I'm a Mom who is not good at everything

I loved having a baby. Her constant snuggles while sometimes left me feeling “touched out,” gave me new life. I remember feeling relieved when I finally got her to sleep at night, only to miss her immediately. Getting up to feed her in the night was tiresome, my whole body hurt for sleep and a sense of autonomy. But she smelled like heaven. Sometimes I still find myself longing for those sweet moments; just the two of us, her little hands reaching for me, the sound of her nursing, the little coos. It was magic. We created this little thing, my body could support her life. I marveled at all of this as though it had never been done before.

And then she turned 2. Or maybe it was 3. It’s all so blurry now. But somewhere around toddler, I found myself completely failing. I didn’t like her like I had before. There were tantrums at every turn. Gone were the days of constant snuggling and upon me was a child who ran everywhere, was easily brought to full blown fits of tears and I was not in love with this mothering thing anymore.

One night, upset I didn’t buy a toy for her at a department store, she threw a tantrum so epic in the dark parking lot that I had to pick her up off the ground and force her kicking and screaming little body into her carseat. I tried to ground myself in that short walk around to the driver’s seat of the car and I too burst into tears. I didn’t like handling my child that way but I assured myself that letting her carry on in the middle of a dark parking lot was not an option. I called my husband and he talked me off the ledge I was on. This was not the joyful mothering I thought I would be experiencing.

I called my friend “Seasoned Mom” and confessed what a terrible mother I’d become. I was out of patience, I needed sleep, I longed for the autonomy I’d once had and (gulp) I was certain I was ruining my child. What kind of mother loses her cool? What kind of Mom just wants to be alone, is tired of being touched, feels angry at her child’s normal toddler behavior. Her response? “Me.” “Me today when we were running late for school and someone had on mismatched shoes, breakfast was spilling all over the car and I lost my cool on the whole lot of them.”

I had never felt more relieved in my life. Seasoned Mom is one of the best parents I know. She is cool, calm, thoughtful and raising very different and all awesome kids. She felt overwhelmed at times? The certainty I was completely failing that sat on my chest like an anchor of grief, loneliness and shame dissipated.

I started going to a stay at home mom playgroup. I was working but worked opposite hours as my husband. They met at a church and I didn’t feel I had much in common with the other women. But they were warm and welcoming. I found out that being a Mom is a whole lot to have in common. We shared with each other the things that were working for us, and laughed heartily about the things that so very weren’t working. I stopped feeling alone and shameful. I gave myself a break. And I actually gained patience and calm just from letting go of the notion I was doing a horrible job.

I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things I thought I’d be in order to show up as myself. For the record, having spent over a decade as a social worker I have witnessed a full array of parenting styles. Including abuse and neglect. I now believe with much certainty that being a “good” parent requires a few basic things; love, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to acknowledge overwhelm. Otherwise there are so many, many, many great ways to be a parent.

Here, for the record, are things I thought I’d be great at and am not.

  1. I don’t enjoy toddlers for long periods of time. I’ll take my friend’s kids because I so clearly see their parents in them. I love to see the apple/tree and help somebody out. But that is a phase of childhood that I am not well suited for. I will never be a preschool teacher. It’s not my bag.
  2. I don’t love large groups of kids. There is a myth of mothering, especially of Moms who stay at home, that we are all “great with kids” and love coming up with activities and running them. “Bring me all the kids, I’m a Mom, I love it.” Not me. I used to run hospital groups of long-term, inpatient teenagers with violent tendencies. I loved it. I was good at it. But the little ones who run like ducks toward everything harmful and have attention spans of fleas? I’m better in a “participant” role than a leadership one, and it exhausts me.
  3. Coming up with activities. I went to watch a friend of mine’s twin toddler boys while she went to the doctor recently. When I walked in she had moved the furniture to the sides of the living room to make room for a giant box left over from remodeling. “They’re making a ship,” she said. “Should keep them busy for the morning.” I was in awe. This friend is the queen of creative, fun activities. I am not. When Lo was little I relied heavily on having her help me with things. Grocery shopping, baking, making meals, even cleaning the house were all shared projects. We went to the library, participated in public events for kids, I found a way to keep her engaged, happy and entertained. But I’ll admit; I have an entire pinterest board full of “fun, creative, engaging” activities of which we have maybe done two.
  4.  Playing. Ok, I’ll be honest, I sometimes still feel bad about this one. I will color all day. Take on a craft. Baking? Oh man I love baking with my kid. But the moment you hand me a figurine and tell me my name is “Emma,” I’m at a loss. Adding insult to injury, I’m usually told I’m doing it “wrong.” “Emma wouldn’t say that, Emma likes pineapples not toast, Emma wants to play with her other friends….” Emma wears me out quickly. I know the importance of play for creativity. That’s why I love a good play date.
  5. While we are on the topic: Play dates with your boundary-less child. We have a handful of kids whose parents know they are always welcome at our house. When Lo has a playdate it actually gives me a bit of freedom to get other things done. I like watching my kid interact and resolve conflict. It’s all awesome. Until I get a kiddo over here who without their parent challenges every word I say. No thanks. Sorry, but really, no thanks.

 

I used to feel bad about all of those. Especially playing make-believe. I mean what kind of mother… (trails off into unintelligible blabber…) It turns out, Moms are actually diverse humans. Who like different things, are good at different things, and don’t suddenly become masters of all things personhood upon giving birth. It makes sense that some of us do great with babies while others long for the little guys to finally start articulating their needs. Some of us are amazing at making magic out of boxes and others at helping our teenagers navigate romance. This stuff is not all the same. The same joy cannot possibly come from all of it. And we show up to do the work of Motherhood with all of that potentially in store. We can at least give ourselves the break of knowing that every piece doesn’t have to be our best work. We aren’t actually super human.

I may not be good at playing or facilitating group activities, but I’m awesome at talking about feelings. I’m the bomb at getting my kiddo out of her shell when she retreats though I know she doesn’t want to. I am a master snuggler, boo-boo healer, pep talk giver and listener. I truly enjoy all of those things.

Sometimes I lead a group activity and feel completely drained. Because I signed up, because damn it my kid likes it when I do that stuff, because I can. But I’m not great, I’m not somehow inherently good at this stuff and that’s okay. I wore myself completely out before, believing that I was failing at this task because I thought it was supposed to be all joy, no nervous break-downs, and everyone else was getting it right. Life isn’t really like that.

So I said it. This is not all joy. I do not love poopy diapers, restless nights, or getting my butt kicked in the TJMaxx parking lot. I’m not as well suited for toddlerhood as I was for a baby or even the 7 year old I have now. I am sure that somewhere between the ages of 8 and forever I will find other stages challenging. There will be more hard years. But that doesn’t mean I’m failing. I will show up as my best self and let what isn’t me go. I will make sure I find my daughter support she needs when and if I’m not best suited for the task.

I love my kid. More than anything. And I love myself enough to let go of the notion I would master every part of my life as a Mom. In spite of what I thought it would look like, I believe I’m a damn good Mom. I bet you are too. Let’s give ourselves a break.

XO

Erin Brown

Hello from the other side

It started like any other appointment with my body worker. Sometimes I have a profound experience with her and sometimes it’s a lovely tune up. When my grandmother arrived in the room to speak to me from beyond I was beside myself.

I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. I have several friends who are mediums, whose work I probably would have distrusted if I hadn’t known them so well before this came to light. It’s been quite a journey from skepticism to the space of openness I’m in now. I want to share my experience, but you are not required to “buy it.” I’m not selling it. I’m sharing with an open heart.

I can tell when Susie’s energy shifts. Something big was happening. I was laying on her table going to the soft, supported place I go to in that room. She started by saying, “There’s an apology… Is it the men who violated you? No. I keep hearing that Adele song ‘Hello from the other side.’ It’s women. It’s all the women. Your mother’s lineage.” Goosebumps.

I asked if it was Lola or Grace. The two women I knew well before they passed on. She said yes to Lola (my grandmother) and no to Grace. But then laughed and quickly corrected herself, “I wasn’t supposed to say not Grace, Lola is at the front.” A detail which made my Mom chuckle later saying, “Grace would have moved her out of the way if she wasn’t being counted.”

She wanted to apologize to me for her silence. And give me the opportunity to ask her the questions I have.

Six months ago I had the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had in my life. I sat down with my Mother and asked her about her abuse history. It had come up once, almost in passing, when I told her about my sister’s first assault. I remember thinking, “Where was this information 10 years ago when I told you about me?” And then refocusing on my sister who was in crisis and needed my immediate support.

We had never discussed my assault. Not since I first told her. I should tell you that the way I told her was sloppy and awful. I didn’t know how to say the words. I didn’t have the word “rape” because it wasn’t for years that I would understand that that is exactly what happened to me. I was 13, and understood rape to be a masked man jumping out of the bushes. Not someone who doesn’t stop despite your pleas, someone I’d wanted to kiss and not more. I woke up the next morning to a note that said “God will forgive you” and we didn’t talk about it again for almost 20 years.

I approached my Mother with love and curiosity. I wasn’t angry at her response. In fact, I felt I had more clarity about it after learning she’d had her own experience. I wanted to ask her about what happened to her. I asked what happened to her Mother. I told her I wasn’t angry or resentful, didn’t want to judge her parenting or place blame. But rather that I believe in inter-generational trauma. That to provide Lola with a healthy Mother meant understanding my own story. And perhaps understanding my own story means understanding hers as well.

I don’t think either of us took a deep breath for about 2 hours. We were both struggling to speak through the years of silence but did so because of love. Because of Lola. Because the truth needed air.

She didn’t remember the note. I imagine she was both in shock and trying to decipher what I had actually confessed. She didn’t know about her own Mother’s history. I can’t tell you why that question was on my heart, but it’s just something I knew in my bones. Lola (my daughter’s name sake) and I were so very close before she died when I was around 5. She was my person. I have often said I speak about my assault because generations of women past and present have felt unable to do so. I felt compelled by this idea that I am carrying not just my own story, but my Mother’s, her Mother’s, and on. Her lack of knowledge of her own Mother’s history was not surprising. It was a dead end and that satisfied my need to ask. She left me with, “You don’t get a manual. I know I didn’t get it all right. But I hope you know how loved you were. You couldn’t possibly be more loved.” I know that’s true.

And then Lola came to me. I’m so overwhelmed by this as the narrative I had to fight to undo is that “no one came for me.” I had for so long been widely left to my own devices, to come up with my own means to cope, to process alone. Wasn’t I loved? Didn’t anyone want to protect me? In the following years of depression and self-destruction, why didn’t anyone come? Even though I have done so much work at dismantling this narrative, understanding that a lack of knowing how to help was not indicative of a lack of love. But Lola came for me. Across a million miles. I don’t have words for what that means.

She was clear that she was here to answer my question. Susie says “She’s like, let’s do this. What do you want to know.” She kept physically nudging me. I was probably in a bit of shock, in spite of feeling so calm.

I could ask yes or no questions. She had also suffered sexual abuse. It went on for some time. She suffered in silence believing that she was protecting her sisters from it happening to them. She did know about my Mother’s assault. In the way that a Mom knows, there were signs, a gut feeling. But felt unable to address it as it would bring up her deep wounds. (They never talked about it). She carried guilt, both that she didn’t help my Mother but mostly that she never helped herself. She had no idea her silence would effect anyone but her. That is what she wanted to apologize for.

I asked if this history went back beyond her. Yes. She said they were with me. They speak through me. That my voice is so loud because of them.

I asked her some other things. Clarifying childhood memories no one else could corroborate for me. My little Lola is always talking about Lola being with her, even though no one has provided her with that language or ideology. She is. There are other things I wished I could have asked. I didn’t obviously come prepared for this. But it was perfect.

I don’t know if I could have asked for, or even imagined, more clarity of purpose. All the work I do is about healing. Undoing messages we learn and tell ourselves that harm our spirits. Shame. Understanding the history of my family is not about blame or assigning responsibility. I can see clearly that what happened between my Mother and her happened again between myself and my Mom. An inability to show up fully because their own trauma had not been processed. Which is not to say any of us suffered from a lack of love. But my deliberate work to be honest about my own stories, proactive and open to my own healing, is to end that cycle.

I believe this is the same thing we see with body image. Often (not always of course) handed without malice or ill will from parent to child. What we don’t heal we pass on. Much of the time in ways we can’t see.

So grandma gave me permission to share her story. And for the first time so did my Mom. Because our history is not ours alone. They bravely are allowing their stories be told to shed light where there has been darkness for so many and for so long.

It’s been so hard to work on my new book “Letters to Lola” as it’s all of that. Being honest about where I’ve been. Clear about what I want for her while allowing her space for her own experience. I know so many people who live with a list of questions about their Mother. Why she made the choices she did, who she was before. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, I believe the best way to give my daughter her own autonomy is to be transparent about myself. Thank you grandma, for everything. I’m ready to open a vein and write.

Erin Brown

Manifesting and going with the flow

For a cynic, the language around “manifesting” sounds a little ridiculous. You just think of something and then you get to have it? If you need to take the magic out (I love magic, but I hear you), it’s almost impossible to attain or achieve something you can’t even imagine. The first step toward anything is imagining the possibility, but it still requires work. And in my life, I’ve found it also involves some going with the flow.

Today I both have everything I have always wanted and it looks completely different than I thought it would. We moved into our tiny, perfect dream house, significantly ahead of the schedule we had imagined. By years. We dreamed up what we wanted and trusted that it arrived right on time (in this case about a week later). I had quit my job vowing I wouldn’t have another boss. But getting a house so far ahead of schedule added an unexpected drain on the savings I’d accumulated to quit. So I ended up taking a part time job at a salon. Which has resulted in a fun, relatively stress-free addition to my weekly schedule. Bonus points for getting my hair done, socializing and a reason to put on a supportive bra and lip gloss that I was missing in my full time, home-bound self-employment.

This work is something I never thought I’d do. It wasn’t a part of the plan. The plan was to be a social worker. But I personally didn’t find the feelings I was hoping to there. I found frustration with systems, limitations I couldn’t see through, it simply didn’t fulfill what I thought it would. What I wanted to feel in my work was a sense that I was fully utilizing my personal gifts and making an impact. And here I am, doing that in a way I didn’t know was a thing when I started.

With my latest book I thought I wanted it to be picked up by a publisher, but all of my efforts toward that felt wrong somehow. I always follow ease in my work (a subtle difference from easy–I want it to feel right). So I got clearer about what I wanted; a book tour, accountability from an editor, to be in stores. I found those things instead. My own way.

Instead of holding tight to a specific vision of things I’ve learned to focus instead on how I want my life to feel, and following the feelings. This leaves the manifesting, the how, up for grabs. Because what I really want isn’t a specific amount of money in the bank so much as I want to experience ease with my finances. What I really want isn’t to never have a boss, but to not feel unappreciated or stressed about employment that interfered with my life’s work. What I really want for my life is adventure, purpose, fire and ease. The way that all pans out is not always the way I expect, but so long as I follow the feelings I’m after it always does pan out.

Every time I follow “shoulds,” get bent out of shape about plans not panning out, or how things aren’t what I thought I wanted- I find myself terribly disappointed. And missing all the good that is right in front of me. This is when I’m all in the “manifesting this thing right now” and missing the going with the flow. Believing changes to be failure instead of direction. But when I relax the gaze and take the long view, I’m always ending up right where I belong.

Manifesting feelings while going with the flow. Imagining what could be and leaving the how up for grabs. That’s how I roll. It’s allowed me to piece together a life full of everything I ever wanted in ways I didn’t know were possible. And enjoy the process. From where I’m sitting, I have it all. Which has everything to do with my perspective and nothing to do with my plans. Pretty rad.

The war on girls' bodies

I was driving by my jr. high the other day and for the first time instead of reminiscing about my own experience there, I leapt forward in my mind to my daughter walking through those doors. And as unexpected as the thought was, I was overwhelmingly surprised by the sudden urge to vomit. I collected myself but it was then that I began to write this piece. I don’t know how my boundaries around writing about having a daughter will change as she gets older. But I know I want to get this out now.

I’m terrified. I can within an inch of my life guarantee her safety now. I have relationships at her school that I trust immensely. She tells me everything. And she is in the care of a small number of people. But I can’t insure that forever.

I realize I may seem overprotective or even paranoid. I saw a meme the other day that said “the odds of being attacked by a shark in the US are 1 in 11,500,000 but fear of getting in the ocean is seen as rational” comparing the rape statistics to “unfounded” fear around assault.

Part of the trouble is that I’m still figuring out how to be in my own body. How to feel safe. How to let someone know I’m not interested in being harassed without endangering myself or my daughter. With regards to things like cat calling, I don’t even know what to begin to teach her.

According to victimsofcrime.org 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse. The state I live in just passed a bill ensuring teachers won’t be talking about anything to do with sex, in any way at all. (Good bye AP lit courses, wow). Which leaves 100% of my daughter’s sexual understanding to come from home. Where her mother is trying to figure out how to relax in her own body.

I imagine this is what was happening with the family member I reached out to when I told her about my assault 20 years ago. She told me,”God will forgive you.” I wondered about that forever but felt to paralyzed by the years long silence to ask her about it. Why would she choose those words? How could we just never speak of it again? How was I supposed to get through that?

She didn’t remember. I’m sure she was in shock. She had her own experience at 16. She never told anyone. We are taught to self-shame and move on. She taught me what she knew. My sister’s first assault came at 15. She was terrified to tell anyone, certainly me. She was worried I’d be disappointed in her. We sent her to a therapist recommended by a social worker friend of mine who had her read an apology letter to a chair deemed “God.” The woman had her apologize to God for being assaulted at gun point. I didn’t see a therapist till I was put on academic expulsion from school, having check out almost entirely from my life. He refused to talk to me about my assault in spite of my pleas to. Instead we focused on having a morning routine. I quit.

We had each gone from a child who deserved love and protection to a woman responsible for violence against her.

This isn’t really about my family, or even me. This is about a shared history of shame and silence. I’m not afraid of my daughter joining sports or trying out photography or even dating. I’m not afraid of zits, navigating peer pressure, all the teen angst. I’ve no doubt those things will challenge us all, but it’s not my biggest fear.  I’m afraid if our collective history doesn’t change, if we don’t start telling our own stories and reshaping what it means to be a woman that she will fall into it as well.

What is into it?

It’s complicated, isn’t it? From the moment we begin to grow into more “adult” looking bodies (if not before) we are sexualized. We are asked to put stock in everyone’s opinion about our own bodies except our own. We learn our value and our worth is in our approval in this way, but also that there is really no good way to proceed from here. If we express ourselves in a sexual manner we are “asking for trouble,” “distracting” to grown men and boys alike, cue all the many derogatory words that sound like “slut.” If we aren’t interested we are put down as well. “Not worth it anyway,” was a phrase I remember hearing a lot. “Frigid,” “Captain gives none,” and “a tease.”

I don’t know that anyone gets out of this time scott-free, but it’s hard to even get anyone to talk honestly about what this is like. Because even if you take all the above away, figuring out your own feelings about your body and what you may or may not want to do with it is confusing. It’s hard to navigate the feeling of being “wanted” and liking that attention but also reconcile that with when the attention doesn’t feel safe. How and when to set a boundary. It starts to just feel like it’s up to everyone but you.

As a result, for me sex was about anything but my own pleasure for a long time. It was about serving someone else. Proving myself. Proving that my body was “worth it anyway.” It was a surefire way to get some affection and possibly be seen. In truth, actual intimacy doesn’t come easy to me. My natural inclination is to drift out of my body as I learned early on to do in order to feel safe. When I learned that a physical struggle and a loud no were only serving to make a bad situation worse. My body stayed and I drifted off somewhere else. “Earning” the slut label I’d already been given.

I’ve seen all kinds of statistics on abuse. They can only really represent those who report. And I’ll tell you two certain facts from my own experience. It’s worth mention I live in a liberal college town in Kansas. It’s not an “extra abuse-y” place.

1) If I began to make a list of all the women I know who had not been sexually abused in some way it would be a short list. Even if I include all the women I know who I don’t know for certain about.

2) Not one of them would be in the “reported” statistic.

Why? In most cases they didn’t ‘see the point.’ Didn’t want to suffer it longer, knowing that rape trials look more like the a “slut hunt” than a criminal investigation. Many felt at fault. “I waited too long to say no,” or “I shouldn’t have been there,” or “At first I liked his attention.”

Even children learn to internalize this guilt as they are also sexual beings (even if we don’t like to think of them as that). And their bodies can “feel good” when being touched leading them to believe that abuse was their own doing. This is the part where my heart leaps out of my chest and I want to yell “WHO WANTS TO TALK ABOUT THIS?!”

It isn’t any wonder so many women (and men) struggle to find peace with their bodies. A huge cross-section of us are (often secretly) dealing with abuse at the hands of others. This isn’t dinner table talk. It isn’t “polite” talk. It’s just something we don’t talk about at all. For fear we might let on that we are broken in some way. Don’t want to seem like we’re “playing victim,” not realizing that our bodies are still living those stories so long as we don’t address them. There is no blissful ignorance, only through.

It isn’t cool to say aloud, “You know I’m really struggling to make peace with my body after being abused,” or “Sometimes I wonder if I’m eating (or restricting) in order to hide.” But it’s perfectly fine to loathe yourself. To sit in groups and grab and shake body parts you wish would disappear. To vow to “fix yourself” by any means possible. It’s the one way we are even allowed to talk about our bodies, as though they fall short. And the one way we are allowed to control them, to be consumed with their perfection. Fall mercilessly into the mainstream diet and fitness messaging of “go hard,” “no excuses,” following headless ab models to the dream of the perfect body.

I would venture to say for most of us, it isn’t even a look we are really seeking. It’s peace. Safety. The calm waters of being enough. For a piece of ourselves we left somewhere that we might not yet be able to speak aloud.

I’m not the only one grappling with her story. I know for certain I am not. And while it may not be for everyone to stand on a public platform and begin to recount the darkest parts of her experience, if you could stand even silently with me, the shift would be immeasurable.

I got through the part where I had to embrace my body as it is. I wrote a book to help you come with me. I’m no longer obsessed with the notion that I must change something about my appearance to matter in the world. But I can’t hand my daughter the fears that bubble to the surface when I think about her entering into womanhood. I have to change what that means.

For me that means changing the culture of silence. Speaking aloud our stories and how we were (and continue to be) effected. Reclaiming our voices and our bodies as our own.

I know how to live in this world. I learned how to disassociate from my body, ignore being called out of my name when walking down the street, how to endure, internalize and expect abuse. I stay home, almost never run on busy streets, strongly prefer going out with my husband as I can expect to be left alone and not groped in passing at bars. This isn’t about me.

I want so much better for my baby girl.

I want to teach her about integrity, compassion and grit. Not how to endure being viewed as an object. I want her eventual explorations of her sexuality to involve her own pleasure and not the understanding that she is some prize that must be safe-guarded or seen as used up. Or how to reconcile that when a boy she likes calls her “baby” that might feel good, but when grown men start shouting it at her as soon as she grows breasts that it doesn’t feel the same. And that honoring her own boundaries and feelings in this way will be held up in her face to prove she is a bitch. I want her to be free from abuse. While I realize there is no guarantee of that for anyone, anywhere, the odds are extremely against her favor. That kills me inside.

So I’ll keep talking. Telling the story that so many of us know. In hopes to change the conversation. Where we acknowledge that the joked about double standard of women being regarded as sluts and men as heros for the same choices has dire effects. Where we actually care that girls are viewed as conquests and their “no’s” as the beginning of negotiation in the hunt. I ask that you pay attention to the words you use, the jokes you excuse and the meaning behind them. I want us to start asking, “Is she ok?” as an immediate response to assault and not “how did she cause this?”

I am working everyday to find a more peaceful home in my body, as I know that what I don’t heal I pass on. But this should not be a common story of being a woman. We can only change this if we all become accountable for our part. What we say, what we excuse, and what we teach our children.

We can’t keep pretending this happens to some “slut” somewhere else. Or keep teaching our daughters the silence and shame we were taught. This is a war that colors so much of our experience and I’m taking up arms.

Reasons to start lifting

The traditional run down of why one “should” lift weights really reads like a bunch of “should.” It increases metabolism and builds bone density. There is evidence it leads to increased longevity and improved physicality in daily life. I don’t know about you, but even though those are all great things I “should” care about, I’m bored already. Unless you have experienced the reality of physical set backs, it’s hard to get off the couch for sitting with ease in your elderly years.

What keeps me going back to the weights and why I so often share it as a part of my self-care is all about the immediate effects this kind of training has on me. It’s something I’m passionate about and really hope to convey to others. I really want you to lift weights.

 

  1. Because it increases overall confidence. The weight room can have kind of a dungeon-y effect. All the iron and training tools can be super intimidating. Moving through that fear and learning to lift itself begs you to ask in other areas of my life, “What else can I do?” Once you are comfortable, there is always more to learn. Everyday I have the opportunity to try something new, to add weight to a lift, to do something I’ve never done before. It’s invigorating to surprise yourself and constantly surpass your own limitations.
  2. Because it feels rebellious. As a woman there are so many ways I feel pressure to be small. To quiet my voice, “trim and tone” my body, take up as little space as possible. Working out with free weights requires you to take up space. There is etiquette about how to utilize the space respectfully, but you have to take up space! You have to stand tall to execute a lift. There is no hunching over quietly in the corner. It’s good practice for how I want to show up in the rest of my life.
  3. Because it feels powerful. I’ll be honest, somewhere between rushing my kid off to school and being up to my elbows in dishes I find myself not feeling super powerful. It can be easy to slide into a disempowered head space that doesn’t bode well when I need to handle bigger life things. I want to show up in my life feeling in my power. When life hands me a difficult confrontation or I need to stand my ground about something, it requires energy that I’m not utilizing while sorting socks. Strength training gives me a daily reminder of my power. Saddling up to a deadlift with my jams pumping in my ears puts me in a “hell yes I’m a bad ass” space that nothing else does. It boosts my self-concept everyday. It’s magic.
  4. Because it completely transforms your relationship to your body. The last thing on my mind at the squat rack is a list of insecurities about my appearance. Strength training requires your full presence. It requires I be in my body, listening to it’s cues, setting up my form and executing the lift. Both in terms of my past trauma that left me disassociating from my body in an unhealthy way and my old mantras about what’s “wrong” with my body are transformed when I lift. I get embodied. Physically present. Focused on the power of what I can do and nothing else. The more I show up to lift, the more I find myself focused on my presence in my life and in my body than anything else. I celebrate what I can do and push myself to do more. That has taken over the unhealthy mantras that were there before.

I talk a lot about movement as self-care because being connected to your body through movement goes a long way to alleviate stress, create a healthy state of mind, and lessen feelings of “stuck” we can often falter to. Any movement practice you enjoy is great for those things. But I’d love to nudge you to step outside of your comfort zone to specifically try strength training. This practice, like no other, puts me in a position of empowerment in my life that nothing else does. It defies stereotypes, asks you to change your self-concept and requires your presence like nothing else.

If you are interested in the best (and most affordable) help getting started from the beginning I can’t recommend my friend’s JVB and Jen Sinkler’s new program strongly enough. They’ve taken the time to create a program that is completely approachable to a beginner and getting you comfortable doing powerful things. More about it here. It’s available for the launch price until Friday 12/11. But regardless if you take them up on this particular offer, I hope you consider finding your way to the weight room. You will be sitting without pain into your elderly years, but the immediate benefits are likely to blow you away.

XO

Erin Brown

Tis the season (I thoughtfully manage seasonal depression)

Today was my kiddo’s first day back to school after Thanksgiving break. I woke up completely exhausted with an upset stomach. I tried to imagine myself at the gym and immediately felt nauseous. I came home from dropping her off and went back to sleep for a few hours. I could have stayed in bed all day if I hadn’t dragged myself out. Shit.

 

There are lots of possible explanations. The full holiday weekend, the fact that it’s been freezing rain with no sunshine in days, the sudden drop in temperature; all reason enough to be extra tired. It’s not that I can’t take a nap on occasion, but as we roll into the cold winter months I begin to pay close attention to my energy levels. Today may have just been my needing a nap, but it kicked me into gear for my winter planning.

Why plan for depression? So that it doesn’t swallow me. I haven’t had a serious bout of depression in about 8 years. Since having a baby made locking myself up in a room, writing bad poetry and not leaving the house for weeks is no longer an option. Which I attribute to significant changes in my self-care overall, diligence in taking small things seriously and planning my winter wellness thoughtfully.***

The plan:

  1. The main thing is that I get stricter with myself about exercise. I know that sounds very unlike me, normally Captain “move as I please.” But mid-winter I can almost guarantee my motivation will be low. So I make sure I have a plan in hand. This year it’s this one (which I’m super pumped about! That helps a lot). The last thing in the world I will want to do when it’s cold and dark is move, and it will be the first thing on my list of priorities. I am still mindful of rest days but usually opt to at least walk on those days too. Movement becomes very important, to literally keep me moving.
  2. I keep up with my meal planning. I am often blown away the difference, even in my mood, when I am eating well. I am one of those people who plans, shops and cooks for the week. I make all my lunches and make or prep most of our dinners. I love spending hours in the kitchen, once. I find this both a nice way to spend my Sunday and so much more ease in the rest of the week. In the winter that usually means a huge batch of soup or stew for mine and my husband’s lunches and a few meals that with left-overs will handle the rest of the week.
  3. I utilize quiet time thoughtfully. A “veg session” can nose dive into a “non moving” spiral. So I spend more time with guided meditations, walking meditations, writing, baths, anything that isn’t just laying around. Again, there’s nothing wrong with laying around, but for me during this season it’s something I try to avoid.
  4. I schedule time with friends. I’m a bit of a home-body. Especially during Kansas winters when it is ridiculously cold out. In an effort to keep an enjoyable level of hibernation as well as not go completely stir crazy, I schedule (almost) weekly times with friends to catch up. It gives me something to look forward to and sort of insures that I’ll have someone checking in with me.

There is no one way to deal with seasonal depression. It’s important to find what works for you. For me, thoughtful planning is key. It helps me get through the funk and feel empowered in the process instead of feeling the quick sand like back-slide to darkness. I want to live fully in all the seasons, and this one requires I really show up for myself.

To a happy winter,

Erin Brown

 

 

***By no means are my plans meant to be a prescription. What works for every person is specific to them (including pharmaceuticals for those who need them). I do personally advocate for overall wellness planning as opposed to any one measure that neglects the rest of the whole. But I can’t say what that looks like for anyone but me.

Why "never look back" is damaging

“The past is in the past.”
“Don’t look behind you, the past has nothing more to teach you.”

Memes with similar messaging are everywhere. Encouraging us to pick up and move on. “Let go” of those old stories, just be present and future oriented. Some recite similar things about “changing your story,” “tell a new one now.” And while I think all of those messages are well meaning, they miss an incredibly important detail: We are made of our pasts.

Yes we can choose a new now. Yes we can use mantras and the power of our own thoughts to challenge old identity stories. But any growth of real depth for me has involved processing where I have been, why I was there and how that shaped me.

“The power of positive thinking” could not change my PTSD response to men encroaching on my space. But a willingness to revisit my sexual assault and begin to undo some of the damage that occurred, that did. I literally teamed up with some fighters so I could relive that particular experience and give myself a new outcome. I needed that. I didn’t just “look back,” I went all the way back. It was one of the most healing experiences of my life.

Recently, over pink wine, a friend and I shared stories of our early romantic experiences. It was funny, embarrassing and enlightening. We each found missing parts to our own past, retelling these stories as adults with adult wisdom and experience and not from the perspective of a teenager. We could see things like, “Man, that person was really mean to me, I didn’t deserve that,” “No wonder I struggled so much that year, that was a lot to be hiding,” and more happy things like “In spite of how that ended, we were really sweet to one another. I’m so grateful for that experience.”

To say “never look back” is to believe that we have fully processed and are “done” with all of our experiences to date. That thing that really shaped what you believe about family that happened when you were 5? Yup, your 5 year old self sorted that all out. No need to revisit. Doesn’t that sound a bit ridiculous?

So many of us are terrified to look back. When our bodies ask us to remember something, we don’t trust it. We hide, shove that down somewhere we believe is hidden and if we’re super “enlightened” then we recite a new mantra instead. Especially if there is trauma or great sadness, we just want to “move on.” Why go back to awful things? Let’s just stick our fingers in our ears and hum in the name of positivity.

But the past is where we came from. It’s where our roots were planted. It’s where our identity formed. In all of it’s messy glory, it contains so many of the why’s and how’s of who we are. So rather than just recite a new way, looking back with fresh eyes can help us see all of that in a new way. To change the story of the present, being willing to process it’s origins is a profound place to work. The monsters in my closet, I’ve already encountered. I lived that already. Going back with all the power and evolution in me now, that only offers more peace. More compassion. More understanding of who I was, who I am, and who I always have been.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers for everyone. Each situation, each story, each life deserves to be honored in ways only your own body really knows. There are places I keep digging because the scars from that event continue to pop up in my present. I lovingly go where I’m lead, look again for what I left there, always coming out stronger and healthier that I went in. It’s not always daunting, heavy and dark. But I am resilient. I have already suffered those losses. Going back is not about suffering again, but about healing.

Sometimes that kind of work turns out to be light. A discovery that I wasn’t as crazy as I’d thought at the time. One of the bigger revelations I’ve had recently was one of identity. For years I blamed myself for coerced and forced encounters with men/boys. I (like many) believed myself to be a whore. As an adult I let go of that notion, telling a new story of who I am now. But looking back recently I came to discover that I have always been very specific and firm about my boundaries. That when I wasn’t being victimized, I was clear and strong about what I did and didn’t want. That felt like such a hallelujah. The story I’d told myself before was all a lie. I often find who I am today in beautiful ways reflects who I have always been. But it takes another look to see it.

I’m not suggesting we all go home now, lock ourselves in our rooms and journal about all the bad things that have ever happened. I live in my present life. I also see and acknowledge when my past arises in ways I want to let go of. I notice when my body asks me to remember. And I follow where it leads me. It’s not in an effort to live in the past, it’s the exact opposite. It’s having the courage to revisit where I’ve been so that I don’t drag that around with me everywhere I go. It offers more peace.

“Never look back” is as ridiculous a rule as “always look back.” Life is messier than a one liner said by someone who knows literally nothing about you. Listen to your body, trust what it knows, be willing to evolve and go where you are lead to do so. The answers forward are yours to find, and I trust you will.

I hope that ten years from now when I look back at what I was doing today, I see things I didn’t see before. That’s the beauty of growth and evolution. And I hope I still have the courage and willingness to travel there. It’s a gift to find your treasures, right where you left them.

xo

Erin Brown

In praise of selfies

I love selfies. For so many little reasons. I love feeling like I just got a glimpse into someone’s inner world. Sometimes even into someone’s intimate spaces. I love seeing that this is a moment that person felt beautiful or fun or just saw themselves in a way they wanted to show the world.

 

I understand the thinking that this is completely narcissistic. That this trend is just everyone who does it saying “look at me!” But when you think about all the messages around us everyday meant to tear us down, I personally think a little self-love action is a great antidote. It seems everywhere you look there is another message, usually selling you something, that says “fix yourself! There is something terribly wrong with you, buy this thing to fix it!”

For me, seeing a photo of someone in my timeline doesn’t say “I’m so amazing and full of myself” but rather “this is me today,” or “I felt beautiful just now.” Man, I hope we aren’t asking people not to feel that way or share it. Because I’d love to see more people embracing themselves with love. Today.

I love that it is a way that the person taking it has full control over how they present themselves. How often is that the case? That we can choose all the variables. This is exactly how I want you to see me, this is how I see myself. That can be pretty powerful. And I’m not interested in calling that vanity. I call it autonomy.

And here is what else I know: people who like themselves don’t pick a part other people. Genuinely confident people do not spend their time being overly critical of others. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to live in a world where more people spent time loving themselves than being nasty to others. We don’t need more people tearing each other down, and self-love and compassion is a great path in that direction. In fact, if you find yourself grand standing in judgement against “selfie takers,” I would recommend turning that finger back at yourself. What are you adding to the world by being critical of how another person choses to spend that 5 minutes of their time? Even if you are completely right, what are you actually adding to the world besides judgement? Is that useful or helpful to anyone?

There are enough random ass rules of conduct, especially for women. Don’t be this size, don’t be this strength. Hate yourself into a specific ideal, hate yourself if you get there too. Be confident! But don’t tell anyone about it. Don’t act like it, no one likes that either. I’m not interested in a single one of those ideas. I’ll never be the perfect mix of strong, weak, big, small, confident, self-loathing, humble, proud… I’m not trying to be.

Nothing is without exceptions. Perhaps a timeline full of selfies taken at every meal could feel like too much. I’m not here to determine where the line is and make all the rules. If someone’s online choices bother you, I’m a big fan of hiding them and moving on.

But I won’t call selfies narcissism. I won’t be angry about seeing faces of people I enjoy in my timeline. I won’t make blanket statements about vanity in others to buoy my own self-concept and choices. I love a selfie. But mostly I love giving others lots of space to make their own dang choices. There is enough judgement in the world, this is a space I just won’t offer any.

XO

Erin Brown

Why I embrace my triggers

“Trigger warnings” don so many posts on the internet these days. Which I believe shows a real upsurge in compassion and understanding of what others’ have been through, of knowing there is so much we can’t know. But it sounds so scary. A trigger releases a bullet from a gun. A moment which can stand between life and death. But emotional “triggers” are not scary to me anymore.

I used to run from them. I avoided anything with a “trigger warning” and when I couldn’t, I would often fall into a heap of myself. Crying, but not for the memory, for the fact that it wasn’t doing what I asked it to. I had shoved it down somewhere and asked it not to return. I still avoid movies that depict violent rape, but I also avoid ghost stories. These are just things I don’t want to watch. But when something in my life “triggers” the memory of a past trauma, I now embrace it.

I think of these moments as when my body is asking me to remember something. Every time I have walked into the memory with an open heart, I have found healing and not more terror. The worst of those memories has past. I have already experienced these things in real time. What’s left doesn’t have to haunt me, as I let my body guide me to what I need to know.

Often times we think we are “over something.” But the truth is there are layers and layers to go through. My body worker talks about this a lot as she is regularly talking with people about emotional blockages in their bodies from troubles they believe they are “over.” I have talked before about how I thought I was “over” my assaults, only to realize there were more I hadn’t identified. When I felt I had forgiven those men and thus should be “all better,” when I allowed my body to remember I found the hurt I was still living in was that “no one came for me.” Soon after I did the emotional work around that pain, my friend Jennie’s krav maga work felt painful to watch. Which resulted in working with her for an amazing emotional release.

Is this a lot of work? Yes. But I’ve found again and again when I work with my body, I always come out feeling better. When I allow myself to “go back” as I am lead to, I find more healing. And I fully believe the alternative is not ‘blissfully ignoring your past,’ but rather living in the hurt you haven’t addressed. Unconsciously experiencing that pain all the time. Bringing it to your everyday present.

I don’t believe you can really ‘shove’ emotions anywhere without consequence.

There are certainly times I want to shake my fist at the sky about all this. That those men (in my head) are living without having to think about me at all, and I’m still working through the collateral damage of their actions. It’s not fair! And it isn’t. But that resentment doesn’t help me anymore than ignoring my own pain. I deserve to honor my pain, my hurts, my past so that I can move forward in a more empowered space. It can’t be about what’s fair, it’s about what I deserve now. Which is my own time, compassion, patience and love.

I won’t pretend to know what is best for everyone. For someone experiencing acute PTSD, triggers may be rehabilitating. I certainly know that paralysis. But for me, thinking of them as simply my body asking me to have a memory is so much more comforting. I trust that my body is working on behalf of my best interest. That deeper healing is available to me. And that the other side of deeper healing is always more ease and more of my own power restored.

XO

Erin Brown

Coaches need coaches

I used to have this idea that in order to be strong and independent, I had to rely solely on me. It felt like admitting defeat, or that I wasn’t enough, if I had to seek out help. It’s actually kind of embarrassing to share that now, as I’ve found so much more strength and independence from seeking great coaches.

As the story goes: I sought out a personal trainer after losing 80 pounds and wanting to learn to lift weights. He was a bad egg perhaps less evolved in his training methods as I certainly hope he is now. He told me it was “too bad my sister was the hot one.” And talked to me a lot about “my pooch,” words I don’t use to describe my own body. I not only didn’t keep seeing him but I sought out to teach myself. I took a personal trainer certification, studied form meticulously in front of my mirror and with youtube videos. “I’ve got this, I don’t need him,” I thought.

Fast forward a few years and I would seriously injure myself. It was the first time I ever took online “training advice” over what my body was telling me. I was not thrilled to be hurt, upset that weight lifting had been “taken from me” and felt like a total failure. I thought maybe I didn’t know anything I thought I knew. What kind of trainer injures themselves doing a basic lift?

I needed help. I needed someone to look at my form. I needed someone with more expertise than me to help me rehab. And yet to seek someone out felt humbling. Like getting a coach would mean everyone would “know I was a fraud.” But seek coaching I did. Both because the possibility of not lifting again was too high a cost to pay, and because deep down I know what’s good for me.

I found out I knew more than I gave myself credit for. That the form for that particular lift was beautiful, but needed some small adjustments for how my body was responding to packing on more weight. It was at times humbling. But I got so much stronger. I felt more confident in doing more on my own because I had a coach I trusted, developing my skills. In my big “duh” moment of the last few years, I realized even great coaches need great coaches. Perhaps even more so.

I am no longer a personal trainer for a variety of reasons. I had realized my work was so little about the physical component and so much about bringing people home to their bodies. I loved writing more than being in the gym. I didn’t get excited and passionate about  learning more, getting more certs, I just really enjoyed training. But as a different kind of coach, I still seek great coaching.

Often when I give people readings/coaching sessions, they walk away saying, “You know, so much of this I already knew, but it feels really good to be validated.” So much of what I receive from my own “team” of coaches (my close friends, body/energy worker, trainer, counsel) is pushes in the direction I knew I was choosing. Physically and/or emotionally they help me identify what I know and more forward stronger in my ability to do so.

My former attitude seems to reflect what we so often see in the world. The people who are caretakers do so little to take care of themselves. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but rather a concern. Regardless of what you do in the world, you require great care. But we don’t have to be totally self-sustaining. We can seek help, we can reach out, we get to believe we deserve our own care. And sometimes we need a boost, validation, correction from someone you trust to guide you.

So why do you need a coach?

Because we don’t have to go it alone. Whether your “it” is a deadlift or learning to trust your gut. There are valuable resources all around you you can tap. I’m full of resources if you need them.

I seek to do things I’d thought for myself “impossible” all the time. In the past few months alone that means head stands, assertiveness in business, learning to fight and buying a house. Each of those with the coaching I needed to propel myself forward. In the end it is within us that we find all our own power. But great coaches can speed up the process, and provide you with the loving guidance to be even more.

XO Erin Brown

I'm calling for a revolution

I’m calling for a revolution.

 

I’m calling for a revolution in the way we see ourselves

as more than parts and pieces

stitched together in disgust and self hatred

 

For every woman I’ve ever known has carried herself

As a question to be answered or an overwhelming apology

 

We are taught to be less in every way

tiny, soft spoken, careful not the bruise the egos of men

and never to use our voices

 

We are taught to be small, to be dainty, to be weak

 

We are taught that our first value is in beauty

and beauty by standards that are ever changing and impossibly limiting

 

We are spoon fed the notion that nothing matters

nothing matters nothing matters but

 

this.

 

Smile more.

Tread lightly.

Take up little space.

Hang your head in shame.

Call yourself a “work in progress”

and know, within every fiber of your being

that you will not rest until you get there.

 

There where you can glide through all the doors behind which happiness lives

There where you have the respect and admiration of all

There where reflecting back in your mirror is a revelation of beauty deeming you worthy of life, of love, of delicious adventure

 

But I’m here to tell you

There is a lie

 

Behind each locked door is a new list of expectations

a new definition of which you aren’t a part

A new insult, a new injury, a new reason to tear yourself apart

 

I’m calling for a revolution

As a woman, as a lioness, as a mama bear

 

I too lived this for this image

I punished myself for the never ending pursuit of perfection

I lived and died at the altar of perfection

and stuffed myself as narrowly possible into the box appropriately marked girl

 

I changed the most powerful thing I have

My mind.

 

I’m calling for a revolution where we stop pretending this is the race we belong in

For women to come together as a sisterhood

A collective of voices, compassionate listening, complete beings

 

We know a better way but we must walk it

Walk taller, take up space, use our voices as though we know they matter

They do.

 

If we want little girls to know they matter, we must behave as though we do

Care for ourselves lavishly, as warriors require great care

Show them their lives, their bodies, their unique adventure

is theirs and theirs alone.

 

The constant pursuit of shrinking is over

Let us be more.

However we, ourselves, define it.

 

I’m calling for a revolution but not for myself

I’m calling for a revolution in me

For my baby girl
I beg you do the same.

I finally feel safe

“I am safe” is something many survivors teach themselves to say. I have been repeating this mantra to myself for years though often not feeling it. I have been physically and sexually assaulted many times. I came to believe it was my fault. I felt broken and used up. I was scared all the time. My body didn’t know how to relax, even in situations where I was abundantly safe and loved. I felt frozen.

I have spent a lot of time and energy doing the important work of really looking at my story. I released my anger at those who attacked me. I found my real hurt was the story that “no one came for me.” I did the emotional work of coming to rescue myself. It’s been a long and abundantly worthwhile journey. But in a physical way, my body still responded to leering, cat-calls, unwarranted touching (even in benign, large group situations) by freezing up completely. I don’t believe leering and cat-calls are ok (not the same as compliments and looking), they aren’t. But I don’t want to feel paralyzed by them anymore. To relive that specific terror anytime I walk down the street.

When I met Jennie Trower (my amazing krav maga instructor friend), I had the same physical response to her work. She talked about using anger. She’s highly trained to fight. She’s physically strong and her training videos were fierce. It scared me. So I walked right toward it. This lead to an introduction to Jarrett Arthur and the I Am Power Retreat was born. I would teach them about gaining emotional strength, setting energetic boundaries. They would teach me to fight.

We built it and the women came. In short: it was beautiful.

We had discussed some of what the others were doing. But for the most part we stayed out of each other’s work. This is leading well. So while I knew some about what we would do, I mostly focused on my part. The morning before we headed out to the event, the men who would wear the attacker suits came over for breakfast. And this is when the fear set in again.

They talked about the ground rules. The men would raise their hands to their heads when they had had enough and Jarrett and Jennie would pull the women off them. We would go one at a time. Everyone would watch and cheer. My whole body froze. I back peddled. Pull ME off of them? These men were going to attack me? Everyone would watch? I have lived that already. Could I do that again? I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry, even at the suggestion of it. Why did I think this was a good idea again?

They lead as strong leaders do. This is what we came for. Let’s do it.

Lucky for me, I had my own stuff to prepare for so it was off to the event. Jarrett and Jennie opened with the power of fear. They talked about fear being an important response to danger, not weakness. That resonated deeply. But I knew to address the paralyzing fear I have when there isn’t danger, I had to face this fear of fight.

When it was training time and I was participating and not leading, each time they taught a new skill I was scared of it. But the environment felt safe and I stepped out and tried anyway. I thought I might need to cry in the corner but it turned out to be fun! Sometimes when you face the hard things, it’s not so heavy. This is such a great relief.

 

Photo Lew Chen photography http://www.lewchan.com/

In a beautiful kismet sort of way, we were all teaching the same thing. My sister’s yoga practice, the fighting, the emotional power: it was all about grounding, assessing, being in your body. I could take the power I had learned from grounding my feet and using my voice and put it in an elbow strike. It was the same. It was in me. It was right beneath the surface.

The first thing Jennie had told me almost a year ago when I confessed I was scared of her work was that many survivors find it empowering to fight out of the scenario they were attacked in. On Sunday afternoon, with Jennie right by my side, I did just that. Except instead of being terrified, I was excited. There were nerves and adrenaline, but I felt safe. I didn’t have to repeat the mantra any more, I knew I could handle it. And now I had 30 cheering women on my side. Women with similar stories and not. Women who I’d shared my history with. Women who would scream and yell and cry while I fought my way out.

What I believe about myself is that I was attacked so many times because I learned to freeze. This is a common response in children who are abused. And I believe in the same way you can feel if someone is watching you, or sense that a situation is dangerous, that predators are looking for easy prey. Prey that will freeze. And while this is intuitive information about myself, I recently read that the most frequent indicator of sexual assault is a previous assault. Meaning, the best way to not get raped is to never have been raped before. Hear me say implicitly: Assault is 100% the fault of the attacker. But when I thinly veil my frozen system with a mean face, I still feel small. I wanted to get my fight back.

I wanted to feel safe in my body again and by the time we got to fighting out of the rape scenario, I already did. It wasn’t that there wasn’t fear. It was that I knew how to respond. I knew it was in me. I knew I could fight. And as Jennie would say, I knew I was worth fighting for. I thought it might come with crying in the corner, instead it came with cheers and high fives. I kicked him off me, put him on the ground, and when I could see his face I hit him so hard my hand bled and is still sore. I never want to hit someone like that, but I’m so relieved to know I could. I went all the way back and gave my body a new outcome. I feel free.

Thank you women who did this work together with me. Thank you friends who encouraged me to see this through. Thank you to everyone who has ever held space for my story. Breaking the silence was the first baby step I took toward this. And thank you Jarrett and Jennie. I know the power I found was mine, but it was your friendship, support and unwavering belief that I had it in me that made me feel safe. Thank you for coming for me. I no longer feel like a victim, I feel like a woman with the fire to fight if she had to. I feel power restored in my bones. I feel safe again.

Feelings,

Erin Brown

Is nudity empowering?

There is something specific about the intimacy of naked. It’s raw, real and transparent. When you stand before another in only your skin, there is no where to hide. It’s beautiful.

But is it empowering? Is it empowering to take that intimacy to the “next level” and share it with the world? Are nude photo shoots another way to dehumanize and objectify women or is it the opposite?

The answer to me is clear as a bell: The empowerment lies in the autonomy of choice.

But here’s the trick: It doesn’t depend on what you think about the woman and her choices, it depends on what she thinks. My friend Jessi Kneeland wrote this beautiful post about her desire to get naked. She waxes poetic on her childhood desire to run around naked, and how glorious she feels in her skin. She doesn’t want it to be misinterpreted as a sexual act but let go of the notion that she can control others’ gaze. I get it. It’s for her.

This last weekend at the goddess gathering, I came in knowing that I wanted to opt out of clothing. I wanted to know if I was comfortable being bear breasted in a space for women where this was an option. I wanted to feel the sun on my breasts, and to enjoy this place where it could be only about me.

My friends made different choices, but all of them thoughtful. Jen Sinkler “dabbled” with an open shirt. My friend Kimbra opted to wear a gloriously low slung dress but didn’t “free the nipple.” My friend K said she is envious of the women who let it out, but that her modesty wasn’t something she was ready to confront. My daughter talked about “boobs for freedom” but prefers being covered. To me, none of those choices were “better.” They were choices. Choices unique to the woman making them, all of them equally empowered in their decisions.

 

Photo courtesy of Jen Sinkler

I really enjoyed watching my daughter’s gears turn at her own choice.

As I prepared her for the event, I was told to let her know about the nudity. Later that same day we drove by a Hooters restaurant and she asked what happened there. It does look like it’s for children, really. I explained, rather neutrally, about the breast theme. That some people think it’s fun and some people don’t think so. Mommy doesn’t have strong feelings either way. I’m raising a critical thinker, not a clone. I watched her sit in the back seat of the car, connecting dots in her brain. And then she said, “I don’t like that Mommy. I think the boobs at the goddess gathering are about freedom and the boobs at Hooters are for men. I think that’s impolite.”

Impolite is probably not the word she was reaching for, but it’s one she has. I reframed enough to say, “People get to make choices that are right for them, but it sounds like you understand how you feel about that for you. And that’s wonderful.”

The choices we make with our bodies are just that. They are our choices. For me, taking nude photos for my book cover was so empowering. It was a way to put it all out there. To say, “This is exactly who I am. The words. The photos. This is all the way me.” For another woman wearing fabric head to toe may be saying the same thing. Perhaps it’s, “I choose who sees me, I choose how.”

These are not right or wrong answers. They are only what is right or wrong for the individual making them. There are exceptions. Coercion is not empowerment. Abuse is not empowerment. But both of those are the opposite of choice. They are exercising power over another and exposing them in a way they didn’t decide.

My body is not here to be policed by anyone. It is my home. It is not inherently sexual, though my sexuality is mine as well. My body, in short, is mine.

This isn’t about deciding what the “new empowered woman” looks like. To do so is simply more of the same shame. We don’t need to spend more time deciding what the “new skinny” is or what the “new powerful” is. The “new” woman I’m interesting in learning about is me. What do I want? What do I believe in? What’s right for me? When you strip away all of this inherited shame, what do I want for just me?

I’m interested in how other women navigate these choices. But you will never find me judging them or telling them what is wrong. Autonomy is a core value. I offer only peace.

Perhaps that’s why the nudity is so empowering to me.  It’s reclaiming my own autonomy. Being powerful and vulnerable at once. You can’t take shots at me that I won’t receive. You can’t take power from me even if I’m standing before you vulnerable and raw. I carry my power everywhere I go.

The choices I make with my body are mine alone. And I fully honor others’ right to make those choices for themselves.

So is nudity empowering? The choice is. We live in a world that tells us at every turn that something about us is wrong and should be covered, silenced or alternately objectified and paraded for the gaze and use of others. To decide for yourself how you want to show up in the world, what is beautiful, righteous, private, sacred… that is all up to you. Examining and making that choice just for yourself, and allowing others the space to do the same. That is empowerment. Full stop.

This one time... at witch camp

One year ago I met Jen Sinkler. We were old friends in mere moments and planning our next adventure together. I had just heard of the goddess gathering (a four day event of women celebrating the goddess) and it was just “out there” enough to be the right adventure for this duo. As it approached, my best friend Kim was just nearing completion of her cancer treatment and decided this was to be her gift for remission. My daughter would also attend the first two days. We were all set.

But for what?

We packed up my car full of anything we thought such an event might require and set out in laughter and curiosity. What on earth were we getting into?

I’m still not sure I can explain the experience. It was strange, ancient, foreign and familiar. It was kind of magic. So I’ll give you the moments I can articulate that have lingered for me.

The first night we arrived, had dinner and took the lay of the land. I was digesting the culture of this place with my very special people in tow. The opening ceremony introduced the goddess of Morrigan who we were to celebrate. She is the goddess of change and power. The challenge she presents, that we were to work through, is walking through darkness as a warrior. Facing fear.

Next up: Talent show. I had mentioned this to my wee one and she wasn’t into it. Which I was quietly grateful for. But after the charge to conquer fears, my girl told me we were singing. I drug my feet and she looked into my eyes and said, “Mommy, this is a fear to conquer. You have to.”

So we did.

 

This girl sang her heart out. I looked for her eyes. We usually sing together, cueing one another with eye contact. She didn’t need me. I watched in awe as baby girl belt out her song with the kind of confidence I didn’t know was in her quite yet.

After the talent show we danced around a fire. She asked me to dance with her and again stopped me to look in my eyes with a challenge. “Mommy. I don’t want US to be afraid of anything.” This girl brings me to my knees. I’m working through my fears, ever aware that I am doing that for her. To clear the way. Now she herself has named it. It was beautiful.

Her fear to conquer for the weekend was making friends. She leaned on the women with us for support. Her kindergarten teacher who was present and Jen, Kim. She told them she felt invisible but she wanted to know the other “maidens.” They coached her well. She frolicked with new comrades.

It was a weekend of wild women. Wild in nurturing, in darkness and in light. Mothers, grandmothers, girls and women. Breasts were everywhere but not for anyone’s gaze. Lola called them “boobs for freedom.” The second night her father picked her up in a neighboring town (men are not allowed on the property during the gathering), and the next two days were about the women.

It got weird (in the best way).

 

We danced. We drummed. We participated in ancient rituals. We fully entertained and embraced new ideas. We called to the corners of the earth and heard the owls and coyotes respond. You read that right. I told you I wasn’t sure if I could explain it all.

Having women I love immensely find they love each other was a joy. It is something to be friends with powerful women. Several times I was asked when separated from them, “Where are your people?” And I said without contemplation, “Doing exactly what they want to, I’m sure.”

Kim opted for yoga on the dock of the lake while naked women swam around. Jen and I got a couples massage at a gypsy tent. We each sought reiki energy work and learned shielding techniques at temple. We found people like us and discussed our likeness. We cleansed. We sang. We chose our own experiences and discussed them with delight over oreo cookies in our cabin. We giggled, slumber party style. Covered ourselves in glitter tattoos and spoke of things we never had.

That may be as much as I can explain.

I spent a weekend with women I love in a place only for women. The grounds had been blessed for decades. It felt like a safe place to be present. Over and over again I found myself memorizing moments. Snapshots. This is one of those “forever memories.” For my wee one, with my friends, for myself. It was indeed magic.

To jumping in,

Erin Brown

Adventure as an alternative to weight loss

We’re so engrained in the thinking that we should all be losing weight, that to offer an alternative seems blasphemous. It is nearly always met with loud opposition and an interrogation from the health police. So please read carefully: I’m not out to tell you what you are allowed to do with your body. In fact, to do so would be against my personal morals. Set goals, make plans, do what you want with your life and your body. I’m simply offering an alternative goal that I’ve found suits me, for your consideration.

I’m completely bored with fat loss right now. It doesn’t excite me, isn’t enough to get me out of bed in the morning, and very easily becomes a special kind of chore that it seems I’m only failing. Even when I succeed. There is always more fat to lose. The numbers on the scale are tiring. And fickle. I’m not into it. That doesn’t mean I’ll never again set out to lose fat. It means that today, with my current priorities and interests, it just doesn’t make the cut.

And yet! I workout. Everyday. I set physical goals that excite and terrify me. I’ve got to pat myself on the back a little here, I’m crushing it right now.

At the pace of “little by little” I have accomplished the following things in the last year:

Tripled my deadlift max.

PR’ed my squat and my press.

Taken on learning Olympic weight lifting.

Entered and tied for second in an Olympic weight lifting competition.

Swallowed my “I can do it myself” pride and started working with a trainer.

Did the splits, bird of paradise, and a whole slue of bendy yoga times I didn’t know I was capable of.

Learned I am emotionally terrified of being upside down

and

Yesterday I did my first headstand!

This stuff translates into life stuff. It’s hard to not walk around asking the question “what else can I do?” when you are in the habit. As a result I’ve been “what else can I do?”-ing about all kinds of stuff. I’ve found my voice and never falter in saying what I mean. Not as a constant means to insert my opinion, but rather- I don’t feel silenced. Ever. My speaking calendar is filling faster than ever before. I’m hosting a retreat with new friends next month. I’m headed off to “the goddess gathering,” my first ever “clothing optional” women’s event tomorrow and fully intend to opt out because… “what else can I do?”

I’m adventuring!

I’m challenging myself whenever that sneaky voice pops up that says, “that’s not for you,” and jumping in. I’m content. Truly. I wake up happy about what’s ahead of me. Seeking adventure is joyful. Sometimes I drag my feet if going to the gym sounds less like fun, but “what else can I do?” leads me there anyway.

My adventuring may look different than anyone else’s idea of a good time. Maybe having your boobs out at a goddess ritual is not your cup of tea. Hell, I don’t know if it’s mine, that’s why I’m trying it. But I’m actively living outside of my comfort zone. And it makes me proud.

All this from the girl who failed aerobics class in high school because I refused to dress out for water aerobics. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Trying new things seems like the scariest idea ever. What if I fail? What if I’m actually the worst? What if I can’t do it? I’ve somehow flipped the script on these questions because there are no answers that don’t excite me. Learning I don’t like something is as valuable as learning that I do. Failing is the first step toward succeeding at something new. It’s a step! And I’m a grown ass woman so I can decide which way to step from there. It’s not a big deal.

Alternatively, I have completely failed at the following:

I took a dance class and it was awful. Dreadful. I’m actually a good dancer but choreography is infinitely frustrating to me. I made loud, uncomfortable jokes at my expense. It wasn’t cute. So I quit.

I tried a super gentle yoga class that just made me want to take a nap. Not in a good way. So I quit.

I was trying out a new movement on a box at the gym and didn’t realize I was positioned directly under the foaming hand sanitizer dispenser. I figured it out when sanitizer was running down my face and piled up on top of my head. Most epic gym fail I’ve ever pulled off.

I signed up for another half marathon but after getting up to 5 miles in my training program I decided I really don’t like running enough to run more than 5 miles. At least not right now. So I quit.

I got super excited about kettlebells, but found as the weight got heavier I really don’t enjoy them banging on my wrists. Pretty sure I’m doing it wrong. I’m already covered in bruises from general clumsiness. So I’ve tabled kettlebell training (sticking with the few movements I’m comfortable with) until I can find a coach who can help me through that hurdle. Because ouch.

*     *     *

Failing doesn’t have to derail you and quitting doesn’t have to be failure. I do not feel like I failed at hip hop class. I feel like I succeeded at discovering that hip hop dance class is not my idea of fun. Good to know! Success!

My baby girl is the best compass I’ve ever had. I both want to do “all the things” so that she will pursue her own life with passion, and because damn it, I deserve a life of passion. Adventure! New things all the time!

So maybe someday (maybe even soon? I’m a never say never kind of gal) I’ll pursue fat loss. Maybe I’ll get excited about that as a goal and get after it. But right now I’m pursuing the hell out of my life. I’m seeking adventure, wondering what I’m capable of and working toward goals that make me happy. I know I won’t regret that. Can you do both? Of course! We have a finite amount of energy each day, so I highly recommend using it wisely. But I’m certainly not here to tell you what that looks like for you.

Have you always wanted to Zumba? Learn to swim? Curious about ballet? DO IT. Go do the things you are interested in. Fail epically. Tell the story for fun. Try again if it suits you. Or try something else instead. Pursue your life. On purpose. The things that scare you could be things you master if you start. I highly recommend starting. The first steps are the hardest, but I’m so very glad I’ve learned to take them. I’ve learned butterflies are just excitement and failing can be fun too.

Now I’m off to enjoy a clothing optional gathering of goddesses. With baby girl and two good friends in tow. Because I don’t know what’s out there for me, but I’m excited to find out.

To adventure,
Erin Brown

Raising a girl as a rape survivor

Yesterday my local paper published a short article about police stopping two separate groups of college aged men carrying unconscious women back to their homes. In both instances, no one present was able to provide the police with the woman’s name. They were taken to the hospital to be treated for alcohol poisoning.

No charges filed.

I reposted the article and a guy I went to school with commented that this happens “every day.” He has worked in bars for many years.

In come the opinions. The questions. And all of them directed at the unconscious woman. Why did she drink so much? If she was drugged, shouldn’t she have known? Shouldn’t she have the foresight to know what happens to girls like her? It’s completely irresponsible, these girls get what’s coming to them.

I sat blinking through my tears as I read the comments. Replaying those words, “It happens everyday.” I want to fix it. To somehow police all of this myself. I want to change the way we talk about this, as though “those girls” are someone else’s problem. It’s as if we want to believe it’s all their fault because believing that there are so many rapists among us is too much. It’s the whores this happens to. These irresponsible, asking for it sluts.

It was me.

It was me and I believed all of those things about myself to be true.

As a survivor of sexual assault, I don’t begin to question the girl. I don’t start throwing my opinions around about her choices. My heart stops. The way it does whenever I hear a fire siren as I know the distinct terror of standing outside of your home, watching it burn. I wonder where she is now. I wonder if she will be supported, or if she will assume the blame. Will she resume her life? Will she shove it down somewhere and try to make it something better? Will she struggle in her relationships, as I have struggled in mine? Will she learn to repeat the words “you are safe here” to comfort herself in moments where she is only being offered love.

It’s been almost 20 years and I still struggle to feel safe in my body.

I remind myself to breathe when catcalled. Pulling myself back into my body and out of fight or flight. I walk in confidence that is hard fought for. I struggle to relax, even when I am alone. I pull my shoulders out of my ears only to find they settle back there.

I have never been the same.

I live one mile from these reported incidents. With the sweetest 7 year old baby girl. I work tirelessly to face my own demons so that I don’t pass off my fears to her. Recently I drove by the middle school she will attend and imagined her entering it. I had to pull over and teach myself to breathe. I am terrified and that won’t help her. I am actively working through my shit.

But what am I supposed to teach my daughter?

I want her to make responsible choices with alcohol and friendships. I think every parent wants that. But as much as we want to believe it will, that won’t keep her safe. I was sober and wearing baggy clothes. I fought back. I gave up. “I gave up” can describe more than a decade of my life afterward. If teaching her to drink responsibly or not at all would keep her safe, I would actually be all for that. But that is not the case.

She knows, because I have taught her, that her body is only hers.

She knows, because I have taught her, that she makes all the rules.

She knows, because I have taught her, that if anyone disrespects her rules for her own body that she can fight back.

She knows profoundly of her own autonomy because her mother felt hers violently taken at 13.

She doesn’t yet know that.

Maybe things will dramatically change before I send my baby girl into the world. But what if it doesn’t? Truly, what am I supposed to teach her? How to cope with being seen as a whore? How to distrust every person she runs into? How to fight, now and for the rest of her life?

This is the place I’ve not really allowed my brain to go. And as I do, the sounds coming from my crying belly are ones I’ve never heard before. In a culture where unconscious women are carried on public streets by men who don’t know their names with zero consequence, what more am I to teach my daughter?

I’ve been repeating “I am safe” for years, is she? Am I preparing myself to walk her through the same fires I have? For being such an emotional being, it’s interesting to note that that last sentence is where I shut off. No more gut crying. Only warrior.

Help me. This isn’t some other girls. It’s one in four of girls you know. In your life. Now. What am I to teach my daughter? Today, I am at a total loss.

 

5 things I will not teach my daughter about motherhood

There seems to be a list of unwritten rules that mothers are supposed to follow. We find evidence of them in anecdotes, common phrases and general acceptance of “norms” I find unsettling. Not to mention limiting. I’m not here to tell anyone they are mothering wrong. I truly believe there are so many, richly diverse, loving ways to mother. But I’ve kicked some of the “norms” to the curb and I hope by my example my daughter will at least know these “rules” aren’t mandatory whether or not she has children of her own.

5 things I will not teach my daughter about motherhood

1. I don’t matter anymore.

I do matter. I make my own list of priorities. I don’t want to raise a martyr. I want to raise a woman who believes in her own value. So I behave like I matter. Even though I had a baby. We both get to matter.

2. Everyone else comes before me.

I love my family hard. If we were in a life and death scenario, I would lay down my life for these humans. I really would. If one of us is going without shoes it will be me, not my baby.  But that is not the same as “every single want you could possibly have comes before taking basic care of myself.” I make my own list everyday. I take time to take care of me. And not just so I can better care for others. Because I also deserve great care.

3. Self-care is selfish.

Everyone requires care. If I am not actively caring for myself as a priority, I’m not really sure how else I can convey to my daughter it’s importance. Self-care is sometimes about survival and sometimes about thriving. Sometimes about introspection and sometimes letting loose. It is not selfish. It is imperative. I teach by example.

4. My identity is only Mom.

Mommy is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever been called. And by my favorite little human at that. I in no way want to minimize how important that title is to me. However I also maintain other parts of my life. I have other roles, aspirations, characteristics. I am overwhelmingly proud to be the mother of my little girl. But I am a whole person, not the lady on the sitcom who only shows up when you can’t find fruit snacks.

5. My life isn’t mine.

My life IS mine. I’m not “stuck” here. I chose this life and everything that comes with it. I am happy to be right where I am. I am pursuing my dreams, making bold moves and playing the role that feels good to me and works for my family. I have made sacrifices as a mother, but not of my life. My life is enriched by my family, even in it’s demands of me, not stifled by it.

There is one thing I think we all agree on I will teach her.

1. My life would never be the same.

Since becoming a mother I am not the same. I have learned things about myself I am not proud of. I have been pushed to the end of my patience and back. I have looked in the mirror and not recognized the person standing there. And I have grown more than I can adequately convey. My heart grew six sizes. I’m more passionate about life than I have ever been. I am inspired to do “all of the things!” because I never want her to believe she can’t. My life would never be the same, but I am so infinitely better for it. I’m grateful everyday for my little family and all being Mommy has taught me. I’m honored to be a mother.

None of this is meant to be a critique of mothers, but rather of what we accept as what mothering has to mean. Becoming a mother is a huge decision, but it doesn’t have to mean sacrificing every part of who you are for at least 18 years. It shouldn’t have to mean not taking care of yourself or honoring your own dreams, gifts, interests and life goals. To narrow the possibilities down only to martyr doesn’t represent what is possible or what is healthy for every family.

To living purposefully.

XO
Erin

No longer playing victim

When someone “wrongs” me my knee jerk reaction is to become a victim. In my younger years I would call a friend and break down every part of the wrong doing. How this clearly wasn’t my fault. I would detail the clear character issues involved in the other person. How could they? Why would they? And maybe even 18 or so possible theories about the behavior that was happening “at” me.

The trouble with this is that gives away all of my power and really doesn’t feel good. There isn’t anywhere to go from “I am the victim here” except to feel badly. Even if I can justify through meticulous analyzation my own victimhood, I only “win” at being a victim.

I want to tell you it’s been years since I’ve displayed such behavior. But as recently as last week I found myself having that same knee jerk reaction to a difficult situation. What’s different is that now I recognize it quickly. What am I “winning” here? Do I really want to be a victim? No. Not at all. I sure don’t want to live in that space.

Sometimes it helps to get that initial reaction out. To say the things, write the email I won’t send, etc. But once I’ve had my moments of “being wronged” I now make the following choice: to choose to see the person and situation in the most loving way possible. 

Sometimes it takes real creativity to find the most loving view. Usually that looks like a whopping dose of benefit of the doubt. Maybe that person is hurting. Maybe it’s not personal at all. Maybe I’m completely misunderstanding. I put on my rosiest glasses and choose love.

This is power. It gives me the chance to let my shoulders release and choose my response from love and not anger or fear.

Step two is addressing the issue. And a similar question comes into play: What is the most loving and honest response I can give? Depending on the what and the who, that might be silence. Maybe meditating on my own involvement. Perhaps just being patient. It might be an honest talk, not omitting difficult topics but addressing them in the most loving way that is true.

This isn’t always an easy route to take. But the alternative is disempowering. It’s choosing victimhood. It’s possibly moving to a negative space you don’t want to live in. It’s feeling stuck, put upon and without course of action.

I never regret choosing love. Regardless of the scenario, that is the position I want to make moves from. It’s not to do with what others’ behavior dictates but empowering myself with a home base I feel good operating in.

Cueing up these mantras can change my perspective quicker than anything. What is the most loving way I can choose to see this? And what is the most loving true response I have? Choose love. Deliberately, sometimes pain stakingly, but always love.

Hope there’s a nugget in there for you.

XO, Erin

Dear cat caller

Dear man on the street who harassed me today,

I can imagine your response to my plea to be left alone. “Haven’t we all gotten a little too sensitive? Can’t a man pay a woman a compliment anymore?!”*

The answer is yes. Men can pay women compliments. People can appreciate things about others and let them know. This kind of interaction does not come from moving vehicles, isn’t shouted, and doesn’t make anyone feel unsafe.

There are a series of questions that I roll through in my head on a regular basis. They begin when I feel eyes on me. You see it’s not just you I encountered today. Interactions like today have been a regular part of my life since I got breasts, around 12. It’s different than being looked at. It’s being sized up as though an item on the buffet they are considering with great interest. It’s unsettling.

Even if that experience isn’t something you relate to, you know what it’s like to be looked at differently than simply noticed in passing. The glare of someone angry at you. The look of suspicion if you are being accused of something. Big sad eyes asking you for something. My visible frustration you may have missed today as you weren’t looking at my face.

I would go so far as to say the experience of being sized up is dehumanizing. Your gaze is often anywhere but my face. In that moment I am being considered a sum of sexual parts, none of which consider my desires or that your actions make me wildly uncomfortable. It’s blatant disrespect.

The moment I feel this discomfort I begin my assessment, the list of questions.

  • Will you look me in the eye?
  • How alone am I?
  • Are there people around I could expect to help me if I needed?
  • Are you alone?
  • Is there any possibility I’m in danger?
  • Can I run in these shoes?
  • Am I carrying anything that could be used as a weapon?
  • Are you moving on yet or still fixated on me?
  • If I keep walking will you follow me?

Not a sexy list. For myself and 25% of women (a statistic I believe is wildly lower than reality) who have been subject to sexual abuse or assault, the perceived threat is not a theory but a lived experience. Some days I find myself having to quickly rebound from my body’s “fight or flight” response in these scenarios. A quick change I’ve mastered, unfortunately. How quickly a dehumanizing gaze and some shouted “what I would do to you” kind of words can escalate. And for me, I know that my awareness is heightened. PTSD will do that. I know you couldn’t look at me and know my history. But when you harass a woman on the street you can expect that at least 1 in 4 of us may struggle in that way as well.

Your one sided communication feels so disempowering.

For me that’s the worst part. I still don’t know exactly what to do. Specifically, I don’t know what to teach my daughter to do. Silence feels like acceptance but taking any stance feels like a possible and unnecessary higher risk. Again, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if you’re a nice guy with an ignorant though relatively innocent sense of entitlement to my person, or if furthering any interactions with you could cause me harm.

I usually walk on in these interactions which leaves me feeling powerless but relieved it’s over. Still unsettled and unsure of what to teach my daughter about men like you. I never want her to feel as small as I do now. I also want her to be safe more than anything in the world. If she develops like her mother, I only have five years to figure that out.

What I’d like to offer today is the benefit of the doubt and some advice. In case you were, in fact, interacting with me in the only way you knew how.

If you want to talk to a woman, look for consent to do so. It’s not hard to obtain. Have you ever needed to ask someone to help you choose a ripe fruit at the grocery store? I bet you found someone who seemed not in a hurry and then looked for eye contact, followed by that eyebrows raised facial expression that asks what you might need. You probably avoided the person who looked distressed or in a hurry. It’s not different. Those are basic courtesies we learn about interacting with strangers that seem to go out the window for women walking in public.

If a woman is walking like she is on a mission, laser focused eyes and clutching her keys; she’s not interested in talking to you. In fact, if all of those things are present you are likely bearing witness to a woman who has just given herself a pep talk about getting to her car unscathed. She is specifically avoiding you right now. Headphones, head down, looking away instead of at you, these tactics are like armor. It’s purposeful. It says “no.”

Once you have established eye contact and consent to converse, looking at her face as though she’s a person who deserves respect, you might proceed to pay her a compliment. She will probably be kind about your words. And then if you are not invited to more conversation, move on. Don’t block her from moving forward or take back the compliment if she doesn’t share your interest. “You weren’t that hot anyway,” may knock her down a bit (though we’re used to this tactic too), but mostly makes you look bad. Speaking to women you don’t know with respect does not entitle you to more of their time either.

It may seem like such a small thing to you. Staring at a nice pair of tits, yelling something crass from your moving vehicle. You might even believe you are doing something we welcome. I assure you that silence is an effort to remain safe, not an indication that we are excited. I for one am worn out. I guess twenty years is long enough to endure regular harassment. I read a statistic the other day that said street harassment drops off for women around the age of 37. I have a birthday coming up. I welcome the notion of walking peacefully. But while I’m moving toward the relative end of my long career of being a young woman walking, my daughter is also speeding toward her tenure. And I won’t be one of those women who suddenly loses empathy for what that feels like because it’s no longer happening to me.

I’m also getting more brazen as I age. And I’m a mother bear. I may not know what to teach her yet but today marks the end of my own silence. I will not be complacent in your entitlement: to my time, to stare at my body or to verbally assess me in any way. I know how to take a compliment, but I will no longer suffer silently your disrespect.

Mama Bear.

I didn't think I'd ever be a grown up

Yesterday I walked into a bank to apply for a mortgage. I wore a twirly dress and shoes that make me walk tall. I can hardly believe it was me.

I spent years laying my childhood bed at my parents’ house unable to sleep at night. I was consumed with worry that I was dying of the AIDS virus after being assaulted. My sex education was limited to disease fear, and I was certain my death was eminent. Four years went on like that before I was able to gather the courage (and had a car) to take myself for a test at planned parenthood. That was probably the most alone I ever felt with a secret. My certain, looming death. My shame for what “I’d done.” The scary call and walk into the clinic. Formative snap shots.

The negative test result was a relief, but it somehow didn’t change the whole narrative. I had spent so long with a belief that my life had a sad and soon cut-off date, the news didn’t suddenly brighten my future. I didn’t feel hopeful. I didn’t plan my wedding. I’d wax poetic about ideas around this stuff, but I didn’t think I’d ever really have a family. I couldn’t envision myself as a working professional. It all felt… fruitless.

The narrative went something like this, “I am a slut. I am used up. I get kicked around a lot. Soon it will be over.”

Then I graduated from high school. Started making plans for college. Suddenly there were possibilities. A new start. The first two years I’d call a “smashing success,” then old trauma came back to the fore front and I crashed again. Started skipping class. Smoked too many cigarettes. Slept as much as possible. Lived on party pizzas and boxed wine. I didn’t think anything I did mattered anymore. I lived vibrantly in moments of laughter with friends but spent most of my time hiding. I was constantly disappointing people and subsequently avoiding them. Eventually I was expelled and then let back in with promises in writing to seek therapy and medication.

I would later call this the years of college that I majored in depression and self-hate.

Somehow I put the pieces of myself back together. I’m still working through some of this stuff, but it doesn’t feel so heavy anymore. It doesn’t feel bigger than me. I don’t feel invisible, too small for my problems or inadequate to face them. I am no longer suffocated by the silence I felt was mandated around my trauma. I feel honest, and free.

I am so grateful I made it.

More than that, I’m grateful I found my value. That I can look around at the life I’ve built with my family and not only swell with love, but know that I am indeed worthy of it. I deserve to receive the love I give. I’m a mother, a wife, a professional, an adult. With a house I couldn’t picture, love I couldn’t have known was possible without worlds of hurt attached. I have a dog. A couch. I mow the yard. I’m still here!

Instead of looking back at all the sadness with shame or more sorrow, I’m proud I made it through. I’m grateful for the millions of tiny miracles that must have pushed for me to make it. I’m better at understanding pain. I know I can endure. I am strong, capable and more than enough.

Walking into that bank yesterday felt bigger than an application process. It felt like an arrival. A noticeable shift. I no longer live in fear. Of anything. I can envision a future with me in it. I’m here.

I don’t know what the outcome of my mortgage will be. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m 32, I’m thinking about a mortgage, I woke up this morning happy to be alive. These are gifts I couldn’t imagine. I trust I’m always being directed well. I try not to spin too many future stories but rather rely on a deeply rooted knowing that I can handle my life.

I’m here. I can handle anything. I made it.

xo, Erin