Letter to an Asshole

Dear Asshole,

Yeah, you know who you are. How could you not? You avoid me at all costs because I have become a very inconvenient part of your history. And I will admit that in the months that have followed the end of our strange union, I have also done my best to avoid running into you, steering clear of certain streets where you may be lurking and startling when someone resembling you comes into my field of vision. On the rare occasions when our paths have crossed, all the blood in my body has rushed to my head as I march straight ahead, hoping that you’ll notice how different I am from when you knew me, how much stronger and wiser I have become. I have wondered what you think of me still, how you place me in the story of your life. Before I can stop them, sound bites of your voice float into my head, the meanness and callousness that rolled off your tongue so easily. The way you always used my words against me. Your angry pride, the way you wore it on you like cologne, washes back over me, a visceral memory of the desperation, the rage, the guilt, the shame, and the euphoria you provoked in me.

You kept me a secret, which has made me afraid of what others would think of me if they were to find out. You have done everything you possibly could to erase me from your life, to pretend like I never existed, because I never really mattered to you in the first place. We’ve been finished for long enough for me to be able to bask in the joy of being free of you, to crack jokes with friends and laugh at my mistakes, for days to go by without you ever popping up in my thoughts. But to truly be free of your power over me, I must stop letting your rules define how I think about our relationship. Without fully realizing it, I have been holding all the mistakes I made, all the signs I chose to ignore, against myself. How could I have fallen for an asshole like you?! I have beaten myself up over this question and the position you put me in, because I am a sensitive and empathetic human being, and I care about how my actions affect other people. But I’ve been judging myself as though I were the only factor in the equation, as though you didn’t make choices, too. I have taken on all the blame because you refuse to take any responsibility for your actions.

But that is not my job; my job over the past few months has been to understand myself better and what led me into your arms, to identify why I believed I deserved so little. And I have done that – in therapy, through self-reflection, and in having tough conversations about love, loss and pain with people I trust. I understand who I was when I met you – how I thought you would help heal the wounds of the past, how it felt good to feel wanted. And then how I wanted my care to make you better. I understand that the moments when I saw so much good in you were a reflection of what I wanted for you, but that for you, goodness runs shallow because you yourself do not understand what it is. And I think I am starting to understand that what makes it possible to move on from experiences like this is by appreciating what I have gained from knowing that kind of pain. First you have to get through the pain itself, learning to tend to your heart and then working through it so you can claim it as your own. Sometimes it still hurts to remember. But I’ve realized this is because I hurt for that young woman that I was – desperately looking for a soft place to land and feeling every cold stare, cutting remark, or blasé dismissal as a personal failure – and not because I am still hurt or damaged by the things you said and did. And if I can hurt for that woman, I can also celebrate for her, for the long path she’s traveled and the things she gained along the way. I have grown so much since then and I am so far beyond your reach of influence. I have healed, and though right now you seem like a pretty lost cause, I hope that one day you might heal, too.

So I have done the hard work. I have taken responsibility for my actions, dealing with the consequences of my decisions. I no longer need to spend an ounce of my energy feeling bad for the choices I made. You will continue to try and erase me from your existence, a little side note in your journey, a headache you’d like to forget. And that’s ok – I can’t control what you think of me. But you were never a sidebar in my life, no secret of mine. Because the truth is that you have been an important part of my journey to becoming who I am today. Without knowing you, I might still be that woman seeking validation from others, living life based on what others want me to be and limiting my choices out of fear of what people will think of me. You have taught me how much I am worth, giving me a deeper respect for my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I can now better recognize what true kindness looks like, how unselfish love should be. I am sorry you do not know what love is, but I’m not sorry I had to learn what it is not from you. So thank you, dear Asshole, for being such an asshole. I regret nothing and I am not ashamed.

F*#% You Very Much,
Not Your Dirty Little Secret

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Prideful Pain & Healing Conversations

A few months ago, in the midst of probably the most difficult time in my life emotionally, my best friend from childhood, a girl who has been by my side since we were three years-old, reached out to me, wondering if we could plan a trip together in Europe. A year before, we had talked about her coming to visit me in Paris for her 25th birthday and we had both been excited about the idea. Now she wanted to talk to me about dates and logistics. When I read her message, my heart sunk, knowing I just was not in a place where I could open my home or my life to her at that time.

So I sent her a message telling her the trip just wouldn’t be possible, that I was not doing very well and just needed some time to myself. I clicked send, filled with an overwhelming feeling of hot shame; I was letting her down as a friend and I felt like a failure just as I was failing in all the other places in my life. When I received the notification of her reply, I ignored it, leaving the message unread. I was so afraid of what she would say, unable to face what I thought at the very least, would be disappointment and at the most, hatred.

A few weeks ago, while sorting through my messages, I fell upon her unopened one. After months of sorting through a lot of emotions, it felt like it was time to open it. I knew I could handle whatever was inside, knew I owed it to her to read her words. I took a deep breath and clicked on the message.

“I love you. You are strong. To me, you are irreplaceable. I can leave you alone as long as you promise to tell me when to not leave you alone anymore.”

These are the words I found staring back at me. I sat open-mouthed, stunned to my very core. I sat in the same spot for nearly 15 minutes reading these words over and over again. Goosebumps covered my arms, a chill ran through me, and I began to cry. I had kept this sweet friend of mine, someone I consider to be more of a sister, at a distance for so long and she was still loving me from afar.

Over the past seven months, I have confronted some of the darkest parts of myself – thoughts, fears, and emotions that have lingered since childhood. To this day, I’m still not sure what radical shift happened to move me to the point in January where I just no longer had the energy to keep playing all these roles in my life that didn’t feel like my own. All I know is that right after Christmas, I got terrible food poisoning – I threw up 16 times and actually thought I might be dying. No one else got sick, and when I went to the doctor, he explained it wasn’t bad food that had made me so sick, but the accumulation of too much rich food that the body has trouble digesting – a crise de foie, or a “crisis of the liver.” In French, the word for faith is also foi – pronounced the same as foie with a mere gender distinction between the two words. I find it to be an interesting coincidence because by the time I rang in the New Year, it was clear to me that something was deeply wrong inside – a crisis of faith. I no longer trusted myself, or at least the part of myself that has always pushed me to keep going without asking questions. I no longer trusted what this person had built for herself, no longer trusted what she felt, no longer trusted the institutions that had told her she was smart and capable and worthy of love.

Now, seven months and many therapy appointments later, I have the benefit of a bit of distance to reflect on that time and to appreciate the difference in how I feel, how I express myself, how I am gentler with myself. I have pushed a lot of people away, not just this year but in the years following my mom’s death, building walls to mask where it hurt the most. Of course, I have wondered what would have happened had I read my friend’s message back in February, or if I’d been honest about how I was feeling the day she came to visit me after Mom died instead of trying so hard to be “normal.” What would these past six years have looked like? Would I have made different decisions? In February, would I have even believed her and been able to accept such selfless love and grace at a time when I was hurting so deeply?

Her message has taught me a lot about love at a time when I have had to reconsider my own misconceptions on the subject. It also has made me consider my own pride and the different forms it takes on – we never think of ourselves as being prideful, it hides deep within us, until it kind of hits us in the face. It is painful for me to read some of my older blog posts, not because I don’t like the writing or think those stories aren’t important. I’m glad I wrote them down and shared them with you, and I believe it has led me to places I wouldn’t be had I not started. What makes me cringe is that I know when I first started writing them, I wanted you to understand these things that hurt so badly, while convinced that you could never understand them. It is a weird kind of pride to have – we often think of pride in terms of boosting about the things we have or the things we are good at. All forms of pride are a shield against the things we are afraid to face, or afraid others will notice in us. I was so afraid of being “the girl who’s mom is sick” or “the girl who’s mom died” that I had to protect my loss, claim it as my own so that others wouldn’t do it for me. But in my own head, I WAS the girl who’s mom died and so I had to protect myself even more.

It also makes me think back to my days in college when I was volunteering with Relay for Life. It was a great outlet for my grief, a way to connect with other people affected by cancer and to actually do something about it. I think about how my entire dorm raised money that year, and then the next, for my team in memory of my mom. Of how my roommate and friends and church family baked cookies for bake sales and galas, how they woke up at five in the morning three years in a row to help organize our team fundraiser, how they walked for 20 hours beside me every year, how they helped me raise probably around $10,000 for cancer research in four years. No one ever said they didn’t want to do it, and their enthusiasm and support helped me rally through the hardest parts of the year. And still, I thought that they didn’t understand! All this pride to mask all the things I was hiding from myself.

What I’ve come to realize, now that this pride has moved out of the way, is that everyone understands pain. There are different types of pain, different degrees of pain, different names for pain. But we all know what it’s like to feel worthless, enraged, abandoned, not good enough, afraid, or broken. Different experiences shape us but in the contexts of our own lives, we all understand these emotions as humans. My pain feels unique, because my mother was unique and our bond was special. But if we didn’t understand the basic premise of pain, would we really be able to love each other through the hard times the way we do, even when we may have never experienced what the person is going through?

I have learned a lot about my grief and about myself this year. I have learned to accept that it does not go away, that it will require constant care and self-love. Every season brings in a different tide – usually it is just a thimble-full, tucked away inside, but then without warning, it becomes an ocean and I feel lost at sea. It is times like these where I feel plunged into a silence, a bubble that I cannot burst. I can be riding the metro, surrounded by people and noise, or go out with friends and make polite conversation, but I cannot feel the hand that touches me or hear the sounds around me.

Luckily, I’ve always been a strong swimmer. But I’ve also learned over the past few months not to panic, not to be so afraid to float there for a moment. More importantly, I’ve learned how to reach out my own hands and grasp on to the amazing people around me who I love and who love me. Once I’ve embraced the fear, the anger, the sorrow, I’m able to swim back to shore, deflate the bubble, and tuck away that thimble again. I’ve learned to trust that I’ll find my way.

Last night I called my sister-friend and we spoke on the phone for two hours. It was amazing to hear her voice again and humbling to experience, once again, her constant love and grace in action as she listened to my teary apology and welcomed me back with open arms.

So maybe sometimes we swim in different oceans, but I know you understand.

this is probably for you

this is for the woman
who brought me into the world
puzzling crafting meditating through
the mysteries of maternity
who taught me
the names of plants
the power of imagination
the magic of words
who slept on the floor
beside my bed
when I was sick
who kneaded dough
knitted sweaters and
untangled hair
who accepted love
in the form of
noodle necklaces and corny jokes
sloppy kisses and morning breath
who always answered
the cry
Mama Mama Mama

this is for the women
who took care of that woman
when her body grew frail
years-worth of cards
tucked away in a box
I found under her bed
who held her hand
when I was too young to understand
that mamas cry, too
who perfected
the art of distraction
in the wake of
a bad scan bad day bad mood
gestures glances hugs
that still run through my head
lest I forget
she was loved she was loved she was loved

this is for the women
who cried for me
when I could not
find the tears
who wrapped me in their arms
stopped the world from spinning
if only for a moment
who have listened to
the stories the heartache the bitterness the laughter
pour out of my mouth
and loved me anyway
who made grilled cheese sandwiches
and waited for me to talk
who showed up at my door
and took me away
dancing driving drinking
who reached across the console
and held me when
the tears finally came
who whispered in my ear
or shouted above my screams
you are loved you are loved you are loved

this is for the women
who guide and nurture me
even when I think
I know better
who answer the phone
late at night and
early in the morning
who remember
birthdays Christmases graduations anniversaries
and everything in between
who let me occupy space
to which I am not entitled:
guest bedrooms and family vacations
Google calendars and furnished attics
who fill in the gaps
where time ran short
and always remind me
I love you I love you I love you

this is probably for you

 

mothers day project