Living More with Less-Part 2

I began to realize that my relationship with my mother was as toxic as my relationship with the three men who abused me. I have never told my mother about the abuse, even to this day; I always assumed that she would blame me. My therapist and I began to evaluate the reasons why this was the case, and what I found was two things.

First, that I always heard language from my mother that was blaming me for things.  Throughout my life I commonly heard the phrases, “He was always abusive,” and, “I only stayed with him because of you,” when she talked about her relationship with my biological father. These narratives gave me the belief that my mother suffered at his hands because of me. When she met my step-father, she was so happy.  How could I, once again, be to blame for her being miserable?  Second, my mother had a lot of control over my life. By not telling her about the abuse I was maintaining some sort of control over my own life.

As I was able to deconstruct each relationship I was able to pull together a list of the people that were a part of my support team.  That support team has become essential for my health and well-being.

With the inspiration to find the complete Emmy, I decided to keep looking deep within myself. I wanted to make sure that I implemented these new ideas I was introduced to. One of the things I realized was that when I was trapped in triggering moments, a common thing I did was buy things. I almost felt as though I should be able to walk into an addiction meeting and say the following soliloquy:

“Hello, my name is Emmy and I am a recovering shopper. I was never told that my addiction was bad for me. In fact, I was told time and again that my addiction was good. Good for the economy, good for my family, and good as an example of my personal achievements. I was given this advice by countless advertisements, television shows, movies, songs, and really in almost every aspect of my life in our society.”

Some people may laugh at this, thinking that I am joking or maybe that I am insane. I have certainly felt on occasion that I was running some marathon of insanity. For most of my life I felt as though having more material objects would make me happy. I was positive that having more things than my friends would make me the envy of those around me. I believed that my life would be better if I had a bigger house, or if I could wear a different outfit every day for a month.

That was definitely not the case. Having more things only created more problems in my life. If I didn’t have the newest video game for my children, on the day of its release, I felt like a bad mom. If I didn’t have a new dress for every event I attended, I felt as though every person in my life knew it and would think I had bad fashion sense. If my home didn’t have expensive things I thought that everyone around me would think I was poor. I should have listened to The Notorious B.I.G. when he said, “Mo money, Mo problems.”

And then there’s the “high.” Buying things created within me a feeling of euphoria. For instance, when I got a four hundred dollar purse for only $75 I felt like the queen of bargain hunting. It became a cycle, and a very vicious one at that. If I felt bad, I would go shopping, which would give me a small sense of fulfillment. I would bring home bags of things that I would never use, items that I would spend thousands of dollars on. I still have a dress hanging in my closet that I have never taken the tags off. It is a beautiful dress, but I have never found the time to wear it. That dress is eight years old.

In many ways, this same cycle is running through the lives of people in our society. Advertising has an intense hold on our lives that many people do not even begin to understand.  It affects our psyche in treacherous ways, and I believe, wholeheartedly, that it creates a cycle of addiction that people do not acknowledge. Meanwhile, companies are making billions of dollars on the addiction that has been created; hidden under the guise of “The American Dream.”

These things would fill up my house and life with complications, which would in turn make me unhappy. This was because there was one thing that those bags never held; happiness.

So, I set about on the decision to stop hiding my pain within the act of buying.

This addiction became a coping mechanism for me.  I used buying to get me through the times when I wanted to escape from the realities that were my life; the reality that I was a terrified woman living with the pain of years of abuse and concealing. The cruelty that I experienced threatened to creep out of my every pore some days, and those were the days when I would go to the mall and spend hundreds of dollars on things that I never needed.

The action of change was difficult. I certainly went through feelings that could be termed as withdrawals. I had to stop going to stores for no reason; forcing myself to make lists when I went to stores to pick up things. These lists would be scrutinized, making sure that each item on it was a need. Then it required me to go by those lists; I didn’t allow myself to be distracted or deviate from them. In some ways, this approach was just like giving up cigarettes or crack; most days I just wanted to go to the mall and buy anything!

After I felt good about my shopping habits I began making decisions that felt good! I had extra money (now that I wasn’t spending it all), extra time (now that I wasn’t at the mall every day), and I wanted to make more positive successes in my life. I started college, originally to achieve a two-year Associate in Arts degree, but it quickly turned into a double Bachelor’s, followed by the decision to achieve a Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

During my first semester, I attended an Analytical Writing course, and this one class ignited the passions that became my majors a year later. I created papers that I was proud and passionate about. I loved every minute. After that first semester, I was already saying to myself, “I can’t just be here for two years.  I need more.”

The more turned into the decision to quit my full-time job and become a tutor at the writing center of the college I attended; it became a double major in English Rhetoric and Women’s Studies; it became something that I have been proud of every single day. Of course, I have to think about the fact that I have exchanged one addiction for another. But addiction is not something that can just be pushed aside for most people. A smoker will turn to chewing gum when they try giving up cigarettes, because they need some sort of sensory feeling that reminds them of smoking. For myself, replacing the dangerous habit of spending money with the habit of education is something that I do happily. However, being aware of it means that I still find myself needing to realize when I am going too far.

For instance, I recently had a rather busy week.  It was Women’s History Month, and the Women’s Center had a great number of activities going on, most of which I have been involved with in some way. We also had thirteen visiting students from South Africa, and I was volunteering some time to spend with the ladies during their stay. There came a point when I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue the frantic pace, and so I stepped back and allowed someone else to take my place.

I began listening to myself more too! The idea to quit my job was probably one of the hardest decisions I have made.  I was making a lot of money at my full-time job, and deciding to quit was definitely a decision that could not be made lightly.

One day I was having lunch with a key member of my support circle, Dawn.  At the time, I was working full-time and completing a 12-credit course load in my first semester of college.  We were talking about the fact that we were unable to spend a lot of time together.

Dawn said, “You know, I hate that I am unable to spend time with people that I love because of work.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said, “I see the people at work a lot more than I see my friends and family. It’s such a pity.”

“And these aren’t even people that I would spend time with if I had the choice.” She said.

I laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”

We commiserated for an hour over the various functions that we were required to attend for our workplaces: dinners, meetings, holiday parties, and even out of town conferences. We talked about the people that we worked with, and how we wouldn’t spend time with them at all, if given the choice.

I went home that night and really started thinking about it. By that time I was living in a different apartment which was much cheaper than the one I lived at in Monticello. Because I had drastically given up my shopping addiction, my bills equated to under four hundred dollars a month.  I made some pretty elaborate lists and charts of my finances, and I found that I could easily make enough money in a month to become a full-time student and still pay my bills.

The last thing that happened during this time was that after realizing that I could live alone happily, I came to the hard knowledge that my divorce, years before, really happened because I was scared that my relationship was good. The fear that was a part of my life had affected how I looked at my marriage. I divorced Gerard (my ex-husband) because I was too afraid to look inside of our relationship and find what was worth saving. There was a problem and I ran from it; simply because that is all that I knew how to do at the time.

Of course, shame and guilt came upon me next, but for the first time I looked at it head on and challenged it; I didn’t run and hide from it. I had to give myself a break.  No one ever taught me about how healthy relationships happen. There were no classes in school teaching us about healthy boundaries.

I started thinking about Gerard, a lot. Our divorce was never really about not loving him, as much as it was about not loving myself. Once I was no longer running from myself, I could give up the emotions that were my life. I could give up the control that I used to need so desperately.

But again, I was left with quite a dilemma. I left him, driving out of Minnesota years before, like a bat out of hell. How could I suddenly come back and say, “Oops, my bad.”? I called my big sister to ask for her advice.

“Melinda, I don’t know what to do.” I said.

“Okay, what’s the problem?”  My sister is very practical. I often say that I am like a balloon flying through the world wanting to be free, and my sister is the person holding me so that I do not fly too high and pop.

“I’ve been thinking about Gerard a lot lately.” It sounded pointless to even say the words.

“Thinking about him in what way?” I could hear something in her voice, but I really couldn’t tell what it was.

“Well,” I said, “in a romantic way.”

“Oh.” She replied, I don’t think she really expected it. “Where did this come from?”

I knew what she meant. “Remember when we sat talking about the divorce,” I started, “and I said that I knew I couldn’t be with him anymore. What I really meant was that I couldn’t be with myself.”

“Wow,” she said. “Really?”

“Yeah. But I don’t know what to do.” I answered.

“What do you want to do about it?” She asked.

“I want to call him, and I guess ask him out. Is that weird?” I asked back.

“No,” she responded, “I don’t think it’s weird.”

“I can’t do it though” I said.

“Why not?” She asked me.

“Because he obviously hates me” I answered. “Look at what I did to him! I left him; I abandoned our lives and our family.”

“Okay,” she said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I had to take a few minutes to think about that one. I said, “I guess the worst thing that could happen is that he’ll say no.”

“And will that destroy you?” she asked. “Will you not be able to go on if that happens?”

“No,” I said, “I suppose I’ll just move on again from it. It’ll hurt of course, but I am living by myself okay right now. I suppose I can keep doing that.”

“Then just ask.” She said.  My sister has this matter of fact way about her.  Even in matters of the heart, she is all business.

I couldn’t find the courage to call Gerard after that, but I did message him on Facebook asking if he would like to have dinner with me. Doubt tried worming into my thoughts while I looked in the mirror that night; I pushed it aside, even though I thought about cancelling almost a dozen times.

It wasn’t an easy thing, bringing our lives back together, but that was the night that started the conversation and work of becoming a couple once again. It would take an entire book to share how we came back together, but I will say that because we were honest with each other, we have been able to reach out and accept the love that we have for each other.

My time is now spent doing the things that mean the most to me.

I spend time with the people that I love the most: my partner, our children, and friends and family.

Gerard and I have found a passion in traveling together; filling our lives with amazing places and experiences that we never thought we would have.

I don’t work as hard, trying to find ways to buy things that don’t matter to my life.

I’m living more, with less.

 

 

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

Living More with Less-Part 1

The coffee maker bequeathed its little “ding,” letting me know that the pot was ready for consuming. I never let myself drink the coffee before the entire pot is ready; it always tastes different if you do, less full bodied. I poured myself a cup, adding cream and sugar, just the way I liked it.  I went outside to my apartment balcony and sat in the teal high-backed lawn chair that I bought for that singular purpose. I found it relaxing to sit outside enjoying the sounds of the morning while sipping my first cup of the day. Today, though, I couldn’t enjoy the birds singing in the spring air. To be honest, I didn’t even hear them.

There are times in life when we are thrust into positions we never imagined for ourselves.  I kept staring inside at the apartment; looking at furniture, pictures on the wall, and the possessions of two people. But I was the only person left in the apartment.

The feelings that welled up inside me over the next few weeks were like old friends; fear, shame, guilt. The fear that I would be alone, once again, without someone to call my love; patriarchal gender norms at their finest! The shame of giving up on yet another relationship; this wasn’t the first time I ran away from a partner. There was also the guilt of wondering what I did wrong.

I met Bertin in the spring of 2011.  In 2010, I went through a rather irregular divorce, after which I moved to California.  We decided to do what was best for our two children, which included trying to make the divorce as easy as possible. Bertin was pretty much the exact opposite of my ex-husband: unpredictable, irresponsible, and unstoppable.  He was everything that I wanted to be; everything that I pretended I could be.

Our fights were like two storms coming together. I was the tornado, tearing through life, creating a path of destruction and pain.  Bertin was a volcano, quiet until suddenly he burst through with the power to demolish anything in his path.  Needless to say, we were not a good combination.  We met in a whirlwind. A swirl of time in which it all seemed to stand still. And each day we were together the storms tried to tear each other apart, but those storms were us! We moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to Minnesota. We broke up and came back together three times during the two years we were together. He went on a trip to see his family in San Diego.

I remember dropping him off at the airport. I drove my green two-door Mitsubishi. I picked the car out of the lot, not for gas mileage or durability. I picked it because it had a sunroof, and I always wanted one. Bertin and I ate breakfast at our favorite diner. It was a tiny family owned restaurant that was only open for breakfast and lunch in Monticello. I always got their pancakes, amazingly large and fluffy, with hash browns and bacon; Bertin got the corned beef hash with eggs, which was his favorite from our first visit. We drove to the airport holding hands the entire time. His smooth fingers rubbed in the space between my thumb and forefinger. We chatted as though it was any other day. He never lived away from his family, which was something I could easily understand. I kissed him goodbye; thinking that I would be seeing him in just one week.  But a month later, he was still making excuses as to why he wasn’t coming back home.

Everything in my life seemed to be a tumultuous affair; my relationship with Bertin, my family life growing up, my twelve-year marriage to Gerard, and my friendships. They all seemed to be situated around common factors; fear, shame, and guilt. But, I didn’t realize how they fit together, until the day I stood in that apartment surrounded by Bertin’s things.

When I look back now, I realize that these emotions were in control of me during most of my life.  During that time, though, they just seemed normal.  I hardly knew anything else.  And so, I sat there in my empty apartment, all alone, and I finally decided that I had to do something drastic.  I had to make myself whole. I needed to find a way to live more.

I sat down for the first time in my life and tried to really figure it out. I turned to some of the things that have always been a part of my life, books. I love to read. There have been times in my life when books were a substantial escape for me. Sometimes I would read up to five books in a single week. I began reading Elizabeth Gilbert and Alexandra Stoddard. Both authors wrote about taking deep looks within yourself. Sometimes you might not like what you see, and that’s okay, but you have to look. I didn’t see someone strong inside myself, although that’s the kind of woman I have always thought myself to be. I found someone who spent the last thirty-some years running.

I was sexually abused for twelve years of my childhood.  It started when I was five years old, and continued until I was seventeen.  There were three men who abused me during the most vulnerable years of my life. Sometimes, even now, I look at a sentence like that and have a hard time believing it.

Those years of abuse were tremendously hidden, in a number of ways.  First, no one within my family knew about the abuse. Second, I hid the abuse deep within me during most of my life. Once a year, I would have a remarkable breakdown; the only time that I would let out the pain.  Usually this would result in sobbing for a couple of days, with no one to console me. After a few days I would pack it all away, within its neat little box where I believed the effects of my abuse needed to live.  I lived nineteen years with constant emotional roller coasters. During that time, I tried numerous depression medications to try to solve the adversity that was my life. But medications for depression are for changing the neurotransmitters in our brain that affect our emotions. My own depression wasn’t just in my brain; it thrummed through my blood and hid in the deepest reaches of my soul.

I finally began to understand that my abuse was harming me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom. I could no longer push aside these emotions and memories. I knew that I had to confront them if I ever wanted to be happy.

Health insurance is woefully lacking in assistance for those that need any sort of counseling services. I was stuck in an expensive lease that I was paying for by myself. I definitely did not have the money for the eighty-five dollars an hour that some of the clinics were charging.

I used to work with a woman, Samantha, who I knew was a licensed counselor. I was hoping that she would have some ideas for low cost assistance. She knew that the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center had advocates and counselors on hand, and that they provided free services within our area. I snuck out to my parent’s garage one particularly hard day, when I was feeling the creeping emotions pulling me deep into their embrace, and I dialed the phone number that Samantha had given me.

“Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, how can I help you?” The woman on the other side of the telephone asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I said, “I think that I need to talk to someone.”

“What would you like to talk to someone about,” she asked.  “I need to know a little information so that I can get you to the right person who can help you.”

Here it was, truth time. Whatever I said here would mean that more than a small handful of people would become people that knew about my shame. I took a deep breath, but my voice came out in the tiniest of whispers.

“I was sexually abused as a child, and I am having a really hard time right now. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say.” The tears were already falling down my face, and I could feel myself sliding into the all too common frame of mind that hit me once a year.

“Thank you for sharing with me” she said, “I am going to get you on the line with one of our advocates.”

A few moments later I was talking with someone who helped me find a little bit of calm that day. She also told me some other options for future help. I could call the advocate hotline any time I wanted, and I set up a meeting to meet one of the centers counselors at a church nearby my apartment.

I will always remember the first time I met with Julie. I was terrified; shaking the entire time. It was so rare for me to say the words out loud.  What would she think of me?  One of the men who abused me was my dad.  In some ways I hate him, but in other ways I love him.  He has always been a part of my life; my family’s lives; my children’s lives!  How fucked up would she think I was?  However, Julie put me completely at ease. We didn’t have to talk about it right away, if even ever. She was there to listen to me. Whatever I wanted to say.

We did end up talking about my abuse that day and once a week thereafter. But what she taught me about myself was so much more. She helped me find confidence; the confidence to believe myself and to trust myself. She helped me find the dedication to follow through with confronting the things that were to become known as my triggering events.  Instead of hiding them, trying to pack them away in those neat little boxes, I could let them out. Visit the memories, and find a way out of them. She reminded me that five-year-old Emmy was still a part of me and she was scared!

One of the things that has helped me the most is a picture of myself in my phone. I was five years old, and the picture was from when I was in Kindergarten. I am wearing a blue button up shirt with little red flowers on it. I remember the shirt was cotton; it was always crisp but smelled of Downey fabric softener. I had three colors of yarn in my pigtails: red, white, and blue. I always loved it when my mom did my hair; these were some of the last happy years of my life. When I am triggering, it’s important to remind myself that that small child is safe. I will look at the picture and remind her, “You are safe. You are loved.”

Julie and I also talked about ways to develop and maintain healthy relationships. I found great importance in the idea of having healthy relationships with everyone in my life.  I learned to find boundaries within my relationships.

From those counseling sessions emerged someone I never thought I would see; a person who was happy and adjusted.  Someone who realized when she needed to slow down and look at situations with deeper analysis.  I found myself.

There are a number of relationships in my life that I have had to re-evaluate.  Each person that has crossed into my path has had to be scrutinized; a decision to be made. I think that too often we do not want to take a hard look at the people in their lives. We see everyone as a blessing; someone who loves us needs to be cherished.

But, sometimes, a person is not good for us.  It isn’t that there is something wrong with us, or them. When we deconstruct something we are able to look at it with a different lens and dig deep into the meanings behind them.

In this instance, I was deconstructing the relationships that comprised my life. I had to look at them from another lens, and not just the lens of social acceptance that I was raised to accept as normal.  That was the lens that allowed five year old me to not say anything about being touched sexually for twelve years.  By looking at this new lens I was able to see the complexities in my life that had me thinking these events as almost normal. And as I looked back, I realized that I did think of those things as normal. There was a time in my life when I assumed that this is what daddies did with their daughters.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in Emmy's Story, coming next Tuesday!

Emmy Phillips is a senior at SCSU in the English Rhetoric program. She was sexually abused for twelve years of her childhood, starting at the age of five. It has taken a lot of work to be where she is today, and she is proud to say that she is a survivor. Some days are really easy, but some are really hard. Her dedication to helping survivors has culminated in the completion of sexual assault advocacy training, and is now ready to volunteer to help others through painful times. Wherever you are in your journey; never be ashamed of your story, because it will inspire others.

 

Open Letter

By Jo Benson

Mom,

You were right.

Those words are a big moment for you and me. You told me when I was four, five, eight, twelve and three times when I was eighteen, that one day I would know what you meant, and I would say, “You were right.”

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to have you as a mother and mentor who teaches not through lessons, but by example.         Patience is one of the many things you’ve taught me. Patience has allowed me to take time to reflect and understand our relationship. It has allowed me to see you as a human being, even though you might not be ready for that yet.

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Without Kids

By Andrea Broekemeier

I am a woman who doesn’t want kids. For as long as I can remember I haven’t wanted them. To be honest, babies kind of gross me out. Pregnancy bellies even more so. Something about the thought of a tiny living thing being inside someone else that’s on the verge of exploding from that someone’s fun parts just rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and the miracle of birth and all that cute stuff, but I can’t stop thinking about the reality of it. Blood. Pain. Poop for god’s sake. I’ll pass.

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Coming Out (of Innocence)

In honor of National Coming Out Day (October 11th), we are pleased to bring to you a poem by Alex Marrone.  This poem was published in the St Cloud State University Kaleidoscope publication for 2015.  The author has graciously given us permission to share it with our blog community.

I remember the first time I saw my mother kiss another woman

I was six

She asked me if I understood

I thought I was supposed to say “no”

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An Exchange

By Bao Lee

At the end of my last winter break, my mom and sister dropped me off on campus and I started crying. Fall has always been a lonely period for me, and this past one was especially difficult. While I was home during break, I yearned for the space and privacy I got at school, yet knowing the family car would soon be pulling out of St. Cloud never failed to make me feel ten years old again. I surprised even myself Crying wasn’t going to help. It would just prove to my mom that I was a kid pretending to be an adult when I had no idea what I was doing. Immediately, I felt my mom stroke my head, her voiced hushed.

“Don’t be scared,” she said.

I nodded but my eyes kept leaking. I didn’t know how she knew I was scared. I never talked to her about my fears of my future, my mistakes, or of disappointing her.

“Don’t be scared. When you get scared, call for grandma and grandpa.”

I nodded again. This isn’t the first time Mom’s told me this even though my grandparents have passed away and I’ve never met them. They’re around though, all of them, the ones that only my soul can hear.

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