Uncategorized

The S.H.A.R.E. Movement Is Here!

Welcome to S.H.A.R.E.!!

Supporting Happiness, Acknowledgement, Respect, and Equality: A card sharing movement for LGBTQ+ friends who could use some cheer!

~~~~~~~~

I have an amazing friend I met through advocacy work, Ashley, and she brought this amazing idea to me yesterday. I just had to copilot this movement.

The holidays can be a difficult time for so many of us, specifically for some of our LGBTQ+ friends that aren’t in contact with their families or maybe just need a little boost of love.

So, we’re here to spread CHEER and POSITIVITY through greeting cards filled with heartfelt messages.

What a way to spread JOY and LOVE!

Here’s how it works:

  • Click this link.
  • Sign up as a sender and we will contact you with details on how to help.
  • Sign up as a receiver, or someone you know who would appreciate a holiday card, and they shall receive!
  • Share, share, share, share this S.H.A.R.E. Movement on social media!

We hope for this to grow into a huge movement for other holidays, birthdays, weddings, graduations, or any event where an LGBTQ+ friend needs a pick-me-up.

{Please note that home addresses are needed for greeting card deliveries. Privacy, security, and safety is our top priority so if sharing an email address feels more comfortable, do that! And we will send some virtual cheer!}

GET SHARING! Let’s spread some love this holiday season!!

Questions? Email me: VanessaVNichols@gmail.com

Thanks for being a part of something special,

Vanessa and Ashley

Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Social Media

The 10 Things People Say to Parents of Trans Kids

Last week, our school board finally made a decision to protect our trans kids in school.

It’s been on their docket for well over a year, so it was about time.

There was an uproarious school board meeting in 2016 when one of the first trans kids came out publicly to challenge the {oh so exhausted} bathroom conversation. And the conversation continued to get louder as trans students, allies, community advocates, and parents pushed for policies and guidelines to keep our kids safe.

It took quite some time and a whole lot of conversation but the superintendent finally pushed these supportive guidelines out after ten of us spoke during September 2018 board meeting, which seemed to be his tipping point. Finally. They’re on the right side of history.

It was a big win for our small, red county in southwest Florida.

But of course, the fight is far from over.

The opposition is out in full force donning all of their ignorance and hatred. All because one uber conservative school board member dog whistled for her base to assemble. They’re digging their heels in, kicking and screaming that the guidelines are “radical”, especially because they state that parental involvement isn’t necessary if a student comes out at school; the school is to respect and honor that student, (as they should since family acceptance is not always guaranteed and home can be a flat out dangerous environment).

It’s an ongoing discussion.

And because I’m a public advocate for trans rights, specifically for students in our district, I field a ton of hatred and tongue lashings via every virtual media outlet possible. Keyboard warriors unite!

But some questions I receive are out of genuine curiosity. Questions that I believe most parents of trans kids field nearly every single day.

So, I would like to dispel some myths and hopefully even squash some outright dangerous lies. Especially since the Trump administration is attempting to erase our entire trans community by redefining gender, which scientists have fiercely rejected, yet, here we are.

Here goes.

1. You Make Your Kids Trans

Sigh.

I literally cannot get my child to do the two simple chores I ask him to do in a week. I can’t get him to brush his teeth twice a day. I can’t get him to keep his clothes neat in his drawers.

I certainly cannot make him into something he isn’t.

And I know because I tried to force him into being a girl once upon a time, before I understood what it meant to be transgender. Because I really did secretly want a girl, the gender he was assigned at birth.

I dressed him in pinks and purples with bows and headbands, up until he made his own clothing choices. And even though I allowed him to wear boy clothes as he grew, trying to support his unique character, I was still rooted in the idea that he couldn’t possibly know his gender at such a young age.

I wanted to wait and see what age would bring, despite his verbiage of feeling like a boy in his mind. Which in turn, only soaked him in shame. So much so that he was self-harming at age 8.

Once we sought professional guidance, I realized that he knew exactly who he was. He began using his new name and pronouns and like magic, he was happier, well adjusted, confident, and no longer self harming.

We don’t make our children into what they’re not. We follow their lead. Not to mention, why would we sign our kids up purposefully for a lifetime of societal rejection? That defies all logic.

They were born this way. And if you need science to prove it, there’s plenty of it.

2. They’re Too Young To Make Life Altering Decisions

Referenced above, I myself once thought that elementary aged children don’t know themselves well enough to understand their gender.

Which actually sounds ridiculous as I type this out.

Because…what age were you when you realized you were a boy or a girl?

I was 3. I loved dresses that twirled, carried around baby dolls, and embraced everything else that falls into the category of the female gender.

But more so, since it isn’t about just toys and clothes, I never had a devout misalignment between my brain and my body like our trans kids (and adults) do. I was in complete acceptance of who I was as a female in a female body.

My son was drawing himself as a male character by the age of 3 or 4, imaginary playing as male characters, begging to change his name from that same age. Because his body and his brain weren’t aligned.

So, kids know. Just as we knew.

Usually the “what if this is just a phase?!” question is asserted in this same conversation. And to that I say, “what if it is?!”. Who cares? At least I followed my child’s lead and allowed him some autonomy in exploring his gender identity. It’s really ok.

Also, we cannot confuse gender identity with sexuality. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with who we are attracted to but I believe many of us confuse the two, therefore believing kids are just too young to know themselves since sexual preference usually emerges around puberty.

Oh, and a change in name and pronouns…is not life altering, but it is life enhancing for our trans kids.

3. You’re Pumping Your Kids Full of Hormones and Mutilating Their Genitals

Um. No.

This actually makes me fucking angry.

Medical professionals are a part of our kids’ lives, as in, a trifecta of physicians including a primary care doctor, a mental health professional and an endocrinologist. And this team develops a treatment plan for our kids including talk therapy, possibly puberty blockers, which simply pause puberty since that time in life can be detrimental to our trans youth, and maybe, possibly, eventually, hormone replacement therapy that aligns with their gender identity. This usually would be prescribed in the teen years, as puberty would be occurring.

And gender confirmation surgery might be discussed as a young adult. Possibly.

Not every trans person follows the above mentioned treatment plan.

Everyone’s transition is different.

But I assure you, we are not pumping our young children full of hormones or surgically altering them.

Just no. Stop.It.

4. Being Transgender is a Mental Illness

I might hate this one the most. Not because there is anything wrong with mental illness. I live with one myself (severe anxiety).

I loathe this one because it’s used in such a dismissive, oppressive way towards the trans community.

The World Health Organization historically classified being trans as a mental illness, just as homosexuality was at one time, but it is now considered a “health condition”, solely for the purposes of allowing access to medical treatments that trans folks might choose to seek, such as hormone replacement therapy, so their body can align with their identity, so they can minimize gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria, the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex, does remain in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual as a mental health diagnosis, where professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have agreed that the only course of treatment is that of the affirmation model, meaning to guide them in transition socially, and possibly medically {hormones and/or gender confirmation surgery}, if diagnostic criteria has been met.

To put in perspective what that means- not all mental health issues listed in the DSM V have a cure per se, or aren’t exactly mental at all, such as restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy which are also listed. They require a diagnosis for a treatment plan but they’re not something to be undone or medicated even.

So, the only time mental illness comes into the conversation might be if the individual experiences anxiety or depression, which usually is the result of family, peer, or society’s rejection of them.

Family rejection remains high, unfortunately, even given all of the scientific data that supports that being transgender is, indeed, real. And statistics show that suicide rates can be as high as 58% when a young trans person is rejected by their family, comparatively to 4% if accepted.

And of course, most of us acknowledge that the general population remains grossly undereducated on this subject, which results in stressful social situations, which can certainly contribute to emotional distress.

So, we have to do better about educating one another. And stop the stigmas.

5. You’re Pushing Your Liberal Agenda

I’m not even sure what this means but I hear it all.of.the.time.

The way I translate this is, “we need to just ignore this entire community to preserve everything we view as ‘normal’ because it threatens the patriarchy”.

But I doubt anyone would own my interpretation.

So, what I’ll say is- ok. Sure.

Our “liberal agenda” consists of fighting for equality for our kids and for all trans people. Because they’re American citizens and they deserve some equity in society. And they need to stop being “other-ed” by society.

Our kids aren’t political pawns. They’re humans. And because they do happen to be trans, they need advocates fighting for their basic civil rights.

If that’s “pushing a liberal agenda”, yep. You’re right. That’s what we’re up to.

We prefer the term “social justice warriors”, but potato, pata-toe. “Liberal agenda” will work.

6. I Don’t Understand What it Means to be Transgender

This sounds innocent enough, innocuous even. And I’m always, always happy to educate when I hear these words.

But this usually results in people steering clear of the scary family with a trans kid. They might not outwardly spew hate, they might even do a great job of tolerating us, but because they’re not educated, they keep at an arm’s length.

Which is fine. But personally, I would rather they ask questions, even if they’re invasive.

Questions are good. Sticking your head in the sand is bad.

7. What Will I Ever Tell My Cis (non trans) Kids?!

This is an easier question to answer than it sounds.

Kids are easy. And whether you are onboard with what it means to be trans or not, you frankly don’t need to say much.

It’s as simple as, “well, little Sally, your friend at school who you’ve known as Lily is now going by the name of Dylan and will be using he and him instead of she and her. He feels like a boy in his heart and brain and so this is honoring him. Try your best to respect his new name and pronouns. It’s ok if you make a mistake. Just gently correct yourself”.

And, like magic, kids will simply say…”Ok!”.

That’s usually that.

Yes, really.

The remainder of the conversation is really up to you and how much you want to explain.

There are some great books available for young kids. And older middle and high school kids, trust me when I tell you that they already know.

Because kids are very accepting and loving.

It’s the parents that teach bigotry and hatred.

Keep the conversation simple and honest.

8. You and Your Child Are Going To Hell

I cant even with the religion conversation. And I hate the phrase “I can’t even”.

There’s so many things in the Bible that aren’t honored on a daily basis, like, hello, you’re not supposed to touch the skin of a pig? Or be around a woman on her period? And you’re supposed to gouge a man’s eyes out if they force him to sin?

Get the hell out of here. No pun intended.

But other than that, my God wouldn’t want you to be an asshole. He would want you to be accepting and loving and He will sort us all out.

And yes, God does make mistakes so don’t come at me with that shit either about Him “not making mistakes”.

We have glasses for bad eyesight, braces for bad teeth, hair color for grey aging, and so on. Sometimes, bodies aren’t perfect in terms of how we see ourselves. And trans people are no exception.

God loves everyone. Full stop.

9. If Your Child Has A Penis, They Are Male, A Vagina, They Are Female

First, the obsession with genitals is alarming. It’s very strange to me when grown adults talk about children’s genitals.

But if you must, I’ll engage.

This is fake news.

Because, did you know that 1 out of 1500 babies are born intersex, which means they have sex characteristics of both male and female, such as a penis and ovaries.

Which gender are they?

Unfortunately, for many years, doctors were making that decision and surgically modifying these babies at birth…only to choose the wrong gender in some cases. Some intersex people never even knew this about themselves. Some that do are very private about it.

All of this to say, genitals do not always determine gender. Even though many of us do identify with the gender assigned at birth, gender lives in the brain. And science, once again, has drilled down on this with research.

10. But! Bathrooms!

I know, I know. You don’t want your precious girl in the bathroom with a penis lurking.

This whole bathroom debate is a complete fallacy with zero substance.

Studies have shown that not one incident is on record of a trans person perpetrating in a bathroom. Not one. Cis men are the ones we need to watch out for. Not trans people.

When is the last time you saw someone’s genitals in a bathroom anyway? I never have. Because I go in the bathroom to do my business.

And I have news for you- you’ve shared a bathroom with a trans person whether you realize it or not. That’s a fact.

But the bathroom debate that was sparked a few years back, and just won’t die, is all a distraction and aimed to continue to the oppression of and discrimination towards trans people. There’s no other basis for it to exist.

Not to mention, when my child was still identifying as female, he was policed in bathrooms constantly since he presents in such a masculine way. Everyone assumed he was a boy and would call him out when he was SEVEN YEARS OLD.

This is unacceptable. Don’t police genitals, friends. It’s weird. It’s creepy. It’s unnecessary.

And if you’re along this line of thinking, shouldn’t you also be concerned about gay and lesbians in bathrooms? I mean, they’re attracted to the same sex, yet they miraculously don’t go around humping and molesting in bathrooms. Because they’re far more focused on peeing.

And if you’re worried about high school locker rooms and kids seeing the opposite sex genitals, our tran kids are very private about their bodies. They’re acutely aware that their bodies and brains aren’t aligned. They tend to use the stalls. And again, I never saw any genitals in my years of changing into my PE clothing.

So, please. Just take a shit, pee, change your clothes, whatever, be sure to wash your hands and exit the bathroom. That’s is all.

*******

Whew. That was information overload. But all very necessary to work through for those that need to catch up.

We are in desperate need of an education so we can see more allies rising up for this amazing, resilient community.

Our kids are the bravest of the brave and we, as their parents, are the fiercest or the fierce.

Once you break down your biases, challenge everything you’ve known in terms of gender, and get to know our kids, get to know our families, you’ll find that are all the same, navigating this thing called life. Doing the best we can.

No matter what happens in the world, our trans kids will always exist and we mama and papa bears will always love, support and advocate for them.

Parenting, Politics, Raising a Trans Child, Ranting

Why Parents of Trans Kids Are A Special Kind of Tired

Yes. All parents walking the earth are tired.

We are all absolutely in solidarity with that fact.

We could all use about a week on a deserted island without any children, technology, or responsibilities of any kind.

But I feel the need to tell you about the special kind of tired that parents of transgender kids are experiencing.

It’s different than most versions of tired.

And this isn’t to “one-up”. And this certainly isn’t to take away from an LGBTQIA child themselves, their own struggles and hardships. This isn’t to take away from, or distract from… anyone.

This isn’t a competition.

This is just to simply explain and shed light on how we’re feeling, since it’s of my belief that we, the parents of trans youth, are living in our own marginalized community.

Unless we happen to live in some uber progressive area, we are all acutely aware of the discrimination that the trans community faces. We see it everyday, especially on social media. We hear it on the news, we see how the current administration is rolling back Obama-era LGBTQIA protections.

Or maybe we all aren’t as aware as I hope we are. Maybe that’s utopian of me. Because it doesn’t matter to most if it’s not personal, if it doesn’t hit your heart.

I’m not sure.

I digress.

Although the conversation about trans folks is seemingly becoming more expansive, even a bit more accepted amongst the general public, (especially with headlines such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recent policy statement on how to care for trans youth best is by affirming them), we still have such a long way to go overall.

And who is leading the fight for trans youth?

Parents. {Mostly. But not ever to slight or dishonor our trans warriors themselves.}

And it is indeed a fight.

The pioneer parents in this fight have been visibly on the scene for less than a decade. True publicity and awareness for trans youth has really only been discussed for the last 3-5 years. And amazing strides have been made in many ways.

I, myself, just joined the fight within the last 9 months.

And I. Am. Tired.

In the short amount of time I’ve been on a mama bear, warrior path, yes, I’m a special kind of tired.

Because we are the advocates, the fierce allies, the public speakers, the meeting schedulers, the school board meeting attendees, the researchers, the therapist seekers, the medical professional seekers.

We are the ones out in front of our kids with swords and shields, fighting like hell for equality and basic human rights.

We are fighting for our kids to be heard. To be seen. To be viewed the same as every other child.

We are fighting for policy changes, locally and globally.

We are fighting for bullying protections, for bathroom spaces, for name changes, for gender marker revisions, for medical care.

We are thinking about our children nonstop while they’re at school, wondering if others are being kind, if the correct name and pronouns are being used, if teachers are abiding by our requests, if our kids are being bullied, assaulted, chastised, outcasted.

We are wiping our kids’ tears for far different reasons than that of any other parents, fielding emotional meltdowns, especially when dysphoria hits our kids, when they loathe their bodies, when they’re frustrated.

We are navigating emotional issues when their peers reject them, when they can’t find jobs, when they can’t participate in sports with the rest of their cisgender peers, when others refuse to use their chosen name or intentionally misgender them, when adults harass them, when people tell them God hates them and they’re going to hell. When their classmates tell them they should kill themselves.

We are running to doctors to treat urinary tract infections because they held their pee all day so they didn’t have to use the bathroom in which they feel unsafe.

We are sometimes not even the biological parents fighting this fight. We are the amazingly unselfish, loving adoptive parents, accepting and affirming someone else’s child who was rejected by their own family, by their own blood. Just for living their truth.

All the while, we are simultaneously defending ourselves from hate.

We are falsely accused of pushing agendas, of having some sort of “liberal” brainwashing scheme that we are somehow instilling in our children and poisoning every other child within a 100 mile radius.

We are falsely accused of administering hormones and “mutilating” our children at the young ages of 7, 8, 9, and 10.

We are falsely accused of being crazy, of making our children mentally ill, of abusing our children, of allowing them to be transgender.

We are told we are wrong.

We are told that our children are confused, sick, misguided.

We are fighting false claims coming from anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups, Christian extremists, politicians, none of whom base their claims on facts or research. We fight the ignorance and dismissiveness of the general public.

We are the educators, the question fielders, the soundboards.

We are losing friends and families, fighting battles that our children might know nothing about.

We are fighting online trolls, personal attacks, worrying about safety for our families, especially since trans women are being murdered at alarming rates.

We are also having to pack away the child we thought we birthed, the assigned gender of our child, the hopes and dreams we had tied up in that little human. Some of us are even grieving a loss of sorts that’s very difficult for others to understand. We are grappling, struggling to understand what’s happening, how our child is feeling, how best to help them.

We are putting old pictures away that are hurtful to our kids, literally packing away our memories, careful to not use their birth name, vigilant about using the correct pronouns even though it might feel profoundly unnatural to us.

We are doing an unbelievable amount of emotional work.

And we are tired.

Because none of this is for us. This isn’t about us.

Because when we have children, nothing is about us, our needs, our wants.

Because this is about loving fiercely, loving unconditionally, and loving unapologetically.

Because this is about paving the very best path for our children that we possibly can, leading with love and acceptance, working with what we’re given in our hate-filled society.

Because that’s what makes our tired a different kind of tired: our tired involves fighting hate, discrimination, prejudice, erasure, and bigotry.

Unfounded, unacceptable, misaligned hate is pervasive in our lives. Just because our kids are trying to live their lives as who they really are, without hurting anyone or interfering with anyone else’s life.

They just want to live. And we just want them to live.

This isn’t an attention grab. This isn’t a post for accolades. This isn’t for praise.

This is for knowledge sake.

This is for awareness.

Because we are tired.

And we just want our kids to be able to have the same rights, the same opportunities, as every other human.

And we won’t rest until that’s real.

———————–

Edit: I had no idea this post would resonate with so many and make it around the internet. Thank you for reading.

I’ve upset some wonderful people and I’m so sorry if you’re one of them. Please click here if you’re a trans teen.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Raising a Trans Child, Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Sexuality Vs. Gender Identity

I read a post today that I wanted to love deeply. It was about parents needing to accept the fact that they might have an LGBTQ kid.

I really, really wanted to love this post because it’s so true.

Parents that don’t accept and affirm their LGBTQ kids are assholes.

They just are and I’m done mincing words about that.

I don’t give a shit who or what is telling you that being LGBTQ is wrong but it’s a bunch of self-serving, self-indulgent bullshit. If a book written a billion centuries ago, and then rewritten, and interpreted a billion different ways, is telling you that your kid is going to hell for loving someone of the same sex, therefore you as a parent cannot love them, I suggest digging deep in your soul to see if you’re prepared for your child to live a life of depression, emotional distress, and possibly suicide. This is the reality for them when they live in the closet. Check the stats. 

I would gladly give up eternity if it means that my child can live a happy, healthy, full life here on earth. If I believed in that sorta thing.

I agree that it’s high time for parents to get with the fucking program and realize that you cannot choose who your child will love or how they will self-express and identify. I’m not saying it will be easy for everyone, but it will be worth it. Take the time to reconcile that shit within yourself and your faith but ultimately- unconditionally love your kid.

Yes.

However.

The aforementioned post was lacking and needs some clarity. Specifically on the topic of delineating gender identity versus sexuality.

So, if you’re a woke folk who is with me so far, please read on for clarity.

Gender Identity, by definition: {noun} a person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.

Sexuality, by definition: {noun} a person’s sexual orientation or preference. 

These are not one in the same and we must recognize this and understand the difference so we can all be awesome LGBTQ allies.

I am a mom of a transgender son.

When he was really young, around age 5, he started to verbalize his gender identity by saying things such as, “Mama, I feel like a boy in my heart and in my mind”.

And because I myself didn’t completely understand the concept, I patted him on the head and said, “No worries, my love. We will talk about this when you get older”, firmly planted my in my thoughts that puberty would sort through this one way or the other. I assumed that I was supportive because I allowed him to dress in all boy’s clothes, play with boy toys, cut his hair short, and so on. {See my Scary Mommy post that ran in 2015 before I was a woke soul.}

I didn’t comprehend that gender identity lives in the brain and formulates very early in life, unlike sexuality. My child knew who he was and he tried to tell me.

Just like you or I have known our whole lives whether we were a boy or a girl, so do trans kids. It’s already developed in their brains, early on.

Similarly, if someone offered you a million dollars right this minute, but the condition was that you must change your gender, surgically and all, chances are, you wouldn’t do it because it isn’t who.you.are. in your soul. And you wouldn’t want to live that way.

I refused to listen to my son back then because I was lacking the education. Until he became self-conscience, isolated himself, and even self-harmed at the tender age of 8. It was then, I finally realized, when a literal brick fell on my head, that I was confusing gender identity with sexuality to an extent. I was intermingling the two, assuming that they were both determined with age, maturity, and development.

Then there are kids who gender-bend, are gender fluid, or non-binary.

These are kids who don’t necessarily feel as those their assigned gender doesn’t match with how they’re feeling in their minds, but they play with the confines of gender roles. They might float between feeling like a girl and a boy, expressing themselves in fluid ways. Maybe they’re exploring, maybe they’re just fine with identifying as male or female but they live outside of that box, (that we so love to put everyone in), maybe they identify as non-binary (which can also fall under the transgender umbrella, if the individual so defines themselves this way), or maybe they just like what they like without boundaries or labels.

All acceptable. And none of which should make any parent uneasy or uncomfortable.

None of these things I’ve mentioned so far determines if you’re gay, straight, bi-sexual, pansexual, etc. None.

Young boys that like to wear dresses, play with dolls, and paint their toenails? Doesn’t mean they’re gay.
Young girls that love short hair and football and despise makeup? Doesn’t mean they’re lesbian.

Sexuality defines that part.

Sexuality and sexual preference is when puberty comes into the discussion. Around that awful, dreaded time of hormone surges, around the ages of 10-13, this is when we start to realize who we’re attracted to, who makes us feel funny, who we start to look at in that way, who we get those butterflies -in-our-stomach feelings about. Those proverbial crushes start to form and heartbreaks are inevitable. We all remember this part of life. Sigh.

This is when our LGBTQ kids might come out as gay, bi, lesbian, etc. usually. Hopefully we’re creating open, safe spaces for them at home to feel free enough to share how their feeling at any moment of any day about gender identity and sexuality. These really shouldn’t be awkward, uncomfortable conversations.

And regardless of, or because of, all of the above, we love our kids selflessly and let go of all of the binary hopes and dreams we might have had for them. We realize that they are their own person and we follow their lead.

But it’s important to know the lingo to be a proper, effective ally.

I’m certainly no expert and I’m not aiming to condescend. I’m learning and growing every single day because I’ve been fortunate enough to be chosen to parent a transgender child, so I’m hopeful that by passing on the correct information, we can get to a place of understanding and acceptance together.

The more you know.

 

 

Life Lessons, Relationships, Uncategorized

A Lesson Learned From Walking In The Rain

I walked to the gym tonight to do some yoga. It’s about .5 mile each way.

I’d been in a funk and I needed to breathe. I realized once I got there that I only had about 20 minutes because of a cardio class that was coming in. That frustrated me but I carried on with my practice, feeling rushed. Not quite what I had imagined.

While I was there, though, a giant rainstorm rolled in, quickly, as they do in Florida. It was so rhythmic and calming that the storm actually brightened my mood. It made me slow down my practice. It made me breathe deeper and longer. It made me more mindful somehow.

There’s just something about a good, evening rainstorm sometimes.

As I finished up my practice, it was raining so hard that I couldn’t walk home. Only, no. It wasn’t that I couldn’t. It was that I didn’t want to. There was no lightening, so, no danger. It was simply that I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get wet and soggy and cold and uncomfortable.

So, I sat there. 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes went by.

I started to wonder when the storm would pass. I grew impatient because I was getting hungry. A gentleman sitting next to me, also waiting out the storm, looked at me and said, “I just looked at the radar and this storm isn’t going anywhere. Might as well make peace with it”.

What wise wording. Make peace with it. Make peace with the discomfort, essentially.

His comment sent my brain down a metaphorical highway and got me thinking…

Our species isn’t very good at making peace with discomfort- physical or emotional. We are beings that will do almost anything to avoid discomfort. We’ll pop a pill at the slightest amount of pain. We’ll write off friendships or relationships when things get complicated. We’ll guzzle alcohol at when life gets stressful.

We don’t want to sit with the lesson. We don’t want to learn what’s being taught. We just want to make things easier on ourselves and take the path of least resistance.

A very wise friend once said it so eloquently, though, “Nothing truly goes away before it teaches you what you need to learn”. And she’s so right.

Whether it’s a reoccurring bad dream about someone you’ve wronged, a romantic partner you can’t let go of, a friendship that you can’t seem to reconcile, a job that you know isn’t right for you but you stay…the lesson hasn’t been taught yet. Or more likely, the lesson hasn’t been learned yet. We must listen carefully.

And you have to be willing to be uncomfortable to work through it all.

That storm wasn’t passing tonight. So I took off my flip-flops, yanked up my yoga mat and walked through it.

It was simultaneously exhilarating and fun to walk through the rain. I felt like a kid walking barefoot through puddles. I was wet and soggy and cold when I got home. But the discomfort? It was momentary. It was fleeting. That feeling of freedom and airiness while I was walking in the rain far surpassed my discomfort. I felt really good when I got home. I felt lighter.

I needed that release of walking in the rain. That was my lesson. Right in front of me, yet hidden in my reluctance to be uncomfortable.

But. You just can’t get to the lesson without testing your comfort zone boundaries. Lessons are never easy. They’re never uncomplicated. There doesn’t seem to be much of an education in things that come easy.

It stopped raining five minutes after I got home. That storm wouldn’t pass until it taught me the lesson. I just needed to listen.

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Parenting, Relationships, Uncategorized

The Function in Dysfunction

I talk a lot. Sometimes too much. I’m an over-sharer and sometimes I feel the need to word vomit in the most simple of conversations. It’s just who I am. Too transparent. But it’s certainly led to some interesting conversation.

I was talking to someone affiliated with my work world, someone I had just met, and she was asking me about life, in general: kids, vacations, etc. Just small talk. She asked if I was married and I said my usual, “No, but her dad and I are still in a relationship. We’re together but don’t live together”.

She gave me the same perplexed look that everyone else does. People don’t understand this type of unconventional situation. I get it. She is quite a bit older than me so she seemed more concerned than most do about my answer.

And then she said this: “Well…that’s an interesting set up. So much dysfunction for kids these days. I guess broken homes are the norm with all of the divorces. No one stays together anymore.”.

Dysfunction. I loathe that word in relation to describing a family.

Broken. I loathe that word in relation to a home.

It got me thinking- why, and how, on earth did we ever start describing families of divorce as “dysfunctional”?

Totally rhetorical but my annoyance remains.

This idea that divorce is synonymous with dysfunction and brokenness should not be perpetuated. Those are temporary states, or emotions, within divorce at times, but not adjectives that should describe families.

What a horrible label. It’s something that I have heard less and less of since divorces are so common, but these ugly words we use to describe families that aren’t the fairytale version of marriage and family- “dysfunctional”, “broken”? Let’s stop that.

My family is not dysfunctional. My family is not broken. And my child does not need to think otherwise. If her father and I would have stayed in a marriage, a relationship, which, at the time of separation was completely unhealthy- arguments, tension, unhappiness, amongst other things- wouldn’t that have been broken? Wouldn’t that have been dysfunctional?

The difference is now, yes, she has two houses. She spends the night at one house twice a week and the other house the rest of the week. There are challenges that go along with this. There is navigation involved. There were certainly concerns for my child when this drastic change was made, but at the end of the day, she has two parents that love her. She has a family that functions despite the title of “divorce”. We all still function. No one is broken.

Hearts might have been broken, sure, but they’re in some phase of repair and they certainly won’t stay broken, so let’s not call anything broken. We were living in more dysfunction before, prior to divorce. So let’s not call our new normal dysfunctional. Let’s get rid of that ideal, of that perfection, in relation to what families look like and how they function. Perfection does not exist. Anywhere. We all know this. Let’s stop with the stigmas.

Everyone functions because they have to. They navigate their new normal- all of us do that have been through a separation and a divorce. None of it is easy, most of it is not pretty. And it can certainly get downright ugly. But it was most likely ugly as the textbook definition of marriage, too.

It’s redefining. Not dysfunctional. Not broken.

We know our children do not go unscathed by divorce. We, as parents, we know this. We do not need ugly labels to reinforce this, however. We do not need this global idea that we simply gave up on marriage, that it was that easy. That we didn’t try. No one lives behind our closed doors. Only we know our reasons, only we know what we had to do to function and thrive the best way we know how.

This obviously also goes for divorced families that now have new marriages, maybe step-children. They’re beautiful, extended, blended families. At least most of them are. Not all of them are the families pictured together at the kids’ soccer games, or at Disney together, as one big happy family, donning the shirts labeled with their specific role in the family, (this just isn’t realistic for every family of divorce), but they all function to the very best of their abilities. They all love.

Once again, love wins. Love for our kids, it wins. Always. We, as parents, make every decision with our children at the forefront of our minds. That’s what we do. And the last thing we want is for them to be labeled as “broken” or “dysfunctional”.

Can we do better, collectively? Can we look at a divorce situation objectively and just silently acknowledge that this family did the best the could then and they’re doing the best they can now. I did not grow up as a child of divorce but so many of my friends that did are badass, full-functioning, successful, functional people. No worse for wear and definitely not broken.

All families are beautiful. They are all unique. They are all functional in some way, shape, or form. They do not need perfection. They just need love.

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons, Relationships, Uncategorized

Being On Both Sides of Infidelity

There are so many shared theories on infidelity. I’ve read them all, been lured into clicking on all of the articles. How a woman’s reasons for cheating are different from a man’s. How women seek attention, wanting to fill voids and how men look for the physical. I’ve analyzed it all with the best of them.

I don’t know there’s any merit to these theories, really. Everyone’s reasons for cheating are different. Everyone’s path to cheating is different. Some couples’ willingness to work through cheating and stay together are all different.

There’s no formula to cheating, as much as we’d like there to be so we could avoid it. No matter how many articles are written that analyze or predict it, no matter how many red flags there are in a relationship, no matter how many lists we read about the signs of cheating, no matter how much justifying is done, it happens and it will continue to happen. It’s terrible but it happens.

I do believe there is a constant truth about infidelity and it’s quite simple: we are selfish beings that want and crave attention. Period. And most times, we don’t want to do the real work with our partners to get to a healthier place. We take the path of least resistance. Cheating on a partner is an act of selfishness and cowardliness that begs to be judged, (and trust me, I do still judge when I hear stories of cheating spouses), but few realize, or will admit, that it could be any one of us on either side of infidelity. We want to believe it would never be us, or happen to us, yet it is and it does.

I’ve been married twice. I’m now twice divorced. I choke on typing that in solid print. It’s embarrassing to me that I failed at marriage twice.

Many people in my life might not even know about my first marriage. I even tend to forget. I was 24 and was in a rush to be in love, to be loved, to be married, to do what all of my friends were doing.

I was set up with a guy on a blind date. He was kind-hearted, funny, and he adored me. Our relationship moved much too fast. We moved in together after only 4 weeks of dating and we were engaged within months.

If I’m being totally honest, I never loved him. I knew that from the start and I ignored it. I wanted the wedding, I wanted the adoration. I was really good at pretending. We had very little in common but in retrospect, I didn’t even know myself well enough to know what my needs and wants were at the time. He was a good person and he deserved more. I was on a rebound from a long-term love when I met him and he paid the price. It’s unfair and it was shitty but it was the reality.

I made a conscience decision to cheat on him only 3 months into our marriage. Not to be confused with a premeditated plan to cheat. I don’t know that anyone actually does that. Not many look to outwardly and blatantly lie and live a double life. How many times have you heard, “It just…happened”? And it does, just happen. This is not a dismissive or an excusable fact but it is the truth. Cheating is really about trying something on for size, seeing how it fits.

I met a guy at work, a much younger guy, that I had a ridiculous amount of chemistry with. Because he was so much younger, I didn’t notice the chemistry immediately but when I finally acknowledged what was happening, it was over. I was involved. I was emotionally cheating from that moment on and physical cheating wasn’t far behind.

Once the physical relationship began, I became a different person, one I didn’t recognize and one I absolutely couldn’t face in the mirror. I hated myself but not enough to stop the affair. I knew I was in love with the person I chose to cheat with. I knew I had to leave my husband, and I did, after only 5 months of marriage, 2 months into the affair.

It was awful, being on that side of infidelity. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t an adventure, and it didn’t feel good. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the lies felt like razors punishing my lips each and every time I had to tell a lie. It wasn’t in my DNA to pull this off, nor did I want to. I was too consumed with how people viewed me to be honest with myself, and with him, about not being in love, about not wanting to get married, and about what I needed from a relationship.

Love and lust stole all logic from me. That’s not an excuse but it’s what happened. I allowed that to happen. I should have stopped the affair, been honest with my husband, left him, knowing I wasn’t in love, and stayed on my own until I gained complete clarity. But, I didn’t. I was too afraid to lose love.

I left my husband for another man.

I’ve never outwardly admitted this to anyone before. Not to my then husband, not to my friends or family, and not to myself. But that’s the truth. I live with guilt about this every single day, still. I never forgave myself completely. I broke someone’s heart in the worst imaginable way and it was unforgivable.

I married the “other” man in this story. And infidelity came full circle 5 years into our marriage, 12 years into our relationship. It was me on the receiving end of betrayal.

I’ve never been convinced about the concept of karma. We all talk about it as though it’s real but I’ve, more often than not, thought of it as a coping mechanism, something to make us feel better when we’re wronged. However, my second husband’s infidelity sure did feel like karma. It completely broke me as a person. I allowed it to completely break me and it felt awful. I wasn’t just broken, I was shattered. I hated myself. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. My self esteem wouldn’t let me. And I felt like I totally and completely deserved it.

It felt eerily familiar.

As much as I wanted to play the victim, and at times I did, it was undeniable that this happened for a reason.

My darkest moments lie within both sides of these infidelities, within these betrayals. And within dark moments lie truth and learning. I learned what I am capable of. I learned what rock bottom looks like. I learned what complete loneliness feels like.  I learned what self hatred is. On both sides, all of these same lessons took place and looked very similar.

Oddly, or perhaps not odd at all, this all brought me to a path of self acceptance. It was all within the learning. I just needed to pay attention. Cheating is simply a symptom of much deeper issues and if it happens to you, no matter which side you’re on, you just need to try to pay attention to the message. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty, but you.must.listen.

If you listen closely, it should peel back every single layer of your soul and teach you what you need from a partner. It should teach you to rebuild your heart. It should teach you how to love yourself.

These lessons are so very costly, though. No one comes out of betrayal unscathed.

I forgive myself. I forgive him. But. The scars are brutal.

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Life Lessons

The Shedding of Things

I recently cut my hair. Most people I interact with on a daily didn’t even notice, even though it was a drastic change for me. But that was ok. It felt amazing to shed the weight and to feel a change. A friend quoted Coco Chanel to me after learning of my hair cut and said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life”. And I did.

Soon after that, within days,  I decided to sell my furniture. The furniture that I had for the duration of my relationship with my ex husband. Just, shedding… things.

Soon after that, within days, I decided to shed my addiction.

I firmly believe, the older that I get and the more I learn, that we are all addicted to something. Addiction is a frightening word but if you really analyze your life, really dig deep, I can almost guarantee there is a vice. There’s the obvious: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling, sex, caffeine. Then there’s the less obvious: maybe sports, exercise, behaviors, and maybe, just maybe…even people.

I am addicted to a person. I am addicted to the person who has betrayed me time and time again. I am addicted to the love, the hate, the chaos, the bad, the good, the ugly, the borderline emotional abuse, the lust, the hope, the everything. I just recently, within the last year, have admitted this is an actual thing. Being addicted to a person and codependency is very real.

We’ve been divorced for over a year and separated for over two. People get divorced everyday and move on. But with addiction, it’s not that simple. I never completely quit him. I never allowed myself time. I never kicked the habit. I never gave up the high. It’s an addiction that lives in my soul. An addiction to the person I once saw as my second heart. The grieving became too much, and the loneliness became even more. I would dive right back into text messages and calls and obsessive thoughts, just wanting my fix of him. I just wanted to feel better. I could not handle being dope sick. It’s a weakness. And he certainly knows this.

No, I never planned on a complete reconciliation. I never wanted another marriage to him or cohabitation. I just wanted him in some form. I wanted him to love me or just want me. I wanted some semblance of a family. I wanted to force that. I wanted him to be different than he was and change old behaviors, shed addictions of his own. With or without change on his part, I just wanted him. I wanted the safety net of him and the support. I wanted the late night texts and the random intimacy. I wanted to dismiss all of the betrayal and pretend that this hybrid of a relationship we had was ok. It was unconventional but it was ok and it was good for me and therefore good for my daughter. He said he wanted me, too, as he always has, but his actions prove otherwise, as they always do.

I fooled myself into believing that I had control, as most addicts do. I made my rules, as most addicts do. If I only saw him a couple times as week and we only vacationed together, it wouldn’t become dangerous to me. Heartbreak wouldn’t be eminent if I just followed my own rules. But then the rules are stretched and a bigger dosage becomes the new rule.

And then there’s an event, an overdose of sorts, as there always is with addiction. A rock bottom moment where I have some self reflection and wonder what the fuck I’m doing. The danger is clear and the denial subsides. This is the moment to take advantage of and bail. For good. Some of us in addiction have had several of these rock bottom moments and we just hope that this time will be the one that will stick. I will make it stick this time. I have to. I have to be ready to do the work. I have to actually do the work.

I’m detoxing. I’m shedding.

The first hours were strong and full force, cold turkey. There’s a fierce confidence within those initial hours and a certainty that I will never look back. I was empowered by my independence and my courage to move on.

As the hours passed, the pain set in. Gut wrenching, real pain. That realization that the void is sneaking back in. The fear is sneaking back in. The reality is there staring me in the face. I am alone and I have to find a way to be ok. In reality, I have been alone for a very long time and my drug of choice has only been there to lie to me, pretending to ease my pain and fill my void. It’s a pseudo effect, a pacifier.

I have to break habits and that’s what it’s about. That’s the simplest answer to addiction: it’s just a habit that must be broken. Because with most habits that lead to addiction, it can literally or metaphorically kill you.  Being addicted to this person, I am giving myself away piece by piece. I am killing my spirit. I become unrecognizable to myself in the throes of addiction, as many of us do. How can we not if we’re giving so much of ourselves to someone or something else? It dims our light. It prevents us from being our truest form.

Every time I use again, I am saying it’s ok. It’s ok to allow myself the betrayals, the lies, the empty promises. I am saying it’s ok to settle for someone that cannot and will not give their all to me. I am saying this is good enough for me but above all, I’m saying it’s good enough for my daughter. I’m teaching her that a person who should be a partner, but is too caught up in self desires, is acceptable on his part-time schedule. No. No, this is not what I am willing to allow her to settle for in life.

It’s not about winning over this addiction. No one wins. No one gets a medal. It’s just about surviving it and finding a greater version of myself through the process. I know I’m here somewhere, whole and complete. We are all complete on our own if we allow it. This ideology of having a “better half”, or just an “other half”, is complete and utter bullshit. We are not all halves walking around in need of someone else. Getting out of that mindset is crucial. I have to allow it; trust the healing process.

They say that 21 days kicks a habit. Day 6. Dope sick and still in pain. But it is better than the alternative of self destruction. Freeing my heart of this will allow for so much more on the other side of the pain. It will be cleansing, this shedding.

I will not give myself away anymore.