rising to the new year

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Hello, 2017. Nice to make your acquaintance.

I know we only just met, but I must be frank with you from the get-go: I’ve come from a pretty dark place. 2016 kicked my ass, and then some. It was one of the toughest years of my life, almost rivaling the year my father died… and from the way everyone else talks, I know I’m not the only one. People speak about being wishful and hopeful this year, praying for a more joyful time.

But this is where I diverge. 2017–I am not waiting for you. I am not going to sit around and wish for the best. I am not going to operate on the belief that the world will make things happen for me, while I do nothing to live my life.

Yes, 2016 yielded very hard circumstances, most of which were out of my control. There are still things out of my control. I cannot change my past. I cannot force my future. I cannot control how people are, or how they treat me. I cannot control whether are not people are able to see me for who I truly am. I cannot control people’s projections. All I have is now. You. In this minute, this very second. And I intend to make the most of it.

I intend to endeavor to love myself. To have compassion for myself, at my best and worst moments. To live according to my passions and convictions. To speak my voice. To take a stand for who I am and what I believe in. Because in addition to you, me is all I have. While people come and go, I am the longest relationship I will ever have.

Essentially, what I am trying to say is that I will not be passive this year. I will make the most of the gift you give in every minute of every day of every month. Yes, just like everyone else, I want a year full of love, hope, and joy–but I realize that the responsibility does not lie on you alone–as if time has any bearing on the matter. The responsibility is on me, to try my best in every goal I seek, and take the risk of vulnerability, in order to find a real love that will last. God tells us that the seeds we plant bear their fruit. My intention is to reap a bountiful harvest.

So, you may find me at times dogged and unrelenting, and other times, weak and dejected–but rest assured, that I will always eventually come to greet you every day, fighting for myself and for a better life. The universe is abundant and I know my happiness is out there, waiting for me to find it.

2017–I look forward to working with you.

empowerment junkie

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As I was brushing my teeth tonight, I was thinking of all the dating profiles I’ve been trekking through. What stood out to me were all these guys who tout themselves as “adrenaline junkies,” professing their love for many adventures and need for a fellow, like-minded partner. All these pictures of them climbing mountains and racing cars, and meanwhile, there I sit, finding pleasure tucked away at the corner of a cafe, with a steaming chai latte and a good book.

For me (and I bet for many others), dating is a surefire way of feeling shitty about yourself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of self-work and I have more confidence than I ever had in my life, but there are still a fair amount of moments when I get down on myself. For example, my recent thought train has been, why am I only attracting weird, or frankly, unattractive, men? Why are all the nice, good men not into me? I’m not perfect, but I know I have a lot to offer. Am I not pretty enough for the men I want? Am I too boring with my artistic tendencies and love for psychology and self-growth?

But when I stared at my reflection, my mouth full of toothpaste foam, a realization occurred to me. I do go on adventures. Just not the conventional ones people think of.

And this is what I mean. In the seventh grade, I wrote a love letter to a boy I had a crush on, and was coldly rejected. He told me firmly, “I would never date a girl like you.” That moment is still embedded into my brain with nails of pain. Fast forward through relationships, I held much fear in baring myself as a result, but I always took the risk to bare my feelings anyway. Even still, I’ve been rejected, heartbroken, and disappointed by love more times than I can count.

It doesn’t end there. As any writer can attest to, I’ve amassed the typical, bloody history of rejections from literary agents, magazines, and anything and everything under the publishing sun, as I’ve chased after my dreams of publishing my writing. Cue more disappointment.

I’ve been looking for a new job for months to no avail, and yet I still search and apply. Even in my current love life, I’m still putting myself out there, despite the emotional abuse I endured in my last relationship only six months earlier. I try to balance the don’t-show-your-feelings approach to dating that has been pervasive in my generation, while attempting to honor my true, heart-on-my-sleeve nature–never letting go of my value for authenticity in any procedure to life. Even though more disappointment and pain are a guarantee, I still find myself moving forward.

Long story short, my realization was this: yes, I have had my heart stomped on, been rejected in numerous ways, disappointed and let down… but at least I’m living my life by putting myself out there. While many, many others go on “adventures,” travel to foreign countries, and seek the next adrenaline hit, I too travel in my own way. I also take risks–emotional risks. While a couple of those adrenaline junkies jump out of planes to avoid their inner self or repressed turmoil, I consistently choose to face my demons head-on. I fight and slay, every single minute of my life. I’ve suffered with bouts of depression for at least half of my life and continue to experience them today. I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts and the ugliest of internal monsters. I fight against an Inner Critic more relentless than any beast of a story book. And I’m here today, alive and very much well. I’ve climbed my own mountains (and still climbing), survived the hellish of snowstorms, slaughtered a host of monsters. I’ve accrued many ghastly scars, but you would never know at first glance.

On top of that, all of these difficult emotions I continue to feel–the sadness, disappointment, rejection–are signs of my living life to the fullest. I experience the full spectrum of emotions as a result of my internal adventures. And before I start beating myself up for not seeming like a more interesting person, I have to only look at what life has brought to my table in these past 28 years. I’ve gone on more adventures that many of the general population actively seek to avoid. I may not be an adrenaline junkie, but I’m an empowerment junkie–someone who is constantly exercising her mind and trying to grow to her full potential despite her setbacks.

So people can criticize or judge, but it doesn’t matter what they think. They don’t know me. But more important than that, it’s time that I start appreciating the unique and wonderful person that I am. And the truth is, there is something of value in the way I live my life. I’m in the arena, getting dirty, taking risk after risk, boxing monsters… all the while, daring greatly.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

letter to my abuser

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Dear —,

This letter is not to disparage you, though I’m fairly certain that in your subjective reality, it will be perceived that way. All I can say is my intention is quite the contrary.

My desire is to actually convey that I get it. I understand why you did the things you did. Why you violently raged out of the blue. Why you stonewalled and threw sarcasm in my face. Why you blamed and shamed me, even for things you asked for yourself, and for things that were in reality yours. Why your own hypocrisy was lost on you. Why there were projection and projective identification on your end. Why it was easier to make me the bad one, the one at fault. I understand now, that you did all of these things because you were fearful. You suffer with a very weak and fragile ego, and it was your (dysfunctional) way of protecting yourself. It did not matter how much love I gave, because in your mind, relationships subconsciously mean being destroyed by the other. And you did not want to be “wrong” or “bad,” for what it would mean of your shaky self-worth, so it was easier to make me the bad one instead.

You also never had anyone in your family to model for you what it looks like to take personal responsibility. Instead, what you witnessed and consequently learned from your family was how to blame, how to shame, how to ignore feelings, how to focus on appearance, material things, and status above all else. Your family was never able to love and accept you as you are. It is no wonder why you acted (and still continue to act) the way you did.

I get it now. I don’t expect you to know better than this. Not anymore. You never had the nurturing to make it possible for you to have true empathy. And because I get it, I have compassion for you. I feel much sadness for you. And of course, I can say genuinely that I forgive you. Like an infant, you did not know better.

Yet it is apparent to me that you have not changed much since the last time we saw each other. You are still suffering with your ego ailment, and your recent actions speak of your need to first and foremost make yourself feel better and ameliorate your own guilt. That, too, I get. For someone who was never taught how to manage emotions, you depend on others to instead care, understand, and comfort you. Which is what you did to me throughout our entire relationship–which is why you got mad at me when I asked for support… because in your mind, like the infant, you believed I should be the one caring for you, not the other way around.

Again, I hope you do not take these words as criticism. My tone is equivalent to, “It is what it is.” And you are who you are. I am not asking you to change… that is on you. I realize now it is entirely your choice to change. So I accept you as you are, and feel sympathy for the causes of your wounds.

But in saying all this, I hope that you understand why I have disengaged. It is painful and madness-making to subject anyone to the kind of treatment you put me through, to expect others to emotionally care for you while shaming them for wanting reciprocity. I realized too that everything I profusely apologized for at the end, were things I needed you to say to me (again, projective identification) to amend the ways you have treated me during our year together.

Of course I thank you for at the very least apologizing for your last rage fit. But I am no longer waiting for an apology for all of the others things you did. I see that it is too much to ask for from someone like you, someone who is in too much pain that he cannot see past himself. I am sorry for your pain. But the only way I see any kind of friendship occurring between us is through your expressed remorse. Through empathy. And if I accept that this is something you’re not able to do, then it is better for my mental health if I turn my head away.

As much as you wish otherwise, you cannot pay off the pain that was given to me. You cannot amend this with money. It was with words you did damage–so it is through words I need amends.

I wish you could’ve seen the ways I tried so hard, the ways I tried to love and understand you, but even in this, I forgive you. You could not see me. You are too burdened with your own despair. But I cannot carry your burdens and the emotional responsibility anymore. They’re not mine. So I give them all back to you. It is up to you what you do with them.

This is my sincere wish that God is with you along your journey. I hope you find healing to your pain.

Sincerely,

Anna

end of an era

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I wish I had someone to tell my intense realizations to, so blogging about them seems to be the next best thing.

You know that feeling you get, when your at the precipice of radical change in your life? You’ve gotten tired of the same shit, the same narrative–like a drug addict, you hit rock bottom and it fully sinks in you’ve been seeking after something fake, tawdry and harmful. So you make the decision to end the chaos and change your direction.

That’s where I’m at. I’m at the close.

I was in a yearlong relationship with a boy suffering from narcissistic tendencies–a boy who gas-lighted and emotionally abused me. A boy who demanded that I take on his emotional burdens and compromise myself for him, while doggedly blaming and shaming me for asking for reciprocity in emotional support. It took me about 6 months to heal from all the damage he caused. At the end of this process, everything was coming full circle. Projective identification–he did not want to admit to his own weak ego, so in protecting it, he guilt-tripped and lashed out at me and put everything back on me. He took no responsibility. To add insult to injury, he expected me to not only carry all of my burdens, but his as well.

So that is why today was so empowering, so symbolic. I walked up to his house in contained silence, holding my breath as my feet crunched fallen leaves on his driveway. I prayed that he could not hear me from inside his house, that he was not alerted to my presence. When I was at his front door, I placed all of his things down–and I mean, all. Not just his material possessions… but also all the psychic, emotional burdens he constantly shoved onto me throughout our year together. All the things that were his and he never took responsibility for. All of his pain and baggage. All the things I took on because I did not know any better, because he expected me to. All the things he blamed me for because he was too weak to own, when in reality, it was his. All the chaos and bad fruit he reaped.

But I know better now. Six months of therapy, piles of self-help books, and two journals later, I am wiser. I am not who I used to be.

I took a deep breath, and in additional to his possessions, I dumped every piece of toxicity he tried to give me. My therapist’s voice was singing in my ears. None of this is mine. So I give it back to you. May God be with you.

Walking away, I felt a sense of cleansing, as if a waterfall was streaming down my soul. I felt released. He can no longer touch me.

For me, the era that is coming to an end is the era of putting up with ill-treatment from others, of settling, of taking on all the burdens of others at the expense of myself. I am completely weary of one-sided relationships. I want something different. Someone healthy. I have every right to my needs, to my thoughts and feelings. Everyone deserves a relationship where there is mutual emotional support. It is not my job to soothe everyone’s feelings or to take care of them, no matter how much they try to hold me to them. I no longer need to sacrifice myself for others, while they do very little for me. It is okay to consider myself and my needs. It is okay to express them.

To all my like-hearted readers, this is the huge step in healing from abuse–emotional, physical, or otherwise. Reject your abuser’s worldview. They may very well only be interested in protecting their weak ego, and meeting their own selfish needs. Leave them to their pit of darkness, and know that you can reject all the toxicity they tried to give to you. It is not for you to hold. It is theirs. Give yourself permission to be free.

Now I am free. And this is my mantra for my new chapter: whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to shift my narrative, my life toward one that is healthy and positive, I will do it. I will do the work. Because I deserve better than what I have been given. I will work and grow, until I have the life I desperately need. Whatever it takes.

healing from narcissist wounds

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For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

illusions we keep

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Today, I found myself meditating on the concept of illusions. What are the illusions, or facades, that others present to us? What are the facades we put up ourselves? We all lie to some degree, whether blatant (cheating on a spouse) or subtle (lying about feeling “good” when someone asks how we are doing).

It struck me how very few people are exempt from the illusions they see, and the illusions they keep. I recently started dating, and I saw how especially in this setting, the concept is apparent. I see all different types of men. There are the ones with a different excursion in each photo, giving off the image that they are adventurous and fulfilled. There are men who gloat about their high-power careers and positions. Then there are some who write nothing at all, appearing aloof and cool. The unspoken norm, whether in dating or any other social setting, seems to be about hiding parts of yourself, while projecting out only your perceived “best” parts.

To take it a step further, I also saw what happens when someone “threatens” our illusions. Cue Freud’s classic defense mechanisms–projection, displacement, regression, repression, rationalization, introjection, acting out, just to name a few. Like my recent ex, when the illusion is jeopardized–risking your true, vulnerable self to be revealed–many would do whatever it takes to maintain their self-fantasy… even if it means hurting others, or ultimately themselves.

But then I turned the focus onto me. What are the illusions I try to put out for others? Being brutally honest with myself, I saw that I try to give the image of being strong, confident, intelligent, logical, emotionally held together. Even with this blog, I package my personal experiences in a way that would benefit others, while not fully expressing what lies underneath. And the parts I try to hide? Well, the reality underneath is, I have moments of severe weakness, moments when I feel like I’m collapsing and breaking. Although parts of me are confident, there are other parts that feel low self-worth, who secretly believes she deserves to be treated badly, that she doesn’t deserve better. I must always endure pain. I do not deserve joy.

I almost never let anyone see those parts, for fear of judgment or the deer-in-headlight looks I may get, when others have no idea what to say–or worse, say the wrong thing, and awkwardly change the subject. People have often preferred and admired my strong parts, and shied away, or even lashed out, for my weak parts.

Perhaps that is why we all hide away parts of ourselves. And I know I am not the only one. Even those seemingly confident, “high-status” men are hiding parts, while presenting their version of their ideal self. It is interesting, because by looking at the illusions, you can see the flip side, of what people are trying to hide. For example, the man who attempts to appear aloof and cool, may very well be trying to hide his need for others and emotional connection–because to him, this is believed as being “weak.” Or for me, I attempt to appear strong and logical, because the need for emotional help and support seems subconsciously weak. It is funny yet sad how we seem to run from vulnerability like the plague, when in actuality, embracing vulnerability is the cure to our emotional ailments.

But it all starts with us–building awareness of the illusions we keep in our lives. If we stopped judging ourselves for our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, then we can learn how to stop judging others for theirs. And the thing about vulnerability is, we all have it. It is like judging someone for having ears. So instead of focusing all of our energy denying the existence of ears on our body, we could instead learn how to accept and love our entire selves, ears and all. Maybe putting on the illusion once in a while can help us in some situations, but to super glue it onto our being only hurts, rather than helps, us.

 

finding my sexy

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Suffering through the wreckage that was my break-up, I am slowly starting to see the light peak out through the dark clouds.

I just finished my burlesque workshop classes, and it has been, without a doubt, the best decision I’ve made for myself in the past two months. It’s difficult for your self-esteem to not go through the crapper after a bad break-up, especially one with a partner who was oftentimes emotionally abusive. But in addition to processing what happened, I’ve been trying so hard to focus on myself and re-building what was trampled upon… a new and improved self, someone who embodies empowerment and self-love more than she ever has in her life. At the end of this, those are my goals: empowerment and self-love.

I took an Uber for my last class, decked out in my burlesque gear. I wore a sweatshirt so my revealing top would not be open for all of Hollywood Boulevard to see, but my skirt and stocking were still in plain sight. My experience was different the second I got into my Uber. The driver attempted to ask me out after a full minute of picking me up. Then he proceeded to ask borderline offensive questions, which I gently yet assertively confronted. I was glad the ride was quick, and I was able to shake him off at the end.

Then as I walked the streets of Hollywood, a cat-caller attempted to hit on me. When I didn’t answer, he proceeded to touch my back. Normally, I would’ve tried to avoid any kind of conflict, but feeling my new self come out, I told him off. Of course he became defensive and angry, but I didn’t care. I was proud of myself for asserting my boundaries.

Once I got to class and got a good look at myself in the wall-to-wall mirrors, sans sweatshirt, I stood in awe. I look so sexy. I couldn’t take my eyes away. What was once a faraway goal, was now standing right in front of me, in black leather and red garters. For the first time in my life, I truly felt sexy. Self-love was at my door too. As I danced with my classmates, swaying my hips and shaking my chest, I thought, any man would be lucky to have me. I am beautiful inside AND out.

Afterward, I went out for drinks with some of my classmates. We chatted, and laughed, and talked about what brought us to the class. I was honest and told them about my story–the break-up, and the need to remind myself that I was still sexy, with or without a guy. One of the ladies told me that she felt teary after hearing my story, and two others proceeded to tell me their past break-up experiences, giving me valuable advice.

Two pieces of advice and encouragement stuck out to me the most:

First: “After one of my break-ups, I was feeling really sad and staying home all the time. But one of my girlfriends gave me good advice, which I still hold onto. She told me that I can be wallowing and sad only for so long, and that even if I felt sad, I should still put myself out there and go out dating. Just for fun. One of the guys I went on a date with, I was straight up with him and told him that I just got out of a relationship, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted a relationship yet. He thanked me for being so honest with him. We didn’t match at the end, but we became good friends. It’s okay to have times alone to feel sad, but you have to go out and allow yourself to have fun too. And trust me, you’ll definitely find someone better. I eventually ended up meeting my husband.

Second: “When I think back on the guys I dated who ended up running away from me, at the end of it, I was so thankful that they did. I was lucky that they ran. They weren’t any good. Trust me, you’ll get there eventually where you’ll see that too.

With those burlesque classes, not only did I get to discover a part of myself that I’ve long needed in my life, I was also able to encounter positive, encouraging people. I’m grateful for the universe bringing me kindness and love in so many different ways.

Although I am still recovering from the hurt and pain my ex gave me, at the same time, I am also in the process of arriving to a place where I am actually loving myself in who I am and what I have to offer. Eventually, I’ll be someone who won’t put up with hurtful behavior again, because I’ll know I deserve better than that. I’m already getting there. I know I deserve to be treated with love and respect… and I’m starting to put my foot down  with anyone who treats me otherwise.

When everything is said and done, I hope I can give to others what those ladies gave to me. My friends have all commented on how much progress I’ve made in two months… and truthfully, I’m only beginning to see it. But at least I can say now, with tears in my eyes as I type this… that I am wonderful, beautiful, and sexy. Just like how someone can claim that the sky is purple, it doesn’t change the fact that it is blue. I am always wonderful, beautiful, and sexy, regardless of what people say or how they treat me.