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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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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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.


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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.


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Dear Son. In the blink of an eye.

 

Dear Son, 

I promised myself that I wouldn’t cry. After all I am not a school gate kind of Mum so I reckoned my joy at not having to do school drop offs and pick ups would well outweigh the sadness of my only child finishing primary school, and I was right, until today. Today I had to drop off some baking for your graduation mass and gathering after and one of your favourite teachers asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears! God, love her. I don’t think she was expecting that. To be fair, neither was I.

I remember the day that my boy began primary school. 8 years ago. 8? My, how time flies. Off you toddled with a back pack that was too big for your little body, waving away at me, blowing me kisses (you would NEVER do that now) and all full of wonder about what school would bring. I cried then, as I do now, but for very different reasons. That day, all those years ago I cried for the worry of it all. Would you like school? Would you like your teacher? Would she like you? Would you make friends? Would the other kids be nice to you? Would you be nice to others? And I went back to my car, not driving it anywhere and I waited. I waited for this little boy, the most important person in my whole universe, the one I loved the most to come back out and to tell me all about it. And you did.

In those early years you told me everything and I hung on to your every word. These days, the “pre teentude” days, all I get is “2 seconds” and “K” to most everything I ask you. It drives me bonkers but it makes me smile as this is exactly how it is supposed to be. You are exactly how you are supposed to be, a young man about to finish a huge chapter in your life and make the transition to the next chapter, which excites you and quite frankly scares the life out of me.

Back then I had to protect you from monsters at night and ease your worry about making the football teams. Now? Now it’s peer pressure and alcohol, smoking and girls! As I sit here today I fear that I was a lot better at the monsters than I will be about the girls! 

Another mother said to me on that first day at school all those years ago to enjoy it as it goes by in the blink of on eye. Watching my son toddle off to his classroom with your oversize school bag I thought her a tad dramatic as you were only 5 and sure, weren’t  you going to be in primary school until you were 12? Oceans of time, I thought to myself. Oceans of time indeed.

So, to my amazing, funny, bright, kind, loving, 3 worded son, I wish you the very best in all that you do. Enjoy these last few primary school days, as they will never be more innocent.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be by your side the last 12 years and I will continue to be there for the rest of them, if you don’t manage to suffocate me with all the bloody Linx in the meantime!

All my love, to the moon and back, 

Mum x


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When someone you love.

When someone you love has cancer, you wish it was you instead of them.

When someone you love has cancer, you hold your breath all the time.

When someone you love has cancer, you lie awake at night wondering if they are awake too.

When someone you love has cancer, you make deals with a God you don’t even believe in.

When someone you love has cancer, you feel bad for those who love and worry for them.

When someone you love has cancer, it reminds you of when you had yours.

When someone you love has cancer, most of the time you have no idea what to say.

When someone you love has cancer, you feel guilty for not having it anymore.

When someone you love has cancer, it is hard to believe in happily ever after.

When someone you love has cancer it makes you wonder what it’s all about.

When someone you love has cancer, you hope and pray that someone finds a cure.

When someone you love has cancer, you feel a little more grateful for what you have.

When someone you love has cancer, it is hard to explain how you feel.

Except to say that when someone you love has cancer, it fucking sucks like hell. 


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Two Years Cancer Free.

When I was sick and having my treatment I often had days like today. Days where I sat and thought about things and days where I spent most of it on my own. I like being on my own and then I don’t. It depends on how I am feeling, what is going on in my world and what it is I need to get done. When I was sick, on days like today I would spend a lot of it sitting on my couch and looking out my living room window watching the world go by and hoping against hope that all the poison pumped into my body and all the surgeries and all the days spent in isolation would be worth it. 

And they were.

Two years ago today I got my clear scan. I got lucky. Lucky with the kind of cancer I had and lucky that the treatment for it worked. That’s all it really is you know. Luck. A throw of the dice, a crap shoot, fate. Whatever you wish to call it I got it and I am and will be forever grateful for that in honour of those who weren’t so lucky.

In the movies people who get cancer and whose treatment works always have some kind of revelation. Some massive Oprah Winfrey light bulb moment. They have it, and it fundamentally changes who they are. It makes them eternally happy. Eternally kind. Eternally brave, unselfish. They seem to no longer have a care in the world, and life as they know it has been changed for the better. When I was sick on days like today I thought this would happen to me too. I fantasised about the future new me and I was awed by her magnificence.

Real life, as we all know is nothing like the movies, so I am sad to say that magnificent me does not exist. I have not been transformed into a patient, humble, benevolent being and for a long time this made me sad. Like finding out there is no Santa when you believed there was for so long. Like Dorothy discovering the Wizard behind the curtain. The disappointment was palpable, and then it wasn’t.

When you have cancer and then when you don’t it takes a really long time to free yourself from the fear of it. It seeps into your bones and gets comfortable. It isn’t going anywhere until it decides too and absolutely nothing at all that you can say to it will make it go away. For months afterwards I slept with my light on at night because I was afraid of dying in my sleep. What a light would have done to prevent that is anyone’s guess but it made me feel less afraid. Every twinge, cough, pain, splutter was a death sentence. Somedays I could not breathe. This fear made me irritable, uneasy, impatient and I would imagine difficult to be around for those who love me. Where was my Oprah moment I wondered, and the more I did the sadder I became. I felt guilty for being the person whose cancer went away. When someone I loved lost a loved one I cried for them and then I felt relieved that it wasn’t me, and then I felt guilty for feeling relieved and the fear came back. For a long time my cancer free life was rife with these feelings and the more I tried to stop them the worse they became to the point that I thought I was defective in some way as I seemed to be the only person not grateful for not having cancer anymore. The after bit of having cancer? For me, in a lot of ways it was harder than the having it and that was something I was not at all prepared for.

Luckily, like most things all it takes is some time. Time away from whatever it is that stops a person dead in their tracks. The more time further away from it, the less it hurts. The less it confuses. The less it angers, the less it saddens and I am happy to say that I am just like everyone else when it comes to this. My time is healing me and on days like today I can really feel it.

My life is not perfect today. I would like a lot of things to be different. Some in my control and some not so much. On days like today I can feel the difference that having cancer has made to me. I am quieter in myself. In some ways nothing short of a miracle as I never really did quiet well before. I have a trust in something that I didn’t have before. In what I couldn’t tell you except to say that it’s like a knowing that all will be well. Like I have enough, or I have exactly what I am meant to have for now, and on days like today when I have worries it is a lovely feeling. I try to be kinder, more patient, more loving. I don’t always get this right but I am always aware now when I don’t, something I missed on a regular basis before. The fear is leaving me. I sleep with my light on very little. I breathe deeper. I smile more. I try not to push myself and I try not to fight. Two years on and I feel like I am coming around. I am different. Not in the way I expected to be but in a better way. A softer way, a quieter way and on a days like today the difference between now and then makes me smile.

So. Here is to many more years being cancer free and to many more years not having to sleep with my light on.

 

 

 

 


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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.