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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Farewell my friend.

My friend died. Just like that. Gone in the blink of an eye.

I loved my friend. I still do, probably always will. He was larger than life, funny, kind, wise, musical & he loved fiercely. I like to think that over the 20+ years that we knew each other, he loved me fiercely too. He didn’t always agree with my choices but that never stopped him from being on my side. I lost my way for a while some time ago but he never lost sight of me. When I was sick he bombarded my time line on FaceBook with funny videos and never stopped telling me that everything would be OK. He was right.

He touched so many people across so many walks of life. This was his way. An actor, a DJ, a radio star, a lover, a son, a friend, to oh so many of us. He leaves a huge hole in so many lives. He leaves a huge hole in mine. Only last Friday did he post one of his funny videos on my wall. I like that. I like that towards the end I was in his thoughts.

I will miss you Mr.Berns. We all will. The world just got a little smaller today.
All my love, my love. xx


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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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Wishes.

As a parent do you ever feel like you are not enough? That you cannot provide enough. Nourish enough. Teach enough. Love enough.

I know that parenting is not just about providing things. I get that, I really do but it is getting harder and harder as each year goes by to help my son understand why he has to go without when some of his friends and his family members don’t. Being a single parent is hard in a lot of ways but the one that I struggle with the most is the providing. I am not a hunter/gatherer by nature. Never was. What I am is nurturer personified. I excel at the love bit. The emotion bit. The feelings bit. There is never a feeling that my son has had or may have that I cannot accommodate and I am thankful for this. With this ability I hope to nurture an emotionally sound young man who is not afraid to cry or to tell you how he is feeling. This, I can give him, do give him but yet I am left wondering if it is enough. Being a single parent means that we go without. He goes without. In the big ways and in the small. The most obvious being the lack of his Father. Try as I can to be both parents for him I always come up short because I am not both. With this absence comes all the father/son things that he misses out on, the things that he watches his cousins and his friends do. The football trips, fishing trips, camping trips and try as I may to be a good substitute, I know in my heart that it’s not the same and I know in my heart he knows this too.

It’s funny. I started writing this post because I was told that his cousins are going to Disney World. My son has always wanted to go to Disney World and I felt like a useless parent because now I have to explain why we can’t go on a holiday again this year but when I said it out loud to myself it sounded horribly selfish and terribly ungrateful because we have so much in our lives to be grateful for. 

This isn’t about Disney World is it? This is about me and how I feel as if I have failed my son in some way. I never set out to be a single parent. It just happened. That is life . The same way people who say, “I do”, never think that will be saying, ‘I don’t” after years of marriage. Life happens and you just have to get on with it. I am no different to anyone else really except to say that on days like today I wish it was different. I wish my son had all the things he wishes for, the father he wishes for, the experiences he wishes for. My sadness comes from my inability to grant these wishes but I have to suck it up, stiff upper lip it and trust that all that I do give and all the wishes I do grant will be enough to carry him from childhood to manhood where he can have children of his own and do things a little better than me and find all his wishes coming true when he does. 

 


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And then it hit me…

Something happened to me this weekend. Something big. Something profound. Something sad. Something relieving. One of those somethings that when it happens to you and when you realise that it has, you will never quite be the same again.

I will never quite be the same again.

I have been able to bear children for as long as I remember. First it was the aching pains and the banging headaches that came with my teenage years. God, how I hated pms and all that came with it but it was always for the greater good. It was always for this amazing ability gifted to the fairer sex.  Yes. I know men have babies too, but not in the way that we do as women. Not in the grow a tiny human in your body way and push it out of a hole the size of a pea way. This all done screaming hell on earth resulting in the most fabulous of feelings that the english language, or any language for that matter,  on this planet can do justice to.

The feeling of love for your tiny human.

The feeling of joy. Happiness. Wonderment. Fear. Excitement, and the knowing that you have just started a journey that will last the rest of your life.

I have done this one time. I have an amazing son and I love him fiercely. Being his Mum is by far the greatest thing that I have ever done and every day it brings with it a new experience. The thing is, I always believed that I would do it more than once.

Growing up I always thought I would have kids. That’s more than one. I hoped I would have boys and girls, after all, who on earth would I leave my 100 pairs of shoes to if I didn’t have a daughter? The boy would have to come first. I always fancied an older brother growing up so I always thought it would be cool for my daughter to have that experience, so I was bang on track when my beautiful boy made his appearance first.

Those of you who know me and read this blog will know that things did not work out with my sons Father. It is water under the bridge now and we have both moved on, but during that difficult and painful time I told myself that the next time would be different. The next time I would choose a man who wanted to have tiny humans with me and who would hold my hand and wipe my brow when I pushed that human out of a pea hole and who wanted to be a parent with me and life would be just fine.

Life happens when you are busy making plans and mine was no different. I went about my days being the best Mum I could be, providing that best life I could for my son and trying to make the most of all that I had. I studied. I worked. I dated. I fought cancer (and won). I made new friends and made a new relationship and all the while forgot, or never noticed that my life was whizzing by. That the years were adding up and that some things that I took for granted were starting to slip from my grasp.

Until this weekend that is.

Something has been niggling at me lately. Something deep inside. Like an itch that I  couldn’t scratch. It bothered me sure, but not enough to keep me awake at night or enough to drive my head bananas. It was just this feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but I was OK with how it felt so I just kept keeping on.

I run. I love it. Most of my light bulb moments have come to me while I run. This one was no different. There I was running through a wooded area yesterday feeling awake and strong when all of a sudden it hit me bang smack in the centre of my being, nearly taking my breath away. That feeling, that knowing that I had and couldn’t quite put my finger on for all those months finally let itself be heard.

I am not going to have any more children.

I am not going to have my little girl.

My son is it for me and he  will be enough.

It’s like this knowing that I have. I am finding so hard to put into words. I am 43 yrs old. How that has happened, I have no idea. In the blink of an eye I am coming to the end of my child bearing years, and I have to tell you I shed quite a few tears about this last night when I tried to explain how I am feeling to my very wonderful boyfriend.

I wasn’t crying because I have a deep desire to have more children. I am a Mum. It’s not that. I was crying, and still am in a way for this thing my body can do that I always took for granted being able to do, not working anymore. It has always been a fundamental part of what makes Me, Me. God, I cannot tell you how many times I have peed on a blue stick willing it not to be blue!! I guess I always thought that this would be the case. I thought I had more sticks to pee on and I am having a really hard time accepting that I don’t.

I know. I can hear those of you older than Me saying there is so much more to life. That in a way the best is yet to come but I guess I am not ready to be there with you, except that I am. Biologically I am there. And in my life I am there. I know that I am done, yet I have no idea what to do with all the feelings that come with the knowing.

Am I making any sense at all?

Who I am now? I guess that is the question that is left in the space where the niggling was. In the space where the knowing was. Who am I now? And how do I let go?

How do I let go of something that I really believed I would do again but I ran out of time without even noticing? How do I make the transition into the next phase of my life? Do I just do it? I have no choice really, do I? It happens to us all. I guess it will happen to me with a little kicking and screaming and that will have to be OK.

Won’t it?


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Why do we judge each other so?

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You have to be fairly thick skinned to live in this little country of mine. I am sure thick skin is required elsewhere but this is where I live, and this is where my experiences are, and lately my skin in akin to a coat of steel.

It would have to be.

Everywhere I turn I am being judged. There is no escaping it.

I am judged for choosing what happens to my body. For deciding when it is right for me to die. For believing that people should be allowed to marry whomever they bloody well choose and tonight I am being judged for choosing to work as a mother with a child.

We all saw tonight first hand the horrendous state of some of our childcare facilities. Parent or not we all watched in horror as our young were slapped, pushed, scolded, belittled and abused. I defy anyone to have watched Prime Time tonight and not have had the same reaction I did. I was upset. Angered. Saddened, and horrified that maybe, just maybe my son had been subjected to that same treatment all those many years ago while he was in childcare while I went to work to put food on the table and to better myself in my life and in my career.

Did I love my son less for working instead of staying at home?

Did I?

According to some, if not most of the feedback that I read online suggests that I did.

I can almost excuse those of you who judged me who have yet to have children of your own. It is hard to fathom what it feels like to be a parent and all that comes with it.

I can try, though may not understand the men who were out in force tonight telling me what did I expect would happen if I left my child in the care of “strangers”.

For these people I take a deep breath and try to move on as my experience as a woman and as a mother is beyond their comprehension, just as mine is beyond knowing what it is like to be a man.

Yet, beyond what disturbed me this evening as I watched the show. Beyond the fury and the outrage has been the terrible sadness of watching women judge women.

Mothers judging mothers.

Working mothers pitted against stay at home mums.

One mother wondered why I would have a child at all if all I was going to do is “run back to work” the second they were born. Patting herself on the back for being the kind of mother who stayed at home with her children.

Why is it that we turn on each other so? Where is the “sisterhood” all these books and movies are made of? Why are we still belittling each other? Berrating each other. Judging each other.

And why is that the conversation we are having after watching our babies endure such hell?

Our government is culpable.

Our HSE is accountable.

Our Gardai are not doing their jobs.

Our church is defying us.

Hell, even the banks are laughing.

We are so busy fighting and criticising each other that we are not hearing the cries of our vulnerable who need to be heard. Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children? Is this what we need to teach them? And while we are doing this. While we are ripping each other apart the powers that be are quite literally laughing all the way to the bank.