize Abuse

October is fast approaching, which just so happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but in all honesty, I feel like every month is it for me. I never lose that awareness. I never lose sight of what I’ve fought so hard to survive. When I think about my previous marriage and the things I went through with my ex-husband, all the red flags stick out. I recognize them now and wish my blinders handn’t kept me from acting on them during that long ten year period, but I want to speak them now, share them, give them a voice. It’s easy to call physical altercations abuse, because it’s so obvious, but it can be more than that. It’s also harder to acknowledge…

1 – He always wanted to know where I was

While we were dating, I thought it was understandable. We weren’t together 24/7 and so he just missed me so much that he had to message me constantly and would get upset when I didn’t immediately text right back. When I was pregnant, I made excuses for it. Of course, he had to know where I was because you never know when an emergency might happen, right? It took years for me to recognize this was his way of keeping control of me.

2 – He wasn’t nice to the waiter

I see this quote making its way around the web every now and then and I can instantly think of four handfuls of occassions when I witnessed my ex being extraordinarily rude to the waiter. You can’t be nice to some people and not others. Life doesn’t work that way. This in and of itself doesn’t spell abuser, but throw it in with a few more and it’s clear why I put it in here.

3 – He constantly judged my friends

Sure, we all have a crazy friend or two that might make your significant other wonder if they’re the best person to have around. We know why they’re our friends, but it’s not always easy to explain to someone you’re trying to keep around. My ex didn’t just like one person. He disliked all of my friends and he would nitpick each of them. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was easier to stop hanging out. When I wasn’t with them I wasn’t constantly answering texts on my phone regarding where I was or what we were doing, I wasn’t leaving early because he wanted me home for one reason or another, I wasn’t defending what I was up to, or explaining who all was there. The jealousy was overwhelming.

4 – He started making me skip school/work

I was a freshman at the University of Washington when we started dating. Yeah, it was cute to be convinced to skip one or two classes here or there, but it became a constant. One time he waited outside my Socioeconomics class until it was over, to make sure I came straight home after. I called out of work a bunch because “me being gone made him sick.” It was the worst kind of manipulation and I just kept giving in because his anger scared me.

5 – His anger scared me

This is the biggest red flag. I remember sitting with a friend recently, who was adamant she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and I asked her why she was certain she couldn’t go back home. She responded that it wasn’t safe, she wouldn’t be safe because she didn’t trust his anger. It was a sort of ah-ha moment that took me right back to the first time my ex got upset with me. He yelled so terrifyingly at me that I was legitimately scared. After that incident, anytime I could see his temper rising, I went into survival mode.

6 – He put me down in front of others

Whenever I did something commendable, he found something to be negative about. Sometimes it was obvious but more often than not, he found a way to say it in a way that made it sound constructive, helpful, or even right. Not everything we do will always be amazing, but constantly criticizing your significant other in front of people is deplorable. It’s no show of love, in my opinion.

7 – He kept trying to “teach me”

For some reason he had it in his head that I was a country bumpkin that hadn’t somehow gotten herself accepted to UW, which is not an easy task. Aside from putting me down, he would mansplain what I was doing wrong, no matter what it was. He would say things like, “I guess nobody taught you this, or nobody showed you how to be respectful.” Constant mansplaining. I am not stupid.

8 – He hit me

One day, after a major argument, his sister called as we were arriving at Target in North Seattle. He pretended as if everything was okay, as if he didn’t just yell at me until I was crying and felt two inches tall. He then had the audacity to hand his sister the phone so I could say hi and be “respectful” to her. When she asked me how everything was going, I said it could be better, if only he could be nicer to me. I said, “Tell him to be nice to me.” We never made it inside Target. We left right after the phone call, drove home in complete silence and as soon as we walked in the house, he exploded. It was the first time he actually hit me.

9 – He convinced me it was my fault

“If you hadn’t disrespected me to my sister, if you would have just done as you were told, if you hadn’t kept making me upset….” Two seconds after he struck me, I was apologizing. To him. The list of what I could do to deserve him losing his cool was neverending. NEVER.ENDING. For ten years. I could have written a 20,000 word book over all of the things that I DID to justify his rage. He always successfully made me think it was my fault. It was not my fault.

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10 – He monitored my phone

It wasn’t blatant, but rather sneaky. He was always reading through my text messages. He had the passwords to my emails. Not giving him the codes to stuff caused a fight. Made him accuse me of hiding stuff. While I almost never saw him reading my conversations, he would bring them casually up in arguments.

11- He took me away from everyone I knew

Right after we were married, he moved us to Southern California on the pretense we would be by family that wanted  us in their life. That was something he always threw in my face. My family isn’t like most. There isn’t this close Sunday-night-dinners and we-are-always-there-for-you feel like some people are so lucky to have. He did have that, to a fault if you ask me, and I could not have forgotten it if I wanted to. Eight years later he moved us to Hawaii because it was his last ditch effort to try to keep control over me. Moving away isn’t what makes it wrong, it’s making contact with those you need in your life impossible that is not okay.

12 – He corrected me in front of our children

I’m a firm believer in united fronts, as difficult as they may be with the undestanding that sometimes that won’t happen. In our case, whenever one of the boys asked me a question or if they could do something, he would override my answer or decision in front of them. It took away my credibility, which I feel like we still deal with sometimes, even now.

13 – He took away my method of communications

Things got especially heinous the year we moved to Hawaii. His answer to some mistakes on my end was to disconnect my phone, take away my car, deactivate my social media and monitor me even moreso. It was like living with the FBI. Both my Mother and my BFF at the time called the police to have them come check on me, which made matters worse.

13 – He allowed his parents to disrespect me

Whatever problems couples have in marriages, there should be some semblance of respect from either family. The thing is, even though we stayed together a whole decade, he always shared my downfalls to his mother, from the word go, so she constantly put me down. He allowed it.

14 – I always defended him

When my friends, family or anyone mentioned his behavior was questionable, I immediately defended him. I was about to type that I never understood why, but that’s not true. It’s because I took it personal, as proof that I had made the wrong decision in marrying him and desperately wanted to prove everyone wrong.

15 – He threatened me

Whether it was in regards to our children and leaving to Mexico with them, to “never be seen again,” or how if I left he would make sure everyone would know what a piece of shit I was, or that he would prove that I was an unfit mother, he would find the threat necessary to keep me from dialing 911, to keep me from seeking help, to stop me from leaving and to make me stay.

 

I haven’t even mentioned money. It’s a trigger for me. Yes, all of the above can be at any time, but finances and feeling like I have none will send me into a tail spin panic attack faster than you can say moola. Money stresses me out. Still. To this day. The thing is, domestic violence, which one in four women experience severe physical violence from their significant other, is a systematic pattern of power and control. It is not always physical. In all my reminiscing above, only one bullet point is about him putting his hands on me. The one constant component in each of my examples, is the constant effort to maintain both of those over me. Power and control.

My wish is that none of my friends have this in their relationships, but if you do, there is help. There is always help. Leaving isn’t easy. God, I know that is absolute truth. It doesn’t even end what was going on, because then, being “out of control” they become even more unpredictable, begin to harass and stalk and text ugly ish to you. Leaving is not easy, but it’s doable. And whether you’ve dealt with this for one day, month, year or decade, you can save yourself.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

You don’t understand

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Not too long ago, someone randomly came in to my office at work and began telling me their life story. This in and of itself isn’t rare. I’ve shared how people tell me things. Unbeknownst to me as to why, I hear a lot of people’s secrets, feelings, unplanned thoughts, odd life stories, etc. It’s been known to drive those around me crazy. My ex used to get so upset, not only because strangers talk to me, but because I always respond. I attribute that to my father, who taught me to reciprocate courtesies. “If someone takes the time to say thank you, pay them that same respect by saying you’re welcome. Don’t just nod or say mmhmm.” It’s always stuck with me. Incidentally, when someone throws some salutations my way, I reply back. I smile at them. I make eye contact.

One night I was in Safeway grabbing some last minute groceries and I was working my way up to the registers. I cut up the personal care aisle and was about to pass an elderly lady looking at some products, confused. She turned and gave me this “Help me,” look. I couldn’t exactly explain why, but something propelled me to say hi. She reached out, grabbed my arm gently, much like my grandma or a family member would. Soft but purposeful, loving yet attention seeking. She had a box of Monistat 7 in her other hand and a look of concern in her soft, tired eyes.

“Does this work?” she asked me. Not in a creepy, weird or inappropriate way. There was a sincerity to her tone, mixed with a slight hinge of embarrassment. I remember standing there, grouping my thoughts together. Whatever made her decide to turn and ask me shouldn’t be discounted, right? She deserved some help in my book, without judgement. I could have easily kept walking and pretended I didn’t hear her but that’s never been my style. We talked and I remember walking away feeling lighter, like I had helped someone when they really needed it.

So flash forward to me, sitting in my office one day with my door open when someone stumbles in and shuts the door. While I don’t like being caged in by people I’m not super comfortable with, someone I hardly know, I recognize that she’s needing a pair of ears and some heartfelt time. Before I can ask how she’s doing, because sometimes people need coaxing to tell you why they want to chat, her mouth opens and the word vomit spills forth. Stories are being spewed in a rushed, emotional way. There’s a smidge of anger fueled by a whole lot of hurt in her words. She hasn’t had the best life. I hear instances of being forced to choose between two shitty options. I pull up a chair, allow her to sit and just listen. I see it coming before she does, there’s no doubt in that. This also happens to me, so I greet that old friend of comparison and stay still.

“You don’t understand. You have someone who loves you. You’ve never had the shit beat out of you. Your kids don’t hate you. You don’t get hateful comments thrown at you for being ugly. I don’t even know why I came in here. You have an easy life and I’m just a loser. You don’t get it.”

I let her say that to me. She was comparing her chapter 15 to my chapter 35 and while it doesn’t make sense, why she came in to my office and told me things that made me want to cry, I let it continue. You see, she didn’t know my stories and I wasn’t about to interrupt her. People need to be loved and listened to and it has to start somewhere and somehow that gets lost sometimes. What she also needed in that moment was a lack of judgement because I could see how that one word has caused her so much strife in her own inner value. Somehow, in my upbringing, I became really adept at compartmentalizing and being “stage ready” as I call it. Growing up in a restaurant and working in it from a very young age made me build a chest where I stored reality so that when I was out and about, mingling with our patrons, I wore a mask of happy.

It’s one of the first things Ku shared with me when I started to open up to her. She thought I was happy. It’s not admirable, friends. It’s more of a coping mechanism I’ve developed which really only makes it harder for me to deal with my own demons. I could venture to say she never expected to hear what I shared with her. That’s how good I was at being “on.” So while I’m sitting here listening to a tortured soul assume that I have the greatest life on Earth, what I say is, “We all have battles we are fighting.”

It can be the Mom battle, because we have this vision of motherhood and how we will excel at it in our head. We tell our friends and family things like, “I will never do this or allow that and NOT MY KID….” before we have babies. We see others raising theirs and we shake our heads at their inability to do whatever we deemed is right in our book. Or we see Moms who look like they got it down pat so we find whatever we can to criticize that because how dare she look so perfect? It can be the health battle and how we cannot believe so and so tried that shake or this diet and “maybe try eat less shit.” We can’t lose one effin pound so when they have success we tear them down. “She needs a burger. Vegans are dumb. Oh, another gluten free idiot, because how could they? It most certainly can be the relationship battle because they can’t be that happy because that’s all they post or how can she let him talk to her like that? We mock their highlight reel and we mock their low moments because judgement is a given in this world.

Before we know it the “I would never” becomes our truth and we are so caught up in our own little wars that we don’t notice those around us waged in their own battles, too. That old friend comparison sneaks in and we can’t shut her up because she’s loud and she’s everywhere and we are failing. We begin to break down those around us because maybe that’s what helps us for a fleeting moment but in reality, we all need to feel loved, heard and understood. We need each other to make it. Something I’ve really grasped lately is that it takes a village. Yes. Not just for the raising of the little humans, but for us, too. It takes a village to get so much done. So if you find yourself speaking with someone else, maybe take a moment and don’t assume they don’t understand. Ask them if they do. You might be surprised by their answer.

And if you see someone reaching out to ask you a hard, embarrassing question, do them the honor of at least hearing them out. Ok? Because life is hard. It takes strength to ask someone for help. Especially if they don’t know you. And if you feel like you know someone with a “perfect” life, befriend them and listen to them tell you about their struggles. Really, really listen.

Now go forth and do some good in the world. Say something nice to someone if you find yourself making a judge-y inner thought about them. It just might be what they need to hear today.

poehler