Saturday, February 14, 2015

Release

Today I attended the 5th annual Orlando NEDA Walk. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know this is an event I attend every year. Actually, my first time in attendance was about a week before I started this recovery journey. Every year, it's a reminder for me of how far I have come since that first walk, and where I want to go.

This year was the first year I attended by myself. I wasn't sure if I would even go at all. This morning, I woke up and decided I could handle the 35 degree weather (I am such a Floridian, don't judge me!). I wasn't sure what to think of this year's walk as I sat in the cold, listening to people speak about recovery and sing body-positive songs. That is, until the very end. We had all been given small containers of bubbles, and at the end of the presentation, my therapist (who helps organize the event) said that we would all be blowing bubbles to symbolize what feelings we want to release as we go through our recovery journey. Fear, shame, guilt...we would let it go.

The idea seemed silly to me, initially. I was feeling a little cranky and having difficulty connecting with what was being presented. But I opened my bubbles, and they put on "Try" by Colbie Callait, which you really need to listen to (and watch the video) if you haven't already.





I teared up for a moment, and I stared at the wand in my hand, dripping slightly with bubble solution.

What do I want to let go of? 

Fear. It came to me right away. I have so much fear right now. Fear of failing at recovery. Fear that I am not doing it right. Fear that I am not making enough progress. Fear that I will disappoint others...or myself.

Limiting myself: Last night, I watched the finale of a TLC show I have loved, called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. If you haven't heard about it, it's about a woman named Whitney Way Thore and her journey. It's a very body-positive show and has really taught me a lot about my own body image. Whitney is almost 400 pounds, and she does so much more than I do. She's braver and more confident than I am. Watching the show, I saw her teaching dance classes (check out her YouTube), wearing a bikini, and just living her life. The show made me recognize that I have thin privilege and am really limiting myself. I don't have as much privilege as someone who is actually thin, but there are so many things about my body I take for granted. Things I can do physically, things I have never had to think about. I see myself as being a much larger person than I am, and because of that, I tell myself there are things I cannot do, like taking an exercise class or wearing certain clothes. I tell myself I could never keep up, and should not even attempt it. This isn't due to any shame about my body or my size. I love myself as I am. I think I have just spent a long time telling myself that I am limited by the number on the scale, and I fully bought in to that lie. I know how ridiculous the lie is. I look at women like Whitney Thore and Ragen Chastain (who is training for freaking IRONMAN...that is so amazing!), who are incredible dancers and active people. Women who face more prejudice and bullshit and adversity than I ever have because of their size. And they are out there doing what they love while I'm sitting here telling myself I can't, or doing yoga in my house because I'm afraid to go to a class with other people.

Guilt: Over food. Eating. Not eating. What I'm eating. What I'm not eating. Over exercise. It's pointless and it has to go, too.

Perfectionism: I keep feeling like I'm "not good" at recovery. Like everyone else is doing it better, or faster. I forget that recovery is not a sprint, but a marathon. It's a journey and not a destination, although one day I do hope to be "recovered".

I watched the bubbles float away on the wind, and imagined what it would be like to release all of these things. On my way out, I grabbed new recovery beads. My old ones from last year were faded and worn. I wrapped them around my wrist and put the new ones up on my rearview mirror. I couldn't help but notice the symbolism. Another year gone, and even though I don't always notice it, I had made progress. My recovery got a little bit deeper and more mature. It's not this shiny, brand-new concept for me anymore. And yet there's another new year ahead of me full of promise and progress to be made. I'm looking forward to it. Year 5, here we come.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mad As Hell

"Forgive? Sounds good.
Forget? I'm not sure I could.
They say time heals everything
But I'm still waiting..."
-Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"

Before I wrote all of this, I kept asking myself, "Why?"

Why now?
Why so publicly? 
Why say anything at all? 

Even after I hit "publish" and started putting it out there, I was nervous. I questioned myself. That is, until some people started reaching out to me and telling me their stories. Then I knew I had done the right thing. I thank you all for that from the bottom of my heart. Writing all of this made me reflect, but putting it on my blog made me think about it in another way. Last night, I was talking to Rob about the whole experience and just broke down. As hard as it was for me to do this, I am so glad I have. I never realized it before, but it is a relief for this not to be my secret anymore. It's a huge weight off of me to know that I don't have to wonder if someone knows my story, or should know. It's out there, and if it's out there, maybe I can finally let more of it go. Maybe now, I can really be free.

I'm not thrilled to be a rape survivor, but I don't feel sorry for myself. I've made the most of it. People have reached out to me over the years and asked me if I ever felt normal again, because it happened to them and they were curious if they would ever get there. I do. It's a different normal. I live in a different world and I believe that in many ways I am a different person. I have often seen being raped as a kind of death, believing that in a way, the girl I was before this happened died in J's apartment that night. I struggle to look at photos of myself that same year for that reason. There's one in particular of me in front of my dorm, wearing a favorite t-shirt that says, "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Amsterdam". My hair is wild and curly. My smile is contagious. And just looking at it breaks my heart every single time. I want so badly to tell her what will happen. To somehow prevent it from happening at all. But I can't. Looking at that photo makes me realize how young I was, and it hits me all over again what J did to such a young girl.

I have moved on with my life. As you know from reading this blog or knowing me, I have a career as a therapist. I finished my education and hold my Master's Degree. I am this close to being licensed as a mental health counselor. I'm married to the most incredible, kind, supportive, loving, loyal, brilliant man on this planet. I can't wait for our future together: to buy a home, to have children. I have a family that loves me, and friends that are my family of choice. I have interests and passions and decent health. There is truly nothing more that I could ask for, and I am blessed. So yes, there is a normal after this. There is a life after rape, and it's as beautiful and full as you want to make it. Sexual violence only has to ruin your life if you let it. The healing is hard. I am still healing. I struggle with symptoms of PTSD, although it has improved over the years. I acknowledge it and even laugh about it at times. Sometimes it's not as funny, like when my husband accidentally triggers something that sets me off, screaming a scream that seems to come from somewhere I cannot control. He'll tell me he's sorry, but he has nothing to be sorry for. Neither one of us did this. Being a survivor is just another part of my life. It informs my decisions, and is the cause of some of my fears, but it has melded into the background of who I am.

So why talk about this at all?

I started to feel a genuine need and desire to write all of this and share it more publicly after it became public knowledge that FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston, had been accused of rape. I remember reading this article from The New York Times on the case, and I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I remember texting my husband, my mother...anyone who would listen. It had taken eight years, but something finally made me feel validated in my anger towards the Tallahassee Police Department and the way that my alma mater (and frankly, all college campuses) handle sexual assault and sexual battery cases. Rob and my mom both responded and said, "This is what you've been telling us all along."

The entire thing just broke my heart. All at once I felt vindicated and disgusted. I wasn't alone, but...I wasn't alone. I have never been under the misguided impression that I am the only rape survivor on a college campus, but I was also not aware that there were quite so many of us who had been treated like garbage by the same school. I was horrified to read about the experiences of other girls, many of whom suffered far more than me. I cannot imagine what it would be like if J, the man (I hesitate to use that word) who raped me, were a famous football player. My heart is with Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused Jameis of raping her. She has been called every name in the book. Her name has been publicized when it should never have been, and the only reason I am putting it here now is because she has now gone public. I've seen so many comments that called her a slut and a whore. That accused her of being a woman scorned (sound familiar?). That made fun of her and talked about running her out of town. That attempted to invalidate her experience as a survivor. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to attempt to cope with such an experience publicly, while many people are making threats against you, taunting you, and not believing what you have to say.

The song lyrics at the top of the page are from my anthem for getting through all of this, a song by the Dixie Chicks. I've been hanging onto this song, these lyrics, for so many years, because it so accurately describes how I feel.

"I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell..." 

I have no intention of letting this go in terms of saying that what happened is ok. I want to use my story to impact others and create positive change. I won't stop talking until we start seeing improvement. Colleges have to take sexual violence seriously. Survivors are not a number or a statistic you can fudge or lie about. We are real people with real stories and real pain, and mine is only one. But it matters. Every single story matters. I realized very early on in this journey that while being raped took many things from me, it did not take my voice. That man, this crime, can never, ever take that from me. So I will use it. I will use it until we see change. Until every woman (and man) can feel safe. Until every report of sexual assault is taken seriously. I am not done. Not even close. There is so much more to do.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Victimized

I have to thank all of you who reached out to me yesterday. I appreciate your encouragement more than you know. I am especially grateful for those of you who reached out to me privately to share your stories with me. I am so honored that you would trust me with your own stories, and you confirmed for me that sharing mine was the right thing for me to do. Thank you.

Note: The topic of this post contains material that may be triggering for some, as it discusses rape. 

My sophomore year at Florida State involved picking up the pieces from my freshman year. There were scholarships to earn back, a GPA to raise, and the overarching problem of: How am I going to deal with what just happened?

A friend from my scholarship program who knew what I was going through suggested I start volunteering with the Women's Center on campus. She was involved with them as well, and I think she knew that I needed a place to focus my time and energy. Later that school year, I also started attending groups at the FSU Victim Advocate center. Yes, the same people who failed to call me back when I first tried to discuss being raped. I went through two groups with them and made some friends whom I still keep in touch with to this day. We were all part of this club that no one wants to join, and in them I found true empathy. Everything I was ashamed of...the things others didn't seem to understand...these girls did. I remember confessing something to them, something I had been holding back, and when I was done a girl spoke up and said, "That makes perfect sense to me." I can't even explain the relief I felt.

There was just one problem. FSU Victim Advocate didn't want me or anyone else to become "too dependent" on their services. The director at the time said this to me with a joking, patronizing tone and a smile after I asked if there would be another group to attend in the future. It's been almost nine years now, and I still have no idea what it would mean for a survivor like me to be "too dependent" on services that exist solely to help people in situations like mine. As a result, I was almost afraid to ask them for more. I participated in two support groups during my four years at FSU and also utilized some of the counseling services at Victim Advocate for a brief period.

The idea of reporting the rape floated around in my mind on a regular basis that school year, and by April, I was ready. I went into it with realistic expectations. I knew, of course, that he would never go to prison and that this would never go to trial. That was no longer the point. I simply wanted it on record that this had occurred, and I wanted him to know that I had spoken out against him. He (I'll start calling him J) had reached out to me about a month after the rape: an instant message (all the rage at that time). I believe he said something along the lines of, "Hey, how's it going?" I couldn't believe it.

"You have to be kidding me," I said. I was sitting in my father's living room.
"What?" my dad asked.
"It's him. He's contacting me," I said. I typed back that I couldn't believe he was talking to me after what he had done. He feigned ignorance. What had he done?

"You RAPED me," I responded. The conversation that followed was as bizarre as it was offensive. Throughout it, he presented me with the following explanations for his behavior:

  • He didn't remember raping me. 
  • He was drunk at the time and couldn't remember that night (no, he wasn't). 
  • Really, I was lucky that it was him because "some other guy would have taken advantage of you more than I did". (Silly me, I should have been grateful.)
  • He really didn't understand how this could happen at all, because he thought he might be gay (...?)
After that, he said, "Who knows about this? Do they know my name?" Now, they would, and I wanted J to know it. Over the years, I have been asked by friends about reporting rape. Should they do it? Is it worth it? What will happen? While I never want to sway anyone to do one thing or another, I have told my story a few times to make people aware of what they may experience, especially if you report rape after the fact (meaning, when there is no physical evidence to support your claim). My experience was awful in many ways, but I have no regrets about my decision overall. 

When I made my report, I drove to FSU Police Department. After walking up to the window as one might do to make a bank deposit, and saying something along the lines of, "I'm here to report a rape", I found out quickly that what occurred was really out of FSU PD's jurisdiction. They called in Tallahassee PD to assist. I waited in the lobby, and a female officer came to take my statement. We were still sitting in the lobby. 

"Um, can we go somewhere more private?" I asked. 
"We can go outside," the officer replied. Outside. Where students were walking around, getting to classes, talking to friends, etc. So I was forced to give my statement, my ENTIRE statement, in the lobby of FSU PD. I distinctly remember a kid walking in to report a stolen iPod while I was recounting, in detail, the worst night of my life. 

I just want you to imagine this and really understand. When you give a statement to the police, you have to tell them as much as possible. I actually was asked to go back to every time we had met. Every consensual sex act we had engaged in. Plus, the entire rape from beginning to end. Every detail I could remember. All while sitting on a couch in the middle of the lobby, where anyone could walk in and hear. Apparently for Tallahassee Police Department, any place is a good place to take your statement. 

My case was turned over to an investigator, who interviewed J twice. I had saved the instant messages from the previous summer and provided them to the police. He was questioned about the messages and also my accusations. J admitted that some of the instant messages were his, but stated that some were not. Then he told the officer that I was a woman scorned: a girl who had wanted to date him and sleep with him, who had been rejected. That was why I had come up with this story. We had never, according to him, actually had sex at all. 

I was stunned. Hearing what J had to say forced me to face a belief I did not know I had. Deep down, I thought J did not fully understand what he had done. I blamed myself, in a way. Perhaps something about me, something I had said or done that night, let him think that it was okay to rape me. But now I knew something truly important: He knew that what he did was wrong. He knew, because he felt the need to lie. In my mind, it would have been so much easier to say this was all consensual, just a big misunderstanding. But J felt the need to tell them that I was so angry with him for "rejecting" me that I made this whole thing up. It blew me away.

Then the investigator asked me, "Why are you reporting this? Why now?" What was I trying to gain from this experience? Her tone of voice screamed, "Why would you do this to this guy? What's wrong with you?" I remember seeing something years ago saying that rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused. That statement was never more true for me than it was in that moment. Each time I spoke with the investigator, I felt the need to defend and prove myself. It was like she believed J over me. There was nothing neutral about the experience at all. I felt as though no one at the police department was on my side or trying to help me. It was as though I was a nuisance, this girl who reported her rape far too late. Yet what is important for me to remember is that I had the right to report it. I had the right to be treated with respect and dignity. I had the right to be in a more private room to talk about being victimized. I had the right not to be attacked all over again, this time by the people who were supposed to protect me.

The sad thing is, I don't believe much has changed in nearly nine years. As a therapist, I have sat with my clients on multiple occasions when they reported sexual assault and rape. I remember that after one report, I followed the officer out to his car to get the case number. He looked at me and said, "She probably seduced him." We were discussing a minor child victim and a man who is older than I am today. I was horrified by his statement, and told him so.

"You probably just believe that because of what you do for a living," he said.

It may not be fair, and it may not be right, but my faith in law enforcement has been destroyed little by little over the years. Especially when it comes to their ability to handle sexual assault and sexual battery.

It brings to mind something that the counselor at FSU Victim Advocate said to me: 

"You know, if this ever happened to me...I don't think I would report it.

Telling, isn't it? 




I'll be posting the last part of this, a post about my reasons for "coming out" about my experience, tomorrow. Thank you all so much for the continued support and for reading this. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Survivor

Cliche as it may sound, this is truly the post I never thought I would write...for so many reasons. I actually wrote this days ago, and was waiting for the right moment to post it. I have such butterflies right now even considering pressing the "publish" button. But I think it's time.

Before I go on, please note that the content of this post may be triggering for some, as it discusses rape and sexual assault. 

In 2006, my freshman year of college, I became another Florida State University crime statistic. The kind they don't care to report, and the kind that, frankly, they treat like shit. In April of that year, I was raped by an acquaintance in his apartment, literally down the street from the FSU police department. I'd been alone with this guy several times, in exactly this same place. When we first met, he found out I was an English major and wooed me over to his apartment, promising me we would watch Dead Poet's Society. Lesson learned: when a college boy invites you over to watch a movie...you're not watching a movie. We kissed. He was pretty rough with me, even just kissing, but I was also pretty naive. Looking back, it was red flag #1. 

I saw him sporadically. He was a strange person, but he acted like he respected me. When he found out that I was a virgin, he told me I should save my virginity for someone I cared about. He didn't want me to make a mistake, or have regrets. The night he told me that, I remember calling him on my way back to my dorm and thanking him for looking out for me. He was older than I was by a couple of years, and I thought he was genuinely concerned about my welfare. 

That night in April is one I wish I could take back. By this time, I knew this guy was a complete ass. The last time I had seen him, he had been talking to me about some other girl he was interested in. She sounded like everything I wasn't: she could fix her own car; she was fit; she was thin. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear when you're half-naked in some guy's bed. I put my clothes on pretty quickly and left, not wanting to hear any more. But this time, I had gone over as a joke. I had been talking to my roommate and telling her how he was Instant Messaging me and telling me that he should have slept with me while he had the chance. What an asshole. 

"It's fine," I wrote back. "Besides, I had sex with someone else anyway." A typical teenager response. I wanted him to know that I didn't mind the rejection, and actually, I hadn't. I didn't feel like I had missed anything by not sleeping with him. My roommate and I started to talk about an idea. First, it was a joke: why shouldn't I go over there and teach him a lesson? Maybe I could tie him up and leave him in his apartment. It would serve him right. We laughed about it, and then I said, "Why not?" It felt like a dare. It seemed hilarious. So I got in my car and went to his apartment. Before I left, sent him another message: "We are NOT having sex". 

He acted like an asshole from the moment I arrived, which only made me more eager to complete this self-imposed dare and get out. He deserved this, I thought. I imagined being back in the dorm, laughing about this with my roommate. Telling her what I had done.

But it didn't happen that way. 

I've come to realize in the almost nine years that have passed since that night that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was planned. Calculated. It was no accident or misunderstanding. Everyone was in their right mind. No one was under the influence, although that would never have excused what happened. I truly believe that he had thought about this moment before it ever arrived, as people like him do. I will spare you the gory details, except to say the following: It felt like it went on forever. It happened more than once, but my mind won't even allow me to recall how many times. It hurt like hell. He laughed at me when I cried and asked him to stop. And he told me this, words that still haunt me, "No one would believe you didn't want this." 

Those words silenced me for a long time. I left his house that night in a state of shock. I knew something was truly wrong, but I wasn't able to put a label on it. Nothing screamed, "This is rape! Go to the hospital! Call the police!" I was numb and confused: my brain's way of protecting me from this horror. It hit me a week or two later when I told a friend what had happened and she said, "Ashley...that's rape." I threw up. I cried for days. I reached out to a friend in my dorm. I sat in the hallway outside of Victim's Services at FSU, waiting for someone. I gave them my number for someone to call me. No one ever did. I called a rape crisis hotline. They told me to call the police...to think of the other people he might hurt. I was not in a space to think about those people, those imaginary people. I was broken. I had no idea how I would tell my family. I wanted to do it in the "right" way, if that makes sense. I know my parents knew something was wrong, but I refused to tell them what it was. I thought that telling them face to face was the only way to do it. 

When I told them...it was awful, and not at all what I had planned. I had wanted to control this thing, to somehow make the uncontrollable, the unacceptable, easier to digest. My dad had come to Tallahassee to help me take my things back to south Florida and pack up my dorm room. I was on the phone with my mom, sitting in my car in front of a video store. She knew something was wrong and ran through the list of all the things it might be. Was I pregnant? Was I in trouble at school? Was I involved with the cops? Did I get expelled? And then...

"Ashley, were you raped?"

I remember confirming it for her. She asked me to go to the police, and when I refused, she just asked me to come home to her. Then I had to explain it all to my father. For years, just remembering the look on his face made me cry. He had buried his face in the crook of his arm. It killed him...both of them. My dad, too, told me we had to go to the police. To report this. I refused. It had been weeks since it happened. I wasn't ready, and I knew there was no physical evidence to support what I had to say. I remember driving for hours that night and coming home to my mother's house. I walked in the door and crawled into her bed late at night, like I was still a little girl. 

I was still a little girl. I realize that now. I realize that who I was at eighteen was still so young, and so naive. I was emotionally much younger when it came to dealing with men. It never occurred to me that I couldn't just spend time alone with this guy, a fellow student. That the person who said he respected me enough to not take my virginity was actually a monster, a deviant. There was just so much I didn't know, and he knew that. I believe very strongly that he knew what he was doing, and there was a reason why he chose to do this to me. One of them is that I was still just a little girl. 

That summer, I did what I could to move on with my life. I met Rob, my husband, that July. Our love story seems like such a miracle to me when I realize that three months after what happened, something allowed me to let him in. I told him the truth before we ever went on a date. I think I saw myself as broken at the time, and wanted him to know what he was getting. I wanted him to know I felt damaged. That I wasn't sure that we could be intimate, not yet. I think some people would probably consider that a bad move...telling a guy you just got raped is not exactly the way to get asked out on a date. There was just something inside me that told me he should know, and I was right. 

I know now that I am not damaged. I am not broken. I know that I am strong, and brave. I know that I am a survivor. It just took me a long time to get here. 



Note: I am planning on putting up a second part to this post tomorrow. It was just too long to put up at once. Thank you very much for reading this. 


Saturday, January 3, 2015

More

It's a brand new year, and lately the discussion among my friends and family has been: What are your resolutions for 2015?

I started writing them down the morning of January 1. In the past, it was always to lose weight or get on some kind of crazy exercise program. I had so many detailed lists which, like many well-meaning resolutions, failed to produce any real change. I didn't want to do that this time, so I sat down with a word document and asked myself, "What do I really want?" As I started typing, I realized there was a theme to what I was putting on my list. One word in particular, actually.

MORE

That word kept coming up in each desire for 2015. And, of course, it reminded me of this: 

Credit to giphy.com


Go ahead, sing the song for a while. Count your thingamabobs. Flip your fins. Talk to some singing crabs. I won't judge. I'll be here when you get back. 

I want more. There's a part of me that feels selfish saying that. Of course I don't mean more in terms of material things, although, hey, if someone wanted to add money to my salary, I would not say no. I want more for myself. Here's my list so far: 

  • More water- I need to drink more water. I have this horrible habit of NOT drinking any fluids whatsoever for hours on end. It's BAD and needs to stop. So I downloaded this app called Waterlogged. You basically log your drinks (I only put water in there) and keep track of what you're drinking. It seems basic and silly, but it has been reminding me to drink my water and challenging me to reach my goal of 80 oz per day. I know there are some people that say you should drink half of your body weight in ounces, but those people are clearly not in the same weight range as I am. I might float away...or spend my whole life peeing. I'll stick to 80 for now and see how it goes. 
  • More movement: Exercise. Of course. This is such a struggle for me in my recovery. God bless my team of ED recovery professionals, because it's been almost four years now and they are still (probably) banging their heads against the wall trying to get me to engage in some type of activity on a consistent basis. I could write a whole post on why this is so hard for me (oh wait, I wrote several, but basically it boils down to this: Exercise has always been about weight loss. Every time I start an exercise program I overdo it and burn myself out. Then I stop, and the cycle continues. It's not like I am sitting on my couch all day, eating bon bons (but if you are, that sounds AWESOME and I am not judging). I have a busy job and a bunch of teenagers to take care of who are constantly keeping me busy with their legal and sometimes not-so-legal activities. Anyway, more movement. I want to do more yoga (so I downloaded this app). I want to ride my bike more. I want to take more walks with my husband. I want to enjoy more of what my body can do and enable it to do even more. 
  • More spirituality: My beliefs have changed in the past couple of years, and it left me confused and unsure how to proceed. I was raised with a religious/spiritual upbringing and attended religious schools from age 2-17. We went to church and I participated in several sacraments. I explored most areas of Christianity. I think things shifted for me over the years, but when my father-in-law died, it just changed everything for me. What I really believed in (and didn't believe in) all crashed into each other at once. It wasn't until I went to the Oprah Tour that I realized that my spirituality is what I make of it, and that I do not have to subscribe to a specific set of beliefs. I want more of that in my life this year. More discovery. More learning. More grace. Continuing to seek my higher self, and the higher power I believe is out there and also within us. 
  • More organization- Like many married (and cohabiting) couples, we are working on house projects. Something about getting those rings on our fingers caused us to start wanting to organize our lives. We bought a file cabinet the other day, for goodness sake. My project this year is our bedroom: making it a comfortable and peaceful place to be. If I were a good blogger, I would have taken pictures of what our bed used to look like and what it's like now...but I'll work on that and show you guys the remodel when it's done! 
  • More time with the people who care about me, and less with those who don't- This one is my big one. It's the first thing that came to me when I thought about resolutions. I spend a lot of time on people who don't spend so much time on me, and I want that to change. I am committed this year and all the years that follow to spending my time and energy on the people who are just as invested in me as I am in them. If that means I end up with fewer people in my circle, I'm at peace with that. I just want to use the free time I have to build up positive and supportive relationships in my life. 
So those are my main goals for this year! What are yours? I would love to hear what everyone else is working on.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Bringing the honeymoon home

I had this moment of sadness when we left Maui to come back to Orlando. The honeymoon was over,  and the idea of returning to reality was much more harsh than I anticipated. It wasn't just that I didn't want to leave paradise, although, let's be honest...
Three Bears Waterfall - Road to Hana

Does anyone want to leave that? 

It was also the idea of this sweet time together coming to an end. Rob and I have been able to spend quite a bit of time together prior to our marriage, more than I believe most couples are able to have. We had been together for over eight years before our wedding day, and I've actually picked up a few lessons about relationships in that time. One of the things I've noticed is that we connect quite a bit more when we are on vacation. The quality time is better and the distractions are fewer. We aren't messing around with our phones or computers as much. We aren't at work or running errands, worrying about laundry or when we have to pay certain bills. On vacation, we get to focus on our relationship as best friends and partners. It's easier to do that when all the tasks of daily living are removed for a brief period. We just got to enjoy each other. 

Black sand beach - Hana, HI
After spending over a week together on our honeymoon, taking in all the quality time and basking in the newlywed glow, the idea of leaving crushed me. The morning we were set to return home, I was depressed. 

"What's wrong?" Rob asked. I actually started crying, and I realized that as much as I love Hawaii, leaving the state wasn't what hurt me the most. 

"I don't want to go back to what we've been doing," I said. "We have to do better." 

Please don't misunderstand...our relationship is great. But I think this is what you fall into (or at least I think most of us do...all you perfect couples need not comment on this post) when you live together for a long time. We got comfortable. Sometimes we got tired. It's just easier at times to watch a movie or a television show together and call it "quality time". It's often easier to put laundry and household chores and work above spending time with the other person. 

The two of us started talking about how we could bring our honeymoon back to Orlando. We realized a long time ago that we share the same love language: quality time. We both feel most loved when we are spending time together. Now, what Rob and I view as quality time is a bit different. For Rob, if we are together watching a movie, that is quality time. Sometimes sharing the same space at the same time counts as quality time for him ("But we've been together all day!"). For me, I need one-on-one time and attention with no distractions. I need to talk to him and look him in the eyes without a movie playing in the background or phones in our hands. That's how I connect. 

Lahaina, HI

It's been a little over a month now, and we're definitely making progress toward our goal. I make time for affection, intimacy, and connection with my husband. I am trying to put down the technology in favor of looking him in the eyes and really hearing what he has to say. I make it a point to ask about his day at work every day. We remind each other that the laundry is really not that serious, and it can wait. Lately, we've been taking on household projects together. We are slowly but surely laying a foundation for our marriage. Before our wedding day, I always thought that the eight years we were together was that foundation. In some ways, it is, but I've realized that getting married meant that we are still building our relationship. We are shaping and creating this new commitment to each other, building something that will last for decades to come. I am learning every day, and I am continuing to bring the sweetness of our honeymoon into our daily married life.






Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wife

The question I'm asked most often now, other than, "When are you having a baby?" (answer: NEVER NOT NOW), is "How do you like being married?"

I love it. I love it more than I thought I would. I fell in love with it the night of our wedding, when we got back to our hotel room and just hung out in bed together (after I took a long shower to wash all the crap out of my hair and the make-up off of my face), reading our cards and talking about the day. I was exhausted but didn't want to go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning and thought about it, tears came to my eyes. We were married. It really happened. Sometimes, even a month later, it's still hard for me to believe that it really did take place. I've watched our wedding highlight video six times (Rob: "Really?"), and I still can't believe it.

Rob and I had the privilege and the experience of being together for over eight years prior to our wedding day, and living together for more than six. Needless to say, he did not expect marriage to be any different. I had a feeling it might be, but I wasn't sure how. The day to day is the same. We go to work, we come home, we do chores, we watch tv, and occasionally I nag him about something (#wifeperks). It's the emotional part of being married that is this huge and yet subtle change in our relationship. In some ways, I feel like I have fallen in love with Rob all over again as my husband. At first, I thought this was because we were in Hawaii on our honeymoon. Let's face it, if you can't feel the love on a beautiful beach with a cocktail in your hand, you've got problems.

On Maui on the last day of our honeymoon trip
What surprised me is that the feeling followed us home on that exhausting plane ride back to Orlando. I think part of that is a discussion we had, which is for another blog post, about taking our honeymoon home with us. Part of it is just being married.

I find myself thinking a lot about our vows to each other. We actually talk about them quite a bit, and I hope that is something that will still remain with us throughout the years. We wrote our own vows, which meant a lot to me. I love to write (hi, you're reading my blog), and Rob is the kind of person who is very sweet to me and tells me how he feels to my face, but if you look at any of the greeting cards I've saved from over the years, they normally have "Love, Rob" written on the bottom. No additional sentiment needed. He usually allows Hallmark to do the job of expressing his feelings for him (well done, greeting card companies of America). Meanwhile, I always write a novel on his cards and pour my heart out. I wanted Rob to write his own vows to me because I wanted to hear in his own words how he felt and what this marriage meant to him. As nervous as he was about writing them, he did an awesome job. After the ceremony, people talked about his vows to the point where I actually felt a little miffed. You can see/hear us recite our vows to each other in this highlight video: 




I say all of that to say that those words became very important to both of us very quickly. We quote lines to each other (sometimes in jest, sometimes not) often. More importantly, I find myself reflecting upon my words to him. I want so much to live up to what I said I would do, and I find myself trying every day to do just that. I've always known that the two of us have a very healthy relationship, but I have not always handled conflict to the best of my ability. Part of that was my choices, and part of that was what I was struggling with in terms of depression and other mental health issues I was experiencing. When I started dealing with both of those issues, I noticed that the way I handled conflict improved exponentially. I don't flip out over small things. I handle them calmly and most of the time they don't escalate. Of course, I'm pretty self-congratulatory about this and I'll say to Rob, "DID YOU SEE THAT??? Did you see how well I handled that?" 

I try to be more patient and more understanding. Rob wasn't feeling well a few weeks ago and I REALLY had to live up to what I said about taking care of him when he is sick. I usually get annoyed with him for whining, but I really made the effort this time. That's what I find myself doing, now that I'm a wife. I thought I was putting in enough effort before we were married, but now I realize that I can do so much more to be a better partner. I think every married woman has a different idea of what a wife's role is, and I knew I would be setting the bar high for myself. To me, being married is about "we" and not "me". Again, something I always thought I was doing before, but it's different to me now. I wanted to be more selfless, more supportive, and more patient. To pitch in more, even when I felt like I was doing my share. It's true what they say: relationships are not 50/50 most of the time. Sometimes it's 60/40, 70/30. Instead of keeping score, I try to have the mindset that this is all for our family. So it's really 100/100 all the time.

I did not expect the happiness, the sheer joy of being married to the person I love the most. I did not know this happiness existed. The feeling, the concept of happiness, has been an elusive thing for me for a long time. As I've shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was young. Happiness has always felt fleeting to me, and I don't know if I would ever describe myself as being a happy person. But what I feel now, and where I am now in my life and in my relationship lights me from within. It's pure joy. I worry sometimes that perhaps this is only temporary, and maybe it will go away and we will become some jaded married couple. I think a lot of that has to do with choice, though, and right now I am choosing to keep that feeling and that appreciation for my husband and our marriage alive.

For now, I'm still asking Rob, "Did that really happen? Can you believe we are really married?"


Sometimes I just have to look at the evidence to make sure I didn't imagine it. 
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