Pieces of Me

Bits and pieces of my life and of my heart.


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Not Asking For It.

When I was 17 years old I was sexually assaulted.

I was young and I was looking for someone to like me. I spent a lot of my teenage years looking for someone to like me. I felt very unlikeable. Lost even, and I did not know what to do with these feelings. Nobody taught me how not to feel lost. I really wish they had.

The night it happened I was among school friends. We were celebrating the boys school victory in their rugby match. We were drinking. I was drunk. We all were drunk. My assault happened in the stair well of a night club. My assailant a well known member of the rugby team. I said “No”. I didn’t at first. At first I was delighted that he was flirting with Me. Me who felt so unlikeable. It was good and then it was really bad. Bad in a frightening, can’t breathe, I said No, get off Me kind of bad. He didn’t listen. He won. I lost.

The shame is the very worst thing. I didn’t know it then but my shame for that night shaped my 20’s, and not in the best of ways. Shame can kill a person. It nearly killed me.

He told his friends, my friends what happened. Well, he told them what he wanted to say happened. I was called a “Slag”, a “Fat Slag”, a “Slut”, a “Whore”. I remember hiding in the bathroom stall afraid to go to class. I remember hearing my friends talk about me like I wasn’t there. I remember also wishing I wasn’t there. I just wanted to disappear, and in so many ways, for so many years I tried. I tried to make myself go away. The shame got bigger than who I was and it swallowed me whole.

I never told anyone back then what happened to Me. I believed what I heard other people say about Me. I believed I “deserved” it. I believed it was my fault. I believed I was a slut, a fat slag and a whore. There was nobody to tell me any different.

Why write about this today? I work with vulnerable young people. Sometimes their stories mirror my past. Sometimes their experiences remind me of a life once lived, a pain once felt, a shame once worn. The sadness in them reaches the sadness in Me. The story may be theirs but the pain stays the same.Their story may change but the narrative hasn’t moved. When you are sexually assaulted, when you are raped,you are put on trial. You. Not your assailant. Only you.

You who were drunk, who wore a short skirt, who walked down a dark alley, who took a lift from a friend, who didn’t say “No”, who did say “No”, who screamed “No”! You are the slut, the whore, the “asking for it girl”. You are responsible. You are to blame.

I don’t often think about that night anymore. Except when I do. Now I feel nothing but compassion for the lost girl I once was. My shame is no more. I learned that it does not belong to Me and I have handed it back to where it came from. My shame serves me no purpose anymore. I cannot change what happened to me all those years ago but I try and change what is happening to others now. The lost girl in me grew up to be a fierce woman, with a passion to facilitate change. Change in myself and change in others, so when I come across a vulnerable young person in the work that I do and their story resonates with mine, I can listen, I can soothe, I can be a safe place, and I can teach.

Teach that No means No! Teach that being drunk, wearing a short skirt, walking home alone, is not some kind of code for being sexually available. Teach that consent matters. It matters more than anything. I wish that someone had taught it to me, and more importantly to the 17 year old boy who didn’t listen to Me when I said No.

If we don’t teach it, who will?

 

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And then it was 3.

I am 3 years cancer free today. 3 years post what has to be the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. 3 years since the debilitation that was the surgeries and the toxins, the exhaustion and the fear. When I was sick I worried that I wouldn’t make it past 3 months, let alone 3 years so I am happy today. Quietly grateful. Respectful of those who have not been so lucky, and of those who are still in the midst of their own personal hell.
It can be tricky, this “after cancer” business. There is little to prepare oneself for how it feels, how it fits, how it confuses, how it requires us to hang on for dear life until the boat stops rocking. This does not happen immediately after the first clear scan. At least for me, this was not the case. I was caught in the middle of joy and panic, relief and fear, love and hate, admiration and envy. It is a tough place to be.
Expectations of others weighed heavily on me. Everyone has been touched by this disease. I defy you to find someone who hasn’t. Some of us live and some of us don’t. The weight of other people’s loss, for me, was huge. Guilt was strong in me. Survivors guilt, if you will. Navigating feelings of fear and loss, of anger and frustration was challenging for fear of being thought of as selfish for not being more grateful for having survived something that not all of us do. Who do you tell when you feel this way? What do you say without sounding ungrateful?
This was my permanent state of being for at least 18 months after this day 3 years ago. I felt like a horrible person. Of course I was happy, relived, grateful. Of course I knew others had not been so lucky but I was also scared, angry, lost, confused, my body recovering from the onslaught of abuse this disease requires to survive, and I have to say, it was the loneliest of times.
The good news about the passing of years is that it takes a lot of these feelings and makes them smaller, more manageable, easier to navigate. The fear lessens, the anger too. You have days that you do not think of your cancer, then these days can turn into a week, sometimes two or three at time. It is the loveliest realisation to have, these “forgetting your cancer” periods. They make you smile, feel fearless, grateful, blessed. You realise you are making plans again, about your life, your happiness and it feels good. Boy, does it feel good.
I spent the weekend with someone I love doing things that I love to do. I surfed, I swam, I ate, I drank. I tried oysters for the first time and met new people. All new things, new experiences. I had moments being rocked by the most unbelievable feelings of gratitude and joy. I made it.
I made it through the loneliest place on earth and I am finally feeling like I am back home where I belong. I am a different me, a more bloody tired me, but hey, I am here. I am here and I am present and I am loved and I am happy. I am so deeply grateful for getting the chance to keep on living and I plan to allow myself be reminded of this each and every day.
Happy 3 years cancer free day to Me.


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Bonnie and Clyde.

When I was sick with cancer I had this fear that took up residence inside of me. This fear kept me awake at night for months not being able to sleep without the light on. I couldn’t breathe. My heart would beat wildly and I would allow my mind go to the places that none of us like to visit. What if I died? Who would love my boy? Would I be missed? Have I been happy in my life, really happy?
The further I got from my first all clear scan, the less I felt this fear. Life is good that way. Time does heals most things, you just have to wait it out.

Last night this fear returned. Full force. My heart is still racing, my light is still on and I feel vulnerable. My sleep was broken, my dreams scattered and as much as I love to run, I just cannot make my legs work.

Fear is a bitch. Anxiety too. Together they are like the Bonnie and Clyde of my feelings. All go, all passion, driven, focused, never giving in. Even in the light of day they stay, taunting me, laughing at me, filling my head with all kinds of nonsense.

When I was sick I wrote. Blog after blog. It was the only way that I could calm myself, purge myself, help myself. After I was sick life happened and I needed this purging less and less. Why is it now that this fear returns? Someone close to me is sick. Sick how I was sick. Maybe her fear is becoming mine? Maybe the all clear bubble has burst? Maybe this is normal? (God, I pray to be normal, whatever that means). Last night sucked. It sucked big. My Bonnie and Clyde causing all sorts of trouble. To me, to my head, my heart, my soul. “Just breathe”, I keep telling myself. Whatever you do don’t forget to breathe…

Writing helps. My heart beats a little slower. Breathing too, it calms the nerves. I know exactly what it is I am afraid of. I have always known. Maybe a post for another day. Today I just want to ease the fear. Today I wish it to take a back seat so that I can be loving, kind and patient with those I love. I wish to get the most out of my day, and somehow get these legs of mine to work so I can do the best thing I know to rid myself of these feelings. I need to run. I need to move. I have been able to outsmart Bonnie and Clyde before. Why not today?


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When your best isn’t good enough.

My son is 13. I tell him all the time that as long as he does his best he will be happy. Things will work out. He will be OK. I tell him this because I really believe it to be true. It is what I try to accomplish in all that I endeavour to achieve and I throw myself into whatever it is with all of my heart, all of the time. When something does not go my way or turn out the way I had hoped, usually I can retrace my steps and see where I possibly missed a bit or didn’t give something my full attention, and this I can always learn from, carrying it forward, improving all of the time. I teach my son this when he is disappointed with an outcome. I teach him to look at the situation, be honest about his effort and see where, if any, the areas that may need to be improved upon. Usually in both my life and in his this is enough. Usually upon reflection we can see what needs to be made better. Usually this is enough in dealing with the let down, and usually we can move on without any regrets.

Usually.

My son is 13. He has not had enough life experience to know what I know,to know how it feels, really feels, to come up short and have no idea why. I throw myself heart and soul into something, give it my very best shot and still come up short. Still lose out, still hurt, still end up on the wrong side of the street. Try as I may I cannot see where I tripped up, what I missed, didn’t see, didn’t hear. How do I prepare him for that? Will he think me untrue? After all, it is me who keeps telling him, and myself, that as long as you do your best all will be well. What happens if I stop believing this?

What happens when your best isn’t good enough?
How on earth do you reconcile yourself with that?


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This cannot be our way.

So here’s the thing. I don’t care much for Joan Burton and her politics. She has, in my opinion, launched what feels like a personal attack on lone parents this year, of which I am one. I also don’t ever pretend to know a lot about politics, so if you have mistaken this for some kind of political broad cast, then I would stop reading, now.

What I do know a lot about is people. Mostly because I am one, and a lot to do with my education and the work that I do for a living. It is my job to empower, to lead by example and to do my very best to facilitate change in young people who have been let down, by their parents, their schools, society, and very often themselves. I believe completely and utterly that each and every one of us has this responsibility no matter what the job we do and no matter what number, or not number of kids we have.

Those of you who know me and who take the time to read the words I throw together will probably have figured out I only do this when something is bothering me. It’s like my 21st century diary. I have, and will always use written words to explore my feelings, to make sense of them, and in return make sense of myself. What I find most challenging is making sense of others but today I am going to give it my best shot.

During the summer I had a run in with Irish water meter protestors that left me scared and anxious for weeks. This happened on my own property, in front of my son with only one neighbour coming to my assistance. I was verbally abused by ten grown men old enough to be my Granddad and physically shoved by one of them. They claimed to be “peacefully protesting’. They deemed it fit to speak for me and refuse the installation of my water meter, bullied and scared me back into my own home when I chose to stand up for myself. These men roared obscenities at me and took photos of me on mobile phones without my permission. I was a woman on my own without anyone to protect me, and it scared the pants off me.

Yesterday in Jobstown a much grander version of this happened. Like her or not, a woman was held hostage in her car while an angry, aggressive mob refused to give her passage. I cannot imagine how frightening that must have been, for anyone at anytime. It could be your Mother, sister, daughter, friend neighbour. It could be you. It most certainly could be me. Again.

Is this how we deal with things now? Is this where our anger leads us? Off down a path of no return with our children and grandchildren watching, taking note and keeping score. Is this what we really think will bring about change? Really?

We are all hard done by in this country of ours. We have been savaged by our governments and we have a right to how we are feeling, yet it pains me to see what we are becoming. How was what happened yesterday, or what happened to me a “peaceful protest”? Have we become so numb to the violence and destruction that is pumped into our homes on a daily basis that we have now reached the same place? Violence begets violence. Hatred the same. Surrounding a car with people inside and flinging bricks cannot be something to celebrate. Can it?

Where will it end? When will people feel like they have gotten their pound of flesh? When someone dies? When our children who are following our lead are the next ones out of the gate? When?

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. What I do know is that we, the Irish people, full of saints and scholars are better than this. Much better. And I hope and pray that this ends before it’s too late. Before our actions cannot be reversed, and from what I can see of late, we are closer to that than we think.


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This is Me.

Do you ever find yourself apologising for your personality, or feeling that you have too? Have you ever been shushed because you are talking too loudly or too excitedly? Been told that you must be “brave” for wearing orange shoes? Scolded for being too “naive” for seeing the good in people? Advised to stay quiet about an opinion for fear of offending someone else or just being expected in general to “tone it down” for fear of your confidence upsetting those who are less than confident? I have. And I got to tell you I am getting bloody sick of it!

I am confident. I am sure of myself. I am not afraid to speak the truth and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I take risks. I am not shy in coming forward. I am excitable. I speak at the T.V., sometimes shout even. I am passionate. I am reactable. I wear bright colours because I love them and I swear like a trucker behind the wheel of my car. I make mistakes. I get it wrong. I am ridiculously self aware and I would not have it any other way. 

I am Me.

I am NOT “bossy”. I am NOT “overbearing”. I am NOT “spoilt”. I am NOT “selfish”. And I most certainly am NOT “over confident”. What the hell does that even mean anyway? Over confident? Like it is some kind of dirty word and label I should be ashamed of.

I have fought hard to be the woman I am today. I have overcome challenges that have tested the very soul of Me. I have succeeded where others told Me I would fall flat on my face and I have had cancer which nearly scared the actual life out of Me. All of these situations required confidence. Required resilisnce. Required passion. Required that I showed up and took the punches life threw at Me and required most of all that I came out the otherside. For myself firstly and then for the people who love Me. I am finished apologising for the way that I am. Faults and all I am more comfortable now with myself than I ever have been. If my excitablility annoys you, or my confidence, or my swearing like a trucker while I drive you around, or even my orange shoes then maybe you should spend time with someone else and leave me to my swearing. 

I refuse anymore to feel like I have to “tone myself down”, and I just wanted to share that with the rest of you.