Sketchy Sexual Experiences

I was talking to my friend the other day on the phone. I wanted to know some of the less discussed details about the beginning of her relationship with her now husband. When did they first kiss, how long did they wait before having sex, etc. Even though I know that these things are highly personal milestones in any relationship, I felt like it would help me to have some idea of the timelines for other people. Discussing this with her was highly therapeutic for me. I realize that I don’t need anyone else to justify my decision on waiting to have sex. In the end it’s my decision and whenever I choose to have sex with a partner is valid. Yet it did help me feel more confident and reassured after hearing someone else’s perspective and experience.

Working at a child advocacy center for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot more about sex and consent than I expected. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of some of these teen girls who we see here. Their stories all sound so similar. They tell us they didn’t want to scream or make a scene. They second guess and doubt their own intuition and perspective. They are ashamed. They blame themselves. They don’t know what to do. They feel bad for their abuser even, at times. After a while, something finally clicked inside of my head and I began to see my younger self in a lot of these girls. Some of the scenarios they describe sound so familiar.

When the Me Too Movement first started a few years ago, I felt somewhat conflicted. I saw everyone around me sharing stories of times they had been abused or disrespected by men. It seemed like all women had at least one story. Yet after searching my memories, I felt I didn’t have any of these types of experiences. I felt lucky, of course, grateful, but I also felt confused. Why didn’t I have any of these stories when so many other women did? I couldn’t find a satisfying answer. Of course my self-hating, low self-esteem mind told me that it must be because I’m not attractive enough to be assaulted. Which I know is offensive and ridiculous.

Since that time, I’ve thought about a lot to different sexual encounters I had growing up. It feels weird to say, but looking back, I feel like I was victimized at least twice without even realizing it or acknowledging it. How can that be possible? I’ve asked myself that question, and I still don’t know. Maybe the only separation is whether or not you feel like you’ve been traumatized. That doesn’t seem right to me either though. Just because a lot of the kids we see at our center are in love with their abuser or even enjoyed the sexual experiences they’ve had, doesn’t mean how things happened wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean these adult men haven’t broken the law and done egregious things. Does the fact that at the time I was complacent or believed I deserved what happened because of the situation I put myself in make what happened to me acceptable? I don’t think so.

It’s not as if I want to go after these boys from my past or have them prosecuted. Although I’ve come to accept I wasn’t to blame for what happened back then, I don’t necessarily put the blame on those boys either. I think what’s more important is to address the toxic, sex-phobic culture we were raised in. The culture that led me to believe being drunk and alone with boys meant it was my fault if I was then sexually assaulted. The culture that taught these boys what they did was normal, perfectly alright behavior. This is what I want to address. I don’t think the boys from my past had any intention to harm me or even disrespect me. They were just doing what young boys are expected to do. I doubt they viewed themselves as sexual predators, nor do I necessarily want them to. I just want us all to learn together how we can communicate better and respect one another so we can facilitate healthy sexual experiences, especially for teens and young adults.

During that phone call with my friend, we talked a lot about my sexual promiscuity when we were in college. Her impression was that I just had a high sex drive, that I was being care-free and having fun. She seemed surprised and somewhat saddened when I told her that actually wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know myself well enough, didn’t understand relationships enough, to make the right decisions. Given that my first sexual partner was someone that I was dating and who I was deeply in love with, I didn’t really grasp the correlation between love and sex. Desperate to feel that same emotional intimacy, that spiritual closeness, I found myself confusing it and conflating it with physical intimacy. I really didn’t have desire for the actual act of sex with most of the men I’ve been with. What I desired and hoped to obtain from sex was actually love and tenderness. As you might imagine, it took me a long time to understand and process the pain of never finding it.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to teach our children how to have these important conversations surrounding sex. The more prepared we make them, the easier it will be to talk about with their partner when the times comes. I wish I had been wise enough, brave enough, to ask more questions of my partners before having sex with them. Questions like: what does sex mean to you? where do you see our relationship going, if anywhere? do you have romantic feelings for me or are you only interested in a physical relationship? I always made the mistake of just assuming we were on the same page. Then I felt heartbroken and wronged upon discovering that wasn’t the case.

In addition, we need to emphasize that while no means no, only an enthusiastic, informed yes is true consent. Pressuring someone until they eventually give in is not consent. An obviously reluctant partner that hasn’t verbally said no is not consent. It is so important that we all work to improve society when it comes to its ideas and understanding of the complex issues surrounding sex. I only wish I could go back in time and share this new, deeper understanding with the young girl I once was. Instead I will try to help other young girls avoid my same mistakes.

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Confronting Internalized Sexism

I’m not shy about publicly proclaiming to be a feminist. Most of my social media accounts even have it mentioned in my bio. I am probably even one of those crazy feminists that turn most people off of the movement if I’m being honest. Occasionally I’ll even admit to pushing the pendulum to far the other way and being overtly critical of all men while placing all women on a pedestal. And while I recognize this, it’s hard for me to talk myself down sometimes.

Yet on the other hand, in my personal life and view of myself there are major inconsistencies. You see, I’ve always idolized the idea of being skinny. I love looking at beautiful, extremely thin women. I have always wanted to be one of them. Today I really sat down with myself to ask myself why that is.

I have nothing against women of any shape or size. I genuinely believe all women are worthy, valuable, and have the right to exist anyway they choose, the right to respect and equality. But I don’t treat myself as if I believe that. When it comes right down to it I’ve been lying to myself. I say I want to be thin for me, or maybe to be physically irresistible to a future partner, or for some abstract aesthetic. But when it comes right down to it, I think the real reason I want to be thin is because I feel I’ll have more value that way.

I am embarrassed and ashamed at the idea of what society will think of me if I’m not pretty, young, and thin. I imagine my life will be better if I am those things. I want those things for the power and perks I imagine them providing me. And while I don’t believe it to be right or fair, I live my entire life in accordance with the conviction that society functions on this principle regardless of what I think.

It is hard for me to accept that I have internalized the very sexism I speak out against. I am afraid to live by the courage of my convictions. Because of that I am endlessly torturing myself, trying to force myself into a mold I wasn’t made for. Not for myself, but to prove my value to others. A value I ultimately feel I lack naturally.

How sad. How twisted. How wrong.

It is time I face this damaging delusion I’ve held onto for so long. Because no matter what I’ll have to in the end. Beauty and youth cannot stand the test of time. These things are not what give me value. I am inherently valuable. Just as every other living creature on this earth is. No more proclaiming all bodies are beautiful, all women are worthy, while simultaneously hating my own body for not being good enough, thin enough.

My worth is not contingent on my size. My value is not linked to my age, my bone structure, or my body. If I truly believe this about all other women, it is time I start living this truth for myself. It is time for me to believe in my own inherent worth as a human being. It is time for me to love myself, respect myself, allow myself to simply exist as I am. In whatever form that may be. Now and in the future. It is time for me to lead by example, live by my beliefs. Society be damned.

Reproductive Rights

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In the recent political climate, I have started to become increasingly anxious about my access to reproductive healthcare and my rights in this country as a woman in general. Despite the progress we have made in the last few decades regarding gender equality, it seems like things are beginning to slip backwards as the conservative sects and corruption in this country push back against these improvements.

While the religious right may think that women view abortions like going to the dentist, I (and I’m sure most other women) have always been terrified of the idea. However, this was always a less terrifying alternative than having a child if by some unfortunate mistake I became pregnant. Although I never wanted to have to abort a pregnancy, the knowledge that that option was there for me if I needed it was always a comfort.

In the last few months, I have seen the state governments of Ohio and West Virginia start to chip away at that right. West Virginian’s voted that the state has no obligation to make sure a woman has access to this right. Ohio recently passed their “heart-beat” abortion bill that will prevent a woman from having rights over her own body as soon as a fetus has a detectable heart-beat. This can be as early at three weeks after conception, before most women are even aware that they are pregnant.

It sickens me to see our society telling women that they don’t have autonomy, that they don’t have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies. Even worse, to say more children must be born into this world to parents that do not want them or cannot afford to care for them, while there are already so many waiting to be adopted or living out their lives in the foster care system. I didn’t plan on waiting around for a terrible fate to befall me because of my gender. I’ve never wanted to have children, so I decided it was about time to make sure that I wasn’t able to anymore.

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be lucky enough to find a gynecologist that would be willing to sterilize a woman as young as myself, who is unmarried, with no children. I decided I may as well start asking around though. To my surprise, the gynecologist I only recently switched to last year agreed to help me!

I simply could not control the smile that spread across my face when she said that I was an adult and had the right to make decisions about my own body. “After all,” she said, “women don’t have to have children.” I could have cried with joy to know that this woman respected me and was giving me control over my own life. Better yet, she told me that my insurance would likely cover the costs of the surgery.

After reading about the simple procedure and contacting my insurance company to discover that they would cover 90% of the costs (leaving only around $400 for me), I scheduled my laparoscopic tubal ligation. The surgery took place one week before Thanksgiving. Never before had I had something to be so thankful for on that day. It was an outpatient surgery that took only around 15 minutes to complete. There were no complications and I recovered in record time, no scarring, no pain meds. After four days I was back to doing my hour-long H.I.I.T. workouts and advanced yoga practice daily.

I no longer have to poison my body with hormonal birth control pills. I don’t ever have to feel fearful after having a sexual encounter. I have never felt so joyous and free in my entire life. I hope so fervently that any other woman that wants to have this procedure done decides to ask her primary care physician or gynecologist. I hope that all doctors would be willing to respect a woman’s decision about her own body and reproductive health. I am eternally grateful to my doctor for giving me my freedom and my body back.

I wanted to share my story so that other women would know that it’s possible to make the same decision for themselves. There are so many good reasons not to have a child. I hope that other women that don’t want to have children will find reassurance in my story and know that they are not “heartless” for not wanting a baby. They don’t have to stand being belittled with the infamous “you’ll change your mind.” We are not objects to be used by men or humanity as a whole. My body is mine and mine alone.

Stay strong, sisters.

Self-Care Week

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I’m not sure why, but I have been feeling more anxiety than usual lately. It could be the deadlines that come along with the holidays or just the lack of sunlight that always seems to make me feel blue. Whatever the cause, it has inspired me to declare this last week of November self-care week. I mean ,why wait around for Christmas when you can create your own festivities?

I plan to make this week all about soothing myself and letting myself recuperate from all the stressors in my life. I plan to practice positive and gentle self-talk this week. (Even though I’m posting this a day late and slept through all of my alarms this morning). I’m going to be extra kind to myself, because I deserve to be treated kindly. Sometimes this can be hard to remember, especially when you are suffering from anxiety and depression. It is important to slow down from time to time and just focus on your own mental, physical, and emotional health.

In order to do this I am going to give myself only the best this week. I am going to eat extra healthy. I’ve planned lots of meals of my favorite fresh veggies, fruits, and other whole foods. I’ve bought myself some special new teas to try. I will definitely be finding comfort in one of my favorites as well, which is vanilla chai tea made with a blend of water and cashew almond milk. This warm, delicious chai latte has all the pleasure of a fancy drink without the guilt of drinking your calories for the day. (Almond Breeze Cashew Milk has only 25 calories per cup!)

In addition to this I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and spend the evenings relaxing with some of my favorite video games: Harvest Moon: Animal Parade and the new Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. (Surprise, surprise. The vegan loves games that involve primarily animals.) I also plan to listen to soothing ambient music, light incense, and snuggle with my sweet fur children. I’m going to make myself yummy peanut butter oats with cinnamon and do yin yoga to stretch and soothe my tired muscles and mind.

I hope that you will all join me in this wonderful journey of replenishment. Set aside some time for yourself this week to experience the love you usually reserve for someone special, because there is no one more special than you! Please let me know in the comments if you decide to come along with me on this week-long self-love extravaganza and what kinds of things you are going to do to treat yourself.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Enjoy. ♥

 

Bullet Journaling: October

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I am happy to say that 2017 has been a very productive and transformative year for me. I finally feel like I am steering my life towards the things I’ve always wanted. I attribute this change in character and consistency to a new phenomenon I stumbled upon called bullet journaling.

This is a type of journaling that allows you to have freedom of form, flexibility, and creativity while still maintaining a semblance of structure. Bullet journals (bujos) most importantly allow you to keep a sense of cohesion in your life. No more rewriting the same goals and ideas over and over again intermittently in different notebooks only to close the cover and blindly step back into the same routines that have been failing you thus far.

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I began my bujo last April, and at this point, I can honestly say that I plan to keep it up for as long as I am able. Keeping a journal in this form has allowed me to keep track of and keep up with my long-term goals. As I mentioned, I used to write down the same few abstract goals dozens of times only to come back to them months later not knowing if I had made any progress at all or even what that progress would look like. It has been incredibly fulfilling and self-affirming for me to be able to quantify my small successes each day. If you suffer from low self-esteem like I do, a bujo can definitely help you notice how much you actually are accomplishing. This, in turn, can give you the confidence to break out of a cycle of self-doubt and achieve more of your goals.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably already fretting about the possibility that you may see that you are not making progress on a particular goal and how that will affect your frame of mind. However, I have found that even in this instance a bujo can be helpful. Instead of seeing this lack of progression as a failure, it can stimulate you to make some changes. Is this goal really important to you? Should you drop this goal in order to focus more energy on more meaningful projects? And if this goal really is something you want to work towards, can you break it into smaller, more easily attainable goals? Don’t let this type of realization discourage you. Let it inspire you to try something new.

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In addition to tracking goals, bujos can include a myriad of other aspects such as: scheduling, habit tracking, studying, grocery lists, doodling, and anything else you want to keep track of all in one convenient location. As you can see from the photos I took of my October spread, I generally use mine to track daily habits and mood, set monthly goals, record my finances, plan my weekly meals, and record what I eat and do each day. But one of the best parts about bullet journaling is that you can change the layout and setup any time you want. Each weekly spread can look different depending on how busy you are or how your feeling that week. After evaluating how your spread worked for one month you can easily revamp it to better suit your needs for the next.

Bullet journaling can also have the added bonus of allowing you to begin to notice patterns in your moods and behaviors. If you see that you were feeling particularly down a few days or one particular week in the month you can look at what else was happening and be better prepared in the future to avoid situations or habits that produce negative emotions. You may, however, start to notice yourself becoming more happier in general. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, planning and making goals for the future actually increases feelings of happiness and contributes to a positive sense of well-being.

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There are endless amounts of videos online demonstrating how to set up your very own bujo along with inspiration and ideas to add your own special flare that keeps you coming back each day. I hope that this format of journaling benefits your life as much as it has benefited mine.

Happy Journaling ♥

Cultivating Self-Love

Look, I know I’m quite terrible at making consistent posts and not vanishing for months (or years) at a time, but I have some incredible news to share with you all: I love myself!

That’s right, I’ve finally stopped feeding the wolf of self-doubt and harsh criticism in my head. Surprisingly enough, this transformation began after what most would view as a devastating blow in anyone’s life. This past fall I had finally managed to find myself a polyamorous relationship with two incredible vegans in my area. There were definitely some ups and downs but overall I was thrilled to finally be living my truth I thought I would never be able to.

Then my life decided to take an even more surprising turn.  My ex-boyfriend reemerged on all of his previously inactive social media accounts and began liking my posts. I felt like my heart was ignited. With nervous anticipation I decided to message him, and he replied! It felt as though no time had passed at all. I felt like an old friend had been brought back from the dead. We made plans to get together and for what may have been the first time in my life I actually wept with joy. I found myself thanking breathlessly a god that I no longer believe in. The feeling that took hold of me that day remains poignant in my heart.

With some reluctance, I began to distance myself for my polyamorous pair. Although my ex said he didn’t mind, a part of me knew that he would only stick around for so long if I continued my polyamourous lifestyle. Within a few days, we were living together. It felt like a dream to finally have my own home and someone to share it with. We were really soul mates it seems. The kind I never believed in. He had come back to me after all those years apart, and I had never been more sure of anything than I was of my love for him.

However, to my shock and chagrin, a few days after New Year’s he decided to leave. When he first told me I genuinely thought that he was joking. But as I glanced around the room I noticed that all of his things were already missing. I felt myself implode and remained silent and tearfully motionless for nearly an hour before finding the strength to speak. I knew I could not change this. I cradled it in my heart like a red giant about to burst into a black hole.

After all the times I had felt as if my world were crumbling at my sides, this was somehow different. I truly felt like there was no avoiding it this time. I fearfully began to lean into it, and somehow I found myself there with open arms and boundless love. I was so tired of being afraid I would never be loved. So suddenly the thought of loving myself didn’t seem so pathetic (or maybe it still did, but I just didn’t care). It was such a comfort to know that I could be there for myself, that that could be enough.

I decided that I really didn’t want to hurt anymore. I didn’t want to sit indefinitely in my sadness. I decided to instead be thankful, thankful that I got that time with someone I truly loved, thankful that the regret I once harbored for leaving him years ago could finally dissolve, thankful that I had been lucky enough to know love at all. I decided to take care of myself. I decided I deserved that much.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I cried A LOT. I still do from time to time when I think of those few months. But ultimately what I took away from those dark days is that I am all that I will ever truly have control of and that I will never leave me. It taught me that altering the connections the neurons create in my brain really is possible. I saw how much my lonely years of meditation and yoga had already helped me without me even realizing it. These practices had carried me to another heartbreak and gave me the power to step away from the pain this time and choose something different. How strange that something so heartbreaking would transform into something unimaginably empowering.

Since that day he left, things have only gotten better and better. I have been focusing my energy on bettering myself but not for other people like I used to. Now my progress is gentle and enjoyable because it is an act of love for myself. Each day, no matter how structurally similar to the last, holds worthwhile experiences and possibilities, and I am no longer waiting for something or someone to save me, for my life to change. I can’t help but smile when I realize all those corny quotes the depressed, dramatic teen in me was so quick to dismiss were always true. You do have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Happiness is a conscious choice to be made, not a state to acquire through external means. It just takes some practice, and I hope this will give some the courage to keep trying. Our mind, our disposition, is ours to create. Craft it with love.

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Solidarity Among Women

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For some strange reason, all of my life I have felt this unspoken tension between myself and other women. As I grew older, I realized that a lot of women felt animosity and resentment toward one another. Women in today’s society always seem to be pitted against one another. We tend to always be more critical of women then we are of men. We sometimes even find ourselves believing the very same stereotypes about other women that we ourselves take offense to.

I often catch myself having these thoughts, and I am angry with myself. So recently I have been making a conscious decision to be more forgiving and open minded when it comes to the women I encounter from day to day. Now instead of looking at other women harshly, I allow myself to see them for who they are. I view them as my comrades instead of my competition. I have been reading more women authors and poets such as Ayn Rand and Sylvia Path. It has really been a refreshing experience allowing my heart to open in this way.

When I was growing up, the women in my life always seemed to value a relationship with a man as being more important than their friendships. However, this frame of mind has always left me feeling desperate and insecure. I’ve learned that each relationship in your life, whether it be intimate or platonic, is a wonderful thing to be cherished and nurtured. As human beings it is important for us to have a network of loved ones on whom we can rely.

So my advice to my fellow women out there is to open your hearts to everyone in your life. There are so many beautiful souls and minds in the world to be discovered in the bodies of men and women alike.

Keep your hearts and minds open, my loves. ❤