Just before the exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault incidents, a harassment incident had happened in my neighborhood. I found it remarkable because this type of incident is rarely reported in my neck of the woods. What was less remarkable were the comments and questions from neighbors in relation to the threat this woman was facing. Many questions were cut from the same cloth of alienating the victim and hiding what we fear most, our own helplessness to undo the unthinkable. It’s time to change the narrative when it comes to responding to sexual assault and abuse. Sexual abuse and assault is not about what the victim was wearing on the outside. It’s about what we are choosing to wear on the inside.
My neighbor, who was being stalked, alerted the neighborhood via Nextdoor to help others keep informed and stay safe. One man persisted in trolling for the value of comedic affect. Another questioned whether the woman was certain she was being stalked. It was enough to make my blood boil. Because I have been in her shoes. We didn’t have social media back in 1991. But I remember clearly without the aid of a FaceBook memory. I was terrified. I lived alone in my apartment. One afternoon, I was awakened from a nap by a pounding on my door. Foggy brained, I asked who it was through the door. The man answered, “I have the pizza you ordered.” My heart jumped into my throat. I had enough wits to tell him that he was a mistaken. He insisted I let him in anyway. Right away, I called the police. He had left by the time they had arrived. The police were able to track him down because I was able to give them a good description of his vehicle. He was issued a warning to stay off my property. Thankfully, they didn’t ask me questions like: “Are you sure he was following you?”; “What were you wearing?”; “Were you drinking?”
I managed to get away that time. However, I wasn’t so fortunate another time when I was just a 9 year-old girl. I had to sleep overnight at a family acquaintance’s home because my single mother was away. One of her sons proceeded to sexually molest me while I was sleeping. I didn’t realize what was happening. I was terrified and full of shame. I know, I know – you may be wondering how this could happen. Maybe you have the following questions:
- “What was I wearing?” I was wearing a long, cotton gown that reached my ankles. It had long sleeves and I was covered in blankets up to my neck.
- “Did I have too much to drink?” Gee, I’m not sure… I think the last thing I had to drink was a glass of milk.
- “Did you go to his place?” Yes, I was being watched over by his mother while my mom was making a living waiting on tables that night.
- “Did you lead him on?” I don’t think I ever realized he was in the house until he forced himself on me.
- Why didn’t I speak up? Because I was terrified. I never spoke of the incident until well into my 40’s. I was child in a fractured family. At the time, my mom was a single-mother overloaded by poverty, working long shifts as a waitress and trying to care care of three young children. My father was still struggling with severe alcoholism. I was afraid to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be a burden. Anger was the predominant reaction to anything that sniffed of vulnerability. I was afraid that I must have done something wrong to have this happen to me. Many years later, I confessed this incident to my mother, she asked me “Why do you have to bring this up now?”
Preposterous, isn’t it? These are the questions our children hear us asking the victims. What do you think this teaches them? If anything, I’d argue that it subconsciously plants the seeds that the victim is to blame and the perpetrator doesn’t have to be held accountable. We deflect the attention from the offender. It is a narrative that enables a perpetrator to lurk in the dark while we blindly step on the victim.
It took many years for me to be able to acknowledge that this wasn’t something I brought upon myself. I had buried the anger from what had happened to me deep in my soul. Constantly, I beat myself up for this incident and others. I convinced myself that I wasn’t worthy of anything good, giving away any joy I had to others. I did things to myself like bulimia, binge-drinking and choosing relationships that validated my sense of unworthiness. I thought I was the monster. This subconsciously created a huge strain on my body until one day I was physically sick with breast cancer. I learned that I had to give myself the empathy I needed in order to heal. I had to change my perspective regardless of other people’s inability to show up for me in the way I needed them too. I learned that I could have boundaries that allow me to stay safe.
But it’s never too late to show up for someone in your life that has been sexually assaulted or abused. Here are some better questions or things to ask or say in order to help your loved one heal and become stronger:
- “I’m so sorry.”
- “I love you.”
- “Please forgive me (if you asked a question that points blame at the victim).”
- “Thank you for sharing your story.”
- “How can I help?”
- “Are you okay? (Of course the answer may be “NO. What do you think?!” – just sit silently and allow her/him to express the anger.)”
- “How do you feel?”
- “I want to help you but I’m scared (or I don’t know how).”
- “There are no words…”
We cannot go back in time and change what happened with blame-tinged questions. We cannot launch into the future to pretend it won’t happen again. The most powerful moment for healing is the present moment when the victim is ready to speak. We cannot help the victims by putting her/him on the defensive. We must allow those who are hurting to speak their truth in non-judgment. Our purpose in this situation is to hold a safe and sacred space to allow the assaulted and abused to know that they are worthy to feel safe and supported. The #metoo movement is powerful because it will allow us to open up the dialogue and begin much needed healing. Don’t ask “why do you have to bring this up now.” Instead, let’s be grateful for the sharing. After all, sexual abuse and assault is never about what the victim is wearing on the outside. But the healing is about what we are willing to wear on the inside.
“Deep hurt. Longstanding resentment. Deep secret or grief eating away at the self. Carrying hatreds. What’s the use?” This is the probable cause of cancer according to Louise L. Hay in her book “Heal Your Body.“ The subtitle is: “The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them.” I recall ordering this book just before I was diagnosed with cancer.
My body had been ravaged with strange rashes, painful joints, and lethargy. I sought out an internal medicine doctor who almost diagnosed me with lupus. After the labs came back negative, the findings were inconclusive. I had chalked it up to being a new, tired mom. It wasn’t long after the bout of inflammation, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Looking back on myself from where I am at now, my heart aches for that woman. She was a very angry person back then. The deep seed of resentment had been planted in her right breast long ago. But because she put everyone else first, she was too a afraid to give voice to her feelings. She didn’t realize that it was okay to be angry. She wasn’t aware that in order for anger to resolve itself, she needed to find a safe space to release the anger in a healthy way. She had subconscious thoughts like: “I’m not worthy.” “I don’t count.” I don’t deserve love or joy.”
The consequences of this belief system created a default in me to put everyone else first and myself last on the list. Additionally, I resented anyone who wasn’t aligned with my own beliefs. I realized that I had very few boundaries. As a result, I was living outside of my body. I was living outside of my life. I was caught up in trying to live everyone else’s drama. I was busy trying to hide my myself. I was ashamed of my life. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to die. I had thought many times, subconsciously and conscientiously: “What’s the use?”
Sadly, my condition was hard to see from the outside. By all accounts, I was holding it together. I had romanticized the role of being the martyr. And I found plenty of social validation to support this default. No matter what people did or said, I was going to kill them with kindness. Turns out I almost killed myself because I was so out of tune with my own health and my own needs, I didn’t see that I had a tumor in my breast until it was almost too late.
Hanging on to my anger caused me to stock up on any “hurt” I experienced to support a personal story that was emotionally bankrupting me. Abandonment: that fit. Betrayal: that fit. I sought out relationships that were sure to generate these experiences. And I hung on to these experiences until I had nearly buried myself. Fortunately, I realized that it was time for me to make a radical change. I needed to take my anger off the hanger and let it go. I was angry at the world but mostly, I was angry at myself. I was so focused on hating who I was and hating who I was going to be that I couldn’t even be in the moment to see how devastated I was feeling.
One night in my broken heartedness, I went to sleep with tears quietly streaming down my cheeks. I was so weary and hopeless and thought, “Yeah, you are so tragic. Of course, it ends like this.” Then, a warm golden light came into the darkness. It whispered soothingly to me: “Yahweh.” It was as if I were being lifted and drawn into this light. It was pure. It was beautiful. It was unconditional love. It was the kind of love you might imagine a new born baby feels from it’s ecstatic parents. But better. It was the kind of love you might imagine feeling when two people fall in love. But more. The light whispered again, “Yahweh.” Then suddenly, I felt myself gasping for air. I sat up and struggled to breath and at the same time trying to get back to that light.
And isn’t that what we all want? We all want that rapturous feeling of unconditional love. We want it because it is our birthright. We want it because it is from our Creator. We want it because it is the spark that brought us our existence. That night, I received the message loud and clear. It was with me all along in my heart. The question was, “Was I willing and ready to accept this gift that has been given to me? I decided that it was time to embrace this gift and live my life. It was time to clean out all the mental and spiritual garbage that had been weighing me down and make room for something new.
I have since learned to embrace my anger. I see it as a valuable emotion signaling to me that my thoughts or out of alignment with my heart. I can use it propel me to action. I can express my anger and know that I can do it in a way that is safe and surround myself with others who respect my need to give voice to my concerns. Best of all, I can let it go once it has served it’s purpose instead of just stuffing it away to become a burden in my life.
In this month of breast-cancer awareness, it’s not enough to be focused on the cancer. It is time for emotional awareness. “Deep hurt. Longstanding resentment. Deep secret or grief eating away at the self. Carrying hatreds. What’s the use?” Does this sound familiar? It is our heart’s way of raising the pink flag to signal that it is time to LOVE YOURSELF LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT, BECAUSE IT DOES. Time to connect with your inner light.
Recently I wore a pair of designer shoes, plum and orchid colored mules, from a high shelf in my closet. I remember when I purchased them. It was back in the spring of 1998. I bought them to go with my dress for a wedding. They were and still are gorgeous. Eventually, they were no longer in style. Rather than throw them, I insisted on keeping them. Looking at them and wearing them makes me happy. And of course since things of the 90’s are all the rage, the shoes are very of the moment again.
They were not easy for me to purchase. The price was more than I normally spent on shoes. My mother was with me that day we were shopping. As I resisted the temptation to purchase them, she was insisting on buying them. I think she could see how much I admired them and how perfect they were with my dress. Eventually, my energy spent to prevent myself from buying the shoes gave way to her insistence that they were really perfect. I think she actually helped me pay for them and that was the end of that. She was happy for me and I was thrilled to have them.
Today in my spiritual closet, these shoes have me thinking about resistance and insistence. In particular how we choose to make choices for ourselves and for our loved ones. Until recently, I was feeling incredibly uncomfortable about the movement to “resist.” I couldn’t articulate what was driving the feelings around not be willing to jump into the fight. As I meditated on my feelings, it became clear to me that the nature of resistance is not part of my belief system. I am a lover not a fighter. I don’t like to make waves; I like to fix things and smooth things out. At the same time, I am not comfortable sitting on the sidelines. I’m an advocate for kindness and solutions that are inclusive and mutually beneficial for all.
So the question for me was how do I show up in the world where there is a lot of “resistance” energy swarming around me. This was the same issue when it came to my diagnosis for cancer. I don’t believe in the “fight against cancer”. This doesn’t mean that I want cancer to destroy our lives and that we need to just sit quietly and ignore the situation, pretending that it will just go away. Being positive is important but there will be times when we are called to do more. To quote Peter Marshall a Scottish clergyman and author: “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” That’s when it hit me. If I stand for something: I am going to insist on what is right and true. In doing so, I don’t have to resist anything.
One may wonder what the difference may be. Although subtle, I’m going to point out that this is a very important nuance to consider. Resistance is to stand AGAINST. When we resist, we are about fighting, opposing, refusing to accept. Insistence is to stand FOR. The two words and resulting actions have two very different kinds of energy. “Resistance” is inclined to get one energetically stuck; “insistence” is energetically generative.
The energy of resistance has no room for acceptance. Pushing against, holding off, struggling, we expend our energy for one thing: the fight. Trying to impose one’s beliefs on someone else’s perspective is futile because ultimately, we can only control our own feelings. When we resist the way others see the world and think that we must fight them or convince them otherwise, we miss out on connection and the ability to understand their perspectives. Resistance is a tactic of fear. Fear as a motivator will often cause us to choose actions that limit us. Fear can make us sick because it causes stress. Stress leads to inflammation. Inflammation leads to our bodies’ inability to maintain a healthy state of thriving and healing.
The energy of insistence is positive and nurturing. It comes from a sense of worthiness about what is right for one self. Insistence in pursuing the things that make me feel good: exercise, music, walking with my dogs, family time, or cute shoes feed my soul and help me to maintain wellness. If I feel like I need to fight cancer, I believe that the fear and stress that we invest into fighting cancer actually makes it worse. In my case, cancer was a messenger, that there was deeper underlying conflict raging that needed to be resolved: I was subconsciously carrying angry energy in my body. I hated myself. I feared the imperfection of being me. This illness made me realize that I needed to start loving myself. Rather than fear, we must begin to love ourselves, stand for ourselves, in order to set a strong foundation for healing.
When fear is the key driver in resistance, it’s often about perceived disparity. This disparity often times is a result of one’s own lack of self-acceptance. The lack of self-acceptance is in my mind one of the biggest epidemics in our world. The self-acceptance epidemic, the lack of worthiness, is about the fear and hatred that we have for ourselves being less than perfect. When we embrace who we are, this self-acceptance empowers us to be better for those who need our support. Resistance is futile when we don’t even stand for the these very things, for which we fight, for our own selves.
Advocating for others is most potent when we are advocating for ourselves. Insistence is an inside job. Wearing “insistence” takes a little work. It requires that we are clear about what we stand for in our hearts. It requires that we have the courage to speak up for ourselves and establish clear boundaries around what works for our lives. It starts with insisting on keeping what works for you and letting go of what isn’t serving you.
Standing FOR something means that means that we need to be willing to make choices to let go of beliefs or ideas that were handed down to us by our families or society when they no longer serve us. We know they no longer serve us when the ideas cause internal conflict because they don’t align with the true nature of our hearts. When we choose to ignore these conflicts or fight against them, we make ourselves sick. Sadly, it is sometimes easier to avoid facing these truths than it is to resolve them. We would rather die to ourselves. To thrive, we must face and speak up about our truth.
When we allow ourselves to live in integrity with our inner light, our connection with God, it allows us the opportunity to accept others without feeling threatened. When we accept that others have a different perspective, we are now more in the flow of life. Insistence relies on love. When we embrace what we love and take action from love, rather than fear, the momentum to move towards thriving is natural.
If “resisting” feels too much like you are expending your energy fighting against others, you don’t have to sit on the sidelines helplessly. Consider “insisting” on living your life in integrity and supporting those around you to do the same. Living your life according to what you stand for is the best remedy for yourself and those around you. When you are able to align what you desire in your heart with what you believe, you will be able to open the gates on a life that is abundantly joyful. Are you going through life resisting or insisting? If you want to have a thriving life of wellness, try backing away from the “resist” and try on your “insist. Advocating for what is right for you and others is the best gift you can give yourself and the world around you.
We were all dressed in white. On a recent morning, I sat next to two other mothers during our children’s chapel service during which my daughter and her other peers were reading a Psalm. For a moment, I let myself be amused by the outdated notion that one shouldn’t wear white, especially white shoes, after Labor day or before Easter or Memorial day even. I recalled feeling horribly conspicuous and embarrassed in middle school because my white flats were the only dress shoes I owned. Then I tuned back in to the chaplain discussing how, based on the Episcopalian liturgical calendar (as well as other Christian denominations), the color of the Easter season is typically white. She asked the children what the color white might represent. Some children mentioned clouds, lambs, cleanliness, purity, and weddings, even a clean slate.
As a child raised in a few Christian faiths, I don’t ever remember discussing white or the symbolic nature. But I have always heard about the story of death of Jesus and his resurrection, his return to life at this time of the year. Whether you are a believer or not, dying and returning to life is a remarkable story and a theme that occurs in other deity stories as well. No matter when, this story always offers something new to me each time I hear it told.
Once a past assistant rector, Kelly, reminded me of this story when my husband and I went to pray with him over my pending mastectomy surgery in the middle of a hot July. As I struggled with my fear about the surgery and cancer, he counseled me on how one might view life as a series of “mini” resurrections. This dying and returning back to life is a process that we all go through in one way or another. We know it as change. From the moment we are born until our physical death, there are many opportunities for change. Birth, growing up, marriage, job opportunities, divorce, death… As we grow, we encounter situations where we will need to die to old ways in order to move into new possibilities. Moving through changes can restore us, bringing new life back into a dying or dead situation.
At first, I felt perplexed by this comparison. As a child, the story of crucifixion wrenched my stomach. I hated the idea of suffering and didn’t want to suffer as Jesus did. Because of the dogma that was preached to me with little adult guidance, I internalized that I was meant for a life of suffering. Eventually, I thought, “screw that idea.” After all, who likes to think about change or even worse, dying? Ultimately, I came back around to searching for an understanding of Jesus’ suffering and how that might relate to human suffering.
Just like Easter brings and spring bring about a fresh perspective, there is something new in the lesson for me to discover this season. I am pondering the idea that Jesus was willing to suffer but did not choose to live a life of suffering. He knew his path might include persecution. And yet he was willing to move forward knowing that it might include suffering. In his humanity, he likely experienced all the emotions that one might feel when facing the possibility of death. Courageously, he didn’t run or hide. He continued to live his life in the moment doing what he loved most, teaching unconditional love and healing those who needed this love the most.
Rather than avoid circumstances and the suffering, he was willing to suffer. He offered up loud crying and tears in his prayers to God (Hebrew 5:7). I am moved by the power of his courage. He knew that on his path to ascension, there would be death, and yet he was willing to suffer at the hands of others and move through that. Rather than give in to the fear of the uncertainty and doubt – the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts about what might or might not happen, he knew it was just a transitional moment in an ultimate transformation, which showcased God’s greatest miracle. This is the ultimate story of love, faith and conviction.
Change can be hard and can suck. Growing in life does means change, dying again and again to our old selves so that we may continue to grow, to ascend. This means that suffering is an inevitable experience in our human lives. Most of us, like myself, would rather avoid the suffering. We fight the suffering, we deny the suffering, and we numb the suffering. Maybe we choose to avoid intimate relationships, forego applying for an exciting job, or choose not to fly to Paris because we are too terrified of what might happen. Maybe we drink too much wine or spend all our time on FaceBook so we don’t have to feel our pain. Regardless, there are two ways in which we predominantly exercise avoidance: we will either live in the past or live in the future.
By living in the past, one chooses to suffer as a way of life. Someone might view it as inevitable because s/he cannot believe s/he is worthy of any other existence. Seeing suffering as the only way to exist. It’s the idea of “what’s the point, it’s never going to get better”; a cop out on life – there can be no surprises or disappointments when we hold on to a constant state angry or sad. Hello depression.
By living in the future, one wants to avoid situations or get overly controlling in order to avoid the worst possible outcome, even though we can never truly know what it might be. Imagining bad things or that we can’t fathom facing the losses that we will suffer creates anxiety. Both of these methods are fueled by fear. Both of these methods are blocks that will get in the way of us living our life in the place that truly exists in its most powerful capacity, the present moment. It’s important to note being angry, sad or anxious are a very integral part of our humanity. Where we go awry is when we deny ourselves the opportunity to express and feel these emotions and move through them in constructive ways.
One of the most profound things that I learned as I was studying to become a life coach is this observation by Martha Beck. She was sharing her observations about her study of Steven Hayes’ “acceptance and commitment” therapy. I became aware that humans are the only species (as far as we know) that can create a story that causes us to want to kill ourselves to avoid future suffering about a possible situation. We allow ourselves (whether fueled by our own personal or other’s of ourselves) to create an abstract story about a non-existent future that is so painful that tragically it (the pain of suffering it can cause) can even be greater than the fear of taking one’s life.
When facing unpleasant feelings about a potential situation, the most optimal thing to do seems paradoxical. Rather than avoid the feeling, we must be willing to accept the feelings. Acceptance empowers us to navigate through situations that we might choose to avoid because of fear perceived negative feelings and/or outcomes. Willingness to suffer allows our fear to rise up and to dissolve. The past and the future that exists in our minds can fall away and allow us to be in the present moment. Bottling up our emotions will cause one to become sick, harming one self or become harmful and hurting others around us.
In that way, it’s like a mini-resurrection. We cannot know that each thought that arises can be absolutely true (and often we imagine the worse). Yet if left to to sit in the darkness, it will grow in unbearable ways – depression, anxiety, stress – the kind of stress that can kindle an illness or disease. When the thought to arises from darkness into light, the light prevails and can dissolve fear making room for the light of truth.
Living in the light is like a continuous resurrection. Meaning we must go deep into the darkness of inner self and free our negative thoughts into the light to dissolve. Jesus knew this. Jesus was willing to face death and persecution for spreading the word of God’s justice and unconditional love. Because he knew that living from a place of fear (in the dark) would trap him. He knew with total conviction that living in his light was a far greater place to be than any possibly negative outcome, including his death at the hands of those would forsake him.
This Easter season, contemplate how will you resurrect your life. What small or big leap do you need to take? What type of suffering do you fear it will bring? Time to bring those fears into the light. Time to accept them. Time to let them go. Time to breath in new life. Time for a clean slate. Time to wear your white.
Butterfly Dream (Dedicated to Elizabeth October 09, 1969 – March 27, 2014)
My daughter and I
Her hand in mine
She led me through a buoyant crowd
Passing the popcorn stand, red stripes
Loudly beckoning to anyone to
Savor this moment
At the bouquet of balloons
I saw you
Mesmerized, I watched as
You flitted up to me
To see you
You smiled and nodded
So glad to
See you healed
You smiled and nodded
Then, I felt the warmth of
My tears streaming down my cheeks
And I awoke