December 16.

December 16th, 2016. The day before my college graduation. The day before I met a part of myself I would never be able to say goodbye to. The day that my entire world, my life plans, my journey changed forever.

I said no, I said I wanted to walk away from a relationship that was destroying my every ounce of confidence. I had finally built up enough courage to stand up for myself after 2 years of being (ab)used. And for some of you who may not understand how imbalance of power works-when the oppressed says “no thank you” or “these conditions are no longer suitable for my growth”- the authority bites back. Like when a dog is given a command to sit and they instead walk out of the room, they are met with a repercussion. It is the same with a relationship where an imbalance of power exists. I said no. I disobeyed a command and was immediately given a five finger reminder to the face that I am to be obedient and that I do not hold control in my relationship. Even with a little blood seeping from my lip, I said no. I was leaving but not before he he fought to maintain his control anyway he knew how: syllables of worthlessness being spit from his tongue and anger in his eyes like laser beams into my soul. He owned me. I was his for as long as HE wanted. But I stood my ground, I said no. I had tears in my eyes, I was uncertain of how that night was going to end, had thoughts about how I was to walk across the stage with bruises all over my face. But instead of hitting me, he threw me to the ground. He took off my clothes and he raped me. The man who a moments before said he was in love with me. That he would do anything to make sure I was happy and growing. The man who sat at my parents’ table for Thanksgiving and said he saw a future with me. He raped me.

And I had no fight left in me.  I used every ounce of strength I had to say no, to stand my ground and end a 2 year relationship. I was prepared for a physical struggle-never a sexual assault and the horror that followed. I didn’t move until it was over. Only then did I manage to stand to my feet and walk out the front door. I walked across the stage the next day and received my degree, I celebrated with my family and friends and I went to work the day after but I was empty inside.

It has been 2 years almost to the day, and the date still haunts me like it just happened. I can still feel the rough, brownish carpet beneath my bare legs, I can feel his anger pushing down on my throat, I can still see the white popcorn ceiling with the fan on a low setting. The fan with the whale ornament I gave him for his birthday hanging from the cord. I remember trying to count how many times the whale swung around, losing count to the black cloud that was taking over my consciousness. I can still feel the sweat droplets falling onto my belly button and hearing the metal pieces of his belt clashing against each other.

Seven hundred twenty-four days have past and I can still close my eyes and experience it all over again. As each day passes, moving the calendar closer to that date, the more real the entire experience becomes.

But this year, I am going to do something to celebrate that date. I am going to celebrate who I have become, what I have accomplished, and what I have learned in these last 700 plus days. I was a little angry in my last post, still trying to decide how I was going to let this day affect me. Thankfully, I was given some insight since about who I am, what I have experienced and how much strength I still have within me. And I have begun to reflect on myself and this time of year in a new light. I have given myself some patience and begun to implement strategies in order to allow myself to be vulnerable and successful at the same time. This started with acknowledging that it happened, I experienced something traumatic. And it did not kill me. It definitely darkened my sense of humor but it did not kill me.  And it has continued with daily reminders of my competence, my confidence, my strength, and my ability to change the world. It is so easy to let that dark cloud overcome every particle of your personality, especially as certain dates/anniversaries creep up on the calendar. But self-forgiveness over the past few days has lessened the pressure on my chest and allowed some light to break up that darkness. There are so many things I could’ve done differently during that relationship, I could’ve fought back or I could’ve ended it when I first felt the toxicity seeping from it. But I didn’t and it changed who I am and how I see myself in the mirror. Some of these changes have been hard to look back at but they don’t have to be. It is amazing what perspective can do for any challenge we are given. I wish you all the ability to look at a certain date, anniversary, or current challenge that has been giving you trouble with a different light today. Show yourself some kindness and forgiveness and watch magic happen.

XOXO

brennalea

I’m the Grinch & More Honest Than You

I hate December. I hate who I become in December. I hate the New Years resolutions, the fads, the presents just because of a specific date on the calendar, I hate the unpredictable weather, I hate the memories it stirs up, I hate school finals, the list could continue for awhile. I am a grinch this month and I can thank Ruth for keeping her shit together long enough to get me through at least 11 months out of the year but she throws a hell of a party in December and one that I wish I wasn’t the host of.

This is a time of year that causes anxiety, stress, and depression for so many of you (I mean it is quite literally referred to as “seasonal depression”) all in the name of gratitude and love for one another. This is a time of year where one’s energy is depleted as well as finances and instead of admitting how stressful this time of year can be, we shove our faces full of cookies and treats in the name of joy and gratitude. This month is one that for me specifically, comes with an overwhelming amount of horrific memories, and PTSD episodes. The clock turned on Friday the 30th to Saturday the 1st and my eyes shot wide open like a freaking horror movie.

There is a lot of reflection about how we can do better the next 12 months during this time and for some, it means bettering and improvement. For others it means being swallowed whole by memories, tragedies, and unavoidable pain. I, not gracefully, fall into the second category with a little push from Ruth.

This same time, two years ago is when I lost who I thought I always was. I lost my strength, my dignity, my ability to defend myself, respect for myself, the list goes on and on and on. I found myself drowning in an ocean of pain I created and the only life jacket I had floated away as I let him rip off my pants and assault me without so much as a fight. I closed my eyes and instead of fighting my way to air, I watched as my entire body sank to the bottom just begging for him to take my life instead of my vulnerability. I didn’t fight back. I let myself drown. The exact date is slowly creeping up and not a second of this month has been filled with forgiveness toward myself. Throughout the year, I am able to survive and thrive, hold my own against Ruth’s pettyness but when December hits, I would rather be on top of a mountain plotting a strategy to steal Christmas with my reindeer dog than face who I am in the mirror.

I have not become better-honestly more bitter. I have not grown from this experience and I have not attacked life with more strength than I did two years ago. I let myself drown two years ago and I have let myself drown every December since. I don’t wanna swim. I don’t wanna fight, I don’t wanna make some strengthened statement that its only the 3rd and I have 28 days to be better. Nope. I’m going to instead surround myself with anxiety and stress and eat loads of terrible foods just like the rest of you but instead I am going to be honest about the emotions and regrets I am facing. I am going to allow Ruth to have her party this month, celebrate her control over me. For this month, I will allow my vulnerability to exist without shame. Cheers to the family and friends who constantly support me and the growth I make in the first 11 months of the year but in the meantime, Ruth’s December reigns.

Toxicity Coming to the Spotlight

Toxic relationships and toxic traits are things that have recently become a part of a large scale conversation. And as important as it is to have this conversation, I have significant worries as well.

Toxic relationships whether romantically or platonic are not built upon mutual respect; there is often times a struggle of power and abuse of power. They don’t always start off this way and there are experiences of both immeasurable joy and horrifying fear or disgust or anger. The hard part about toxic relationships is that 1. you may not know you’re in one until it is so far into the roller coaster that it is hard to get off, and 2. there is not only one person at fault for the ride. In order to have a toxic relationship, there has to be two negative poles like magnets. They repel and they push back on each other allowing the individualization of power and lack of effective communication to overcome the relationship. It is ugly and it is hard to walk away from.

Side note:Toxicity and abuse are not the same thing. There is interplay and often times a relationship that is abusive is also toxic but they should not be used interchangeably.

I was in an abusive relationship but even more importantly, I was in a toxic relationship and it has completely changed my ability to build another, a stronger relationship. I brought toxic traits to the table as did he and now I am in a relationship of a completely different caliber. It feels healthy and strong and I see a future with this person. I never saw that in the last one. In the last one, I was constantly trying to convince myself that everything was normal, that couples fight, that certain things were happening because trust is hard to come by and its normalized for infidelity to happen: what I was experiencing was what I deserved.

And I am still so lost. I am still very much overcoming that mentality. My current relationship is built on friendship and strength and a mutual desire to push each other. It is strong and beautiful. But there are moments that I completely lose sight of that and I revert to the toxic habits I relied on a couple years ago. I didn’t trust this last person at all. I knew I was being lied to, I knew I was being cheated on and I found sneaky ways to confirm those suspicions. And every now and then, I find myself doing a similar thing in this relationship. There are times when I say to myself, “I’m being treated too well right now. He’s being too nice to me so something has to be up. He must be lying to me somehow. And then I get so mad at myself for doubting that I deserve to be treated as a human who is shown love and compassion from another person.

But that is what a toxic relationship does to you. It breaks you down as far as you can go before you are completely submerged underwater. And then it makes you question how you were able to start swimming again. 

I took almost 2 years to myself after breaking off the relationship that nearly broke me to focus on healing and bettering myself, to work and to spend time with those that supported me and to count my blessings. I thought I had overcome the hardships and toxic habits of being in this relationship. And then I found someone I wanted to share my life with and ALL the habits came back. I had to and am still having to learn ways to overcome the bad habits I formed and used to cope. It has been a unique journey and not one that very many people have been able to stand by nor support me with. There are a lot of decisions and in the moment doubts I have that only I can address with enough confidence to overcome. It has come with a lot of isolation and internal battles. Even when confiding in others who have experienced similar journeys, there are still battles that cannot be shared or overcome in pairs. It is personal and independent- neither of which toxic or abusive relationships allow for. 

It is this personalization and distinctiveness of the battle after the fact that scares me about the conversation coming to spotlight. I think when topics become over-exposed, they lose their power and influence. We run the risk of becoming desensitized and then the conversation, empathy, and support that is so desperately needed around this conversation disappear for good. Because this topic and the experiences people have around the words toxic and abuse are so near to my heart, the overexposure scares me. I will listen and read and write about this topic until the day I no longer can but I fear  individuals will get lost to the bigger story. This isn’t just a narrative, it is a life and an everyday battle that me and probably most of you are having with yourselves every single day.

 

 

 

 

 

Not Today Ruth

I could really feel it today. The hot breath of Ruth (that’s the name I granted my anxiety monster- thought it was creepy and yet somehow rational similar to the way it feels to  have anxiety). It was tapping the back of my neck as I opened my eyes this morning creating a slight pulse in my temple. Just enough to give me an excuse not to get out of bed, just enough to claim another mental health day instead of knocking the 15 things off my to-do list.

She’s been gone for awhile but Ruth’s presence certainly has not been missed. She’s graceful, I’ll giver her that: always popping up without a sound but she is quite the freeloader once she does make an appearance- staying however long she wishes. And with her entrance this morning into my subconscious, I knew she was planning to stay awhile this round.

Well Ruthie baby, we aren’t gonna let you win this time around. I am not the only one with a persistent anxiety monster that wakes up with me in the morning. So I am asking all of you with a Ruth to join me in success today despite her companionship.

Get out of bed. I know, I know. Much easier said than done. But it is an active choice to roll onto your side and put your feet on the ground. Take as long as you need to but roll over and get your ass out of bed.

Kill the headache. Pop an ibuprofen along with your antidepressant. That might mean a prescription, a joint, or both. Do some yoga, go on a run, or brew a cup of coffee. Either way, do not let a reminder of Ruth’s presence sit in your temple all day long.

Create a list of goals. And put getting out of bed on there with a big fat check mark next to it. Because you accomplished that and you need to be proud of it. And put something that challenges the hell out of you on there. No matter what it is, push yourself. Find your favorite pen and start checking things off every time you finish one. It’ll feel like you’re beating Ruth with every accomplished task she made you question you were capable of.

Breathe. This shit isn’t easy. Ruth isn’t easy. Some days are better than others- a phrase used all too much but accurate nonetheless. Give yourself a break, have a meltdown if you need to. But don’t forget to breathe and really focus on each and every inhale. We take for granted how simple oxygen moving in and out of our lungs is but it is so powerful. We are alive and focusing on our breath is the easiest way to remind ourselves of that. We are living and breathing with a purpose. Don’t lose sight of that.

Find yourself an outlet. I suggest chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and The Noticer by Andy Andrews but it can be absolutely anything as long as it gets Ruth off your back for more than 30 seconds.

Just please please please Say kind words to yourself. It is so easy to lay in bed, succumb to your headache and quit for the day. But don’t. You’re stronger than that and you deserve better than that. Ruth hasn’t earned the right to take over who you are and what you are capable of. Don’t let her have it without a fight.

So join me as I continue to sip my coffee and knock things off the to-do list (first on my list is making the bed). Ruth is gonna stay with me all day, I can still feel her breath but even if it takes every ounce of effort in my soul, I will not let her defeat me today.

Loud and Proud

Over the past few days I have debated about creating this post, about taking the thoughts in my head and putting them into a concrete summary. I’ve never been known for my ability to be humble but for some reason, spending the time to write, edit, and publish a piece focused on nothing but myself seemed egotistical and self-serving. I thought, maybe I’ll just write it in my personal journal but that might as well stay a thought secluded from everyone around me. And then I realized that there should be no shame in posting something themed with a positive self image and pride of my accomplishments. I never second guess writing a piece filled with my negative thoughts or criticism toward an aspect of society or self but when it came to explicitly writing my accomplishments and the pride I feel toward myself, I couldn’t do it. There is something wrong with that. So here I am, being loud, aggressive and proud of who I am.

As some of you may know, I recently moved across the country for no other reason than to chase an opportunity outside of my comfort zone alongside my best friend. I was given criticism, doubts, and negative feedback. I was told I wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t find a job, and that moving for a boy was naive. And I want to say thank you to those of you who set the standard so low for me and my success.

I have done over five years of research on the child’s brain, have a degree in human development, and have witnessed first-hand the resiliency young humans have when presented with change. The plasticity of the brain and the adaptability of the personalities is admirable. It is theorized and somewhat supported that as we grow older, it becomes more and more challenging to adapt to change because of pathways in our brains. It’s like walking the same path over and over again until the Earth is eroded beneath our footsteps. We form habits and those habits erode our brain until it is muscle memory: the way we think, the way we act, the way we respond to change. We try to find a path we have already made so the emotional response is lessened.

But we do so by choice. We choose the path of least resistance so we don’t have to respond outside of our comfort zone. That my friends, is where all of your negative responses stemmed from- the use of negativity over and over again in your brain. Change can be scary but you chose to respond by walking down the path of least resistance by offering criticism instead of pride and excitement.

At the same time that our brains are creating overused walkways with our thoughts, it is simultaneously growing egocentric and competitive. We have a hard time recognizing the blessings those around us have received. Few of us are able to utilize or have created pathways for praising others because we are so focused on our own negative ways of life.

Luckily, my competitive neurology has given me an ultimatum: listen to them and fail or make that move and succeed. Guess what kiddos, I’m killin it. I hate that I second guessed whether this was the right thing to do, hate that I questioned if I was brave enough to succeed 1300 miles from home. All I had to do was choose to be happy, choose a new pathway and it was SO EASY. It is so easy to be open-minded and positive. It is so easy to take an environment of unknowns, strangers, and what-ifs and turn it into a land of opportunity. We just have to make an active choice in walking the pathways our brain chooses to take over and over again.

I was scared to write this post in fear of sounding egotistical or like I was better than my readers simply because I’m choosing to be happy. That’s not what I’m saying whatsoever. What I am saying is we should not be scared to be proud of ourselves, to brag about things we are doing well, to accept change and flourish amongst it. We should not be scared to create new pathways in our brain based on positive thoughts and pride for others. We are just as plastic and flexible as our younger counterparts, we are just stubborn in our ways. It is a choice and we have to make it every single day.

With that being said, I power through daily depression and anxiety attacks. It isn’t easy uprooting everything you have ever known for a city in the Deep South. Feel each of your emotions as deeply as possible whether it is positive or negative but do not become a victim of circumstance. Choose to succeed and choose to create a prideful pathway in your mind for yourself and for others. It’s easier than you think to change and to accept change.

I feel like I’m missing something

I still haven’t felt it. That overwhelming sense of fear or uncertainty. I haven’t felt that pit in my stomach that accompanies the trip down a road unknown.

As I was packing my bags and deciding what was most valuable for me to take on my journey across country, any emotion was replaced by a to-do list of things to see, people to hug, and stuff not to forget.

Every hug, every tear shed by a person I hold close to my heart was met with a quick ‘but this isn’t goodbye.’ Or ‘I’ll see you soon.’ I never felt like I was losing someone-simply just adding mileage in between sightings.

I thought I was in denial. Scared to come to terms with the idea that I was leaving everything I have ever known and called home goodbye. I figured it would hit me on the final drive away from my moms house or at least after posting a goodbye photo of my beautiful city. But it didn’t. Ok- maybe it would come in the car ride across the country when I could see nothing but grass and clouds, never knowing what the next mile was gonna bring. It didn’t. For sure when I woke up in a new house on my very first morning, a new city, a new life, I would cry.

But I didn’t. And at first I didn’t understand why. I should be nervous and scared about a life changing move, a new relationship, a new everything. I should be scared of not knowing anyone in this city and not being 15 minutes from my mom at any given time. But I didn’t.

I felt and feel excited and almost at home amongst the uncertainties. I know I have a man next to me that loves and supports me. I know I have the ability and determination to succeed anywhere and I know that life is meant to explore and love and meet as many new people as possible. Life isn’t about comfort or succeeding within a boundary but for pushing those boundaries and doing whatever it is that feels right and makes your heart beat a little bit faster. It’s about being happy with who and where you are.

I realized, while unpacking my everyday clothes into a foreign closet that I’m succeeding at that life I just described. And maybe the reason I am so comfortable and content and not overwhelmed by this transition is because I know it’s the right thing to be doing. I feel proud of myself and so ready for this next chapter. And that shouldn’t be a foreign feeling- for any of us. Cheers to all your next adventures and the emotions felt while experiencing them.