Pieces of Me

Bits and pieces of my life and of my heart.


10 Comments

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?

 


4 Comments

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.


2 Comments

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?


2 Comments

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?


2 Comments

Breaking the frame.

When I was training to be a psychotherapist there was a term that was frequently used by those who trained me. “Breaking the frame”. This is used to describe when something intentionally or unintentionally is done by the therapist that does damage to the therapeutic relationship. Say you had a client coming to you who you knew to be angry by the way they carried themselves, the way they spoke, looked,by the way they made you feel. Say this client believed themselves to be the very opposite of angry, almost angelic. They were completely unaware of their anger, or just too afraid to deal with it. Try as you may to create space for the anger the client came week after week unable to have the awareness that the anger was the one thing blocking all other things. This can take it’s toll both on the client and on you, the therapist, hoping each week that the space you create will be enough. You speak about what goes on for yourself in supervision in the hope of doing no damage to the therapeutic relationship you are trying to maintain. Sometimes this is enough to hold the space. Sometimes working on yourself allows the client to move forward, and then sometimes it is not. Something happens either to you or to the client, and the anger that has been floating around comes to the surface and all hell can break loose. Your client, depending on how much they have the ability to cope with their reality, may in some cases never return, or it can be the very best thing that can happen, outing their rage and giving them a whole new perspective.Either way this is a huge risk. Either way a lot is asked of client and of therapist, with neither knowing the outcome. This is called “Breaking the frame”.

Last weekend a frame in my life was smashed into a million little pieces. This frame belonged to a loved one, and it belonged to me. We have both held this frame very tightly since I was a little girl, neither of us daring to break it for fear of what may come to pass. The thing about holding onto something so tightly is that sooner or later it will crack under pressure. Nothing, or no one can sustain pressure forever. The break came in the blink of any eye, so fast neither of us noticed it had dropped, and when it smashed into a million little pieces neither of us could take it back up off the floor and put it back where it belonged. That’s the thing about things we break, they are never really the same after we glue them back together, and worse than that, sometimes the breaks cannot be fixed.

I am sitting here today with all these broken pieces sitting in my lap and I have no idea what to do with them. “Put them back together”, some might say, but do I really want to restore the frame I had? The frame that was held so tightly I could barely breathe for most of my life. This is where the courage comes. The courage required of both parties when the frame gets broken, and in this one person may have more courage than the other. I cannot know what my loved one will do, all I have is my side of the street. What do I want my side of the street to look like? Will it be scattered with broken frames, or will I choose to have it clean and clear?

I know which one I will choose. I am weary of frames that take too my of my weight to bear. Maybe this is the freedom I have been been seeking lately. Maybe it is time to let go. Let go and have the courage to break more frames. As scary as it is maybe this is where my happiness lies.


2 Comments

If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.

On Monday morning I was verbally abused and shoved by members of a group campaigning against water meters. All men, on my own property. To say it was a frightening experience for me and for my son who witnessed it would be an understatement. In my life I don’t know any man who would treat a woman this way, let alone stand back and watch while other men did. There were about ten of them, all fully grown men with, I imagine, wives, daughters and granddaughters at home. I have been wondering ever since how they might have felt if they happened upon a gang harassing a loved one, all on her own with nobody to save her.
I have been through pretty much every emotion imaginable since then. Fear, anger, sadness, despair, some all at once and some by themselves. I have spoken to my friends, to my family members, to the garda, work colleagues, and even to a radio DJ about what happened trying to take my power back and trying to make sense of it all but to be brutally honest my account of what happened that morning, in most people has mustered what I would describe as a “half assed response”, with one of these people telling me they thought it was “hilarious”.
Hilarious to whom I now wonder? Not to me, or to my son but there you go. I worry that most people go through life not really caring about things unless it has happened to them. I wonder am I guilty of this with someone else? Chances are I probably am.
I have been deep in thought and in tears since last Monday morning. What makes some of us care and some of us, not so much? What is the difference between those of us who take action and those of us who do not? Those of us who stand up for ourselves and others and those who don’t.
I am currently trying to decide whether or not to press charges against these men. These men who frightened me, who have made me feel less than safe in my own home, vulnerable as a woman living on my own with nobody here to protect my son and I if they get angry and come back. I have been through a lot in my life but nothing like this. How do I teach my son to stand up for himself and for others if someone is hurting him? How do I do that and not stand up for myself? I have sought people’s opinion, some helpful, some not so much. I am always left with the reality that it really is every person for themselves, as nobody can decide for me. Nobody can feel for me, take action for me, move forward for me.
I am scared. It is a horrible way to be and I don’t know what it is I should be doing to lessen the fear. If I don’t press charges I fear that I am weak and am not setting a good example for my son and each and every one of those horrid men win. If I do press charges then they will know I did and they could come here and scare me again. It really is a horrible way to be when you don’t know which is the right thing to do and the only person who can decide is me.
I have three quotes that I go too when I am in a bind and cannot find an answer. One of these applies to now.
“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” I think the anything in my case is the fear that has been with me since Monday. If I don’t stand up for myself I will still feel afraid but yet, if I do make a stand a whole new load of fear may come crashing down around me.
I don’t normally ask for help when I write my blog, as writing it is really all the help I need but today that won’t be enough. What would you do the ease the fear? I would be really grateful for any thoughts you may have.


5 Comments

Why compare??

I feel like I am swimming in a vat of molasses of late. Stuck.
Doors shut. Windows too. Every road a dead end.I rarely feel like this but when I do it is so incredibly challenging to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am trying everything I know to come unstuck.

Running. Gratitude. Kindness. Wine! O.K. maybe the wine is a bit of a laugh but you catch my drift. How do I become unstuck? How do any of us?

When I am like this I don’t enjoy my own company much. I am impatient and I compare. I compare myself to everyone. All the time. Comparing is like some slow toxic form of poison. It seeps into every vein and cell and does untold damage. Damage to me, to my relationships and leaves me utterly exhausted. Nobody likes to be compared too, especially the way I do it. I always come up short and I always feel less than and it always makes me cry. I never win when I play the comparing game so I sit here wondering why the hell it is I begin in the first place?

It catches me off guard most of the time. Sneaks up on me when I least expect it, triggered by something or someone. A job I didn’t get, money that I don’t have, holidays I can’t afford. I allow myself focus on these things for too long and before I know it I am off playing the game that nobody wins. Least of all Me.

It’s even horrible to talk about. To write about. Comparing oneself to others is not an attractive trait, one that most of the time I prefer to keep hidden for fear someone somewhere would out me. Out my impatience, my envy, my discontent. It’s not pleasant feeling this way and yet, as of late I do.

If you had a magic wand what, if anything would you change? I ask this more for myself than you. There are somethings I would change in a heart beat and some I would leave well enough alone. I think the trick here is to put my focus and energy on the people and things that I would never change and leave the rest to it’s own devices. Things find their way in the end, don’t they? It’s all I have been telling myself anyway for the last little while.

I know I have a lot to be grateful for, I really do, but what do you do when the things you don’t have, or aspire to achieve seem completely out of reach? How do I stop the feeling of being stuck without doing damage to the rest of Me? For once as I sit here and write I have absolutely no idea. God, how I dislike that.


9 Comments

My thoughts on the no make up cancer awareness selfie.

Two posts in one day? I must have something to say. 

I am taking a bit of heat over on my FaceBook page for finding fault with the latest internet craze, the “no make up selfie for cancer awareness” campaign. I just don’t get it. 

As someone pointed out who of us these days are not effected by this horrible disease? Who is not unaware of cancer and it’s tireless campaigning for money for research so that me and you and the people that we love are not effected ever again. I myself have had the disease and I applaud every single one of those organisations who make our world a better place. They certainly made me feel a lot safer when I was trying to overcome my illness.

I also get that the point of taking the photo is to take it and donate. Donate is good, really good. Every cent counts. Where I am finding a fault is how it is being sold to the seemingly thousands of people everywhere taking them. Be “brave” it says. Taking a picture without make up is “brave”?To whom is it brave? To the person who is taking it? To the person who is having treatment? To the person who has just come put the other side? Am I missing something? 

Brave like who? Brave like the people who have cancer, who had cancer, who will get cancer? Cancer bravery is nothing, nothing, nothing like taking a picture with no make up on. Nothing at all. Cancer bravery is having to tell your 9 year old son you have cancer. It’s telling your family, the people who love you. It is having operations and being pumped full of poison. Cancer bravery is living on illness benefit and trying to pay the bills on thin air while not being able to walk down the stairs out of sheer exhaustion to cook your son dinner because you are a single mom and you are the care giver, the bread winner, the everything whether you have cancer or not. Cancer doesn’t give a crap about who you are or what you need to do.

Obviously this has struck a nerve and yes, I know that it is more about how I feel about my experience than a bunch of selfies so I will just say this.

On of the nicest things that someone did for me when I was going through treatment was show up at my door with a weeks worth of groceries in her arms. It was what I needed the most and she just knew. That was what helped me more than all the money in the world. More than all the photographs too. By all means, if you are someone who has taken a selfie and donated then thank you but not everyone is doing so and if you really think about it, it’s not that brave.

Donate blood. Donate platelets. Your time for a local charity. Buy someone groceries. Show us that you care in a tangible way. When you have cancer it is really hard to ask for help. Most of us don’t. Show us you are brave and beautiful by lending a hand.


9 Comments

What is more important?

                                                    Image

How important are words?

Is it how someone makes you feel. Or is it what they say that holds most weight?

Words come easy to me. Well, now they do. This was not always the case. For a long time the words were stuck, so writing helped me free them. If I wanted to tell you how I felt I wrote. Sometimes pages and pages, sometimes just a few words. 

Sometime over the past 10 years the words began to break free. I began to trust myself more. Trust others more. The more I trusted you, the more words I spoke to you.

They are never comfortable are they? The words.

Words make you vulnerable. Emotional. More angry. More sad. More in love. More out of love. 

Sometimes your words are welcomed with open arms. Sometimes not, but for me my ability to speak mine sets me free, always, no matter what the other person you speak them to does with them.

I put a lot of importance on words. I am not sure this is the right thing to do.

Is it how we feel that we should trust more than what we say?

Is it how someone else feels about us we should trust more than what they say?

What do you think?

What is more important to you?

What you say, or what you feel?