I find humor in most things, guaranteed to insert a rap lyric into our conversation (especially if it's getting too serious), sleep and food are my best friends. I'm married to THE most patient man, mom to THE kindest (smartest and most handsome) kid, a bit of a business owner (@our.words.matter), and a future (full-time) writer. Find me on IG (@jamiewshngtn) and say hi!
Remember the first time you knew what love was? The innocent, no hesitation kind of love. The one that had no frame of reference for heartbreak, but literally survived on 'this is what life is meant to be'. Then the terrible, awful happened. Some level of disappointment seeped in and changed the game; heartbreak found you and it altered what love, trust, and maybe even self-worth looked like.
How do we get back to that innocent, fearless love?
As I examine the residual layers of my experiences with trauma — insecurity, worthiness, and brokenness, I am learning that there's no getting back to fearless love because it never left. It's just deeply buried and waiting to be activated. Underneath hurt and shame, there's a deep well of love that could never fully be tapped into because my heart was once mismanaged. I found it hard to trust someone else to handle the most fragile muscle I have. I knew that I had holes in my heart that I wanted filled but trusting someone to pour love into those holes meant that I'd have to trust them to hold my heart carefully. That was not something I could handle.
As a young girl trying to find peace within discomfort, trauma held my hand and guided me into survival mode.
My therapist pointed out that years of holding onto that trauma and not properly processing its pain left me with no capacity to embrace, or even adjust, to my current environment. One that is safe and ready to be filled with love and trust. Instead, I'd trained myself to become emotionally detached from anyone that showed signs of wanting to love me or showed signs that they could be trusted — an avoidant attachment style (sounds so cold-hearted, doesn't it?). Friendships included, your girl was not interested in being close with or loved by anyone! I'd learned to live my life with one foot in and the other foot out of all relationships that way I'd have an easy escape from the mere possibility of being hurt.
Romantically, I'd even gone so far as to believing that if we did not have a label on the connection, then its ending would be painless. Eventually, but still immature, I began to believe that even if we put a label on it, I could give just enough of my heart away to show that I'm committed but not enough to leave me hurt should the relationship not last.
This unhealthy, fearful love has had a pretty lengthy shelf-life in my marriage.
Keeping people at a distance doesn't work; I've hurt myself, possibly more than someone else could have but also the person I love. Allowing fear and insecurity to lead how I love, it's impacted my marriage in a way that periodically has my husband ask if it's his fault that I find it hard to love him as much as he loves me.
That's painful. I can't protect us both. I can't protect me from a possibility that may never happen, and I can't protect him from being hurt as I occasionally pull away. The more I do the work required to heal old wounds, the more I realize that the ones that broke my heart are not going to be the ones to heal me. It won't even be the love of an amazingly patient life partner that will mend my broken pieces.
It is the love I feed myself that will fill those holes. It's an inside job of setting a standard for what love means to me, instead of a fierce avoidance of pain being my compass.
It's being able to accept all of who I am, as I am; knowing my worth and being patient with myself on the journey. Once that is secure, then I'll be able to discern who is deserving of all the love I have to give, instead of closing everyone out.
In a recent conversation with my Pastor about love and trust, she explained when they don't come naturally, we must intentionally make the choice to love and trust others until it becomes our default setting. It will mean making the tough decision to be vulnerable when I'd much rather be guarded and merely survive; it's up to me to choose to receive and give the deepest love I have to offer. For many reasons, but most importantly, it's what my heart naturally wants to do. No matter how much pain my heart has felt, if I'm honest, I still have a strong desire to love so freely, it has become the only way I know how to live.
Just like all muscles, our hearts must be exercised.
Of course, we want to limit the pain our hearts may encounter, but by trying to section off access to our hearts, we're also taking away the light it needs to flourish and the joy it needs to feel. We're most alive when we allow our hearts to do its job — to love completely. Didn't you feel free when you loved and trusted wholeheartedly, instead of the time(s) when you tried to love with one foot in and the other foot on the gas, ready to cut all ties at the first sign of trouble?
The second time around may not feel as pure as the first time, but it's up to us to allow it to be as pure as possible. When we add our past traumas, we begin to diminish the possibility of loving fearlessly.
A healed heart makes room for fearless love.
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Editor's Note: If you're a sexual abuse or assault survivor, the following personal essay could be potentially triggering to you. If you find yourself in need of help or assistance, please contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I was 12 when I was molested by mom's boyfriend. I broke the age-old vow, what happens in our household, stays in our household, when I told my mentor what happened. My mom found out about it when a Child Protective Services worker came to our house to interview me in our living room.
On my way home to tell a complete stranger what happened, in the car alone with one of my uncles, he warned me that by telling the truth I'd be the reason why I'd get taken from my mom and she could go to jail.
As I sat on the same couch where pieces of my innocence were stolen and hearing the voices of family members in the next room, I listened to my Uncle's advice and chose to save my mom instead of telling my truth.
I'm 33 now. We never discussed what happened. None of us — her, him, nor my uncle. She stayed in the relationship with him while he continued to live with us. Feeling like I had to suppress anything I felt about being molested and having to hide it from everyone, I tried journaling my way through the shame and disappointment I felt.
In my mind lived questions about whether I did something to make him want to touch me — was I too comfortable at home, wearing something around the house that was too revealing; did I laugh too much at his jokes so he thought I was flirting; did I do anything that made him think I wanted him to do what he did? That has been a heavy load to carry.
A few years later, one evening during a heated argument of theirs, my mama told him that she believed he'd molested me but at that time she loved him more than she loved me. Without missing a beat and sticking true to our unspoken rule on how to address important conversations, we never discussed it. I already didn't know how to tell her I was still hurting from the hands of the man that had been in our lives since I was about seven years old. How could I tell her that her words were equally painful?
It was hard living in the same space as him and beginning to believe that I was less important, it was unbearable to hear her validate how I'd felt.
Without having real-life healthy relationships, living in that dysfunction was the foundation of deciding to dodge love. I was too young to know that her version of love was really codependency. I was old enough to know, though, if that was love, then I didn't want it. With my adolescent wisdom, I believed that love would lead me to make illogical decisions that hurt innocent people.
Much too young to make these kind of decisions, I'd told myself that I'd never give my heart to a man and I'd never allow people to get too close to me (so much so, this is the first time that I'm actually exposing my entire truth to people that I've known for years — I've perfected the art of keeping people at a distance). My coping mechanism was to build a wall around my heart.
For me, if I wasn't enough for my mama to choose me, then how could I be enough for anyone else?
After sweeping my shame, confusion, and hurt under the rug while battling anxiety and trying to recover from vivid nightmares over the years, it took me becoming a mom to feel the desire to address my childhood traumas. Initially, it was too late, or so I thought, because my abuser and my mama were already deceased. For years I thought getting an apology from them was what I needed to move on. In reality, God and therapy are how I found closure.
Oftentimes, we're led to believe that closure and healing begins with a conversation with those that wound us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The closure we need comes from within. A couple of months ago I spoke with an aunt about my mom, asking her questions to gain a better understanding of my mom.
The more questions I asked, the more I realized that I don't need the answers to continue on my journey to heal. Just like there are answers that may help us, there are also answers that may hurt us. Giving myself permission to truly feel, acknowledge the pain I felt from him and her, trusting God, and fully diving into therapy, were pivotal in me being able to forgive them.
In therapy, I was challenged to change how I told my story to myself. Instead of it being laced with any traces of shame, embarrassment, or defeat, to find the empowering parts and speak them; speak highly of how I fought back and give less value to the abuse itself.
Even though I overheard her saying that she loved him more at the time of the molestation, it does not mean that she never loved me. In a vulnerable moment with her partner, she exposed herself to her weakness. It's not my job to carry that. While it hurt and altered how I've lived my life, it's because I allowed it.
For so long, I fought to not become her — sharing her idea of love, allowing my love for my husband to not compromise my decision-making skills as a mom, that I became overly protective of our son and uncomfortable with being loved. Sometimes even doubting that healthy love was even real.
I refuse to pass that along to our son.
Putting myself in my mom's shoes without us ever discussing her trauma, insecurities, and challenges helped me to begin to confront the expectations that I had of her. I was reminded that people are just that, they're people. I'm never going to fully understand the decisions she made — I'm not her, I never knew her, and I believe her decisions weren't meant for me to understand. I feel confident in saying that she never knew herself.
I don't believe my mom knew the fullness of the strength, power, and love that she possessed — enough of them that she didn't need the love from him that she wanted so badly that she welcomed having her judgment tainted by it. I find myself, now, often wondering how much it may have hurt her to choose her version of love over her intuition as a mother and as a woman.
As a mom now, I know that it had to have been a very difficult decision for her to make and then to live with daily with me in her presence. I have peace with the decisions she made — while I can't definitively say I would make the same decisions she made, who's to say that I still wouldn't stumble?
I believe the purpose in my pain was to add to the limited conversation of overcoming mother-daughter trauma within the African-American community.
One day I came across some game-changing scriptures — Acts 5:28-29. I was reminded that the generational pattern of nonexistent communication on important, life-altering situations and shame has led me to live in silence. In the scripture, Peter and the apostles were being commanded to stop preaching about Jesus and to stop speaking His name.
They responded by asking, "Do we listen to man or obey God?" That question hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me that our lives are not our lives, they ultimately belong to God along with assignments that we must fulfill.
While I do not believe God was part of the molestation, I do believe that He has called me to use it as a means to ending mother-daughter trauma. How dare I be covered by God's grace to heal from the significant pain that's been living in the depths of my soul majority of my life, then I have the audacity choose to stay silent because of what man may think about it? No ma'am!
I can't live comfortably knowing that I have something to offer another mom and daughter that may untie the knots of pain that have held them bound due to lack of perspective or poor communication. We don't do the work required to heal from situations merely just to be healed for ourselves. Perpetually, we become better so that others connected to us are inspired to do the same.
It's not easy telling others that I was molested. It is also not easy to tell people that my mom was in love with my abuser and she chose him. Hard decisions are the deciding factor between being selfish and being selfless. I choose the latter.
If you or anyone you know is being affected by sexual assualt or abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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