Overcoming the shame of sexual abuse.

Sadly, my story is not original. It is not uncommon. I wish it were. I wish no one could relate because then no one would have experienced what I have.

We have in common the experience of tragedy, loss, abandonment, and abuse.

We have in common the many emotions that tumble around our minds and weave in and out of our lives. We experience triggers, flashbacks and nightmares. We all have had friends or family that assigned emotions, guilt or questions to us that were unwarranted and painful. We all have worked on, pushed forward, and worked through some of the most difficult situations and horrible events.  Little by little. Moment by moment. We persevere and we overcome.

There are hundreds of things that could be slightly different and slightly the same  in each of our stories, but most of us have one thing in common.

We have felt shame.

The dictionary defines shame as this:

shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
“Caused by the consciousness of wrong!” We did nothing wrong. So we should feel no shame.
We do not innately feel shame. Shame is taught. Shame is transferred on to the innocent.
If a man comes up while I am walking down the street and punches me in the face leaving a black eye, would I feel shame?
If a person walked past me and stole my purse, would I feel shame?
No. Because none of those actions towards me had anything to do with me.
The only person that should feel shame is the person who has done the wrong.
So if we do not innately feel ashamed if a stranger punches us in the eye then why would we feel ashamed if we are sexually abused? We should not.
I titled my story Not My Secret…overcoming the shame of sexual abuse. I did this because, IT is not my secret. It was something that was done to me against my will that I don’t need to hold on to for anyone. It is a secret others  wanted to be kept to protect their own shame.
To overcome the shame you first must realize and fully comprehend that the shame is not yours.
A shameful act was done by the abuser. Therefore, the shame remains on them. 
The very first step in overcoming the feeling of shame is placing the burden of shame on those that committed the act against us. Transferring the shame we are feeling back to where it belongs, on them.
They put the shame there to wrap us in chains. They put the shame there to keep us silenced. They, they, they…not us. The shame is for them.
The second step is speaking the words, ” No! This is not my shame. I did nothing to be ashamed of. I do not accept the feeling of shame. I release the feeling of shame.”
Break away from that which is pushing you down and keeping you struggling. That one word, shame, carries with it a lifetime of struggle. It carries with it a weight that will pull you under faster than anything else. It has the power to keep you as a victim and prevent you from being a survivor. We all must release that word and every single feeling that comes along with it. It is not ours. The sooner we release it the sooner we move towards healing.
The third step is recognizing who in your life still makes you feel ashamed for what has been done to you. Then let them go. No one should continue being in your life that EVER makes you feel ashamed for what has happened to you. There are reasons far beyond my understanding why others put their shame on us. I could spend days writing about their possible  issues of guilt and  remorse. How their coping somehow involves victimizing us to make them feel less accountable.  I could spend hours and hours talking about what they should do and how they should do it and why. Those people are not worth it. They have already wasted too much of your healing time. They do not deserve one more minute of your understanding, time, or excuses for their behavior. Their shame is not yours. Their issues are not yours. If they are embarrassed by what has been done to you then they do not truly care about you.
The only people in your life should be those who rejoice in your triumph. You should be surrounded by family and friends who will encourage you, lift you up, and let you feel.
My story has been that of great discovery of myself. I didn’t know who I was. Was I just the girl who many men abused? Was I the girl who was date raped? Was I the girl who felt alone and lost? Was I the girl who was told who to be? It took me a long time to realize who I am. It took me a lot of searching and sorting and reevaluating myself and everyone around me. I was molested. HE tried to make me feel ashamed. He tried to blame me. Family and friends tried to label me and make assumptions about me. Family and friends felt embarrassed and put their own feelings on me for years. I was so burdened by EVERYONE else that I lost sight of who I was. I allowed their shame to be my own. I was taught to feel shame. We are taught shame. It is not our own.
I feel as if I had this cloak of their burdens my entire life. They put it on me. This cloak that made me invisible to the real me. These burdens that were not my own.
I took the cloak off. When it fell, all the emotions attached to me fell with it. All the people who put it there fell to the ground. I rose above them. I stood above them.  You will see who you really are when you remove the cloak that was put on you all those years ago.
It was not your fault you were raped. It was not your fault you were molested. It was not your fault you were beaten. It is not your shame. Release the shame and you will discover yourself. You will see that although these things happened TO you they are NOT you.
My story is the raw truth of my journey to overcome the shame of sexual abuse. Although I am still working through some kinks, and unwanted memories, I am now in control of this journey. I have released the shame that was never mine to begin with. I have discovered who I am and I love the person I have become.

What we need from our fathers.

Being a parent is challenging and demanding.  Being a parent is also life altering and enlightening.  It is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced.  All you need to be successful is these five things: Patience, love, guidance, protection and time.  You may not have your goal income. You may not have your dream home.  You may not be working in your ideal job.  But these things do not and should not influence your parenting.  Your child’s self-worth does not come from the amount of money you make.  Your child’s values, goals and integrity do not come from the size of your house.  My husband and I have tried our best to give our daughter patience, love, guidance, protection and time. Because of that foundation she feels loved, safe, and comfortable coming to us with anything.  I know we have not been perfect.  I wouldn’t expect any parent to be.  But I do believe if each of those elements are met then children can thrive.

These elements are critical if a child has been molested or abused.  As a child that was molested, I needed every single one of these things.  I needed them from my father.  I did not care what job he had.  I cared that he spent too many hours there.  I did not care about the house we lived in.  I cared that he spent more time on the house and yard than he spent on me.  I needed to feel guided through the steps that came after the abuse.  I needed to feel protected from worrying about abuse again.  I needed to feel love and patience through that process and I did not get it.

We need these things from our fathers.

I needed these things from my father.  I needed every single one.

When he was home he felt he dedicated his time and love to my brother and me.  Time has many components though.  Time playing in the lake, time eating dinner, and time having fun are easy. But, they are completely different than time spent listening and time being present.  We had great times.  But what I needed was the quiet time you spend just being with someone.  I needed more real time.  If I knew I could get that kind of time, I would have trusted my father with the secrets that needed to be told.

As I grew older my father spent less and less time with me.  Age does not lessen the need we have for our fathers. We always need our fathers.  I have wished my father “here” more times that I could ever count. He loved me from far away and at short intervals that were convenient for him.  Love must be a constant, unconditional and effortless action.  It is hard to feel truly loved by a man who lives 30 minutes away and chooses to only see me three times a year.  Even though I never felt unloved, I never felt deeply loved.

I felt loved by my father.  He loved me with his words.  I believe he felt that working those long hours was his way of taking care of us and loving us.  But it is hard to love enough when you are rarely home.  It takes the right time to love.  I always knew my father loved me.  I just felt like he didn’t always know how to show it.  Throughout my life I have never felt unloved by him.  I just didn’t feel loved in the way I needed.

To feel loved we need to feel protected.  Unless we feel protected we can’t really feel the kind of love we need.  My father did not protect me.  I did not feel safe.  I sought safety my entire life because I never knew it as a child.  As a child, I never told my father my secrets.  I never told him my fears and nightmares.  He wasn’t available for me.  I told my mother.  And she told my father.  And still my father did not protect me.  I needed to feel protected to feel loved.  How can a child feel loved from a parent that allowed them to be hurt and then did nothing after?  We cannot always protect our children.  But when we learn of an injustice, we can take every measure and cross every mountain to make our child feel safe again.  How is that done?  It is what I wanted my father to do and what he did not do.  I wanted him to say, “I will do my best to never allow anyone to hurt you again.”  I wanted him to say, “I’m sorry I could not protect you then but I will protect you now.”  I wanted him to ask me where I was going.  I wanted him to care about who I was with.  I wanted him to be involved in my life.  Because if you aren’t involved how can you protect?  He wasn’t involved.  He didn’t protect.  He didn’t create an environment where I felt safe to tell him the truth.  If I felt safe enough to tell him the truth I thought he could have protected me.  Yet he proved that he couldn’t because when he did know the truth he chose to do nothing.  As daughters we need to feel our fathers will always be there.  They need to be there during the little things and the big things.  If they are there for the little things then the big things won’t be so hard to conquer.  He didn’t help me conquer the big thing and that affected me for all of my childhood and into my adult life.

He did have patience with me.  He would spend hours on the weekends driving the boat while I learned a new waterskiing trick.  I would fall over and over and over again.  And he just turned around and picked me up to keep on trying.  He wanted me to succeed.  I knew that in my efforts to succeed he felt very proud of me.  It was his greatest quality.  I always felt he was proud of me.  When I won first place in my first skiing competition he was the most proud.  I remember him hugging me and I felt on top of the world.  I have looked back at that moment in my childhood so many times.  I have wished that the pride he felt for me spilled over into all the other things I needed as a child.  To have times of pride without times without anything else leaves an unbalanced child.  There was no balance in my life.  Having my father feel proud of me could only sustain me for so long.  Being patient in only one category of your child’s life is not enough.  I needed not only patience through my athletic achievements but patience through healing from the abuse I endured.  A child needs to feel validated and acknowledged to heal from abuse. That takes a different level of patience, time and love.  Levels that I never felt.

After I was abused I needed guidance.  I had no idea what to do next.  What would happen next? What were the right steps to move forward?  I needed my father to guide me.  I needed him to sit down with me and talk to me.  I needed him to listen to my fears of the future and guide me through it.  Even if he had no idea what would come next, just the assurance that he was there to walk with me through it would have been enough.  I was a child.  I needed my father to hold my hand and just be present.  He did not do this.  I felt so lost.  I felt lost for so many years.  He could have prevented me from ever having that feeling.

I know that finding out I was abused was a shock to my father.  I know that he did not know what to do or say.  I think it is very important to note that doing nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing.  At that time the “right” words were not what I needed.  I just needed words.  I needed him to be present.  I needed him to give me that kind of time.  I needed him to guide me with patience and love through the nightmare I had just lived.

The only reason he did the wrong thing is because he did nothing at all.

I didn’t want him to be the perfect father.  I just needed him to do some very basic things.  A child does not need extravagance.  A child does not need to have their days filled with activities and events.  A child, and especially a child that has been abused, needs 5 things. I needed those 5 things. I needed to KNOW I was loved, to KNOW I was safe, to KNOW I was not alone, to KNOW I had help moving forward, and to KNOW I’d be given his presence through it all.

These are the things I needed from my father.

I give you permission to feel.

 

“Why are you angry, Bethany?” “You just seem upset.” These are the words that have come out of the mouths of my family.

“Being angry makes people sick.” “You should let it go and not talk about it.”  “No one wants to hear your grisly details.”  More words from those most close to me.

Why am I angry?  I am angry because I was molested. I am angry because no one fought for me.  I am angry because my feelings were not validated by those close to me.  They’re still not.  Those questioning my anger don’t really care why I am angry.  They just want me to be quiet.  Being angry means I am feeling.  Feeling means I am acknowledging the truth.  The same truth those close to me are trying to avoid.  It is not my fault I was molested.  It is not my fault that they don’t want to hear the truth.

A compassionate person says, “How are you feeling right now?”  “Do you want to talk about it?”  “How can I be there for you?”  “I am here to listen if you need to talk.”

Everyone has an opinion on how I should feel.  When I was a child I should have felt a certain way.  As an adult I should feel a certain way.  Over and over I am told how I am supposed to feel by those who have absolutely no RIGHT to tell me how I should or should not feel.

Is it not OK to be angry?  Is there a time limit on anger?  Is there a time limit on grief?  Is it not ok to grieve?  Is it OK to grieve but not OK to be angry?   I am grieving over the loss of my body, the loss of my childhood and the loss of my innocence. That is still grieving. There should be no time limit on that.  There is no time limit on that.

Telling the victim of abuse to let it go, to not be angry or to move on is not helpful advice.  No one has the ability to tell you how to feel.  Don’t let them!

Telling me to move on is making the assumption that I have not moved on. I have moved FORWARD.  I have a beautiful family of my own.  I continue to move FORWARD.

Feel!

I give you permission to feel!

 

Validate your own feelings. They are real.  I validate your feelings.

I don’t plan on being angry forever.  And I have let many things go.  But this is a process.  Does it haunt me every day? No.  Does it come up and do I have to deal with those emotions?  Absolutely. Will there be moments that a memory makes me angry until I am 80?  Maybe.  But who says that is not OK?  I don’t.  I feel the emotion and then I let it pass.

I give myself permission to feel it and then I move forward from it.

 

For 30 years I was not angry.  I was numb.  I was a robot moving through life.  If I stayed angry and chose to be a negative person, then that would obviously not be healthy.  But I am not a negative person.  I am simply a human being whose has emotions.  And I intend to fully feel those emotions.

Other people may try to corral your emotions, stop your emotions, silence your emotions or tell you what they think your emotions should be.  They should not have that control over your life.

I wrote my story.  Some family members told me that no one wanted to hear the details of what I endured…Perhaps they didn’t and therefore they don’t have to read them. But to assume that no one wants to hear them is wrong.

Some women finally get the courage to tell their story, their truth, the events that impacted their entire life and they are shut down.  I’m here to tell those women, “Don’t give up.”

Just because one person responds to you in a cowardly way does not mean that your words don’t need to be spoken.

 

You have a voice.

 

You are not alone and I give you permission to feel!

 

Why Me…A question you shouldn’t ask yourself

 

When you ask the question, “Why me?” in essence, you are  implying that you had, in some way, something to do with what happened. This very unhealthy brain conversation has to stop.  The “Why me?”, implies that IF you had done something differently then he wouldn’t have chosen you.  The “Why me?” is really asking yourself,  “What did I do to make him do this to me?”  Or “Why did it happen again?” or “Am I doing something wrong that makes these men do this to me?”

The answer is NO. You did nothing!  HE did something. THEY did something.

 

By asking, “Why me?” you are suggesting that you have a label on your head that somehow signals bad men to come your way.  This is wrong on every level.  There is nothing about you that made this happen.  There is nothing “different” about me that made men violate me.  There is nothing different about you.  It is not your fault.  The fault lies solely on those  men.  It was their actions.  It was their crime. They hold the accountability.  They hold the blame.

 

I asked myself this question for years.  I asked my husband why he thought men had done this to me.  I thought it was because I was this quiet and meek girl.  I thought that maybe my quietness attracted them.  I thought that if I had had a stronger personality then it would have changed what happened.  My husband helped me to understand that I could not change who I was.  The sweet person that I am is the reason that he loves me.  . He loves my personality.  So, this same personality does not “attract” violence..  He helped me to understand that it had nothing to do with me.

I kept thinking, “Well, living on a lake, waterskiing almost every day, I was often in a bathing suit, since early on until I was 21 years old.  I became a professional water skier which put me in a bathing suit for the entire day.”  Did the bathing suit “signal” men to come and molest me?  Did that invite men to attack me?  Was it not my personality but just my environment?

The answer is clearly no. Our clothing cannot be an excuse for a man to commit a crime.  There are no excuses for crimes against women.  The way you walk, the way you dress, the way you dress at work… none of these things gives a man an excuse to violate you.

Here are my husband’s thoughts on this topic:

 

“Imagine driving your car down the road.  You approach an intersection that has had a steady green light for 20 seconds.  You’re obeying the speed limit.  As you drive through the intersection, a truck runs the red light from the intersecting road.  It slams into the right side of your car.  It spins you 360 degrees, causing multiple injuries.  The crash totals your car.  The driver of the truck is drunk.  Afterwards, do you go home and ask yourself, “Why me?”  “What could I have done differently?”  “Was I driving in such a manner that I attracted this drunk driver to smash into my car?”  “Perhaps, I should have been in the center lane and not the curb lane.”  “Was my red car to blame?” “Perhaps, I should have bought a white car, instead.”  No.  That would be silly.  The crash had nothing to do with you, your actions, your looks or even your presence.  The drunk driver is solely to blame.  The crash had nothing to do with you.  Had he left the bar a minute sooner, he would have simply smashed into someone else.  And so, it wouldn’t have anything to do with that poor “other” innocent driver either.  To even contemplate “why” you were targeted by the molester is absurd.  You were simply there.  Had you not been, it would have been someone else.  And, unfortunately, since we’re all very well educated on the behavior of child molesters and rapists, we know that we are not their only victims.  They repeatedly commit this crime.  With whoever is there.  Whenever they see an opportunity.  They pick their victims.  Their victims do not pick them.”

 

The question “Why?” shouldn’t be asked at all when you are violated.  As an adult, after I was violated by my best friend’s husband, she asked me, “Why didn’t you just fight?” She said, “You are strong. He is weak.”   I was an adult so she assumed that I would fight.  Does that mean if a woman has a black belt in Karate, that if she didn’t fight, then she is somehow to blame?  That she is somehow weak?  I was a woman who lifted weights and had plenty of strength. But I didn’t fight.  But she still asked, “Why?” So not only did I ask myself why, but now  my best friend asked me why.

Nobody gets to ask that question any more than we should be asking it of ourselves. There are hundreds of reasons why.  I was afraid of what would happen if I fought.  I was afraid he would hurt me.  I was afraid he would kill me with the shotgun he kept handling.  I smelled the alcohol on his breath and I had been there before.  I knew he was drunk.  I was afraid. Too afraid to do anything at all.  I sat there and let it all happen because my survival instincts kicked in and told me that to get away I should probably NOT fight.

As a child I was asked why I went back to the abuser’s house.  Why?  Why does anyone think it is OK to ever ask a child or an adult that question?  I actually tried to explain why and half way through I thought….Wait…Why are they asking me questions??

Here’s a great question to ask: “How on earth does the victim have to explain what she did in the middle of a nightmare turned real?”  These events are so horrific that we all suffer from PTSD.  They are so horrific that most people in society don’t even want to hear about them, much less talk about them.

 

Well she doesn’t have to. You don’t owe anyone any answers and they shouldn’t be asking you in the first place.  If they’re asking these questions, surely they do not have your best intentions at heart.

We are not just victims of abuse. We are survivors of abuse.

The word WHY cannot be assigned to a victim. The word WHY cannot be asked to the victim.  Because we are innocent.  We are innocent of everything that was done to us. 

 

So I stopped asking myself, “Why me?” If I was upset about the event or events I just rephrased it to “I wish that it didn’t happen to me!” It is a very simple change with a very profound affect.

 

The fluffy shell.

There was a very rich girl in high school that always stood out in my mind. She seemed to have things so easy when things were so difficult for me.  She had the most expensive clothes, car and house .

I saw her a number of years after high school and she was pregnant.  I was pregnant as well.  I just saw her in passing and again thought of how I was wearing my husband’s clothes because we couldn’t afford maternity clothes for me but she was all fluffy and fancy looking.  Three months or so after I gave birth I saw her in the gym and the first thought in my mind was, “Well, since her roots are bleached blonde I guess she isn’t breastfeeding.”  Such a flippant and judgmental thought that I just tossed around in my head.  As if somehow I got to think those thoughts because I had had struggles and she was the rich and perfect girl.  I even went on with my ugliness, and I mean deep down true ugliness by thinking, “She probably has her baby in the gym daycare where she’s gonna get sick!”  Where , I had my baby at home, and I knew I only had 30 more minutes to work out before I had to get home to nurse her.

It had to have been not 5 minutes later when I ran slap into her.  I asked, “So how old is your baby now?”  She told me that her baby was born premature and had passed away shortly after. I am crying even now as I write these words.  I had deemed her the “Fluffy shell” of a girl.  I had NO idea what her life was like.  I assumed assumptions beyond assumptions that were nowhere near the truth.  I judged her on her shell.  When she had lost a baby!  I could not have felt lower as a human being then I did in that moment.  She was a mother.  The thoughts in my head, even though not spoken out loud, were a disgrace to her as a human being.  She deserved better than that.  I will never forget that lesson in judgment.  It hurt my heart so deeply.  I went home and held my baby after I had unknowingly judged another mother who had just lost hers.  And what if she had not lost her baby… would those thoughts still have been OK? Absolutely not!  Somehow I thought just because my life was hard, and hers looked pretty, that I got to judge her.  When in fact she was very pretty and I was deep down quite ugly.  Those kinds of thoughts make people ugly.  No matter your circumstance, to judge another makes you very ugly.  I apologized to God in that moment and prayed that I could become a better person.  There was also another lesson that I needed to learn. And that was me realizing that I was not the only person who had been through pain.  And just because I had been through sexual abuse did not make me the authority on tragedies.  I shouldn’t be determining who  is to be judged based on their own tragic situations. At that point in my life I had not yet learned the true value of empathy.  I have come a long way since then.

We often shrug off these comments in our head and think, “I am only human.”  But is it human to judge others?  Is it human to judge based solely on what you see?  If so, that’s not the human I want to be.

I’ve noticed in the past if I were around judgmental people it was much easier to become superficial.  One day, I was walking around the mall with someone in my family. She saw a girl and said, “Ugh, she so should not be wearing those pants. They make her look fat.” and “Did she not look in the mirror before she left home?Because that skirt is totally see through” And I would notice myself agreeing in my head with what she said.  Even AFTER my lesson from God, I would still slip into noticing superficial things if I was with someone else when they judged..

I think this is how people get caught up doing the wrong thing.  Someone else is drinking so they end up drinking.  Someone else criticizes a girl and so they do the same.

In my journey to heal from abuse I have learned that being in the moment is the only way I can be true to myself.  Being in the moment means you don’t just casually breeze through life and through moments without thinking.  It means that instead of nodding in agreement when someone points out  an overweight person, your mind says,”STOP.  I disagree.”  And I will challenge that comment with something positive instead of just following right along.

One day it finally hit me.  This family member saw a girl running down the sidewalk and said, “Keep on running.  You have a lot more to go!” And I said, “At least she is out there trying!”  I  had no idea what was inside that shell.  No idea. She could have already lost 100 lbs.  She could be fighting bulimia.  She could have a thousand reasons why she was overweight to begin with; diabetes, thyroid issues, chronic illness… Why did my family member get to say something negative about someone she didn’t even know when this person was actually out there running?!

That moment stopped me from wanting to be around people who did that.  To this day I have no desire to continue a relationship with anyone who judges someone on their appearance.  I had already stopped judging people in my own head.  Now I didn’t want to be around anyone else who judged out loud.

A few years ago, I was taking my dogs for a walk.   About a mile away from my home, I loved going past this one house that had sunflowers every year.  In my wheelchair it took about 10 minutes to get there.  I passed by this house and the sunflower garden was just dirt.  I wondered why the owner hadn’t planted the flowers this year.  Day after day I went by their house and no sunflowers.  I finally saw a man in the yard and I yelled,  “What happened to the beautiful sunflowers?”  He came out to the road and told me that he had always planted them for his wife, but now she had cancer and he was too busy taking care of her to plant them.  He invited me in to meet her.  We had a lot in common.  We struck up an immediate friendship. I went over to her house once a week for a few hours.  She laid on one couch and I laid on another .  We talked about how frustrating it was to have a dusty shelf that we knew we couldn’t dust, her because she had cancer, and me  because I have a muscle disease. We talked about how we evolved into not caring about the dusty shelf because it really didn’t matter so much. There were so many more important things to talk about than dusty shelves.  I was with her the day before she passed.  I remember holding her hand.  What an honor it was to know her.

I met her because I noticed the disappearance of the sunflowers.  I didn’t judge the man for not planting them.  I simply noticed.  You can notice and be aware without judging.  In fact, noticing and being aware are brilliant gifts to have.  It allows you to see past the bare gardens and the fluffy clothes and see what lies underneath all of that.

 

 

I judged that girl in high school because everything about her appearance was fluffy.  Her hair was fluffy. Her scarves were fluffy.  Even her boots were fluffy.  Her appearance was just a fluffy outer shell.  And our body is really just that.  It is an outer shell.  It is what carries our soul.

We are not a body with a soul. We are a soul with a body. 

 

Last weekend I went to a funeral of a very kind man.  He had an open casket. I looked at his body lying there and it was completely surreal.  Because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that that was simply his body.  He had died of cancer.  Cancer had taken over his body.  But cancer was not who he was any more than his body was who he was.  He was who he was because of his soul.  Because of what lied beneath that outer shell.

Yesterday, my daughter caught me passing a little judgment, old ingrained habits still pop up I will shamefully admit, and anyway, I saw a woman in a on-line picture holding her baby and she had just had a C-section.  She was all made up and beautiful.  I remembered how I looked after giving birth and said out loud,  “Well she probably scheduled that C-section like so many do these days because there is no way she looked that good after childbirth.”  My daughter pointed out to the bottom of the picture that said,  “This wasn’t a planned C-section.”  UGH.  I had come so far.Just by looking at her pretty face, I assumed that she had not been through what I had been through in childbirth.  My daughter, who is quite outspoken, called me out on my judgment.  She pointed out that I had no idea what this woman had been through and I really should not have just assumed.  My daughter is wise beyond her years.  She was born with this pure sense of being.  I’ve never heard a judgmental word come out of her mouth.  She speaks up for the fighters and the warriors and the underdogs.  She never makes rash decisions based on a few minutes of knowing someone.Always, and I mean always, she sees the inside before she even looks at the outside.

I guess judgment is a lesson I will have to keep working on.  Had I just taken a moment to NOTICE the lettering under the picture I would have not assumed anything.  But in truth we never know what has happened in a person’s life that has put them where they are right now.  We don’t know why they  wear certain clothes, have certain hairstyles, or carry themselves a certain way.  And it absolutely should not matter.

Why do we judge?  Insecurity?  Jealousy?  Envy?  Is it because we have been taught to judge by example?  Has it been modeled to us?  Is it because we ourselves have been judged?  The “why” does not really matter.  No matter the reason, the act of looking at someone and assuming you know absolutely anything at all about them, is wrong.  We are looking at the body of a soul.  We have no idea what that soul has been through.

One of my friend’s daughter had cancer.  She spent over a year in the hospital with her daughter.  I don’t know everything she experienced but I was there for some of it.  Now that her daughter is in remission I think  “I hope when she goes out people are kind to her because she has been through hell and she deserves some extra kindness.”

It would be much easier if we all had signs around our neck.  “Had a child that survived cancer. Still exhausted to my core.” (for my friend.) “Just lost a baby. Trying to work out at the gym anyway.” (for the girl from high school.) ”“Was raped.  So I put on this weight that I am now desperately trying to lose.” (for the girl that is running on the sidewalk.)  “Made it through today even though I was worried I wouldn’t.” (For me.)

But none of us have signs.

We can choose not to judge.  It is a choice. All that is required of us is to not assume based on what we think we see.  And let this be the last lesson in judgment that we ever need to read.  Remember, we are not a body with a soul, we are a soul with a body.

 

We are swans.

 

Last night I had this revelation of sorts.  I was thinking about my family. As an adult, not a teenager in highschool, but as a grown woman I tried my entire life to fit in with them. But I was nothing like them. I was the complete opposite of every single thing that defined them. I longed to fit in to their little unit. But at what cost? It was far too great. I can see that now. I can see everything very clearly now as sometimes age and experience can do. I was willing to compromise me to just be accepted by them. In looking at them now I realized that they never would have seen me. They still don’t see me. And they made it very hard for me to see myself. And as I take a step back , I realize I never wanted to really be part of a family like that anyway. I see how desperately I just wanted to belong. I find this sad, yet liberating; Sad that I was willing to compromise who I am, liberating because I know now I will never do that again.

Belonging with them took away me.

It reminded me of the Ugly Duckling story. All the little ducks in the family, all the same just following each other’s lead. And that one duck, that wasn’t a duck at all, that stood out. He was different. He felt alone and scared because he wasn’t like the others. He felt like he didn’t belong and was bullied and made fun of for being different.  But in the end, when he looked at himself, he realized he was this beautiful swan. It was OK that he was different because being different set him aside from all the rest. Being different made him beautiful.

Throughout my life and throughout many of our lives there have been times we felt  like we don’t belong.  Many circumstances can make us feel as if we don’t belong. Many things make us feel different. We aren’t on the basketball team, or the cheerleading team, or the swim team. We don’t have the “in” clothes, or the extroverted personality, or aren’t  in the group of kids with a title. Do we need a title to fit in? Do we have to belong to a group to actually feel like we have self worth?

Could feeling like we don’t belong perhaps and most importantly be a good thing?

Can being in a group take away your self worth?

In highschool I simply did not fit in.  I was not comfortable being with the other groups. And If you don’t feel comfortable that is a signal that you are trying to be what you are not. I wasn’t comfortable not being myself . I would have rather been alone. As a teenager being alone felt lonely. I hated the feeling of not fitting in and feeling lonely. I was more of an observer, a thinker, a feeler. At one point I even envied those people who were the life of the party and everyone wanted to be with. I still wonder if those people are truly happy or are just acting like they are.

There are in fact some people who thrive in groups and who are being themselves when they do back flips off tables. I know someone like that. I love that he is and always has been very true to himself. He wasn’t really in a group though. He was just someone everyone wanted to be around. He wasn’t a facade or an impersonator. He was the life of the party because that is just who he was and is. He belonged everywhere because he was comfortable in his own skin being who he was.

You can be the life of the party. You can be alone in a corner. As long as wherever you are you feel at peace with who you are.

So when I speak about trying to fit into a group or feeling like you belong I am more addressing what we are trying to do for other people to some how feel different about ourselves. Are we trying to change ourselves to become something we are not just for a temporary feeling of fitting in?

As an adult I embrace being alone and would much rather be secure in who I am, and be alone, than act like someone I am not.  It wasn’t until recently that I pondered the idea of not belonging as a good thing. Because what am I choosing to belong to? I am choosing to  be fake? I am choosing to  be a follower? I am  choosing to  do what pleases others just to fit in when it means compromising myself? If belonging means I am not being me then I choose to not belong with those groups of people.

From high school, to work parties, to birthday and baby showers, we are all put in situations where it may evoke feelings of whether we fit in or we don’t. As we get older the situations may change from sitting at a lunch table alone as an 11th grader, to sitting in the corner  alone at a work party. But we to differentiate  how the situation makes us feel from  the way we feel as a person.

We cannot allow others to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We cannot allow our desire to fit in with others, the ability to take away our desire to be OK with who we are.

Often times the association of not belonging comes with the word lonely. If we don’t belong then we are lonely. I think we should challenge that. I think that belonging should have more to do with accepting who we are than who we can group ourselves in with. And sometimes you can be alone and not be lonely because you are infact totally at peace with who you are and where you are.

As if life weren’t challenging enough, throw in being abused. Do other people know you were abused? Do they treat you differently? When you enter a room do you wonder what they are thinking? Being abused can be a very isolating feeling. If you felt  like  you didn’t fit in before , how ever can you fit in now. Where do you fit? Living in this era of social media and being bombarded with commercials expecting perfection is a lot to try and fit in to.  Sexual abuse has a way of making a person feel different in and of itself. It is very hard to find yourself when so much of yourself has been taken away. It is very hard to find your place in this world when the world is full of groups of people that don’t even know who they are yet others want to be like them.All of these things can swirl around in your head and create and absolute tornado of emotions, none that are leading you in the right direction.

When the focus revolves around other people; How other people act and how other people treat you; How other people make you feel about who you are and who you should be; How different situations and different groups of people can affect how you feel about you… Then the tornado will continue. You can only calm the storm when you put your feet on the ground and turn the focus away from them and on to you. You know who you are. And it has nothing to do with them.

You have to make today be the day that you being you no longer has anything to do with them. 

 

Like in the Ugly Duckling story  we are different. We are different because of our circumstances. We are different because we have been through tragedies that have made us feel deeper, seek enlightening experiences, and find a peace wherever we may be. We cannot find what we are looking for in other people’s approval. We are different because we belong by being true to ourselves. We belong on this earth. We are meant to be. And we  may even be different because we were born with a purpose far greater than fitting in with others.

We are different because our life is no longer about fitting in, or following anyone. We are strong in ourselves. We are not like all the other little ducklings.

 

Because we are swans.