I’ve spent a few months evading the subject, making light of dating by laughing at the most awkwardly horrible first (and second and third) date scenarios I’ve encountered. I’ve frolicked happily through life like it is an open meadow, refusing to ponder anything too heavy, anything too deep, anything too serious. As if all of the emotion I would have had to spend on stress, on sadness, on anxiety, on fear, and on tears were just gone. As if I had already cried every tear left in my body leaving myself frail and dehydrated and incapable of processing any emotions but happiness. This week I am attending a women’s empowerment conference in Vancouver which has forced me to ask myself what it means to be empowered. In my case I think it means sharing part of my own story not as a means of whining or attempting to generate sympathy but rather as an attempt to move forward, let go and potentially help (even in a small way someone else who may be going through a similar situation or experience).
It all started when I started researching sociopaths, I don’t quite remember if I was concerned, joking or randomly genuinely curious but down the rabbit hole I went and down the rabbit hole I stayed. At first I laughed off the similarities I found between my boyfriend at the time and a sociopath. Sure he lied to me, that sucked but didn’t everyone lie once in awhile? I recognized all the ways he manipulated me, the way he continuously called me a “slut” and a “whore”. I noticed the blatant attempts to isolate me by throwing tantrums every time I tried to spend time with my friends, by reading my texts, by hacking into my Facebook and blocking anyone he didn’t want me to talk to. There were many instances that it simply felt hopeless, I fantasizes about leaving someday but felt too ashamed to tell my family who seemed to like him, so I kept my struggle a secret. For my relationship and my own personal sanity I chose to agree to his ridiculous demands (no watching “Sex and the city” or reading books that he thought were immature or slutty) and slowly, very slowly I started to subconsciously view myself as immature and slutty. On One level I realized it was all insane but I was in denial of just how insane. I reasoned I was overreacting, I reasoned that in some ways I deserved it, but above all else I reasoned that no one who claimed to love me would ever aim to destroy me so purposefully and maliciously.
In a joking rant I shared my sociopath suspicions with a friend, then two friends, then a few and suddenly I was talking to friends of friends, family members and counselor a about my new found fear. Everyone had a different opinion on the appropriate response I should have but the understanding that I should turn and run from such an unhealthy relationship was unanimous. For so long I had hidden parts of the relationship that felt toxic, I hid them from my family, my closest friends, and often times even from myself. Once I realized how isolated and unhappy I had become I felt ashamed for letting myself fall into a hole that now felt impossible to climb out of. On one hand I wanted to dig my way out of the dirt on my own, after all I had let myself fall into this mess and it wasn’t anyone’s job but my own to clear the dirt and help me start over. On the other hand I felt helpless and smothered. My entire life was intertwined with someone who I had become terribly afraid of. I wanted to curl up in a dark corner and cry until someone (anyone) would reach down into my damp dark rabbit hole and rescue me.
I began staying with friends whenever possible even if it meant cuddling up on a twin bed next to my bestie on the sleeping porch at her sorority, which more often than not it did. I looked towards the future and brainstormed probable ways to untangle myself from him, and bit by bit I freed myself. With my new freedom came a sense of mania, I boarded the “hot mess express” as I attempted to fill myself with happiness to avoid the loneliness, the sadness and the shame that came with admitting I had let myself become a woman I was not proud of. I adopted a new role of eating take out, staying up until two, and falling asleep in random places throughout the day. My new life wasn’t totally healthy, nowhere near perfect but it was a step out of the emotionally abusive relationship I had denied for far too long.
Within weeks I had girls I hardly knew (friends of friends) commenting on how happy I seemed, I met strangers who commented on my massive amounts (the energy I’d used on crying and pointless fights for the past 2 years) and I found myself staring at the blue sky and colorful array of springtime flowers around me before I recognized I’d found a way out of my rabbit hole (and oh my god the sunlight felt great).
To me feeling empowered is all about taking control of your own life, of your own future even if it means momentarily admitting defeat, accepting weakness and asking for help. It would be a lie to say I’m completely healed from my experience, that I don’t have trust issues or face self damaging resentment on a daily basis but I’m trying and I’m working. Each day I feel the sun a little more , which is positive, but I also remember psychotic possessive and emotionally abusive behavior I pushed aside or accepted because I wasn’t strong enough to admit it was happening to me, because I was afraid I was over emotional, stubbornly independent or dramatic.
I want to reiterate that my tale, my rant, has a happy ending and isn’t meant to foster sympathy. I don’t feel bad for myself though I do feel angry with myself at times Instead it is simply a small step towards my journey to light, to independence, to empowerment. I don’t think my voice in this instance is meant to remain silent but instead is supposed to signify a small voice from a dark place. If anything at all I hope to provide an example of a seemingly happy girl in a tutu and tiara, and to bring light on the fact that even a world filled with mimosas, glitter and fairy princess fantasies is not always the perfect fairy tale we see from the outside.
I have so many words left jumbled in my mind. I have so many complex, convoluted emotions left unexpressed and I want to share them, someday, but not today. It has taken me so long to feel comfortable sharing this small part of my seemingly insignificant story, so difficult that I can hardly speak to it aloud without becoming overly emotional or brushing it off completely.
What is your definition of empowerment? What makes you feel powerful? I would love to hear any stories of you personal journey to empowerment.