Garbage Day

I wanted to come up with a better title for this post but my dogs are being really distracting and I've only had one cup of coffee and I think part of my brain is broken.

I'm not even sure really what I want this post to be about...I just know that I feel like, even though I don't have to explain, I want to explain some things. Or clarify. Or...let's just talk?

A few months ago, when I was hit with the most crippling social anxiety I had ever experienced, I realized that things were going to have to change as far as the business side of me goes. I'm face to face with my customers all of the time, and if I don't want them to think a bad experience might be about them, then they have to know that it's about me. That I'm going through some garbage, and that it might make me a little off.

2015 is the year that I unravel the large, tangled mass of yarn that is my life and try to make something beautiful with it. I'm unraveling. There are knots. It's gonna take a minute to get through all of them. And I've decided to unravel in a very public manner, because I'm very, very tired of pretending to be someone that I'm not so that people will feel ok about me. As it happens, the people that wanted me to not be me, were never going to be ok with me anyway, not in any version. So I might as well be the me-est me I can be, and if people are not ok with that, then it's not me...it's definitely them.

This all makes sense, right?


The thing about unraveling all of these knots in such a public manner, is that I know that it's harder for some people to read it than it is for me to tell it. I mean - I've been living with this for years, and the things that really hurt my heart now probably aren't the worst stories that I could tell. "When I was 8" was hard to write because now it's out there. Like - everybody knows. When people who were molested talk about feeling dirty and ashamed - that's a real feeling. It's embarrassing. And it totally shouldn't be, but it is. And going about your daily routine knowing that people might look at you like you're tainted...it's...uncomfortable. I mean, I'm still going to talk about stuff because I am committed to the unraveling, but it is absolutely, without a doubt, less than comfortable. 

But talking about it now doesn't break my heart, because it's been with me for so long. I've become a little bit hardened to it. There are cracks in that shell, for sure, but time has made each recollection of the events a little less god awful.

But...for people who know me, and didn't know this...in this moment, today, I think it's harder to hear or read than it is for me to talk about it. And I am not sorry for writing about it, but I'm sorry if it hurts you to know it. Legitimately. I know there are people hanging out here with me, coming along for the journey, who have such big hearts, and I know that you hurt when other people hurt.I love your big hearts, but I know that some of this is difficult to hear. So I want you to know a few things. 

First - there's a lot to be unraveled, and there are going to be more difficult things. I just want to give you a heads up so that you can take care of yourself.

Second - if my experience mirrors your own, you can absolutely send me a message if you just want someone to know. A few people have done that and I'm so grateful that they felt they could share that with me. The thing is, in those instances, I'm not really sure what the right thing to say is, because at the heart of it...there is nothing to say. I can just be a person you can tell. And so usually I just send a brief message and a little emoticon heart back, which might seem like the least I could say, but is actually the most. Because it means that I hear you. And I'm with you. And you can tell me. And I have no judgement, and I know where you're at, and I'm here for you, in the best way that I can be.

Third - Unraveling a horrible past doesn't mean that I'm just going to be sad and serious all of the time. I'm still going to laugh. I'm still going to dance. I'm still going to sing and make stupid jokes and be ok. And I'm going to try and break up the unraveling here on the blog with some posts about other things ...things I love. Like dogs. And business. And art. And photoshopping my husband into a two headed dinosaur with my best friend, Oprah Winfrey.


And finally, if you see me and you want to talk about it, we can talk about it. And if you don't want to, we don't have to. If there are posts you can't read, I totally get it. I promise I'm going to post something about cake and cocktails and puppies soon. And business. And photoshopping my husband.

I guess I just...I just wanted to talk to you about where this is all going and make sure that we're all ok. And again tell you how much I appreciate your support and your friendship and your gigantic hearts.

When I Was 8

A little while ago, I realized that whenever I talked about being a kid and the subject of how old I was during any event came up, I would say that I was 8.

The truth is, in comparison to most people I know, I have very few solid memories of my childhood. I own approximately 20 photographs from when I was a kid, so I can't even really use pictures to jog my memory. I'm not really sure when the most traumatic events from my childhood happened, but I feel like the worst of them happened when I was 8, therefore, everything has just become "when I was 8 years old" when I talk about it.

The reason that I'm bringing that up is because, when reading about people who finally come forward with a history of abuse, a lot of people won't believe them. I mean, if they were abused, why didn't they come forward sooner, right? Why did they wait so long?





I can't speak for every abuse victim, but I know why I never pursued any sort of action against the people who sexually abused me (yeah - there was more than one. Three, to be exact.). First - my memories are screwed. Like, they are so disjointed and all over the place, it's just a disaster trying to put them in any sort of order. Apparently this is not uncommon with childhood trauma. When everything is a mess in your life, it remains a mess in your mind for a very, very long time.

The worst memory that I have is really, really bad...and then it's just blackness. Like - I literally cannot remember past a certain point. I can guess what happened based on my unfortunately very vivid recollection of what I do remember. I'm pretty sure I know what happened.  But I'll never really be sure. The most vivid part of that memory is waking up the next day and thinking something along the lines of, "I really didn't like that.  I don't want to do that again. But I don't want to make ***** mad."

I decided to turn it into a game. I found string and I put it across my bedroom door and I told everyone that my room was now a museum, and no one was allowed to cross the red velvet rope to get inside. I then moved a pillow and blankets into my closet, told everyone it was my "fort," and that's where I started sleeping.

The thing is - I didn't even realize that I was being abused. I mean, if you knew that you were being abused, you'd be like, oh hey! Stop that! You're abusing me! Or something...right?

But...when you're young and naive and trusting and really, just a kid...you literally have no idea what the hell is going on. For me, I just knew that I was uncomfortable. And I didn't want anyone to feel bad about me being uncomfortable, so I just...worked around it.

Our family also had deep Southern roots, and those roots require that you keep up appearances, and you never, EVER let anyone know that anything is wrong.




When life was probably at it's worst in our household (I don't know exactly when - when I was 8?), the Department of Children and Family Services came to see me at school, and pulled me out of class for an interview. They wanted to know about life at home. Was it good? Did I feel safe? Did I want to talk about it? Did I know how my brother got that black eye?

It's good. I feel safe. There's nothing to talk about. I think he fell down.

When I got up to leave, I could see the sweaty outline of my handprints on the table and I remember feeling terrified that they would be able to tell from that that I was nervous, and lying.

I mean - think about that. Life at home is absolute hell, and I was scared that the people who wanted to help me might find out. Because abusive people just screw up everything about the way you think and what's supposed to be normal. Because they're abusive.

A few years later, in a family therapy session, I told my mom about the sexual abuse. She loudly declared that I was manipulative and lying and that I was trying to destroy our family and her life. So...you know...telling someone didn't really turn out so great.

Years later, I know people that know and love *****. And if I really got into this history, they would be hurt. I don't want to hurt people. And, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't believe me anyway. After all, the ***** that I was so afraid of so many years ago, is not the person that they know today. And besides, the official stance from my family is that life when I was a kid was practically the Brady Bunch.

Everything was awesome, we swear.


So, in a nutshell, why do I think people don't come forward? Because their memories are chaotic, and people will use that against them. Because they literally may not have had any idea at the time that what was happening was abusive. Because telling someone  might be worse than what's actually happening...or you might think that it could be worse. And because, when you finally do decide to tell somebody about it, the flat out refusal to believe what you say hurts so much, why on earth would you ever want to talk about it again? I mean - what's the point? So you can relive the traumatic event and people can call you a liar?

No thanks.

But then...you know...you get to a place where you feel like maybe, if you talk about what happened to you, then other people will feel ok talking about their experience, and you can all hold each other up during the healing process, because you are absolutely not alone, and that's really comforting to know.

And then somebody is like, "Well why didn't you say something sooner? I mean, if it really happened, why didn't you call the police or something? I just don't believe this really happened."

And the reason is because it's just not that simple.  And until you have been completely violated by the people that you trust most in the world, you're never going to know how you would react. You're never going to know what it's like to be on this path. The very best thing that you can probably do is listen, and try not to loudly declare the million reasons why your own life experience dictates that someone with a completely different life experience must be a liar.


Feathers

I wrote a while back about being the subject of a LOT of local gossip and rumors, and how painful it was to be the subject of such horrible things. At the time, I didn't get into specifics, but in addition to the emotional toll, the financial toll was pretty severe. I own a business that struggles pretty regularly, but is growing - financially, we do just a little bit better every single year.

When the worst of the rumors hit, we had the worst month that we'd ever had, in over 5 years of business. Business that month declined over 50%. In addition to not being able to take paychecks that month, we added the cost of doctor's visits and medication for me, because the stress of the situation was so severe. During this time, lots of people told me that the best course of action was to "just ignore" the rumors. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible. Rumors were literally affecting every corner of my life.

As our business started to recover, and as I started to recover, I found this folktale:

There was once a young fellow with a nasty problem: he talked too much about other people. He could not help himself. Whenever he heard a story about somebody he knew, and sometimes about somebody he did not know, he just had to tell it to his friends. Since he was in business, he heard quite a lot of rumors and stories. He loved the attention he got, and was delighted when they laughed because of the way he told his “anecdotes,” which he sometimes embellished with little details he invented to make them funnier and juicier. Other than that, he was really a pleasant, goodhearted man. One day he heard something about another businessman in town. Of course he felt compelled to share what he had heard with his colleagues, who told it to their friends, who told it to people they knew, who told it to their wives, who spoke with their friends and their neighbors. It went around town, till the unhappy businessman who was the main character in the story heard it. He ran to the rabbi of the town, and wailed and complained that he was ruined!



 Nobody would like to deal with him after this. His good name and his reputation were gone with the wind




Now this rabbi knew his customers, so to speak, and he decided to summon the man who loved to tell stories. If he was not the one who started them, he might at least know who did.

When the nice man with the nasty problem heard from the rabbi how devastated his colleague was, he felt truly sorry. He honestly had not considered it such a big deal to tell this story, because he had heard it was true; the rabbi could ask anyone. The rabbi sighed.

“True, not true, that really makes no difference! You just cannot tell stories about people. This is all lashon hara and hotzaat shem ra, slander, and it’s like murder—you kill a person’s reputation.” He said a lot more, and the man who started the rumor now felt really bad and sorry. “What can I do to make it undone?” he sobbed. “I will do anything you say!”
The rabbi looked at him. “Do you have any feather pillows in your house?” “Rabbi, I am not poor; I have many feather pillows. But what do you want me to do, sell them?”
“No, just bring me one.”
The man was mystified, but he returned a bit later to the rabbi’s study with a nice fluffy pillow under his arm. The rabbi opened the window and handed him a knife. “Cut it open!”
“But Rabbi, here in your study? It will make a mess!”
“Do as I say!”
And the man cut the pillow. A cloud of feathers came out. They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them. They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.
The rabbi waited ten minutes. Then he ordered the man: “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow. All of them, mind you. Not even one may be missing!”




The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief. “That is impossible, Rabbi. The ones here in the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone. Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know I cannot!”
“Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never, ever get it back.”
 It seems to be human nature to believe the worst about someone and to share that news with our friends....neighbors....customers. We're so ready to assume the worst regarding another’s actions, allowing ourselves to believe that the words we're throwing to the wind won't really matter. We seem blissfully unaware or uncaring that the gossip we speak can — and often does — significant damage to the subject of the gossip.
I'm not innocent of this - not by any means. It was only when this touched my own life so painfully that I truly realized the damage that "just words" can do.



I had an art show recently, and shared the paintings that had been part of working through the past year's events. People asked me about the feathers and the elephants. The elephants had to do with two things. I had watched a movie (Frank - probably one of my favorite movies) where the central character spent his entire life hiding inside a large, paper mache mask. At the time, I felt like all of my pain and humiliation was so visible to the world, and I just wanted to be able to go about my life without people seeing me cry all.of.the.time. I wanted to live inside of a mask. 

I was also reading a lot about the social structure of elephants and how these herds of elephants would just...take care of each other. They would risk their own lives to save each other, they traveled to honor their dead, they stood up together in the face of extreme danger....I felt so betrayed in my own life by people I had considered friends...I wanted that "elephant bond."




And the feathers...well...feathers are words, gone with the wind. At the beginning of my show, I placed 100 feathers around the room. At the end of the night, there were 14. I found some later...stepped on, wet, twisted....not even remotely resembling the original feathers that I placed around the room.


Not even remotely resembling the truth. 

And the rest of the feathers...I'll never get them back.






I hate that the past year was the way that it was. But I'm also grateful that I could learn such a powerful lesson. Our words are never "just words." They have the power to lift people up, and they have the power to tear people apart, and once they are spoken, they can never be taken back.  My hope is that I will always carry this lesson with me, and that my words will be spoken with only good intentions.



Actually...I know I'll always carry this lesson with me. It means that much.