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“Grounded and Ready To Soar”: Notes From the 2013 CFC Retreat

14 Jan
CFs gathered in a circle talking

Grounded and ready to soar, #retreat2013

The business of our everyday lives (jobs, mothering, aunt-ing, loving and making love, creating and tearing down (oppressions), building and holding up, going in and coming out, taking care of ourselves and others, etc.) has been strenuous over the past 23 months. The CFC has grown exponentially since our March 2010 launch. In 2012 we added 127 new blog posts and our blog had over 1 million views with visitors from 212 countries (thank you!). We have nearly 12,400 likes on Facebook, active Tumblr and Twitter accounts, and our blogs are regularly re-posted on other sites (thank you!). We have attended conferences and symposia, sat on panels together, collaborated on academic work, done speaking engagements and workshops, and generally contributed to and helped shape the conversations that are happening in our online and offline communities–but it has been a long time since the CFs have all gathered together in one space.

CFs SheriDF, moyazb and Crunktastic putting up the CFC sign

Representing the CFC

CF Chanel strikes serious pose

This is what crunk looks like!

With the generous support and assistance of CFC Supporters who contributed to our 2012 Giving Campaign, and a grant from the Media Equity Collaborative we were able to finalize and fund our second retreat for early January 2013 in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

We learned from our first mountain adventure (in 2011) that we should plan to be up the mountain before dark so we planned accordingly.  We shopped for groceries a day early, arrived in town sooner than needbe, and “packed light” (E. Badu). Our timeline, while somewhat flexible, indicated that we would meet in Atlanta, at CF Sheri’s house, at 12:30 on Friday afternoon, and plan to be on the road by 2 o’clock. We arrived from various pulse points in our lives, the farthest driving up from Lousiana (by way of Jersey), the farthest flying down from the northeast. Nine CFs were able to attend the retreat: Sheri, Moya, Susana, Eesha, Brittney, Asha, Chanel, Crunkista, and Robin (me). We also had our two beautiful baby girls in tow, CBs Asali and Cori Rain (or as Asali says Co-rane).

Once we were all in the same place we hugged, talked, put on our CFC sweatshirts (thanks Sheri), laughed and shook off the exhaustion of a long week. Only a few of us were meeting for the first time while others reconnected and grinned as we unpacked and repacked cars with car seats, groceries, luggage, supplies, and a drum.

We left Atlanta at 2:15 (only 15 minutes behind schedule), two cars deep and leg-to-leg close as we ventured to north Georgia for our rendezvous. We stopped in a small town on the way (where CF Robin’s risqué t-shirt proclaiming what she doesn’t give a fill in the blank about inspired suspicious looks from the local folk who seemed a little alarmed and a little confused when brown body after brown body emerged from a mini-van and SUV) to break bread at Longhorn. We ate quick meals, taking the time, when it was available, to touch and love on each other, passing our babies back and forth transferring strength to strength and love to love. By the time we got to north Georgia there was some sunlight and light rain to travel with us up the mountain. Mountain miles feel like journeys. The steep turns and narrow roads make for lost time as we waited what seemed like hours to go from a stop sign to a railroad track to the world’s shortest (car length) cover bridge (made of four by fours). A trek up a mountain in near dark conditions is never uneventful, especially when there are cars coming down the mountain as you are going up. Our stop-and-go, mountain curvy ride ended in front of our three story cabin fully equipped with a wrap-around porch, hot tub, and what we knew would be a beautiful view in the morning. We unpacked and the party started. Moya, our resident DJ, put on the Friday night remix and announced, as it played in the background, that the “I Wanna Be Down Remix” by Brandy featuring MC Lyte is her ish… (it was ours too).

CF Sheri, Moyazb, EeshaP and Crunktastic pose together

Thick as thieves

6 CFs pose for a picture outside at the mountains

Quick…strike an old school pose!

We paired off and looked around the house, picked the beds we would sleep in, and ate snacks before congregating in the open living room for official retreat business. Meanwhile Asali and I tagged ourselves crunk feminists with blue post it notes while Sheri wrote out our Saturday Schedule and Crunkista (“the baby whisperer”) and Eesha bonded with Cori Rain. Asha, Chanel, Moya and Susana christened our cuddle couch (the comfortable corner couch we designated for cuddling) while Brittney rebelled, sitting in a single recliner and declaring her intent to avoid the cuddle couch (cc) all weekend. We spread ourselves out, caught our breath, and got our bearings before we gathered in close and did a check-in ritual (breathing deep, saying how we felt in that moment, how we hoped to feel at the end of the weekend, and one thing that our CFs probably didn’t know about us). From our first-night sharing we realized that many of us came to the space emotionally and physically tired.  We needed affirmation, recognition, inspiration and sisterlove. We discussed and adapted our agenda, set up an altar (CF Sheri did a reading from Homegrown by bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains about the cultural functions of altars), assigned roles (timekeeping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and talked about our emotional triggers, pinpointing the ways our relational lenses and communication styles are influenced by our astrological charts. Our commitment, for the weekend, was to discuss concerns and improvements, plan editorial content for the year, and envision the world we want to see (for ourselves, the collective, and the babies).

CFs relax on comfortable couch

The “Cuddle Couch”

CF Robin and CF Eesha with their laptops

Vision work

On Saturday morning we had a hearty breakfast of sweet potato waffles, fritatas, scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, bacon and fruit. We spent the morning reviewing and visioning which included reflecting on the success and growth of the past year (reviewing) and then shifting to how we can create the world we want to see (visioning). We started with a long conversation about the Collective’s values and principles and committed to ensure that the work and outreach we do is continually guided by those beliefs. In particular we decided that we want our work to be inclusive (recognizing the nuances of what that means), to honor the voices and work of our feminist foremothers, to be grounded in the intellectual traditions of black feminist thought, to incorporate self-care and soul-nourishment, to shape conversations, to contribute to our professional and personal development, and to concretely build our audiences and communities. We designed the editorial calendar for 2013, talked about digital literacies (including the launch of the soon-coming website and our forthcoming digital video series) and made intentional plans for self-care and growth over the next year.

CF Crunkadelic and CF Moya relaxing on the couch

Cuddle Couch, Take 2

Before dinner we drank wine and left over margaritas and then ate homemade pizza, salad, and Susana’s delicious chocolate buttercream cupcakes (also known as Audre Lorde Have Mercy Cake). With a sleeping Asali and Cori Rain we gathered for late night woman talk. Sheri twisted Brittney’s hair, Moya posted pictures from our session and we passed around extra cupcakes and bonded over good wine. We shared secrets and talked about everything from politics and popular culture (Scandal) to feminist sex and our desires for the new year (shouts out to Susana for writing an impromptu ballad, On The Kitchen Table).  We talked into the wee hours of the morning (3AM) knowing we had an early check out the next day (8AM alarm).

CF Chanel and Cori Rain

Crunk Mama

Sunday morning breakfast was continental and last minute showers, packing, and cleaning swallowed the first few hours of our day. Our only business was to wrap ourselves up in the space we created, flourishing in grown woman and baby girl love and intentionality. We closed out our retreat with a blessing for Cori Rain. We got in a circle, took a collective breath, played some Nina Simone, and serenaded Cori Rain with well wishes and blessings to the brilliant beat of Sheri’s drum. We ended with two final words from each CF, the first to describe how she felt in that moment and the second to describe what she would be taking out into the world from our brief time together. CF Eesha’s final words, which were the final words spoken in the circle, resonated with us all. Her words collectively described how we all felt in that moment and what we would all do when we left each other to face the world. With a self-assured smile and early morning eyes she said, “Grounded. Soaring.” Indeed.

Four CFs showing off the CFC Sweatshirt logo

“We Take Our Feminism Crunk”

You Made it Happen! An Update on our Giving Campaign

14 Dec

balloons

Hey, family! We just wanted to thank you for all of your support of our giving campaign. With your generous donations we will be able to have a fabulous, energizing retreat that will enable us to continue to do the work we love and to dream up new and innovative ways to get crunk! Your contributions have made the following possible:

  • Two nights lodging in a cabin for several CFs
  • Childcare for several crunk kids (the future!)
  • Transportation for an East Coast CF to join the rest of the folks down south

And more! Special shouts out go to the Media Equity Collaborative who recently awarded the CFC with a grant. We so appreciate the work that you do and your support of our work.

Basically, it’s a love fest up in here.

Now, if y’all are still feeling generous and you have a dollar or two to share (or some Frequent Flyer, SkyMiles, or reward points) feel free to click the “donate” button at the top of the screen. Every little bit goes toward the tangible workings of our collective. Thank you!

Love,

The CFC

Chasing Time: A Reflection of Thanks(giving)

19 Nov

Time flies whether you are having fun or not.  My childhood seemed to linger like thick molasses while my twenties flew by like short school days.  Before I knew it I was post-30, highly educated, minimally motivated, hundreds of miles away from home but finally at home with myself.  When I turned thirty I had all kinds of epiphanies.  I woke up loving myself some myself, and intentionally purging negativity (thoughts, people, pain) out of my life.  For the first time in what seemed like forever I wasn’t afraid of what that might mean.  Affiliations be damned.  So-called friends be damned.  Popularity be damned.  I was going to speak my mind, tell my truths, and let the chips fall where they may.  They fell, but there was no destruction.  Coming into myself was a beautiful process that I am still walking in unapologetically.

On the brink of another year it seems like just yesterday that I was ringing in 2012 in my mother’s living room.  There was no wine, no fireworks, no benediction , no kiss on the lips at midnight, just me and my family staying up long enough to say we did, and greeting each other and the new year with hopeful anticipation of realized dreams…finally!  This would be THE YEAR (just like 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, you get the picture), which was the echoed mantra I internalized year after year at New Year’s Eve church services and sermons that promised me a renewal of my dreams if I just believed…and waited.  So I have believed and waited, but I am shifting my expectations because the process of waiting is exhausting.  And sometimes when you  have been waiting what has been years and feels like lifetimes you think that perhaps you have been doing it wrong.  Maybe I didn’t believe good enough.  Maybe my waiting was not good enough.  But in reality it was.  I have had several accomplishments this year, but they are not necessarily the ones that “count” in the eyes of others.

I have been struggling lately with not knowing what to hope for when throwing borrowed pennies in wishing wells and laying on bended knees begging for something I don’t know I really want or need.  The world tells me I am supposed to want what they say I should want as a woman (i.e., marriage, children, etc.).   Society prescribes the things we are supposed to hope for, pray for, wish for, and wait for.  But what happens when the hoping and the praying and the wishing and the waiting never yields results, or is different from people’s expectations?

Despite my successes, a lot of times people feel sorry for me when they realize I am single with no babies.  When I say I am happy, they don’t believe me.  They feel sorry for me.  They assume that my extended singleness must have me tripping ‘cause they don’t know of any blackgirls who aren’t checking for marriage or being somebody’s mama.  I guess I’m different.  I didn’t grow up fantasizing about weddings or picking out baby names.   But then again, I was a morbid child, and marriage and pregnancy was too ubiquitous to mean anything significant then.

I am at the age that when  I go home and see folk I haven’t seen in a while they ask if I am married.  No.  Engaged?  No.  Seeing somebody special?  Not really.  Well, what am I waiting for?  I’m not waiting for anything.  Don’t I want children?  Maybe, not necessarily.  Don’t I know time is running out?  All the time.  My biological clock ticks like a time bomb.  So, can I introduce you to somebody?  Hell no. I’m good. Folk don’t know what to do with me and my progressive ideas.  My answers don’t sound quite right, they say with expressions, not words.  Well, what does your Mama say?  Nothing, I’m grown.  I can’t help but look down at myself when I remind them that I am not a child, to make sure the grownasswoman body I walked in with was still the one that was visible. I love the way countryfolk think children, regardless of their age, can be admonished into submission and/or compliance by a parent.

As we near the end of another year, and I brace myself for the curious questions and inevitable disappointment in my responses, I am reminded that the things that make me feel most significant and/or uncomfortable are part of the process of growth.  I don’t have to feel like something is wrong (with me), or that my life doesn’t measure up because it is different.  This year, like last year and next year, I am going to be fully myself and see what happens.  A lot can change in a year’s time.  Love, marriage, and having babies doesn’t take a lifetime, but self-love, inner peace, and stability has taken me every year of my life until now.  I am going to focus on the latter.

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way

30 Oct

Listen, this isn’t what I expected: adult-onset acne, speech and eating disorders. I would have been struck dumb had you asked me to forecast these grown-up times in my ponytailed private school days. I daydreamed a lot but my imagined life was clipped: a timid choose your own adventure whose stalled plot was as foreseeable as it is now disappointing. And in running from that neuroses-made valley I am daily acquainted with pain, fired in it and conscripted to lay poultices on the skin of my kiln mates.

Girl on fire is a punchline in the ‘buked wail of Alicia Keys’ failed instrument, a dirge when we get stuck, when we forget Smokey’s advice. Just last week it was a black woman’s willful hell, an extreme, yes, and emblem of other private purgatories. But let’s call it our ignition and start: “sail through this to that” by Lucille Clifton’s consecration, by recognition of our own peerlessness. I heard a soprano lift Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats” in a New England parlor last week and I teared up despite my liquid eyeliner. My teacup tottered on a saucer at my boots and for those few minutes I threw it all away. It can all be better with a song. This is what I know, why I push the fader. Well, I also like to dance.

When Dilla refigured Junie’s “Tight Rope,” I’d like to think he was broadcasting more than his genius. “You have come so far, you’ve got so far to go” respects the process, the jerky choreography of our time. These songs wobble something similar. Try and catch the beat.

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way 

“Ghost” Alecia Chakour & The Osrah
“Popular/ Count’s Coda” Van Hunt
“That Girl” Esthero
“So Far” Georgia Anne Muldrow
“Find A Place To Live” Newban
“Find Your Way” Dionne Farris
“Love Me Instead” Melinda Camille
“Lost Where I Belong” Andreya Triana
“The Song of Loving/Kindness” Gary Bartz
“Long As You’re Living” Elizabeth Shepherd
“It’s Our World” Gil Scott-Heron
“I Know Myself” The Sylvers
“Faith” Faith Evans
“Devotion” Ledisi
“Beautiful” Joy Jones

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

On Anger…

1 Oct

This post does not contain images because I don’t want to animate the stereotype, but in Google image searches for “Sapphire” and “Angry Black Woman,” Michelle Obama was prominently featured.

In a brilliantly provocative paper at ASALH this year, Dr. Gwendolyn Pough invited us to rethink the black woman stereotype of Sapphire, the emasculating black bitch who’s always ready to fight. Pough notes that the “angry black woman” is the least investigated of the stereotypes of black women and the one people are most likely to assume is true. Pough’s paper was a jumping off point for a lively discussion about the political utility of black women’s anger and the questions it raised reverberate in my mind. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, also had the uses of anger on her mind and wrote a piece for Womenetics, imploring black women to get angry and use their intellectual gifts to create the world we want.

Anger has been a really tough emotion for me to grasp. When I was little, my anger wasn’t valid because I was a child. As I got older, the sapphire script was something I actively avoided. It seemed that as a dark skinned black girl, I was always already being told that I was angry. I smiled a lot. I learned to self silence to the point that I don’t even always tell friends when little things hurt my feelings. I didn’t express anger, opting for sadness with no tears, as opposed to righteous indignation.

On a recent flight from Ithaca to Atlanta, I was subjected to additional searching. This included the TSA officer taking my lunch, a burrito, out of the paper bag it was in and swiping the chemical detection cloth over the paper bag and foil covered burrito, putting the burrito into the small tray for wallets and pocket change and running it through the conveyered x-ray machine two times. Needless to say none of the other passengers I saw who had food were subjected to the same. I was livid. Ithaca has a small airport and all the other passengers on my flight witnessed this extra search of my things. I was so flustered, I dropped my hat and it was the other black passenger who pointed to where it was. I was hot with anger and embarrassment but I didn’t say anything. I called a friend and we discussed the incident briefly, coming up with non-confrontational things I could have said like, “Wow, so people are trying to hide things in food now?”  I couldn’t think of anything in the moment. I swallowed the incident down and boarded the plane.

I worry about this now default reaction of mine when confronted with moments like this. While the incident itself wasn’t physically violent, I felt it in my body. I got hot; my stomach churned. I had some kind of internal reaction the incident that left me feeling unwell. This doesn’t happen every time of course but microaggressions are sometimes so frequent, it’s hard to gauge their impact. There are black women and other women of color in my life who have had bouts with or sucumbs to cancer that I link to this swallowing down of the daily assaults on our personhood. It adds up and that ish is toxic.

Sheri Randolph, a panelist with Pough, also mentioned colorism as it related to anger as the people mentioned in the talk, Melissa Harris Perry, June Jordan, Audre Lorde were all lighter skinned Black women whose anger erupted in the public sphere. Was/is there more room for their anger than mine? I try to think of dark skinned black women’s anger in public and how it is read and what seems to be different is the assumption of anger initially. Michelle Obama has perhaps never lost her cool but is always already assumed to be angry. But as an audience member in the room said, “Anger darkens,” meaning any expression of anger moves you further to the dark side of the color line. Both Jordan and Lorde died of cancer though, so whatever room they had was not enough.

One audience member during the session reminded us that because even speaking directly or pointedly as a Black woman is read as anger, many of us hold back and suppress feelings in general. This silence won’t protect us but it seems like it is harming us as well. This blog is a safe space for my anger but I need more than this corner of the internet to unfurl my tongue and release my truths.

Throwback Thursday Remix: How to Say No…And When to Say Yes!

20 Sep

(This entry combines a previous entry, dated March 14, 2011, with a new reflection).

Saying No

It took me years to unlearn the habit of saying yes automatically when someone asked me for (or to do) something. So often had that single syllable fallen from my tongue that I would often agree to things before people even asked.  In time I realized that I had spoiled the people around me to the point that they assumed I owed them a response of agreement, no matter how inconvenient and unreasonable it was. Many times, if I was unable to concede, they would be agitated and annoyed—and I would feel guilty. To this day I find that when I tell someone no, even a stranger, they seem surprised, almost offended, at my nerve.

And perhaps it is nerve. And the fact that saying yes all the time got on my very last one, and kept me on edge. I would say yes because as a self-described superwoman and strongblackwoman it was the only word I knew to say. I would say yes because I was flattered at the request(s), anxious to people please, and focused on making other people happy. I would say yes because it felt like the right thing to do, the polite reply to any well-intentioned question, and evidence that I was a good/nice/sweet/reliable/thoughtful/friendly/generous person. I would say yes because I felt like people were taking score, and I wanted to always be on the plus side (even though, like most people who perpetually say yes, I hardly ever asked anyone for anything). But the yeses nearly took me out. I realized that saying yes to everyone else was in essence saying no to myself. No, my personal time and space wasn’t important. No, sleep was optional and it was reasonable to expect me to accomplish multiple tasks in a day. No, I don’t deserve a moment to breathe or a moment of reprieve.

When I learned to say no, I realized that it did not require an explanation and that “No” is an adequate one word response. There didn’t have to be a substantial reason why. No. I didn’t need an excuse or grand reason that I didn’t want to participate in an event, or guest lecture in a class, or attend a workshop, or go to dinner, or review this book or this article, or go out on a date, or join a club or support group, or be a mentor/advisor/reader. No.

Sometimes it (the no) is because I am simply tired, overwhelmed, depressed, moody, PMSing, jonesing, or otherwise distracted. Other times it is because my plate is already full, overflowing with the residue of other unintentional or well-meaning yeses. And sometimes, it is because I simply don’t want to, don’t have any interest or desire to, and would prefer to indulge in doing something else or nothing at all.

No, I don’t have other plans or a laundry list of chores to accomplish first;

No, I am not sick or bedridden;

No, I don’t have a deadline or a stack of papers to grade;

No, I’m not caking or sexing or crying;

No, I just don’t want to.

I don’t feel like it.

I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it. I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill. I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time. No, no, no, no, no!

So, in the spirit of knowing how to say no… I have the following suggestions that I have learned over the years (post 30):

1. Always say “no” first. Do not allow “yes” to be your default answer. It is easier to go back later and say yes, than it is to go back later and say no.

2. Never agree to do something on the spot. Always take some time to think about it and consider whether or not it is going to be an imposition. If it is, say no.

3. Limit yourself on how many things you agree to do (beyond your comfort zone) every month/semester/year, etc. I say “yes” to three things beyond my regular responsibilities every academic semester. After that, I almost always (depending on the request) say no. NOTE: I said beyond my regular responsibilities, which already leave me with limited personal time.

4. Never compromise your peace. If you have a full plate, acknowledge it. Don’t try to overcompensate for a previous “no” with a present “yes.” Never agree to do something you are not comfortable doing or that will stretch you beyond your limits. You do not owe anybody anything!

5. If you have a choice (and clearly, sometimes, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, we don’t), reserve the right to decline or say no.

6. Save some “yeses” for yourself. Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own. Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then. Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself. Take care of yourself.

7. Don’t apologize for saying no. You have every right to decline a request or refuse an opportunity. You should not feel like you are doing something wrong, being rude, disrespectful, or obstinate. No is the other option to yes. It is a neutral response, neither positive or negative (regardless of the requestor’s reaction).

8. It is not a sin to change your mind. Don’t feel locked into something just because you may have agreed to do it in the past. Circumstances change. Your #1 obligation should be to yourself.

Saying Yes

After reviewing my “no” list, at the near end of a painstakingly stressful week of long days and short nights, I realized that while it is important to know how to say no, it is equally important to know when to say yes.  Here are some reasons to say yes:

1. Say yes if/when you are being offered a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Last year I traveled to South America in August and went on a 7-day cruise with my maternal family for Thanksgiving, two things I almost declined doing because of the physical and financial costs.  When I thought about the uniqueness of each opportunity, and how I may never have the same chance again, I said yes.

2. Say yes when saying yes makes you feel good.  Whether it be indulging in a sinful dessert, buying the bad-ass shoes, or making love, give in to your cravings when possible. And let others love on/take care of you.

3. Say yes when saying yes can/will make a positive difference in someone’s life (including your own).  Sometimes something seemingly insignificant to you can have a lasting impact on someone else.  And sometimes the smallest effort on your part can make a significant difference in your future.

4. Say yes when you really want to say yes.  While I don’t think we should ever say yes out of some sense of responsibility, if you want to say yes, you should!  There have been times I have been tempted to say no just for the hell of it, or because I was already over-committed, or because I didn’t want to seem too available, or because I didn’t want to seem over-eager, or because I wanted to give someone else the opportunity, or because I felt guilty for having declined a different invitation (see #3 of The No List), or out of concern about what someone else may think/say.  At the end of the day, if it is something you want to do, something that will make you happy, do it!

5. Say yes when it is the opportunity to do something you have never done before.  Be open to new experiences. (Hike a mountain…why not!?!)

6. Say yes when saying yes can benefit your overall health and well being (i.e., yoga, juicing, massage, exercise).  Sometimes saying yes is saying no… yes to healthy choices, is no to unhealthy ones.

7. If it has anything to do with your Mama… say yes!

8.  If there is ever a conflict between the yeses and the no’s (meaning you feel conflicted or uneasy and/or you feel ambivalent) say no!!  A guilt-inspired or unenthusiastic yes is really a silent no.  Say your no’s out loud (so people can hear them)!

9. Always revert to #1, 2, 3, 6, 7 & 8 of The No List.

Here’s a little Destiny’s Child to bring this throwback flashback full circle.

Memories, survival and safety

27 Aug

TRIGGER WARNING This post contains information about sexual violence that may be triggering to survivors.

I know if feels like I been gone for a minute but now I’m back, green tea on ice with a fitted. :)

Mi familia, it has been a while since I last posted. I have to be honest, for a while it didn’t feel safe to write for the blog. I am an extremely private person. So private that even Facebook gives me the creeps. Consequently, it felt like writing for the collective and speaking frankly about my experiences, thoughts, doubts, fears and feelings exposed me more than I felt comfortable with. Most folk don’t really understand that this ish right here is not easy. We expose our true selves regularly and though we have many wonderful and thoughtful fans, there are those who often cross the line and say many unnecessary and hurtful things. At the end of the day, we are all just real people with real feelings. We’re also real sensitive about our shit.

I have been thinking about what to write for a very long time, six months to be exact. Every single time I thought about a topic, it felt like I was exposing too much of myself. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear: writing sometimes makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable. These emotions are often difficult for me to deal with. They bring back unwanted memories. The first time I felt this way I was eleven years old.

It was father’s day and I was at my grandparent’s house for the summer. All of the grown folks were drinking and playing card games. I remember going up to my grand parents and saying that I was going to go to bed, that I was scared to be in the house by myself and asking them not to take long before they too retreated for the night.

I went to bed, fell asleep and woke up with my grandfather on top of me. His hands were all over me as he licked my face and repeated, “suck on my tongue.”  I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t even scream. At some point, my grandmother opened the door to the house. Once he heard the sound of the door opening, he quickly got off of me and jumped into the bed he shared with her.

He did not rape me. However, he did scar me for life. He stole my childhood and all of the childhood innocence I once had. From that moment on I understood that there was evil in the world. I was so ashamed of what happened that I didn’t tell anyone. For years, I blamed myself and wished I had had the courage to tell someone, anyone of what he was capable of. To make matters worse, I blamed myself – convinced that I was a bad little girl. Sadly, my child logic told me that God, wouldn’t let this happen to me had I been a good little girl.

It took years for me to realize that it was not my fault; that I was just a child; that the adults that were supposed to take care of me failed; and that he was the one to blame. The Church taught me that there was great power in forgiveness and I made an honest attempt to forgive him. I convinced myself that alcohol made him do it. Sadly, that was not the truth and I received a rude awakening at the age of fifteen. I was at my mother’s apartment doing my homework while a movie starring Tom Cruise played in the background. I was sitting in the living room couch and from the corner of my eyes could see my grandfather fidgeting in his seat. At one point Mr. Cruise kissed the female lead and my grandfather looked over and said, “Do you remember when we did that?” He said those words with pride. That is when I realized that I could never forgive him for what he did to me. I remember screaming at him, going to my room, calling my best friend and having a panic attack. After that incident, I decided to tell my mother. When I told her, she yelled at me and asked me why I hadn’t told her sooner. She expressed anger at my silence because I had a little sister and he may have done the same to her or to others. [Note: this is NEVER an appropriate response. It is never the responsibility of children to protect other children. That is what adults are for.]

My grandfather died of prostate cancer a few years after that incident. I remember trying to console my mother for her loss while being very angry at God for giving him that much time on this earth. Unfortunately, I was not the only one damaged by his actions. Other women have come out and admitted that he fondled them as well.

My story is a very complex one. I was abused by my grandfather at an early age and was later forced to live with him after the abuse had occurred. I couldn’t tell anyone, but in hindsight the clues that I was abused were always there, the adults around me just didn’t know what to do with the information. We often don’t know what to do with child abusers in our families or our communities. That is a sad truth.

The story does not end there. My grandfather was not the only one to abuse me; there were babysitters and family friends who also stepped out of line and fondled me. The memories are fuzzy. For a very long time I was haunted by my lack of childhood memories. In my mid twenties I inexplicably started crying without reason or provocation and decided to seek therapy. Even at the therapist’s office, I just couldn’t keep it together. I discovered that the crying episodes had to do with the fact that there was so much I couldn’t remember. I was horrified about the fact that my subconscious blocked away five years of memories. What could be so horrific that my subconscious would lock it all away? What would happen to me if I were to remember all of it? Would the memories break me? My therapist reassured me that I didn’t have to remember and that I was safe now. I found that to be quite liberating and only then was I able to stop crying. Thank goodness for therapy.

I am better now but I often have nightmares. There is no rhyme or reason to when they come, they just do. In fact, my girlfriend recently revealed to me that I often quietly sob in my sleep. I do not want to make this post longer than it already is but need to be clear that there are a lot of details to my story that I am not including here. It is nearly impossible to package our stories in neat and linear boxes. Although, I am a survivor of child abuse, this does not define me. This story is complex. My story is complex. I am complex.

I am sharing this story because I think there is power in sharing your truths. I do not live in fear anymore. I am indeed safe. I hope with all of my heart that other victims of sexual abuse can one day say the same.

The following are some facts about child abuse:

1)   While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or trusted individuals. Child molesters, pedophiles and perpetrators are everywhere: they are parents, grandparents, family members, teachers, neighbors and friends.

2)   Oftentimes survivors of child abuse are forced to see their abusers regularly.

3)   Perpetrators know how to identify their victims. Consequently, victims of sexual abuse are often vulnerable to abuse by multiple people.

4)   Most child abuse cases go unreported.

5)   There are often many signs that a child is suffering from abuse.

6)   It takes a lot of courage to tell anyone that you have been a victim of abuse.

7)   It is never okay to blame the victim.

8)   If you or someone you love has suffered because of abuse, please know that there are many resources out there:

~Crunkista

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