Je Ne Regrette Rien

Things about me that I know for sure: I read into anything and everything far too much, and I dwell on ideas. In fact, I often get fixated on a theory until I write it all out or talk it through with someone and can finally make sense of the thoughts in my mind. That made me sound more neurotic than I probably actually am. Awesome.

I have this print hanging in my bathroom that reads, “Non, je ne regrette rien“. Roughly translated, it means “no, I regret nothing”. As much as I’d like to believe that I live with this belief every day, I don’t. I over-analyze my actions, words, and thoughts until I’ve forgotten why I’m doing it at all, and I criticize myself endlessly.

One thing I’ve been thinking through quite often lately is past relationships. I don’t look on my former boyfriends with much favor, even though a couple of them really are good people. For two years, I’ve been working on trying to remind myself of the good things I absorbed while with them.

The first serious boyfriend I had was someone I had been friends with for a long time. We had grown up through high school together in church, and he was the perfect person to start venturing into romantic relationships with. We dated twice, neither time being very long, because high school relationships are unpredictable. I was moving off to college and was not a very good girlfriend because I hadn’t learned to communicate my thoughts and feelings yet, but I still look back fondly on the brief few months we had together. From him, I learned that love letters and rocks collected from mountaintops can mean so much more than shiny presents. I learned to enjoy stargazing and night time strolls. I learned about music that I still listen to today. I credit my first boyfriend as the tender-hearted soul who first introduced me to Damien Rice. I learned how tender innocent love can be.

My first college boyfriend was somewhat of a train wreck, but he meant well. We met through university concert choir, and our entire relationship seemed to center around music. My best friend and I had decided to go see his band perform right before Christmas break, and after he got my number at his show, we didn’t go a day without talking. He was older, experienced, and musically talented. The relationship was exciting, but wasn’t meant to last. I caught him in the middle of big lies at least three times and would run away instead of talking out our issues because I still wasn’t mature enough to deal with difficult communication. From him, I caught the love of live shows. I learned how to appreciate the different parts of a song and the technicality of writing music. I learned the simple joy of having a boyfriend make food for you, even if it’s just bacon and eggs. Most importantly, I learned that I could be desirable, even during the awkward first year of college.

That relationship lasted a bit longer than it should have, but after a few months, I had moved on. I had met the man I would marry. We started off as a fling. He had never actually had a girlfriend until me, just a string of girls he had partied with. We spent three months together before I had finally talked him into “defining the relationship”. It was another month before we got into an argument and his rebuttal was that he loved me. Soon, we were on a love high and nothing could separate us. When he got offered a good sales job in Dallas, he proposed in front of both our families, and that sealed the deal. We were going to be forever. We got married eleven months later, and soon after that, we had returned to the town we had gone to college in and settled down. There were bad times, abusive times, but I’ve written about those experiences before, and here is not the time nor place. Things eventually got so bad, so damaging, that almost exactly five years after we had first met, I told him I wanted a divorce. During that, I learned how to accomplish things on my own. My parents don’t particularly agree with divorce and were occupied with a death in the family, so I was left to navigate it by myself.

If I were to sum up my ex-husband in a couple words, I would label him the ideal salesman. He’s verbally charming and knows how to present his product in a way that appeals to all kinds of people. So from him, I learned people skills. I’m excellent at the people part of my job because I observed him for so long. I learned how to make things sound appealing. On a surface level, my favorite thing that I learned from him is how to appreciate beer. High-quality craft beer has become one of my go-to hobbies in the past few years, and I can fully admit that I learned the basics from him. On a much deeper level, however, I learned that people aren’t always as they seem. They can present themselves to the world one way, yet live a different private life. I’ve learned not to trust the people who seem too charming.

Several months later, I reconnected with a special person from my past. We had a different sort of relationship. He was in Alaska. I was in Germany. We spent the few hours that we were both available attached to our phones or computers. Communication was key. We shared poems, had intellectual debates, listened to each other’s favorite songs. We had a fourteen year friendship set on fire by infatuation, and it was the first time I was able to experience the joy that comes with being understood in a relationship for the first time. It was also the first time physicality wasn’t a deterrent in building an emotional and mental connection with another person, so the kind of love we experienced was refreshing. I discovered beliefs and ideas from Kahlil Gibran, Oliver Sacks, and independent rappers from the Midwest who actually had songs that spoke to me. I was appreciated for my contribution toward theoretical discussions, and I was encouraged to share my singing (a thing I hadn’t done in seven years). I learned that I was worth more than just a nice smile, a female body, and comforting words. I learned that I was smart, funny, someone’s dream girl. However, we were both damaged in very similar ways. We were damaged without having time to heal, and we leaned on each other to soothe that pain. Because of that, I learned that healing takes time, and mistrust will arise in a relationship when both parties struggle with the same problems. Eventually, I learned true and gut-wrenching heartache.

After not going more than six months relationship-free, I decided to step back and reevaluate what I wanted. There were men that were temporary during that time, but there were no true romantic relationships. I learned a lot about myself during that year of being single. I learned that I am a subconscious self-saboteur. I learned that I liked the idea of people falling in love with me before I was ready to love someone else because it made me feel worth something. I learned that I didn’t actually share the deepest parts of me with anyone, so I was unable to fully connect with another human being. I learned the first steps in becoming vulnerable.

I spent a year like that. I spent a year learning how to actually accept love from another person, but most importantly, how to love myself. When I spent an entire night talking to a man that I worked with outside on my front porch until the sun came up, I realized that I had also learned to trust. Sharing some of the biggest hurts in my life to someone that I only knew in passing showed me that I had allowed myself to become vulnerable. This man became my boyfriend, and during that time, I learned how healthy love can be when there’s a backbone of complete and utter trust. I learned that someone could actually see all of my flaws and not love me in spite of them, but could view my flaws as reasons to love me.  I learned what it meant to be understood completely, and I’ve gained so much confidence and assurance from that understanding. Now, that boyfriend has become my fiancé. With that stage comes more learning. I’m now learning how to be in a committed long-distance relationship with someone who I’m used to being with every single day. I’m relearning communication skills sometimes based solely on words, because facial expressions and physical presence aren’t always present. I’m learning to stop being so stubborn in my independence and to allow the person that understands me best in the world to show his love for me in ways that make him feel like he’s making a positive impact on our relationship. I am learning to allow this relationship to actually be a two-way street.

I suppose it all comes back down to trying to be a person who can say they regret nothing. It’s being able to completely own all of the decisions you’ve made and accepting what happens next, regardless of the outcome. I’ll need to consistently work on being someone who can be proud of their experiences and decisions, but making that a life goal is one of the healthiest plans I believe a person can have.

13322114_10206087568778779_2462029153518719382_n

Advertisements

Being Known

“Shame caused me to hide…the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” -Donald Miller, Scary Close

I wanted to expand upon my last post. Not the relationship part…that will come soon enough in a more lighthearted manner. No, I wanted to expand upon feeling fully understood. Feeling known.

I’ve been a huge fan of Donald Miller for almost ten years. I first fell in love with his writing voice during my freshman year of college. Some of my fondest memories that first semester are of sitting in the laundry room of my dorm, reading Blue Like Jazz and listening to Iron & Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. I realize that doesn’t sound like a particularly thrilling time, especially for an eighteen-year-old who was experiencing freedom for the first time, but I credit those moments as the ones when I started to fully think for myself.

I’m not a fan of most “religious” writers. I don’t like the voice of someone who is obviously trying to convert their readers to their worldview. It’s pushy and desperate and doesn’t feel genuine. If I’m going to be approached with an entire worldview, I want it to come from someone who fully accepts their faults, acknowledges that they don’t have all the answers, but are trying to be their best. I like being able to read words by someone who lives through their flaws.

Scary Close came out in early 2015. I had been struggling with finding my voice and felt like I had lost the ability to connect with anyone on any kind of level. I was feeling lost and unable to trust. Miller’s book was all about relationships and feeling intimacy. This didn’t always necessarily mean romantic intimacy, but just connecting and being known by others.

Through a series of events, I had lost that. In my writing project, I had written myself into a character that “left destruction in her wake and in a way was proud of herself for being able to attract people enough to destroy their idea of love” because I saw myself in that life. I saw myself unable to be known by people because I had lost my ability to trust. I know that some of that mistrust should have been consciously aimed at myself instead of others, but that year was a mess of epic proportions, and I avoided self-blame at all costs.

Somewhere along the way last year, I hit the wall. I learned that I had been avoiding any of the blame for my actions. Perhaps blame isn’t the correct word, but I was tying all of my mistakes and faults to the people who had hurt me. I wasn’t willing to accept that the bad experiences had actually shaped anything about me. There was a moment close to the middle of last year that I had a breakdown in front of others. I was being pummeled with questions about my divorce from a guy I barely knew, and by the end of the night, I was in the passenger seat of a friend’s car unable to breathe or speak. I texted that friend the next morning, apologizing for the inconvenience my panic attack had caused, and his response was so simple and so true: “There’s no need to apologize. It was a true human experience”

That was the first time in a very long time I realized that I shouldn’t be apologizing for the permanent marks my experiences had left on me. Being in the midst of painful moments is as much a part of being human as any joyful moments are, perhaps even more so. All of us experience hardships, and acting like those things don’t exist chips away at our humanity. In my quest to become fully exposed and at peace with every piece of me, I’ve made it a point to not hide my experiences. If the people around me know what I’ve been through, what both pains and soothes me, they are shown my true self. If they choose to spend time with that true self after being made aware of all my flaws, my ability to trust in them grows. This is the way a healthy relationship develops.

Black Rock Lake Park, Texas - April 2015
Bluebonnets at Black Rock Lake Park, Texas – April 2015

The Beginnings

December 12, 2015

I found myself sitting on my front porch with a coworker who had slightly intimidated me at first. The night had started as a small group of friends playing video games and singing along to Across the Universe. He was the last person to get there, and when he stepped outside for a quick smoke break, I joined him.

We sat down, and I’m not sure how the conversation started, but it turned into me telling him stories about my mental health, my heartbreaks, and my fears. How he continued to sit there while actually caring, I wouldn’t understand for some time, but in that moment, we were the cliche only people in the world. I was bold that night. So bold, in fact, that when I told him of my dreams to become a writer, I followed it up with a project I had recently started. “The most recent time that I felt like not existing anymore was December 8, 2015…” When reading those first pages, he learned more of my darkness than most of the people I’ve known for years.

It wasn’t meant to be anything more than a friendship. I wasn’t interested in a relationship, especially with someone who was leaving for the military a little over four months later. He didn’t want any sort of romantic ties back home when he left.

We spent weeks watching movies he hadn’t seen. We spent weeks talking about hopes, dreams, our own faults, and what we wish we could change about the world. We shared our past with each other, and somewhere in all of that, we started to realize that we could have an incredible future if we were willing to work through distance and time.

I’ve felt special connections with other people before. I’ve been married, I’ve been in love…I thought I was through that. I was convinced that I was far too used up to be loved again. While I’ve felt those connections with others, I didn’t ever think that the other person truly understood every part of me. I’d let certain parts of my personality and character show, but my truth told me that if I let anyone see some of the other parts, I’d be unlovable. This man saw the unlovable parts first. He knew them before he knew some of my good parts, and he’s chosen to spend a lifetime loving all of me.

I realize this is a rather sentimental post. This website has been all about depression and controversy recently. I’ve been fighting some incredible demons in my own life, and I’m not sure how well I’d be getting through it all if it wasn’t for Josiah’s constant love and support. He loves all of me, and while I don’t often feel like I deserve that level of care, I’ll be forever grateful for it.

Josiah
Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, AR – January 2016

The Good is Better Because of the Bad

I’ve been rewatching Skins. There’s a scene in the fourth season between Effy and Freddie where she looks at him and tells him that all of her bad memories are gone, and she only has love left. She had been dealing with manic episodes and psychosis, subsequently getting sent to a hospital and having constant care from a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist helps her to “delete” all these bad memories, but it eventually is shown that this is even worse for her mental health. She loses so much of who she has become because she no longer has bad memories to remind her of her growth and change.

There have been several times in the last few years where I’ve wished to just delete moments in my life, especially regarding past relationships. I would love to be able to remove moments like my marriage and really even just meeting my ex. I convince myself that being able to delete the hurt and pain, the insecurities and fears that I developed would make me a happier person. I go back and forth between this desire and trying to embrace the failed relationships because they’ve taught me how to be stronger, to stand up for myself, and to leave when it turns toxic. I know that facing these issues is the healthy choice. I just don’t want any of that to tarnish what I have now and who I am now. I’m struggling with balancing my past and my future, and I’m not quite sure how to merge the two.

I had never intended to get married again. I allowed myself to become completely absorbed in that relationship that I lost who I was. I’ve labeled myself as damaged, unlovable, undesirable. I had a couple people come through my life after my divorce that I thought would maybe be a long-term part of my life, but I was unaware of my self-sabotaging these connections for quite some time. When I finally noticed my pattern and the unhealthy consequences, I made a conscious effort to change. When I met Josiah (which is probably a story for another time) and as we grew in our relationship and made the decision to get married, I tried to stay aware of my sabotaging tendencies.

I still feel unworthy. I still feel like my ex and my past haunt me. I still have family and friends who ask me about him and if I’ve heard from him. I suppose the biggest reason I wish I could delete all of the bad memories is because I’m tired of my past demanding to be my present. I’m so excited for what my future is going to hold, and I’m thrilled that I have someone who makes a consistent effort to understand. I know those bad moments will eventually fade until they’re tiny specks in a very distant memory, but I’m trying to accept them as ways to fully appreciate what and who I have in my life now. I think that’s the key in all of this: trying to appreciate the lessons learned from all of the hurtful moments. It’s just a very difficult thing to remind myself day in and day out- the bad is worth remembering because it makes the good so much better.

IMG_3998 - Version 2
Navy Pier, Chicago – June 2016

Speaking Up

“I’m going to rape you and f*ck you up, b*tch”

That was written in my seventh grade yearbook by the boy who had a locker next to mine. All year, he had pestered me in what I’m now sure was his interpretation of giving me “manly attention”. At one point about halfway through the year, he came up behind me, putting his hands on my hips, and laughed when I asked him to stop. When he wrote that lovely note in my yearbook, I instantly painted over it with whiteout because I was terrified of getting in trouble.

The part of this whole story that disgusts me more than anything else is the fact that I was convinced that I would be the one getting in trouble for having bad words written in my yearbook. By the early age of twelve, I was afraid that someone would say that I had done something to egg him on and that I just shouldn’t associate myself with a person who used what my parents deemed unacceptable language.

When I told someone very close to me (a person who I thought wanted to protect and comfort me above all else) about the circumstances surrounding losing my virginity during my freshman year of college, the first question I was asked was “had you been drinking?” When I told that same person about the abuse that pushed me toward my divorce, the first question asked was the same: “was alcohol involved?”

This is the culture that so many young girls are raised in today. This fear that they won’t be taken seriously, or worse, that they’ll be the one blamed when something happens to them. That they’ll be told they brought it on themselves. It isn’t just the super-mysoginistic men that run the disgusting so-called “pick-up artist” websites, either. For me, it was a family member that should be first and foremost concerned with my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. And that is unacceptable.

I was an innocent middle schooler that wore mostly t-shirts, jeans, and limited too. I was a young college student who thought I had expressed my intentions clearly when I stated I wanted to stay a virgin until I got married. Finally, I was a wife who believed I had married a man who would uphold his promise to protect and respect me. Throughout all of that, I was a woman who was encouraged to believe that somehow, my actions were the cause of the hurt brought upon me. That if I had acted more appropriately, those things wouldn’t have happened. Not once did the phrase “it’s not your fault” ever get mentioned. Not a single thing was stated to help me realize that the person that committed those actions was solely responsible.

Victim blaming has been running rampant for longer than I’ve been alive. Saying that someone brought on sexual harassment or even rape because of how they act or how they dress is completely unacceptable, and only encourages victims to keep quiet in order to avoid adding insult to injury. The only person who is to blame is the person who commits that action. It’s time to start making sure that the victims of any sort of sexual harassment know that if something happens to them, they no longer have to fear not being taken seriously.

Frankfurt skyline- Frankfurt, Germany, August 2014
Frankfurt skyline- Frankfurt, Germany, August 2014