Me of 2014, Here’s to You: A Year in Review

At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.

Dear Me of January 1, 2014,

In 2014, you will:

  • be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
  • experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
  • be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
  • receive an unexpected apology.
  • experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
  • deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
  • celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
  • rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
  • make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
  • be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
  • stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.

In 2014, you will:

  • realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
  • learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
  • learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
  • learn to appreciate the little things.
  • have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.

In 2014, you will:

  • come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
  • learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
  • learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
  • encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
  • call people out on their behavior.
  • realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
  • learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.

In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.

For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.

In 2015, you will:

  • graduate from college.
  • find a job.
  • learn to love yourself more.
  • ?

It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.

“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”

  • pray
  • hope
  • trust.

Sincerely,

The You of December 31, 2014.

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Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.

Recovery- A Sonnet Sequence

  1. When in the mirror I myself do see,

The face is not one I recognize look-

ing back. It looks almost maybe like me,

at times. If not, my confidence is shook.

Pinpointing events like candles in wind.

On, off, flickering, blowing, out they go,

Innocence lost when they against me sinned:

My white to black to red is what I know.

My red to black to white turns back again.

A plague upon my soul has fallen now.

My skin has scars pinpointing where I’ve been.

My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

The sky is dark; the sun begins to frown.

As flowing water,redemption comes down.

  1.  As flowing water, redemption comes down,

and washing fears and tears away and make-

ing me as new. I desire that you take

away this weight. I don’t want to drown.

I want to live on earth and see it’s brown

and green. This universe has claimed some stake

in existence. I have to be awake.

So life can live, and I can claim my crown.

My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

A fire burned and turned me into dust.

The rain it came and brought me back to life.

A garden grew as I, despite the strife.

I choose to live and living well I must,

My past defineith not my fate I vow.

  1. My past defineith not my fate, I vow.

I shalt not give up even when the go-

ing toughens up. The wind may blow this bough,

I, however, will falleth not. I grow

and grow and grow for now. I cannot fail.

I shall not fail. I have to be awake.

My strength is growing. Faith will now prevail.

Believing gravity is, for my sake,

the only way my legs won’t fail me when

I wake. Because now’s not the time for drop-

ping, testing, fighting. Three stars out of ten.

My life has dealt this card. I have to stop

pinpointing events like candles in wind,

innocence lost when they against me sinned.

  1. Innocence lost when they against me sinned.

I tried to test gravity once. Instead,

I sproured wings and flew. Sometimes I bled

and bled. The scars my skin bears, like the wind,

remind my present where I’ve been. I sinned

against my body when I tried to shred

this skin given me. Sometimes words unsaid

can devour me alive. How unkind.

Somehow, despite everything tried by me,

I still will rise every morning, noon,

and night. It matters not I swear. How can

this be? I seem to have up there a fan:

alive despite all. I will smile soon

when in the mirror I mysef do see.

Close Your Eyes- A Fiction Piece

Author’s note: Originally written for my Creative Writing class, it also won best Fiction piece for the literary edition of my school’s newspaper.

Of the two of us, my little sister was always the smart one. I was the dreamer; she was rational. She’s a law student now, working as an intern in the big city. My life, however, turned out a little different. Looking back on how I lived my life, all I can wonder is: did I do enough?

. . .

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. I had seen how alcohol can destroy lives. My parents died during a heavy snowfall, in a five car pileup on the Thruway after some guy who had too much to drink lost traction and slammed his pickup into a tractor trailer, which jackknifed. My parents weren’t the only ones who died in that crash, but they were the only ones I knew, the only ones I cared about. My sister was two years old and understood mostly none of what happened. I was nine and understood too much. She wondered why mom and dad weren’t coming back, where they went; I wondered how someone could get behind a wheel drunk, putting other people’s lives in danger, and not think twice. He lost his life, and I felt like I lost mine. Eventually, my sister became my life.

. . .

We were alone, my sister and I, so my grandparents took us in. Bless their souls; they certainly had their hands full: my sister was just beginning to be potty trained, and I was still learning how to break out of my shell of shyness and talk to others. But we were tough, the two of us, and we learned how to survive. Every day, we taught each other the ways of the world, and in the process, learned more about ourselves. I was the one who taught her how to tie her shoes, who helped her learn to ride a bike. I taught her how to stand up for herself and when to walk away. I told her not to believe everything she sees on TV, but I also told her to believe in magic. In the process of being an older sister, my little sister taught me how to find joy. She taught me to take time to laugh, and that the curiosity of a child is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, all you need to get up in the morning, when the day ahead seems like too much to bear, is a simple reminder that you’re not alone. She reminded me every day.

I was the one who reminded her over and over and over again what happened to Mom and Dad, why they weren’t coming back. My sister was too young to remember them, so I had to do enough remembering for the two of us. I told her Dad’s favorite jokes, which were plenty. He knew how to find something humorous in every situation. In our small town, he was known for his ability to make up jokes off the top of his head, pull them out of thin air—like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. I thought he was Superman: invincible except for kryptonite. If kryptonite is snowfall, alcohol, and a pickup, I guess I was right. I was the one who sang my sister to sleep every night, watching as she closed her eyes and drifted off to the same words that once graced my mother’s lips: the wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again. I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I hoped to God I would be like her someday.

My sister is the spitting image of my mother, with her big blue eyes and long blonde hair and ringlets cascading down her back. Dad had the dark hair, tan skin, dark eyes. “My Italian Prince,” my mom used to say. Somehow, I inherited his dark hair, tanner skin, but I have my mother’s eyes. Of the two of us, my sister definitely inherited my dad’s funny bone. She made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry. And she could impersonate anybody and anything. A weird old man used to live in our town. He had a southern twang, and used words I’ve never heard of, and when he talked, he used every part of his body. Every time he spoke, it looked like he was dancing, or at least having a seizure.  Anytime we needed a laugh, she did her “Southern Man impression,” and she played him better than he did. My sister always told me that I have the prettiest voice in the world, and I would be famous someday. I always wanted to believe her. I wanted to make her proud of me, but what I failed to realize was that she was: she wanted everybody in our school to know that she was my sister. I guess she got her wish, I’m famous now, and everybody knows she’s my sister.

Yes, we were close, my sister and I, despite the seven years between us. I was never sure which was better: being so close that your younger sister copied everything you did, or being so distant that you hardly ever talk.

My sister and I talked for hours every day as we were growing up. We talked about boys, the future, and the funny happenings of life, but we also talked about serious things: I gave her the sex talk, which was awkward, and we also talked about death, what we thought heaven was like. We talked about almost everything. When I was eighteen, I recorded a demo of my Mother’s lullaby. It got me a recording contract, so I moved to the big city. Even then, we talked every day.

My sister wanted to be just like me. One time when I was fourteen, I found my sister in her room, pinching her stomach, disgusted at how she looked. My heart broke. I had done the same thing just a few minutes before; she had seen me do it every day for four years. What a hypocrite I was: I had always told her not to compare herself to others, and yet, there I was, comparing myself to all the girls I deemed prettier than me. I was never confident in my own skin. My sister and I were close, but I had never told her about my insecurities before that day. Open communication about everything started right there and then. I told her about all the anger I had toward that driver who killed our parents those six years before. I told her about how the mirror was never my friend. Then I told her how I was beginning the painful process of letting go of the anger I had, and in that process, I was learning how to love myself.

. . .

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. Instead, my friends and I went midnight bowling in fancy dresses—something I had missed out on doing after my Junior Prom. My sister had called me earlier in the day, and I told her to keep her eye out for a letter that would be arriving in the next few days, and after the “I love you”s and the goodbyes, we hung up and promised each other we would talk again tomorrow.

It was the best night of my life.

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I left the bowling alley. I heard tires screeching, a horn honk, and my friends screaming. I saw a bright light, and then everything went black. My last moments alive, I was surrounded by friends who loved me, but my sister wasn’t there. I regret that.

. . .

Four months after my funeral, my friends and family sat in a big city courtroom facing the man who hit me. Before the verdict came down, my little sister said she wanted to read the letter I had written her for the first time. The letter was dated my twenty-first birthday, and upon seeing this, she began to whimper softly. But after a few seconds, she somehow found the strength inside of her to begin reading:

Dear Little Sis,

            If I timed this letter correctly, it should be your first day of high school. Congratulations! People are going to tell you a lot of things about high school. Don’t listen to them. It’s not the best for years of your life, and you don’t have to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.

            Don’t let anyone define you or put you in a box. It’s not for them to decide who you are and who you are going to be. Dream big. Reach for the stars. Defy gravity. Learn to embrace irony; life is riddled with it. If you want to travel the world, travel the world. Don’t live life with regrets. Learn how to love yourself, because there was once a time when I did not, and I spent so much time worried about what others thought of me, I didn’t define myself. I tried to please everyone, and it made me unhappy. Learn from my mistakes. Life is too short to let others dictate your life choices. If you ever see an injustice being done, fight. Fight hard. Fight for those who have no voice. Fight for those who are weak. Fight for yourself, but also learn when to walk away.

            I’ve learned that anger is a powerful motivator, but it’s also toxic, corrosive, destructive. It almost destroyed my life. But I learned that forgiveness is more powerful than all the wrongs done to you. Love is more powerful than all the evil in the world. If you ever find yourself angry at the world, take a step back, take a deep breath, and find the strength to forgive. Find the power to love. If there’s ever a day when you find it hard to get out of bed, when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember that an ant can carry things 6x its own weight. You are not an ant; you’re not alone in life. You have family and friends who love you, and a big sister who is more proud of you than anything in the world. And no matter how many miles separate us in the future, remember that I will always be with you. There are some chains distance can’t break: the love of a sister is one, because boys will come, and boys will go, but a love of a sister is forever.

            Talk to you soon,

            Your Big Sis!

The courtroom was quiet as the verdict came down: guilty on both counts—vehicular manslaughter and driving while Intoxicated.

. . .

Somewhere on a stretch of road, the pavement is stained red, serving as a reminder of how fragile life can be. Somewhere, in the cemetery of a small town, a twenty-one year old law student sits at my grave, her older sister, a singer known for one song, a lullaby; a singer who became famous only after her death. This woman sits in silence and listens as the whispering wind sings the words to her mother’s lullaby.

The wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again.