I knew of a friend who is what some call a pain top, or as many in the general culture might say, a dom. We’ll call him Pan. We were acquaintances but not very close when I reached out and asked, “How would you feel about beating me?” almost as casually as I might ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar. It was one of those moments where I internally thought, “Am I really doing this?” Going over to his apartment the first time, he began — very intensely. I had to interject, asking for a “warm-up.” I also realized I probably should give him some more info about why I wanted to be beaten, to experience deliberate physical pain in the form of floggers, canes, and other such tools of the trade.
When I first heard of seasonal affective disorder, something inside me clicked into place. Winter has never been easy for me, especially since moving to the Chicago region over a decade ago. I can handle the cold—to some extent, at least. I can even enjoy the snow. But the darkness... that's what gets to me. After the time change, my heart sinks. 4 p.m. is too early for it to be getting dark, and yet we cannot escape it. Darkness is a natural part of life's cycle, of life's order.
Emotions are different for each of us. Depression hits people with different degrees of intensity. And we all have our coping mechanisms—some healthy, some not. For some of us, our scars are visible. For others, they are buried deep within. Visceral. Unseen.
I’M LOSING MY FAITH IN ME
I CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I FELT FREE
FROM VOICES INSIDE MY HEAD
WHEN I TASTE LIBERATION, THEY JUST FEED ME FEAR INSTEAD
When I was growing up, I remember countless funerals where people would remark on the current state of the person being mourned. "She's with her Savior." "God called her home." "She's not in pain anymore." "It was her time." Back then, blanket statements used to bring me comfort. When your grandmother was one of fifteen siblings, and the generation before had almost as many, you went to a lot of funerals. Back then, I didn't ask questions.
When in the midst of being abused, whether physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually, there is no sense that one has control over the situation. My own abuse began when I was nine, and it wasn't until I was perhaps twenty that I spoke out and refused to be victimized any longer. Even once a person has stood up and defied abuse, the reality is you never stop doing so. You have to speak up, speak out, over and over and over again, because once you've been abused, it's hard to rid yourself of the fear of it happening again and again and again.
I talk to myself... a lot sometimes. Hell, every now and again, I even respond to myself. Sometimes the words I have to say are meaningless banter. Sometimes they're harsh criticism for something I've done, words I've spoken, or for simply just being me. But every so often, I speak kind words to myself. It's a rare (but ever-increasing) occurrence. After realizing just how hard I am on myself, I've begun to understand the value of self-directed affirmation. There are a few ways that I do this...
Last year, one of my dearest friends made a suggestion to me. I'd been struggling with both my body image and my intellectual capabilities. Additionally, my personal faith had been struggle. Her suggestion was a simple one, but more powerful than I would have thought. Every day, at least once, I was to look in the mirror and tell myself, "I'm sexy. I'm brilliant. I'm a Beloved child of the Divine." If speaking it wasn't enough, then I was to plaster my apartment with post-its filled with similar words. It sounded silly, and while I don't do it nearly as often these days, I'm able to discern when I need to reestablish this habit. When I do, it usually ends up being just as powerful.
Another way that I've learned to speak kindly to myself has been through solitude. It's easy for any of us living today to become caught up in the busyness of life. Meetings. Classes. Lectures. Homework. Relationships. Dates. Hookups. Bar-hopping. Dinner parties. Holiday gatherings. Shopping. You name it, and it can be used to keep us from spending time getting to know ourselves. Don't get me wrong, solitude often happens best alone. But even something as simple as riding the train without putting in the headphones or turning on the e-reader can make a difference. When we take the time to give notice to our thoughts and our feelings, we get a chance to know something new about ourselves, even if it's subtle and seemingly miniscule. It's a powerful thing when we make self-awareness a priority.
Finally, as odd as this may sound, I speak kindly to myself through taking care of my body. Admission: I am not a gym rat. I hate running. Lifting weights makes me awkward. But I enjoy taking walks with close friends, and within the past two months, I've developed a love for yoga. I stand close to the mirror in the studio, not so I can practice vanity, but so I can make sure I have proper form, but even more importantly, so I can spend close to an hour seeing myself for who and what I truly am. I'm able to see nearly every nook and cranny. I've learned to accept the reality of my barrel chest and broad shoulders, of my incapability of ever looking a particular way. As I reach the end of my yoga practice and flow into fetal pose, I often find myself gazing in the mirror with a smile. This simple gesture is a way of affirming the fight within me, the transformation I've allowed to take place.
We all need to hear kind words. Sometimes those are words unspoken. Sometimes they're written encouragement and affirmations. Sometimes is a smile seen in the mirror, the feel of one's heart racing and sweat dripping off of one's skin. The list is as long as we make it. This much is true: when we take the time to be kind to ourselves and to develop self-love, we're able to release that love into the world around us. When we let go of the busyness and the "stuff", we make it possible for our intentions and affections to be directed where they're really needed. The kindness we speak to ourselves becomes kindness we offer to the world.
We all tell ourselves different lies, probably on a daily basis. When we're confronted with the reality of this self-deception, well, it's awkward, uncomfortable, sometimes disarming. Unfortunately, for someone like me who seeks to be as authentic, rational, and emotionally stable as I possibly can, I go through cycles where I sit down and inventory the lies that run through my head on a regular basis, and then I start to attack them with logic, dispel them with rational thought... or at least I try. Here are some of the lies I find to be the most pervasive in my life...
1. I need someone in my life to be happy and to feel complete. This is probably the biggest one for me. I remember asking a friend once, "Where's your other half?" He very quickly responded, "He's not my other half. That would mean that I'm not a complete person in and of myself. That's not me." He's right, for the most part. I do believe that, as humans, we're made to be in relationship with others, to be a part of a community. That said, I know plenty of friends who are single and perfectly content. We're all whole people, even if we don't always feel like it. And unfortunately, whole does not necessarily mean without pain or brokenness, but while the process of healing is often helped by the presence of others, we never really need someone else to complete us.
2. I'm not beautiful because I don't have ... In a world and culture where media is constantly telling us what is and is not attractive, sometimes it's painstakingly difficult to find the beauty in yourself. At IML a couple of years ago (a kink/leather/rubber/fetish convention held in Chicago every Memorial Day), I was sitting out in the lobby with a friend of mine and my partner's. I believe it was my second time attending the convention, and being someone who makes vanilla soft serve look kinky at times, I felt out of place. I didn't feel as if I looked good in anything remotely skin tight. I wasn't into really anything there. I didn't feel attractive, and I shared this with our friend. He looked me straight in the face and said, "Sweetie, you have to realize that there are plenty of people who find what you've got goin on goin on." In a later conversation, he shared his belief that beauty is a fetish. Everyone is into something different, and sometimes, we have what someone else finds attractive, and they have what we find attractive. It was a pretty strong revelation, and certainly a new way of thinking about beauty.
3. Money is necessary for happiness. This one's a strong one for a lot of us. We live in a nation riddled with debt and obsessed with materialism. We watch shows about celebrities and the extravagant lives they lead. We walk by stores that display things we want but would have to starve to have. For most of us though, it feels like we can never have enough money. We live paycheck to paycheck. Unfortunately, money is a necessity, but I've learned something over the past couple of years. Last summer, my grandma passed away, and much to my surprise, had prepared for me in a way I could and would never have imagined. I was concerned for myself afterwards that I would waste it all and go on a sickening shopping binge, and while I have done some indulging, I've honestly found more joy in doing for others. Yes, I know that this is not a possibility for many of us. But the lesson is simple, at least from my perspective. It really doesn't take a lot of money to make one happy, not when one understands that it's the people in our lives that bring true contentment.
4. I can eat whatever I want and I'll be fine. After two and a half weeks of watching my calorie intake and exercising three days a week, I've learned what difference a little intentionality about eating and physical health can make. I've also learned that overindulging on those things that are unfortunately not so good can make me feel, well, pretty crappy. I've been amazed to see some pretty drastic changes both in my appearance and in my energy levels since tracking my food and exercise. Granted, for someone like me who can become slightly obsessive over things like this, it's hard. In times like that, it helps having someone there to pull you back out of the madness, sit down at the table for a meal with you, and remind you that there's more to life than the numbers on the scale.
5. Healthy relationships happen when I keep my mouth shut, my ideas to myself, and my feelings bottled up. Anyone with any amount of common sense sees the deception present here. Good relationships take mutuality, and nothing good can come from one person feeling unimportant or silenced. Unfortunately, some of us grow up thinking our emotions matter less than someone else's. It's important for any friendship or partnership for there to be a sense of equality, even if it's in a constant state of flux. We all give, and we all take, and it's vital to feel as if what one receives is comparable to what one gives. This probably differs between introverts and extroverts (I'm the former), but the idea is the same. Everyone needs validation, and no one has the right to take that away.