1.42am

You found me in the deep
My infinite soul untamed amongst wild oceans
I called to you, beckoned you beyond comfortable shores
“Shhhh,” you hushed my heart
“Come with me to the shallows, for there we will not drown”
I took your hand and followed you
To the place you felt safe
The place I felt alone
Ankle deep, we barely tasted salt upon our skin
Here, you were content
While I gazed upon ink-blue water
And yearned to immerse myself within its weather-beaten waves
“Come with me,” I whispered against the warmth of your flesh
“Come deeper, for there we will feel our passions, our emotions, our fire.
Come deeper, and let our souls discover these unchartered waters together”
But you did not move, did not follow as I stepped toward the horizon
Instead you stayed, skin deep
I dove into the cool water, surfaced, glanced back to where you had been
But no longer were
And in that moment, I knew
You were not afraid of the deep because you didn’t know how to swim
But because you didn’t know how to feel.

~ © Kathy Parker ~

The Road He Carved With His Own Two Hands

He draws lines upon your body
Maps out the places he has travelled
Places where his hands
Have skimmed the surface of your skin
The lines meet, join together
And he thinks he knows you
By the fingerprints he leaves behind
But your body has been travelled by many
Offered to every sojourner
In the hope one will stay long enough
To stray from the well worn roads of your flesh
To the unknown paths of your soul
Dear heart,
You don’t need a traveller
One who seeks a warm bed to spend the night
Before he continues on his way
You need a goddamn pioneer
One who longs to unearth places in you not yet found
Who is without fear of the tangled wilderness he’ll find beneath your skin
Who prefers the uneven crags of your heart
And the deep murkiness of your soul
An explorer
Who covers his hands in the dirt of your essence
And drips in the sweat of your being
Before he finds his way home
Settled in the depth of your core
On the road he carved with his own two hands.

~ © Kathy Parker ~

The Keeper Of Secrets

frdj333dsuy-jonatan-becerra.jpg

“I have felt the sharp sting of abuse. Sexual, physical, mental. And it’s felt like shame for so many years and to speak the words into this world makes me want to howl and hide. But I say them out loud anyway so my sisters know… they do not stand alone…” ~ Salmaelwardany

As an abused child, I learned to keep secrets.

The heart of an abused child is laden with them. We carry the abuse as our fault, somehow we are to blame, somehow we deserve it. Our voice is taken from us; silent and powerless, we protect the ones who should have protected us. This is how we keep our secrets safe.

Often, even when we expose the abuse, we are dismissed. We come to believe it is us against the world. We are on our own, there is nobody we can trust.

We become the keeper of secrets.

I reflect upon this as waves cavort with the shoreline and salt air adheres to my skin; upon how the heart of an abused child looks much like the heart of an abused woman.

This, I came to understand when, as a woman, I was abused.

And kept it a secret.

The keeper of secrets.

Broken shells scatter around my feet and in them the disorder of the last year reflects back at me. The gift of time and distance has offered me perspective, I find myself often in moments such as this; outside my body, detached from the experience yet desperate to put order to the chaos. To feel whole again, to mend, to grasp at some sort of closure.

I’m positive this is why women stay in abusive situations for so long. Because we believe for the happy ending promised in the fairy tales of our childhood. We are nurturers, healers, fixers, empaths; it goes against our very nature to abandon that which is so very broken, until invariably, it breaks us.

Hindsight leaves me to wonder how an intelligent, educated woman like myself allowed this to happen, allowed myself to be verbally and emotionally abused for so long by someone I trusted. But here lies the key. I trusted him. Respected him. Admired him. Not only did I, but so did my husband, my children, my friends. He was welcomed into my home, into my family, into my life.

Into my secrets.

And then, he took my secrets and turned them into his power.

You fucking whore. You fucking slut. You are nothing but a fucking whore who fucks around. You make me sick you fucking slut.

Messages like this continued for months, enabled by my silence. There is no physical proof with this kind of abuse. It is oh so easy to be the keeper of secrets, to pretend it isn’t happening, to delete the messages and pick your kids up from school and make dinner and kiss your husband goodnight as if your heart hasn’t been ripped from your chest and obliterated by words that will forever be seared on the back of your eyelids.

I consider why I didn’t reveal the abuse the first time it happened, and can only concede that his abuse was tied to my shame. The two were inseparable. To tell of his abuse would be to admit I believed his words were justified. After all, he knew of my past, my pain, the choices I had made out of the places I had suffered. And he threw these things back at me, made sure I was smeared with the filth of them, made sure I knew how worthless that made me.

I was no longer a grown woman, but once again a child, betrayed by someone I trusted, someone who should have protected me. Confused, scared, ashamed, I believed it to be my fault. I had made it happen, I allowed someone too close. I had been too vulnerable, too trusting, too naive. I deserved it.

As if any woman deserves to be abused. As if any woman deserves to be shamed. As if there is any justification for destroying another human, ever.

He apologised, of course. He never meant to hurt me, he knew he was wrong, knew that’s not who I was, promised it would never happen again. I forgave him, of course. For not only had I been raised by generations of women who exemplified the female doormat, but had also been subjected to years of religious teaching on how we should love others. If someone slaps you on the right cheek? Offer him your left. How many times do I forgive the one who hurts me? Seventy times seven. My heart cracks wide open for the women under this teaching who stay in abusive relationships, who are told, if you love him better, he’ll come to understand love and will no longer hurt you. 

No dear woman, he won’t.

I no longer believe in a love that must suffer for the cause of another. For months I suffered. More months that I would even care to admit. I suffered for my own fear and shame. I suffered out of love for our mutual family and friends. I suffered for him, to protect him, because I wanted to believe the best of him, I wanted to believe he was a good man who operated from a place of his own pain, and maybe with more compassion, more love, more understanding, maybe he would heal. Maybe he would become the person I thought him to be. Maybe there would be reconciliation, restoration, a way for closure.

Overhead, seagulls circle and I pick up a stone, feel the smoothness of it between my fingers, trace the outside of it. I ditch it toward the waves but like everything of late, the effort is halfhearted and lacks conviction.

I had learned about pretence in my childhood, about the masks we wear and the words we say to ensure there is never questions of what lay behind the falsity. In fact, I reached beyond a level of skilfulness to complete mastery of such impression. To many, this could be construed as deceit. To the rest of us, this is a tool of survival we have carried into our adulthood, one we are disinclined to trade for the perils of honesty when we are so accomplished in our secret-keeping.

To keep the secret of abuse, whether as a child or an adult, is to learn to live two different lives. There is your outer life, the one where you hold yourself together for your family, where normal is rehearsed and practised, where you go about your life and hope the people around you don’t notice the tiredness in your eyes and the way your hands shake when you pick up your phone.

Then there is your inner life. The one where your husband leaves for work and you are finally alone and can fall apart right there on the bathroom floor. The one where you cannot find the energy or motivation to get dressed, where you haven’t showered for days, don’t answer your phone, and find every reason not to leave the house. Where your work suffers, your health suffers, your spirit suffers.

Secrets destroy us. They eat away at our flesh and rot our soul and soon we begin to decompose, and all that festers inside our putrid body can no longer be hidden. We see it in our anger, our addictions, our depression. In the way our bones ache and our joints hurt. In our mood swings and outbursts and the way we do not sleep for days, weeks, years. In our fear, anxiety, isolation, numbness, irritability, hyper-vigilance, disconnection, self-destruction. We see it in our crushed spirit and dried up bones. In the way we turn away from life, turn away from ourselves.

My secret stayed hidden within the darkest places in my soul until it almost destroyed me. This is the power of shame. But what I have come to understand is that shame can only survive in the darkness. The moment shame is exposed to the light, it loses its grip over us.

My shame allowed his power over me, as did my silence.

My shame almost destroyed me, until the moment I said no more.

No more will I allow this to happen. No more will I believe I have done something to deserve this. No more will I allow another human to destroy me. No more will I hide in the dark. No more will I be afraid.

No more will I be ashamed.

No more will I be silent.

No more will I be the keeper of secrets.

It is over.

The sound of children’s laughter from across the bay arrives on a warm gust of wind. I breathe the air deep into my lungs, hold it there, allow it to fill me anew with life, for breath is life and I have been dead too long. My warrior heart beats again, the one he tried to destroy. The one he almost destroyed. But not quite. Here, in this place, I once again find life.

I will not speak his name out loud. I carry no bitterness, for this will only destroy me. I am instead thankful for the way this struggle has transformed me. Through this, I have become aware of the parts of my childhood not reconciled. I understand more of the human condition, of the way we operate out of our unhealed wounds, and project them onto other people and other relationships. I understand more about the hearts of women who live with abuse, the reasons they stay, the reasons they cannot leave. I am wiser, stronger, braver. I have found my voice, and I will be the voice for my sisters still trapped in their silence. I will spend the rest of my life fighting for the rights of women. For them, for me, for my daughters.

There are reasons people enter our lives, reasons they become part of our journey.

Sometimes those reasons are to break us wide open.

I walk deeper into clear water, feel the sand squelch between my toes. The shock of cold awakens my soul and I run, dive, break through the surface, plunge beneath, deeper, deeper still, until I lift my face to the sun and rise back to the surface. I emerge, and I am weightless, washed, made clean.

I am born again.

Much has been broken; there is much to be healed.

But sometimes, brokenness carries its own kind of beauty.

 

How To Ditch The Diet Resolutions

ecxb0yaz_zu-jennifer-burk.jpg

Like every woman I know, I have spent much of my life in bondage to body-image issues. For years I have ridden the pendulum between self-hate and lukewarm self-acceptance, with an occasional fleeting moment of actual, true self-love.

But these moments have been hard to grasp, and before long I am pulled back into my frenzy of media-driven comparison, where I stand naked before the mirror, before my enemy. My gaze is thick with contempt and disgust as I stare at my flaws, my imperfections, at all I see that does not align with the image of the woman I am told is beauty.

She is beauty. I am not her. I am not beauty.

I stand up straighter and suck my stomach in to create an illusion of thinness I will never have. My stance widens in an effort to create a thigh gap, my shoulders pull back in the hope my breasts will take on a more youthful shape. I am sick with discontentment, dissatisfaction, with hopelessness and failure.

I look at the clothes in my wardrobe, clothes I have bought because I loved them. But they are clothes I put on, then rip off and throw on the floor. They do not look as good on me as they did on the size 6 mannequin in the shop window.

I am disgusted at myself, angry that I cannot be disciplined enough or focused enough to be skinny. Instead, I feel enormous in my size 12 body. Hot tears stream down my face. I am overwhelmed with guilt that I have eaten too much and not worked out enough. I am drowning in shame because my last New Year’s resolution was to have the perfect bikini body and as I stand here I’m nowhere near it. Not even close.

I hate the woman in the mirror. She is not perfect. She is not beautiful. I promise myself no more wine. No more Cherry Ripes. Start to think about how many meals I could skip each day before I would lack the required energy. How I would fit a couple of hours of exercise into my day. I make my 2017 New Years resolution, to have the perfect bikini body by next summer, and mentally I begin a checklist of all I need to sacrifice and how much I will need to strive to make this happen.

Already I am exhausted with the energy it takes to hate my body, to punish it. The more I hate it, the more I unwittingly focus on it. The more I obsess over it. The more it takes me away from what I am passionate about, from the achievement of my goals and dreams. The more energy I put into hating my body, the less energy I have to enjoy my life. I am at war with myself once again, and in that moment, I realise it’s a battle I no longer want to fight.

I look at my body again, except this time I make myself see its strength. The way it conceived, nurtured and grew four babies. The pain it was able to endure at the birth of those babies. The way it nourished those babies countless for hours, months, years at its breast. I see all it is capable of, the life and joy it brings me. It can swim, surf, kayak, run on the beach. It can play games of basketball and cricket in the backyard and mountain bike ride up and down hills. It can stretch, bend and twist in yoga, hold a plank for 2 minutes and 36 seconds, and can do cartwheels and handstands on the grass with my children. As Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the The Body Image Movement, says: my body is not an ornament to be looked at, but the vehicle to my dreams.

In her recent documentary, Embrace, we see the journey Taryn has taken to not only learn to love her own body, but empower other women to do the same. We see the mother of three’s struggle with her post-baby body, and how she believed cosmetic surgery was the quick fix she needed to find happiness.

Until she looked at her daughter and realised how much it broke her heart to think that her choice to change her body would set her daughter up to want to change hers too, and what kind of message was she giving to her daughter about her body? She was unable to go through with the surgery, but was still left with a body she hated.

Desperate to know what the perfect body felt like, she entered a body building contest, and for 15 weeks trained until she had the perfect body. Taryn stood on stage knowing she had made it. But she wasn’t happy. It had been too much time, too much energy, too much sacrifice, too much obsession. It wasn’t worth it. Taryn’s entire mindset changed, and she set out on her quest to learn to love and embrace her body exactly as it was.

I recently watched Embrace. I watched as beautiful women shared their beliefs about themselves. That they are disgusting, too fat, too ugly, need smaller thighs, bigger breasts, a flatter stomach. That they are not enough just as they are. I cried for them, and I cried for me. For the culture we live in that defines what we must be in order to be beautiful. The lies. So many lies.

Because, as Taryn points out, we are only shown one type of woman. She is young, flawless, perfect, blonde haired, blue eyed. She is not real. She is Photoshopped to a level of perfection that will never be attainable. We kill ourselves to be like her. We compare ourselves to her. We do not see our own beauty, for we are too consumed with worshipping hers. When all the while, our beauty lies beyond measure, unnoticed by our critical gaze.

We believe the lie that thinner is better. We suffocate under the pressure to be hot, no matter what our age or circumstance.To be young and hot. To be pregnant and hot. To be postpartum and hot. To be a mother and hot, a cougar and hot. It’s no longer uncommon for women in their 30’s and 40’s to battle eating disorders that once affected mostly teens and women in their 20’s. The spectrum is so much wider now and nobody is immune, from 50 year-old women being pressured to be the new 30 — because God forbid they look their age — to over 50 percent of 5-12 year old girls who believe they need to lose weight.

And as parents of these daughters, we are frantic with not knowing how to shield our girls from the onslaught of media and advertising, as well as the sexualisation of their bodies from such a young age. They are bombarded with messages at every turn. Thin is sexy. Thin is beautiful. Thin is what will make boys like me and girls want to be like me.

Being thin has become their measure of success. Who can eat the least? Who can exercise the most? The thinnest girl wins. And it is utterly heart breaking that this is what our girls face, and what most will succumb to in order to find their acceptance and their worth.

How do we change this?

In the words of Taryn, we embrace.

We stand before the mirror and see the beauty of our bodies, we see them for the strength they possess, for all they are capable of, for all they do for us, and we thank our bodies for how amazing they are, for being the vehicle to our dreams.

We embrace our flaws, knowing the moment we do that, we will no longer judge others for theirs, and we will find ourselves at a place of peace. We stop comparing ourselves to what we see in the media, and to each other. “It’s not about us versus them. It’s about women coming together and saying we’re all beautiful, let’s work together, let’s show the world we can be beautiful together.” ~ Taryn Brumfitt.

We speak to ourselves the way we would speak to another woman, the way we would speak to our daughters. You are beautiful. You are perfect as you are. You are more than just a body. You are strong, brave, intelligent, creative, a life-giver, a universal force, a complete miracle of creation, the very essence of all that is feminine in this world. We say these words out loud and believe them in our minds, embed them in our hearts.

We nurture our bodies with good food to fuel us, we run and jump and play and move because it makes us feel better to do so, we do things that bring us life, bring us joy. And then we eat a piece of cake that our kids make for us and pour a glass of wine with our friends and enjoy the balance that is paramount to a healthy life.

We do not waste another day of our lives being at war with our bodies, and instead we love them. And then we take all the time and energy we spent on hating our bodies, and we use it to instead do what matters. We use it to contribute. We use it to accomplish. We use it to make a difference, to make change. We use it to become the people we were made to be, before the media told us who we were supposed to be.

We take the New Years resolution of the perfect bikini body and laugh in the face of it. We are already beautiful, because we get to define beauty. We get to call out the lies of our culture and rewrite truth on our hearts, and on the hearts of our daughters. There are no prerequisites to beauty. It is not measured by a size, by a number, or by comparison to another.

Beauty is ours the moment we choose to embrace it.

Originally published on HuffPost

Grief Is Just Love With No Place To Go

umicmyrnbxc-joanna-kosinska.jpg

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

Grief is not a road we walk, or a journey we take. It is not a process that can be defined by stages we are told we must feel – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It is not a textbook diagram, or a framework we must comply to. It isn’t a task we must complete. We don’t push through it, we don’t move into it and out of it, we don’t follow a linear progression until we reach the other side of it.

There are no rules to grief. We can only succumb to it, surrender to it, let our hearts break open for it. It is an ebb and flow, a dance of pain and love, a coming together only to once again fall apart. It is a feeling of overcoming, only to awake every single morning in the arms of grief once more.

Grief is an alteration of who we once were, to who we now become. It is an adjustment of ourselves, an adaptation to our souls. We don’t work through our grief and return to who we once were. There can never be a return to the people we once were. We are broken by grief; shattered. We can never look the same, mend the same, be the same. We lose fragments of ourselves, leave behind the pieces that cut too deeply, the pieces we long to forget, need to forget. Whatever we now become, we put together from the brokenness we scrounge from what little we have left.

Grief changes us.

Grief breaks us.

Grief is love with no place to go.

And so in our grief, the only thing to do is to give our love a place to go.

Love with word, love with deed, love with action.

Love one another so fiercely that our love is spent, that are chests are no longer hollow, that the lump in our throats hurts a little less.

Love for those who hurt the most, who have lost the most, and then love them even harder.

Because the truth about grief is that it never leaves.

Grief lasts as long as love lasts – forever.

Somehow, may love become light in the darkness of our grief.

My love, thoughts, and prayers are with my local community at this time, who have suffered a loss beyond comprehension. I don’t understand. I will never understand. But I know our hearts unite in love for those who have lost so much. May they know they are not alone.