Throw Meatloaf, Not Axes

You know those ax throwing places? Hear me out.

It’s like that except only for DV survivors, and it’s a three-parter…

Room 1 is filled with quiet, kind chefs who walk you through a recipe, from selection to completion. You take pictures of your masterpiece then savor a few bites before you enter…

Room 2, where a blown up photo of your abuser’s face is plastered to the target. After some deep breathing and (optional) yelling, you start slinging chunks of your perfect meatloaf at that face until it’s all gone, all smeared, all used up and unrecognizable. That’s when you visit the final part…

Room 3 is occupied by a group of warm grandparents who coo soft words about what you just experienced, praise your recipe, and embrace you until you don’t need embraced anymore.

And this is my proposal for how we start to build kitchen confidence in domestic abuse survivors.

One meatloaf at a time.

When Bystanders Think You Gave Your Abuser Permission

More victim blaming and shaming. Bystanders love that sh*t, because they think they have it all figured out, and also because they don’t know any better.

Survivors do know better.

We know that we are in control of very little during the abuse.

This list could include:

> who our friends are
> how our time is spent
> spending money
> how and when we’re physically intimate
> household responsibilities
> religious involvement
> employment
> sleep patterns
> thinking independently
> our own autonomy

It takes leaving.

It takes distance and time.

It takes learning and healing and a new sense of self-preserving perspective to understand why and how we were hurt, that our early engagement was part of it (though not to blame, never to blame), and that moving forward we CAN take and retain control over how we allow others to affect us.

About that Thing Abusers (and Enablers) Like to Call “Parental Alienation”

Originally posted on Breaking the Silence for Women 11/6/21.

This morning I woke to notification of a comment that has since been deleted by its writer.

That’s okay. Either they decided not to risk a public comment that the wrong people might see, or changed their mind about what they said. But I want to address it. It’s an excellent discussion point.

I often write about the challenges of “coparenting” with a narcissist and sociopath, and how the abuse continues for us in still-traumatic and damaging ways even after we’ve left the relationship, while also overlapping onto the kids we’re working so hard, so thoroughly, to raise well.

The way I read the comment — quoted in this text graphic — was to spin the narrative as if the survivor of the scenario is somehow behaving inappropriately, somehow making a victim of the real abuser.

“She just wants her kids to hate him. She’s trying to break down their opinion of him, and ruin their relationship.”

But no, that’s not true. Let’s be clear.

A domestic abuse victim who was brave enough to leave, and who is brave and responsible enough to raise her child(ren) alone and despite her abusive other parent’s counter-attempts, isn’t doing anything wrong. No, she’s not alienating anyone. The abuser’s own behavior is laying the groundwork for that. Read: They are responsible for their own eventual alienation.

Our survivor, meanwhile, is doing everything she can to heal herself, and make sense of a new life, while also trying to mitigate the effects of abuse on her kids. She herself is working to counter — not contribute to — all that toxicity she has no control over. And let’s be clear about this, too: Her abuser is the one who will, in subtle, coercive ways, sow seeds against her.

To accuse her of “parental alienation” is to pour on more victim blaming and shaming, and that’s unacceptable. This is one factor of the many which have enabled our epidemic of domestic abuse.

Must we survivors be careful about how we discuss the abusive parent with our kids? Yes.

Family court makes that all too clear.Are we to toe that line and protect our kids from knowing how misguided and delusional their abusive parent is? Early on, yes. When they’re young, yes.

It’s an urgent matter of preservation (and legal requirement) — as long as possible — until they become old enough and wise enough to recognize and internalize these realities all on their own. THEN it becomes our obligation to help them navigate this world of their abusive parent’s design, so they don’t grow up with a belief that the damage done is their own fault. So they themselves become as least toxic as possible.

This isn’t alienating our kids’ other parent. This is proactively avoiding complicity in our kids’ trauma, and the long-term effects of the abuse they themselves are victim to.

This, for the record, is the hill I will die on.

But You’re Over It, Right?

If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will.

Someone you’re getting to know, and starting to feel comfortable telling The Story of You to, will interrupt and say, “But you’re over it, right?”

“It” being the abuse you endured for months, possible years.

And this person you think you’re connecting with — whether it’s platonic or romantic — ruins it. Five words is all it takes to break the connection, to tell you they aren’t worth your time.

Why?

Because, clearly, they aren’t interested in knowing the real you. They aren’t strong or wise or mature enough to handle the less-than-perfect experiences that have grown you into who you are today. They only want the perfectly-packaged you, the unmessy you, whoever it is that meets their superficial expectation, and so the raw and real Story of You isn’t allowed.

It could also be someone you’ve known for years, they just don’t want to listen. They don’t have the empathetic capacity to process the details of your journey, or are too self-absorbed to offer such deep grace, or just can’t hear about abuse because your story means it really does exist… when they’d rather keep pretending it does not. So, they divert the conversation by dismissing your reality, and minimizing the worst of what you’ve ever been through.

“But you’re over it, right?”

Consider that phrase — or any variation of it — a red flag.

Makes you feel pretty small. As if you’re selfish for wanting to share, or own power in your own survival. Like all you’re doing is holding a grudge, unable to “move on.” Or, worse yet, like you’re wrong for carrying this around as part of your past. How dare you not be perfectly healed and present without any scars for their benefit.

You don’t have to be “over it,” friend.
You don’t have to justify why you aren’t.
And you don’t have to bend over backwards to make anyone — new connection or not — feel more comfortable about Your Story.

Lessons from a Wispy Spider

This short essay originally appeared on Breaking the Silence for Women a year ago today.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

This morning while I was in my workplace bathroom, I noticed a small and wispy spider climbing the wall.

Her mission was clear: To rise. And she was determined, I could tell by her speed.

Every inch or so she lost her footing, and with that, a small bit of her progress. She would not be discouraged, however. I was witness as she regained her grip, never slowing, and pushed onward many times over.

That’s what healing after abuse is like.

We are challenged by the process, just like our leggy friend, and affected by factors we have no control over. We also get to choose, as she did, whether we’ll give up when triggered, or hunker down and keep going despite what tries to deter us.

Our friend tells us this, too:

*Pay no attention to your audience. I was three feet from her and she didn’t care. She was on a journey for herself and didn’t let me stop her.
*Big-picture progress is more powerful than any individual measure. She may have slipped countless times, but guess what? She still made it up the wall.
*It’s okay to rest. I’ve been back to the bathroom since our encounter and there’s no sign of her. She’s found herself somewhere to hide out and take a break. You’re allowed breaks, too.
*Only we can define what our healing looks like. Maybe she didn’t yet know her ultimate goal, just that she needed to move forward; that she couldn’t remain immobile or stagnant. Maybe she’s figuring it out as she goes.
*Our potential—where we’re headed and why we’re going—is bigger than our fears. I have arachnophobia, and yet I chose to watch and learn from this little spider, nothing more.

She was fierce.

You are fierce. You are brave, no matter what your healing journey and progress look like.

I’m with you,
Janna

Abortion and Bananas

I was thinking this morning about how a banana is not banana bread.

A banana will never be banana bread unless a perfect sequence of events happens,

from removing its peel and mashing it in a bowl

to dumping in flour and adding the just-right ingredients

to mixing the batter and baking it, for some time, in a hot oven.

Only then does a banana become banana bread.

But all of that’s even after a feasible bulb — placed and nurtured in proper soil with good drainage, yada yada, for 9 to 12 months — results in what we know of as bananas.

And, of course, we have to choose to turn our bananas into banana bread, too.

Still with me?

I keep seeing folks who are pro-life say (in print and on the news) that every “child with a heartbeat” deserves to live.

Yes, every <child> does. Every <baby> does. No one who is pro-choice will ever argue that.

BUT.

The multicellular organism found in utero during pregnancy is not the same thing as a “child.”

What exists during prenatal development is not the same as the newborns into babies into toddlers into children into young adults, and so on, that we birth and raise and love and hold dearer than ourselves.

Projection is skewing the argument. Semantics are misrepresenting the truth of science. Hyperbole is robbing women of their personal decisions and reproductive rights.

And a banana is not banana bread.

Author’s note: I realize this is a deviation from my standard content here, but it fits my greater desire of sharing about women, for women and their empowerment, so yes, I hit “publish.”

Though I’ve never experienced abortion, I share for the women who have — whether only in theory or consideration based on so-tough dynamics, or in reality. Because of domestic abuse. Rape. Incest. Nonviable pregnancy. <insert your situation here>

I’d never dare tell a victim — or survivor — or any other woman — what to do with her body, with her life, with her future, with her very personal key to survival, healing, and path forward.

Janna

Even Advocates (like me) Don’t Have Our Sh*t Together 100% of the Time

Please don’t set your sights on some too-high, impossibly unattainable perception of post-abuse perfection.

What you’re doing is enough.
How you’re learning and adapting is enough.
Who you are <right now> is enough.

We are human — something our abusers couldn’t allow, what with all the emotions and authenticity and reasonable expectation — and we deserve to embrace all the moving parts and stages of our human condition. I repeat: We deserve it.

Honestly, I need this reminder, too.

I’m still learning every day. Sometimes I still struggle with triggers. My feelings or anxiety, some days, get the best of me. There are times I wish someone would just swoop in and “fix it all” for me, or, at the very least, share the load I’ve carried for so long. I get down and need a hug, a pat on the back, an “I’m proud of you.” I sometimes feel lonely and vulnerable. I still make mistakes and doubt myself and piss people off and feel too tiny to be. Just be.

I’ve been exactly where each of you finds yourself — on most if not all parallel paths (even if the details vary) — and trust me, the universe often reminds me.

Healing and transition aren’t supposed to be easy.

Survival comes through and after the fight, then remains ongoing. (Think of it in the same context as sobriety.)

The point is that we keep going, keep growing, keep knowing who we are + who we want to be, and defining — even redefining! — health and happiness for ourselves. It’s all an evolution.

And remember not to compare your journey with another survivor’s. Every step you take, no matter the speed, no matter the length of stride, is valid and valuable.

For more content like what you see here, and a chance to engage with other survivors of domestic abuse, visit my Facebook page.

This is Lesson #1 in Healing

The #1 lesson I’ve learned in my personal journey is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you.

The journey for any survivor of abuse is in learning your self-worth, and building your self-confidence so as to be unshakable. This is to heal the existing wounds AND protect oneself in the future.

But the journey is also about coming to terms with the fact that life is never going to be void of conflicting personalities and people who’ll do you wrong. Until we understand this, we are vulnerable to others.

Because there will always be someone who misunderstands you,
takes advantage
or manipulates your relationship,
someone who vilifies you,
who spreads (or believes) rumors about you,
someone who plays your victim,
or tries to ruin the way others see you
or tries to ruffle your feathers because, ultimately,
they’re threatened or intimidated by you
and have to make you feel small so they can believe they are big.

We can’t change them. Trying to combat their behaviors is a waste of energy. They and their low vibrations aren’t worth it, and don’t serve our best life.

Once we understand this, and refuse to let others affect how we view ourselves and our truths, we are strong.

And we’ve won the lesson, not just learned it.


“What an interesting little prison we build from the invisible bricks of other people’s opinions.” — Jacob Nordby

I’ve lived in that prison. I’m not going back.

What about you?

Here’s How to Level Up in the Challenge of Healing

In no particular order, at no particular pace.

Each realization gives you a boost.

Some of them are serial.

> identify a red flag
> recognize someone’s manipulation
> assert a boundary
> speak up
> break the habit of automatically saying “I’m sorry”
> let someone have the “win” because you refuse to play their game
> understand that your sensitivity is a strength
> circle back to your power
> put yourself first
> learn something new about yourself
> let go of paranoia (because everyone isn’t always upset with you, or talking about you, etc.)
> accept that not everyone will or needs to like you
> be firm (it doesn’t mean you’re mean)
> know that you don’t have to compete with anyone
> avoid someone’s bait
> understand your emotions
> meet your goals, big and small
> practice self-care
> let someone help you
> challenge yourself in a new way
> give yourself permission to fail and grow
> study abuse tactics so you have the upper hand
> break away from toxic people and habits
> forgive yourself

**Not a complete list

A Note to Single Mamas

Single Mama,

I see you.

I’ve *been* you for 10 years. I know how hard it is to do things on your own.

Lean into it.

Through the overwhelm and challenge comes your strength and empowerment. Through the worry over your kids, and staying motivated by what’s right for them, comes a lifelong bond with them that will surpass anything their other parent/abuser puts them through.

Remember that you left the abuse for yourself, and for the kids. Don’t second guess that decision. You made the right decision, hard as the result is.

I repeat: You were right.

Hear me in this, too:

Eventually the loneliness gives way to freedom and independence. You want freedom and independence, truly, because those are the foundations of a healthy life, which you need for your own peace and to have healthy relationships.

Don’t rush finding a new partner. Don’t romanticize finding a new partner. You don’t need anyone to save you, because you can (and should) save yourself. You also need to find your center, to figure out what your standards are and establish your boundaries. This takes time and practice, because we remain vulnerable to the people who will treat us wrong until we figure it out.

Focus on learning everything you can about yourself. Who are you? What defines you? How do you need to navigate your new life? What kinds of people and behaviors shouldn’t have access to the new you? How will you protect yourself?

I don’t want you to listen to the cliched advice that “you have to love yourself before someone else can,” but I DO want you to know that finding the path to loving yourself is a worthy process, and only good things will come from it. You deserve that.

Single motherhood isn’t a life sentence, and it isn’t a cross to bear. After what you’ve been through, it’s a gift, and it’s a badge of honor.

Hold your head up. Shoulders back. Keep breathing.

You’re f*cking amazing.