What Are You Willing to be Criticized For?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and I’ve been playing over and over in my mind a line that the Rector said during the sermon.

“What are you willing to be criticized for?”

This post has been brewing in my head for awhile, months actually. I’ve started and stopped it three times over the last nine months, walking away from it, with just a jumble of thoughts left typed on the page, saved for another day.

This post started after I wrote the piece about Brock Turner, and the dumpster fire that surrounds him and the judge in the case. I revisited it after he was let out of jail, and my piece was syndicated on another website. And then, last week, I went on a rant of thoughts after a piece of mine ran on Scary Mommy.

A month ago, I wrote a piece for Scary Mommy, titled ‘My Grandpa was a Sexual Predator. Thank God My Parents Listened to Me’, and it was published last week.
This piece is the most vulnerable and exposing piece I have ever written about being abused, and I questioned whether or not to even share it on my social media.

The trolls tracked me down and came after me with a vengeance. I have a very strict rule of never reading the comments, and I made the mistake of breaking this necessary rule.

The aftermath of that piece being published is what compelled me to finish writing this post today. So, bear with me, because this rant is long, but important for me to say.

Not only did trolls tear me up, they tore my parents up. Now, I want you to think about this. In order for these trolls to contact me, they had to click on my bio on the Scary Mommy website, go to my blog, find the ‘contact me’ section, click on the email and then write out the email. That’s a lot of effort to email nastiness.

The other phenomenon that has been happening for the last eighteen months, is that every time I write about the abuse, I get a slew of emails offering me advice. I get offers to find me a therapist, offers of hallucinogens to help me move past my trauma, and emails from people smugly telling me that they ‘got over’ their abusive childhoods or when they were raped.

So, I’m going to break alllll of these down for you.

First of all, the details that I have written about are barely a drop in the bucket to what happened. The piece that was published last week had details in it that only my therapists knew, and I was cautious in putting those out there. Frankly, it’s no one’s damn business to know every detail about it unless I want to tell you. I hold some of it back because there are innocent people in my life that I love and am protecting from getting hurt. I don’t have to share details, but I do because there are people out there that need to know that they are not alone in their struggles with the aftermath of abuse.

I also want to be clear that there are only so many details that can be included in an 800 word essay. This abuse and rape that occurred happened more than twenty years ago and some up to thirty years ago. Times are very different, statute of limitations are different, and evidence collection is different.

To clear up all of the readers out there that continue to email me and recommend that I get help, please stop. I retired three therapists and a psychiatrist for goodness sake. I got the help I needed many years ago, which is how I am able to write about what happened to me.

There seems to be some confusion that when people talk about something hard that they have experienced, that they need help. I don’t see it that way at all. I find that the people that need the most help, are the ones who don’t talk about their problems. This does not mean you need to constantly talk about your past. I mean that I am able to have conversations about what happened because I have processed my experiences.

I’ve written extensively about these experiences. About the hurt and the anger. About the eating disorder that followed and my hesitancy to trust others. And yet, I have held back from fear. Fear of what people will think about the recesses of my mind. People are appalled at the fraction I have shared. But if I pulled the curtain back all the way, and the horror show appears, what will happen? Will people think something is wrong with me? The answer is probably and most likely based on the emails and feedback that I have already received.

Envisioning this shame is what has held me back from fully writing what I want to write. From stripping it all back and finishing the next draft of the novel I’ve been working on. I’ve been terrified of what people will think when they see the damage that was actually done.

I’m tired of holding back.

It wasn’t easy to get to who I am. It was HARD. Really damn hard. In addition to the therapists and psychiatrist, there was therapy on the daily, weigh-ins at the doctor, and the entire time feeling the weight of shame for something I did not do. While I left all of the therapy, psychiatrists and weigh-ins behind twenty years ago, the shame is something that has never gone away. I took on shame of someone else’s actions. It’s their shame, not mine. I should feel hurt, and angry, but not shame. I have shame about the aftermath because that was the truly repulsive part. While the abuse and rape were grotesque, the aftermath was the real calamity.

We need to start talking about the chaotic disaster of the aftermath of trauma. Of what actually happens to a person when an intrusion happens to them. We are doing a disservice to people to lead them to believe we can all have a happy ending without trudging through the truly gruesome wreckage that will follow.

People think I can’t get over what happened to me, as if I am paralyzed and can’t move forward because I am telling a part of my story, the story of who I am. We all have parts of our story, how we grew up, who raised us, who was instrumental in shaping our minds, where we went to school and who we hung out with. Experiencing abuse is part of my story, one part that I am not willing to dismiss to make people more comfortable.

No, I’m not ‘over it’, but I am living the life of my choosing, and I moved forward many years ago. If you tell me that you got ‘over’ abuse, you are lying and doing a disservice to anyone who experiences abuse. Stop it with this narrative. No one ‘gets over’ it. Science tells us that brains are fundamentally changed after trauma. When you tell someone they should get over it, you are telling them that if they can’t, they should feel shame for experiencing valid feelings.

I have a lot of people tell me ‘but you look so happy’. I look happy because I am happy. I chose to accept that the aftermath is a disgusting mess, but if I went through it, that I could have my happily ever after. So, I went through it, I worked my butt off, with the goal in mind that I would spend the rest of my days on my terms. When we do not give people permission to acknowledge the hardest part of their story, the aftermath, they can’t get to their happy. Happy endings don’t happen by accident, they happen when you blindingly claw out of the black abyss, claw mark by claw mark.

When I talk about my unsightly aftermath, I talk about it because I know my strength. I have no question that there is nothing that I cannot handle, because I have looked evil in the face and decided how my story would end. I have never felt more confident in my strength than I do today, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes others feel. I will continue to write my truth because there are others that need to hear that you can have the life of your own choosing after trauma.

To the trolls who continue to send me hate mail and question why I write, I say this: You are the reason victims do not report. You are the reason that the cycle of shame continues because when a victim shares details of THEIR story, you question their behavior and not the perpetrator. When you are nasty to people who are willing to tell their story, the victims around you keep their mouths shut because of your judgment and you are implicit in the cycle of abuse continuing.

So, to end this long rant, I end it with saying I know what I am willing to be criticized for. After the hate mail I got last week, I wondered if writing my truth was worth the criticism and hate. It is worth it, and the sign I needed, I heard in church yesterday. I, and I alone, own the ending to my story. I will continue to write my truth and I will continue to talk about the ugly aftermath. It’s important that someone does so that when someone else is in the midst of their terrible truth, they know that they can choose their own ending, too.

Cooking for Kids When You Have Constraints

Radcliffe has become very interested in food and recipes and helping me come up with a menu for meals. But, as any mother out there knows, it’s hard to cook good meals during the school week when you are carting children to after school activities, doing homework, and dealing with bedtime.

I have food allergies, which means I almost always make our meals from scratch (which takes forever), and I am limited to chicken and seafood as our protein…which gets redundant. It’s frustrating to work within the time constraints we have and my food constraints. Throw in two picky eaters, and well, you know the rest.

One of my dear friends, Alessandra Macaluso, just co-wrote a cookbook with Amy Godiwalla called What a Good Eater! You need to take a look how beautiful this cookbook cover is:

whatagoodeatercover

I mistakenly thought this cookbook what just for baby food, but it’s not. It has recipes that can be adapted into baby food. And they’re all good for you. And the photos are so beautiful, you’ll want to lick the pages of the book, but I digress…

Alessandra and Amy allowed me to share this recipe with all of you. It’s super easy, fast, and good for you…perfect for other families like mine for a weekday meal.

iron-chicken-dance

IRON CHICKEN DANCE

RECOMMENDED AGE: 8 months plus
YIELD approximately 4-6 chicken thighs
FOOD STORAGE refrigerator friendly, freezer friendly
PREP TIME 8 minutes
COOK TIME 40 minutes

This is called the Iron Chicken Dance because the chicken thighs are nutrient rich, packing all the iron we know is so important for our babies’ little bodies, and the salsa makes it “dance.” Don’t be intimidated by the term “sal-sa”—it’s super easy to toss together!

INGREDIENTS
• 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt (optional: we only recommend adding salt for babies 12 months plus)
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• ½ teaspoon dried herb mixture, such as Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 (15-ounce) can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
• 2 cups fresh mango, diced into ½-inch-by-½-inch chunks (for time savings, check if your market sells this precut)
• ¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
• Juice from 1 lime, seeds removed

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Season both sides of the chicken with salt (if using), pepper, and dried herbs. Set aside.
  • In a Dutch oven or large oven-safe pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and allow it to melt. Once the oil and butter are hot, add the chicken to the pot. (The chicken should sizzle when you add it to the pot.) Sear the chicken on both sides until golden brown (about 2–4 minutes per side). Transfer the pot to the oven and bake uncovered for approximately 25–28 minutes or until the thickest part of the chicken reaches 175 degrees. (If you do not have an oven-safe pot, transfer chicken to a baking dish and place in oven.)
  • Remove the pot from the oven and add the black beans. Cover the pot with a lid and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes. Add the mango, cilantro, and lime juice to the pot. Serve, cutting into smaller pieces ap-propriate for your baby, or puree the baby’s portion to desired consistency, adding small amounts of water as needed.

Tip: If your baby seems hesitant or generally has a difficult time eating meats, try mixing in 1 teaspoon of sour cream. If she still seems hesitant, puree a small portion of the dish and spread it on a slice of whole wheat bread, creating a “pâté sandwich.” This may help make meats more palatable to babies/toddlers adjusting to the new texture.

For an even easier and faster prepping your meal (cutting your chopping time in half), I suggest getting a Vidalia Chop Wizard, and store your cilantro in these fancy jars from Infinity Jars. You’re going to want these jars for everything, they are airtight ultraviolet glass jars and bottles and apothecary containers, designed to preserve the freshness of your herbs, spices, and natural products.

This book has even more delicious recipes in it, which I am really looking forward to cooking for the boys, with the boys. Check out their website for more information: What A Good Eater!

Living a Life Free of Regret Through Gratitude

livingalifewithoutregret

Have you ever been completely honest with yourself about regret? As in, have you ever indexed all of the things you wish you didn’t say or didn’t do?

What about the things you didn’t say when you had the chance?

I had a notoriously tough childhood. Sexual abuse fed an eating disorder, and then I was raped. I was an angry person, and gratitude seemed to be something for the favored people, the ones with the perfect lives. In retrospect, as a forgiving adult, I understand the why behind this sentiment.

Years of therapy helped me target turning points in my life that helped to steer me in a healthier direction. One such turning point was my Aunt Josephine, a woman I only met once and yet that is the singular defining moment in my childhood that made me question the difference between “good” and “evil” people.

During a particularly dark time in my childhood, I attended a rare family event. While there, Aunt Josephine smiled down at me, with light from the windows shining behind her, casting the shadow of an angel, and gifted me with an enameled daisy chain bracelet, with no expectation of anything in return.

I held onto that bracelet and then regrettably lost it in years later in one of my many moves. I became obsessed with finding the bracelet and searched vintage stores, then eBay and Etsy, to no avail. I was obsessed because I wanted to tell her thank you. Thank you for showing me that not all adults are evil and that people are inherently good and want to give with no ulterior intent.

Years went by, 30 years, actually, and the bracelet crossed my mind every few months. I need to write her and tell her thank you, I would think in a fleeting moment, but I never did.

Then, I was driving one day when I got the phone call that she had died. I had to pull over because I was overcome with regret. Why the hell did I let 30 years pass without telling someone I was grateful for their influence in my life? It’s something she likely had no recollection of, but that five-minute interaction made me question everything.

This is what regret looks like: a gnawing feeling that you need to fix something that won’t go away. I couldn’t fix that I never properly thanked Aunt Josephine, but I could start to make an intentional effort to thank the people in my life that make a difference, big and small.

That November, I sat down and started writing thank you notes. I wrote about 15 that year. Some were for big things, such as, “Thank you for believing in me years ago and helping me discover my path.” Others were small, such as, “Thank you for being so kind on a day that I was struggling and no one else knew about it.’

Around the same time that I started writing the thank you notes, my parents were able to track down an identical version of the daisy chain bracelet I had so desperately been searching for.

This was a few years ago, and it has quickly become my favorite Thanksgiving tradition. This past year, however, made evident the importance of tradition in my life and the importance of expressing my gratitude.

Last November, I had a stack of about 10 cards. I don’t remember who all was in that stack, but I remember one in particular was addressed to a close acquaintance of mine whose advice and opinions had been influential in certain decisions I had made the previous year. We briefly had a conversation about the card the next time we spoke, and the reason I send them out. He told me it made him make a more conscious effort to thank people in his life.

Four months later, I spoke to him on a Friday afternoon. At the end of the conversation, I asked him how everything was going in his personal life, since the conversation up until that point was professional. He said, “You know, for the first time in a really long time, I can say that I’m really good and really grateful. I’m happy at work, the wife is good, and the kids are happy. And they all know I am thankful for them.”

The next day, he was in a car accident and died later in the week from his injuries.

I really struggled, and still struggle, with the reasoning of the universe. Why does bad stuff happen?

Later that week, for probably the 10th time, I was discussing this with my husband. He finally stopped me. “He was happy, he knew he was loved, and I think he probably died without regret.”

He was right. And I didn’t wait until this Thanksgiving to write thank you notes. I started writing them furiously shortly after that conversation. I won’t miss out on another opportunity to tell someone thank you for being a positive light in my life. As much as this exercise helps me to be mindful and keep me grounded in gratitude, what if that person needs to hear what you have to say? That what you do and say actually matters, no matter how tiny the gesture? And that, in turn, through your gesture of gratitude, helps them?

I implore you to put your gratitude out into your world. Days of gratitude on social media is a start, but personal thank-yous and direct expressions of gratitude are what will keep the regret for words left unsaid away.

This was originally published on Scary Mommy, ©2015.