In these last days of 2019, instead of jumping too far ahead to set some lofty goals of 2020, I’m looking back to acknowledge and integrate some of the ouchy bits.
Not just 2019, but the whole decade.
I have lots of photos and notes and memories of celebrations of my successes. This is the shit you can see on any social media platform. The specially curated version of life.
But I’m focusing on what I’ve survived. The parts that I hid, downplayed, or tried to disappear. The parts that wrecked me, consumed me, or drained me. Moments that I thought, while they were happening, that I couldn’t possibly live through, to see the other side.
Losing Besties in major friend breakups. Four friendships ended after 5 years each. One in a series of big blow-out, community-wide impacting conflicts, and another in simple statement of “I don’t want to know you anymore.” Each time, I felt angry, confused, ashamed, and so sad.
Community Breakdown, marked by conflict of ideas and between people, grief and trauma. After more than 6 years of steady investment, participation, and leadership, leaving this magical circle meant losing a home grounded by a radical, complicated, nourishing love.
My aunt and uncle passed away on the same day after their years-long decline with cancer. Their passing was sad. But it was the regret for not traveling to be there when they went into hospice, to say good bye to them, to be with my mother, and to take responsibility for and as family, that has taken up so much space in my heart.
The day after their death, my partner (at the time) insisted he needed to leave town to visit his new girlfriend. His rendezvous with her was more important to him than being present with me after my family members passed away. I was inconsolable. Gutted. Hollowed out from the inside, as all my innards had been swiftly yanked out one fistful after another.
Watching those taillights turn the corner, my body and mind exploded in a grief and rage of expletives and screams that echoed through our empty house. One week later, exactly 4 years to the date we got the keys to that house, with no solid plan, I packed a truck with all my belongings.
Queer, not-legally-married, house and home, life-partner divorce. Without legal protections or co-held deeds, I lost what I believed was my “forever” home — the place I had settled into, adopted a cat, cultivated vegetable gardens and an orchard, chatted with the trees and crows as my anchored, home place friends. Saying goodbye to this place and all its creatures was harder than saying goodbye to the human I lived with that I could no longer trust. I never saw my cat friend again.
Housing Instability: 10 residences in 6 years. Housemates: I’ve had 13 in 10 years.
When my city of 12 years didn’t feel like home any more, I moved across the country.
Wondering if my voice or my story is worth writing, reading, telling. Letting this thought and all its tendrils of shame and shittiness weave a tapestry so heavy and dense, hibernation seemed a better option than sunshine.
Losing my way in the world, feeling surrounded by a fog too thick to decipher the directions.
Knowing my skill as a sex, relationship, intimacy educator, facilitator, priestess and yet, being too drained by exhaustion and fatigue to make it work.
Crafting a vision, making agreements, enacting a plan, investing hundreds of hours into a long-term project to see it dismissed, derailed, and demoted by my teammate & co-creator. It is a change of plans that squandered my time and attention, abruptly altered my life path, and unraveled my bonds of trust.
Infidelity and betrayal in an open relationship. When my partner finally admitted they were having unprotected sex with multiple people (and me!), I felt like a bomb exploded in my lap. My physical body literally took a different shape, leading to intense pain and months of physical therapy. This shock to my system brought on a recurring violent nightmare, 3 times a week for 6 months, exacerbating my physical health and emotional distress.
Domestic Violence. Gaslighting, emotional manipulation, sexual coercion, drug abuse, stalking. An escalating assault I tried to manage. Sleepless nights, disordered eating, a shroud of shame and lies told by that abuser isolating me from friends and possibilities.
Restraining Order. Writing out the story of escalating violence and increasing fear for a judge’s consent. Hiring a lawyer and private investigator to ensure the order would remain authorized. Looking over my shoulder for another 2 years, always splitting my attention from my present moment and a necessary exit strategy.
Peeping Toms. Men who made significant effort to climb a fence, peer into my windows at just the right moment of my nakedness, and remind me of my body’s objectivity in our society.
Depression. Anxiety. Disordered thinking. Confusion. Questioning reality. Dissociation.
Tolerating relationship dynamics where imbalance, assumptions, and unfulfilled promises were more common than vulnerable, straightforward honesty, needs and desires fulfilled, and sustaining the effort to repair the damage of inevitable conflicts.
No Safety Net. No ongoing secure and accessible healthcare. Untreated mental and physical health matters. What could my life be (what could it have been) if I had affordable and stable access to physical and mental health care services that matched my needs and values?
Like most humans, my relationships to people, places, purpose, and peace have granted me safety, tenderness, a garden of flowers and laughter, deep as my bones trust, a challenge to stretch into magic, and an ongoing inspiration to love more freely.
Surviving these losses of love — real or imagined, dysfunctional or highly attuned, individual or communal — has shaped my last decade with the precision of a scalpel and the blunt heavy, edge of a boulder.
Sharing these little blips of the ugly and painful reality with you now is scary.
These words could be the evidence of my deficiency, my inability to love well or sustain positive connection. They could prove that I’m an imposter that shouldn’t be trusted for sex or relationship advice. These words could be stories of my failures, the fault lines of my personhood.
But they aren’t.
These words are moments and months of time of survival and fortitude. Staying alive with the courage and willingness to confront fear, danger, uncertainty or adversity.
There is no comparing myself to you or to anyone else. There is no “I had it worse,” or “it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” measuring up or minimizing here.
Just a lady reckoning with her own past, unpacking some of the facts I tried to hide or ignore or “let go of” because they weren’t clean or pretty or neatly packaged into a social media-sized inspirational post of renewal and success.
So, cheers to sharing the stories and taking ownership of life’s past and future. Claiming strength and dispelling shame. Re-learning living lessons, remembering fierce bravery, bestowing kindness in those moments of struggle.
If you need to unpack, some secret or moment of survival, do it. Name it. Here or somewhere you can just tell the truth.
What did you survive this last decade?
What are you willing relinquish holding onto shame about?
What do you need to name or own or acknowledge from your last decade in order to walk into this next decade?