watchword of the week

                             pblue

There has been a myriad of challenges occurring in the past week, my old wounds and pains getting triggered left and right. Even as I write these words, I feel an intense weariness, and a persistent need to let out deep sighs from the weight of it all. No one needs to tell me life is hard, as I am well acquainted with that fact, but when there are days or weeks like these and I am tested to my very limit, I fear breaking underneath all the pressure. I fear going back down again.

But after speaking with my professor and mentor, one word he said stuck to me: integrity. If you are to say that integrity is what you live by, then it means adhering to your values, even when you’re shaken and pushed down by others. It means choosing good over easy. It means taking on courage, because you’ll sure as hell need it in the face of social pressures, your inner demons, and all those who are looking forward to seeing you relent and fail.

As Barbara De Angelis elaborated, “Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.

So, with these things in mind, I will not just speak lip-service, and instead live up to what I preach. I will stand strong and not allow the outside world shake me in who I am, and the values I live by. I will continue to live by honesty, love, faith, authenticity, and integrity, no matter what situation I am placed in or who I have to face… because each battle carves out my true character, and yields me greater strength in my success.

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Why I need feminism

                               WomensEmpowerment
I was doing an intake interview with a new client at work. She was seeking help at our agency because one of her male co-workers sexually molested her when she fell asleep (most likely having drugged her). He then proceeded to harass her incessantly through calls and texts the next day.
I watched the tears fall from her eyes as she recounted her story… and I found myself taking on her suffering, and feeling my own heart clutch with anger and pain. People say that oppression doesn’t exist. That advocating for women’s rights is a bunch of bull because the system is already “equal” and well, women are just being a bunch of “whiny bitches” for making mountains out of mole holes.

Well, for those people, this is your rude awakening. Rape happens. Sexual assault and harassment exists. I hear stories like these as a therapist more frequently than I would wish, and see the extensive damage it causes to one’s life and psyche. As women, we navigate these risks every day, because some men cannot conceive of the fact that a woman’s body is completely hers and what she chooses to do with it is HER right, and NO ONE else’s. Instead, certain men think that they have a right to our bodies, and that our bodies are their fucking privilege.

That’s why I “need feminism.” That’s why I speak out. Because if we stay silent, if we just sit and take it like the “good and complacent women we should be,” then we will lose our rights, our identities, our voices, and our dignity. If we let the oppressive take, we will have nothing left.

Having to look into this client’s eyes, and the eyes of my other clients who have been victims of harassment and assault, I see clearly how inequality and oppression are very real.

I don’t care what anyone says, no person should be subjected to this kind of agony, pain and trauma, and denying the existence of this pain is equivalent to gouging your eyes out and willing yourself blind. Just because you don’t want to see it, does not mean it doesn’t exist.

The Day I Almost Killed Myself

                               field light

Writing this story is not, by any means, a simple feat. To memory, I can only recall telling this story two times in my life. I still continue to feel fear at how people may respond to one of the most painful moments of my life. But Maya Angelou once said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you… and I am beginning to realize how accurate she is.

I was eleven years old. During that time, I was an outcast, a “loser,” a black sheep, a reject. Coming from a poor, immigrant family, my parents could not afford me nice clothes or shoes to wear like all of the other “cool” kids. My mother forbade me from wearing make-up. And it did not help that I was a little socially awkward, and the only “Asian” kid in my class. I stood out like a sore thumb, and people picked on me and made fun of me daily, though I did not know them and they did not know me. Although I had a group of friends initially, they soon ostracized me for reasons unknown and began to pick on me too. I had no one. And the thoughts that reverberated in my mind were, “What did I do to deserve this? Why do people hate me so much? There’s nothing I can do to stop them. I’m hopeless. There is no one. I am alone.”

My parents were always at work, and my siblings abhorred helping me… because one of the family rules I had growing up was, “Don’t ask for help. Figure it out yourself.” So I had no one to turn to. No one in my life to help me, to tell me that someone’s treatment of you didn’t define who you are, that it was fucked up what they did to me. That I was beautiful, not ugly, stupid and weird like the kids at school were drilling into my head.

One day, after a group of girls in my neighborhood had thrown rocks at me for the umpteenth time, I remember I was sitting on the couch in our living room, sobbing and crying, drowning in my pain. I was home alone and thinking, “Is there no escape to this? Will this be my life?” My thoughts turned darker as I sunk deeper into my depression, sadness and pain, and I begun to consider something that no person should ever consider, especially one so young. I want to die. If I kill myself, the pain will stop. If I kill myself, I can finally escape.

And so, I went to the kitchen, tears still streaming down and stinging my eyes. I let out a sob as I opened the drawer and pulled out a kitchen knife. I pricked the sharp tip with my finger, my view getting blurrier. Gripping the handle, I thought of stabbing myself deeply in the heart, with the intent of meeting Death and ending all the agony and suffering. It is the only way. Please God, just let it end.

But as I raised the knife slightly closer to my chest, my vision was suddenly blinded by a translucent, white light. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life. Clouded by the fuzzy white, I heard a voice, strong and clear, ringing in my ears: Anna, put the knife down. Do not do this to yourself. Put the knife down.

To my very bones, I knew and recognized that voice as God’s.

Instantly, the urge to drive the knife into my heart vanished and I slowly placed the knife back in the drawer. The pain was still beating heavy, but it became evident then that I could not follow through with my intent. One moment there, one moment gone, I knew God had just intervened in the precise second that I needed him, when I wanted to give into my demons and take my life. At that time in my life, there truly was no one to turn to in my world. But I was never alone. I realized later that in His intervention, God kept me from making my most fatal assumption. He saved my life.

This is my untold story. This is one of my deepest pains, bare and open for you to see. I’ve held it inside me for fifteen years of my life, afraid of others’ judgment. But I no longer wish to hold it inside anymore, and have the shame eat at me, perpetuating my agony. I hold no shame, and I own my pain. Although I did not know this at the time, the pain was molding and shaping me, turning me into the sensitive, insightful, compassionate person I have grown to become. Although I still struggle with my demons as a result of my experiences, as C. S. Lewis argues, pain shapes us into the person we have the potential to become, like a piece of silver being refined in the fire. We are made perfect in our suffering, even though many times when we are in our suffering, it is difficult to see. For me, it was very difficult indeed, and I was so young. But that did not deter Him. He came for me before I could give up.

But this is not a story of shame. It is a story of success. Because I am alive today, dedicated to making a positive impact as a therapist, and with my words.

For anyone who also has an untold story inside them too, I urge and encourage you to speak up. Speak out. Do not let the shame, guilt or pain take the wheel of your life, keeping you bound. Your experiences are completely valid, regardless of what anyone says. There is a purpose, a function to your pain. And you are not alone. Please tell me, and others, of your story. You deserve to be attended to. You have a voice that deserves to be heard.

I am a survivor. I am a fighter. And if you are alive today, reading this, so are you.

under the apple tree

                            apple-tree-print

This struck me very deeply.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum LP

passing on the pain

It’s intriguing to me that those who bully, belittle, condescend, look down, or oppress others the most, have experienced some form of bullying in their past. Even as I write this, this sounds like a given. Yet despite how relatively simple this is to understand, it is intriguing how many of these people have still convinced themselves in their heads that they understand “that pain,” but in the next turn, give that pain to another. That tells me that they do not in the slightest understand the very pain they perpetuate.

The thing about pain: it can easily become internalized in our being. Once that pain becomes internalized, we end up unknowingly operating by the rules of that pain. For example, being a bully, or the “ostracizer,” meant that that person was “in power.” He or she held the reins and as a victim, you were at his or her mercy. You grow up, out of middle and high school. Yet you’ve come to internalize the pain and those rules of power. Having a lot of friends means I’m cool. Being pretty means looking like X, Y and Z. It is, after all, what you’ve come to learn as true. You say you understand the pain because you’ve been through it, but then in your manner or way of being, give that same pain to others. You become overly critical of others (and most likely yourself), ostracize others and feel a sense of importance by being “in the clique,” condescend, etc.

We all want to feel like we are wanted. Desired. Accepted. Important. In control. Even in power, whatever that may mean to us. The problems often come in, however, when we follow those same rules that were transmitted to us by how others treated us in our past, into our present, adult lives. Rules that unknowingly perpetuate the same pain we received. It is not an uncommon effect to recreate situations and family of origin issues of our past in our other relationships in our present to redo the story. To create a different ending. Or in this case, to finally be the one who is in power now, rather than the one who is picked on, ostracized, or condescended to.

Life is certainly anyone’s prerogative, and you can do whatever the fuck you want with it. I suppose what bothers me though, is when some people say that they know and understand a certain pain because they have had it… yet give that pain without thinking onto others around them. When people are like that, all I see is them saying that they understand every inch of an iceberg, without having looked underneath the water.