Skip to main content

Windfalls for You and #MeToo

Knowledge is dropping all around us these days, of the sweet and the sour and the poisonous and the rotten. Abusers are named like Rumpelstiltskin. Goose Girls find an iron stove to cry in, and good kings hear them and forge brutal justice. How satisfying it is to see monuments crumble and false idols topple from their pedestals.

Meanwhile, the victims who stand as accusers more often than not go down with their tormentors, martyred on the pikes of public scorn and retaliatory hate.

And then, what comes next for us down here on the ground? What comes down upon the millions of children and women and men scarred by someone who is poor, sick, anonymous, or dead, or also a child and a victim too? What happens to those of us who can't or won't tell? To those who have nothing to gain from disclosure?

What if you can't afford the risk to yourself and your family? Sharing a story publicly can draw blame and shame upon the victim. It can traumatize or re-traumatize people who witness your story. And, sick but true, it can titillate and encourage predators, resulting in a rash of copycat sexual violence.

A few days ago, Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke gave an interview about her plans to shift away from trauma and toward revelations of healing. I breathed such a sigh of relief when I read her words. "You have to get it out," she says,
...but it doesn’t have to be... on social media at all. It could be a trusted friend. It could be your journal. That’s hard for survivors because people are always saying, 'Tell your story.' It’s like a balancing act because I have to acknowledge that stories are important, and sometimes saying the words, 'This happened to me' and 'This is what he did' is cathartic to get out. I think there’s enough evidence in this world of survival and recovery to show that repeating that doesn’t help you, though. Reliving that doesn’t help you. I want to teach people to not lean into their trauma. You can create the kind of joy in your life that allows you to lean into that instead.

Ooh, I know the relief of getting it out. I kept a journal all through my childhood and adolescence, the usual kind where you write down all your secrets and the literal facts of your days. I have felt the surging rush of printing in glossy ink the names of victims and perpetrators on the clean, receptive paper of a notebook that locks: the names of children, babysitters, relatives, teachers, priests--legible to the eye and tactile to the finger, pressed in hard with the pen, like a magical incantation. A protective charm. A curse.

I also know the strain of being pressured to disclose what you can't. When the most traumatic incident in my life occurred, I was four. There were other victims who surely do not wish to be outed. At the time, I quite literally lost the ability to speak for a time. I experienced dissociative amnesia and derealization, traumatic hallucination, and flashbacks years later. I had thoughts of self-harm and death and a strong wish to disappear. I had panic attacks and digestive ailments bad enough to lose me a couple of jobs.

And now, as an adult, I don't have those symptoms anymore.

And why I don't--that is the story I want to share. The solution, not the particulars of the cause. As Tarana Burke puts it, "If I sat here and gave you the gory details of what happened to me, what are you taking away from that?"

It's a dangerous tightrope. It is important that other victims know that they aren't the only ones who have been through what they've been through. Sometimes, as Rebecca Solnit explores in densely thoughtful prose, it is nothing short of revolutionary to break the silence and the story. Someone must do that--but that someone doesn't have to be every victim. It doesn't have to be you. Each one of us does what we can, and our first responsibility is to heal ourselves.

It is essential for victims to know that survival is possible. That you don't have to stay a victim. It need not become a part of your identity. It need not define the borders of your life.

Everyone's responses to trauma and healing processes are personal and unique. We don't choose how our bodies and brains respond to the initial wound or what it takes to heal us, just like we didn't choose what happened to us. The way it plays out isn't fair. Some victims have greater barriers to recovery than others. Children who are poor, those with certain inborn personality traits, the disabled, the mentally ill, and people of color often have a longer road to travel and fewer resources available.

I was fortunate in that my symptoms came on so suddenly and acutely, at such a young age, that my trauma was discovered immediately by my parents. I am also fortunate that they were willing and able to acquire professional treatment for me right away. Unfortunately, that isn't how it goes for most child victims of abuse.

But if you are alive, you have the power to heal. It is never too late to begin. And no matter how many resources are unavailable to you at any given time, there is an unlimited field of possibilities to try, as long as you're breathing and your heart is beating. There are no quick fixes for deep, systemic problems. There is no justice in this mortal world that isn't crafted by hand. But there is endless evolution.

Today, I am 35 years old. I am happily married, with a healthy and bright daughter, an adorable cat, and a simple but comfortable life. I still have lingering anxiety tendencies that can be triggered to flare up, but my anxiety is well managed and rarely interrupts my peace. At this time in my life, my favorite therapeutic habit is writing fiction. For those who enjoy it, novel writing can have potent mental health benefits which are different from, and take me much further into healing and wisdom than, the effects of retelling the facts of what happened to me.

I have found, throughout my life, that a focus on nurturing good habits is far more effective than a focus on rooting out bad ones. Robust health in a person--the same as in a whole ecosystem--is the best defense against illness or injury. Instead of trying to harden myself against danger or purge myself of evils, I try to stay supple and flexible and enmeshed in warm, strong relationships. Instead of seeking purity, I fill myself with good nutrition--literal and metaphorical--so that I can enjoy my naughty treats in faith that my healthy self can handle them in casually unmeasured moderation.

The habits that end up helping each person along the road to healing are as different as we are from each other. I have a list of practices that have helped me--not all at once but at different times in my life, when each one felt right and good for me. My list won't be identical to anyone else's list, but maybe it can serve as an example of ideas to consider.

A common thread running through all healing practices, though, is the maintenance of healthy boundaries. These apply to relationships between people--recognizing interpersonal dynamics that are harmful and disengaging with them--and they apply to one's own self-discipline. If a practice is not working or no longer working for me, I stop. If I try something and it makes things worse, I don't stick with it. I can always come back another time if there is good reason to believe it will work for me at a different time or in a different context. And if it is working, but I fall off the wagon, I expend the effort to climb back on, because I have the power to set long-term goals for myself.

Practices that help or have helped me to grow in health and happiness include:

  • clinical treatment (short-term; in childhood, as a teen, and as a young adult)
  • yoga
  • Zen meditation
  • self-defense and martial arts
  • distance running
  • regular walks in nature
  • cooking and baking
  • belly dance
  • music for every mood: everything from sweet folksong to brutal heavy metal and thrashy punk rock
  • gardening
  • comedy and laughter, especially twisted or raunchy humor
  • bicycling
  • drawing
  • painting
  • making collages
  • building fires and piling up the hygge 
  • mothering and trusting my instincts
  • celebrating holidays, personal milestones, or any other opportunities for a party or spontaneous expression of fun with friends
  • obtaining good enough health insurance that seeking care is not an overly stressful decision
  • learning to manage money and live within my means
  • acquiring job skills
  • travel
  • volunteering for causes that move me
  • choosing and committing to meaningful employment
  • democratic participation
  • reading all the books and magazines I can consume
  • blogging and posting joyful junk on social media
  • watching artsy and foreign films, especially emotionally intense, shocking, or creepy masterpieces
  • scheduling regular visits to the salon

Some of the above practices fit well into the trendy notions of "wellness" and "self-care," and others may read as frivolous, counter-intuitive, or simply a drag. But the truth is that human beings contain multitudes. We must replenish many physical, mental, and emotional wells within ourselves to be at our best for ourselves and our loved ones, and each one of us has different needs and tolerances. Though we absolutely need other people in our lives to be whole and healthy and to have access to the sources of healing that we need, we also absolutely need to direct our own healing. We must be our own fairy godmother, because no one is coming with a magic wand to fix us. Life isn't fair, and it isn't necessarily just, but it is beautiful and endless in its possibilities.

As the poet Mary Oliver asks, "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Only you can answer. Only you can make it happen.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

We Grew Up in the 2010s

We might be '80s babies, but my husband and I truly grew up in the 2010s. Consider this our decennial family Christmas letter.

Reviewing the main events of the 2010s has been kind of shocking for us, honestly. We feel very hashtag-blessed and whatnot, and if my 2009 self could time-travel to this very moment and take a look around my life, she'd have no idea about everything we've overcome. It just goes to show that resilience, hope, the-stuff-kids-call-self-care, and leaning into joy really do work. And that grandparents are essential.

First, I'll lay out the challenges we've faced since 2010. This is the brutal part. Then I'll list the joys and accomplishments that saw us through to this, our best year ever. Next week, I'll delve into my wishes and goals for the 2020s. But first...

the worst:
We racked up crushing debts. On top of our already substantial student loan debts, we added thousands of dollars of credit card debt making trips to Florida once or t…

Back to Belly Dance

Being an old millennial is weird. I still have acne, and I'm about to need bifocals. I'm still fit and at the low end of a healthy weight, but I have a new blerp of fat on my lower belly that's just my life now. My feet and my back and my hips are doing fine, but for how long? I have skeletal issues in all of those areas, and it's only by staying strong and supple that I avoid injuries and aches. For the sake of my overall health and my mood too, I've decided that now is a good time to get back into belly dance.

This art form is great for thin young people to show off their washboard abs, but it's also ideal for people of older ages and curvier body types, especially those of us with some jiggly bits to throw around. In belly dance, having a belly is an asset, not a problem to work off. Dance expert Dr. Valeria Lo Iacono gives solid reasons for loving belly dance as someone who only began learning it in her 30s.

I find that I'm usually more cheerful and en…

2020s Vision: Playgrounds, Not Prisons

To the tune of Green Day's "American Idiot":

Don't wanna live in an Instagram photograph!

But I do want to keep having fun using Instagram and every other dumb thing in life, so my personal vision statement for the 2020s is to turn everything I can into a playground, not a prison--my house, my yard, my thoughts, my diet, my budget, my creative practices, my relationships. Everything. By that I mean I want to live mindfully to get the most joy out of life, to create the most freedom within the circumstances I find myself in, to stay creative and flexible and adaptable in a changing world, and to avoid the traps of addiction and mindless habit that turn pleasures into chores.

I'm entering the 2020s with a crisp, clear new pair of rose gold glasses. Vision is something I don't take for granted. I've been wearing glasses since first grade and contact lenses since 6th, and I come from a long line of artists--painters, writers, composers. Nearsighted people wi…

TBT: Eat organic, local, vegan, raw, fresh superfood.

Happy Throwback Thursday! From now until I get tired of it, I am going to resurrect an old blog post from the 2000s and see how it holds up today.

This one is about my journey as a young adult from sickness to health as I figured out how to feed myself properly. I wrote it in a silly, humorous way, but I think we all know by now that eating well is a matter of life or death. Certainly it determines one's quality of life, and there isn't any way around it. There's no substitute for eating a well-balanced and varied diet in healthy amounts. There's no secret to it that any stupid fad diet will address. Paleo is passe, and keto is krap. Restrictive diets for weight loss should always be temporary and monitored by a healthcare professional. There are no shortcuts or workarounds. There aren't any vitamins or magic supplements that can make up for junk nutrition; in fact, most supplements are just more trash that further degrade health. There are so many scams out there …

$Monday: You can't afford a poor diet.

Nobody can. You've heard that "it's expensive to be poor." This is the gut-wrenching truth about eating poorly: real food costs a lot less than health care for preventable disease. So if you think you can't afford to eat well, it really means you can't afford to live. And that ain't right! While economic stress has a lot to do with access to healthy food, finding a way to eat well is the only way to avoid more poverty and a (probably shortened) life of suffering. The good news is that eating well is easier than our consumer culture--which feeds like a parasite off of the sick, poor, and tired--has led us to believe.

When I was in college, I had a classmate who nearly died (thereby wasting his college tuition!) when he attempted to save money by eating nothing but instant ramen. It's sort of a cliche or a joke in our culture to do that, because food is one of those expenses we obviously all have, and the grocery store is a place where we seem to have c…

TBT: Fast-Forward Fashion

This blast from the past is funny, because my personal style and shopping habits have evolved quite a bit since my 20s--in fact, full circle to the advice in the first paragraph I wrote, which I went on to reject at the time. In my 20s, I enjoyed extremely silly fashion. I'd look at Vogue magazines and then imitate designer looks in ridiculous ways. I tried to anticipate near-future trends, which I nailed in the first picture here, where I've "put a bird on it" before the meme was born. Yus! ...But.

Now that I am a fully fledged adult with a more relaxed budget, I hardly ever shop for clothes or accessories, not even at thrift shops, where I am now more afraid of picking up bugs. I still have a lot of clothes, but I rely heavily on swaps and hand-me-downs from friends and family. Occasionally I browse garage or church sales in communities I trust to sell clean garments. The world is now drowning in excess clothing, so it's easy to rake in quantities of barely-wor…

Someone Has to Do Nothing

Someone has to be home between the hours of 10 and 2 to accept the delivery. Someone has to be with the kids. Someone has to watch the neighbors' house while they are gone. Someone has to let the cat nap in their lap. Someone needs to chill out or keep it real or be more spontaneous, and that person must be unoccupied, or at least interruptable, for long stretches of time.

Someone has to look out of the window. Someone needs to notice when the sun rises and when the fireflies come out. Someone needs to remember to time the song of the cicadas so that we can measure the heat as it rises.

Someone has to rest. Someone has to be present. Someone has to pray or meditate or break the cycle of anxiety. Someone needs to laugh, and someone needs to watch this, y'all. And someone has to record it on their phone.

Someone has to listen. Someone has to think. Someone has to imagine what no one else has thunk up yet.

I spent my young adult life learning how to speak up and take action. I w…

Sparkles in the Dark

It's December in Michigan, when despite our distance from the Arctic Circle, we get about 10 minutes of direct sunlight spread out over 31 days. 'Tis a cloudy state, thanks to the embrace of the Great Lakes, and there isn't yet a thick blanket of glittery snow to reflect what light filters through. This season is great for building fires, snuggling on the couch with a mug of spiked cocoa and a disturbing foreign film (God help me, I'm not a Hallmark movie kind of lady), lighting one's home with chaotic tangles of string lights, and wearing glittery stuff in the daytime. This season brings out my latent maximalist.

Okay, maybe not latent so much as closeted. This is what the top of my dresser looks like at this very moment.

I'm feeling a 2020s home makeover coming for me that will involve a lot of dark, rich, and bold colors and luscious textures that glow or shine or glimmer in low lighting. I think that this will be a comfort and an inspiration to me. I want t…

Green Therapy Is the New Black Friday

At the risk of sounding like Calvin's dad, it sure feels good to walk off the turkey with a brisk nature hike. Woodlands, parks, and waterfronts are peaceful on Black Friday, when everyone else is playing bumper cars on the icy roads, bludgeoning each other with Nintendo Switches, or crouching indoors behind a screen to troll for great deals on the mountains of junk that sometimes keel over and crush people in Amazon warehouses.

If your weather outside is frightful, however, you may wish to stay inside until the latest storm passes. I recommend building a fire in case the power goes out--and if it doesn't, switch on your best reading light and curl up nearby with a stack of library books. I'm all stocked up with some marvelous finds of my own.

I also have a few other entertainment recommendations for the start of cuffing season. It has now been a nice, round 20 years since the prophetic music video for "Sleep Now in the Fire" by Rage Against the Machine. Pogo l…