Find Your Safe Space

Today’s message: Find your safe space and spend some time there this week.

We all need a place where we can exist unfiltered, unmasked, and free. These are moments and places we call safe spaces and they come in many different forms. If you don’t have any, let’s think about how you can find your safe space. If you know what they are, check in with your physical and mental health this week to see if you are craving some time there.

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5 Steps to Start Finding Inner Peace

If you haven’t started yet, I’m here to let you know that it’s time to start finding inner peace.

Once upon a time, two people—your parents—decided to have a baby. You had no choice in the matter and your personal life journey began without the perfect manual. If you’re human, then there are days when you might feel knocked off course and just plain uneasy because [insert any of the many triggers here]. In those times, what steps can you take to start finding inner peace?

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There is Room for Everyone: Success and Competition

In Part I of this series, I explored the topic of racial equality. For Part II of this series, I would like to consider whether there is room for everyone in another area of life: personal success. 

If you are living, then you can relate to the pressure that comes with needing to feel competent and successful.

From birth we are taught to be the best, eat or be eaten, strive to do better than our parents, set an example for those following behind us, live up to our fullest potential, and strive for success. Well, I was 10 years old when I started hearing all of that and I didn’t know what any of that meant in practice. Thanks for setting me up to chase after something I had no idea about!

There is a lot of pressure on children to figure out life before they are 18. No wonder youth struggle with so many internal and external pressures. All I knew as a child was that “success” was this illustrious concept that every older person I knew was still striving for. I just wish someone would have told me that success is something you achieve every day, step by step, goal by goal, instead of making me think it is a single destination.

It is very sad to think that we spend the majority of our childhood, teenage, and early young adult years chasing a concept that we cannot even define for ourselves until much later in life. People ask, “do you want to be successful?” Well, YES, of course! Who doesn’t want to be successful?

Unfortunately, that is the wrong question.

The real question is, “what does success look like for you?” 

Simply asking someone if they want to be successful without first guiding them toward a personal definition does two things: 1) sends the message that they are currently unsuccessful and 2) ultimately sends them spiraling into the abyss to chase success with a blindfold on.

From an early age, we find ourselves quickly entrenched in the comparison and competition wars. “Be yourself” they say. But what does that mean when you don’t yet know who you are? So, in an attempt to figure out who we are, we start looking at other people for clues and direction. We take bits and pieces of other people’s success to help form our own. Personally, I think this is one of the most damaging things we do to ourselves. From the physical, intellectual, financial, materialistic, and emotional, we constantly struggle with comparing ourselves to others.

This comparison and competition are heightened when it comes to professional areas of life. Do I even need to explain this one? If you work or have any kind of position or status in an institution or business, then you know that competition is often at an all-time high. The more prestigious the job, the more competition. It really takes a mature, self-assured, confident, independent person to not fall victim to the competition and comparison wars in professional culture.

So in the end, is there room for everyone when it comes to being successful?

It will be challenging, but I say it is possible to make room for others.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There will never be room for everyone else if we don’t figure out what success looks like for each and every one of us. We are all unique and have our own individual paths in this world. Success means finding your own lane and mastering the art of running in it.

  • In reality, we were all created to be different so there are enough lanes for everyone. I know competition seems natural and inevitable. I understand that. However, our success is not measured by how we competed against someone in another lane; rather, it’s measured by how we mastered our own. Competition against others only leads us to emotional and mental exhaustion. Remember, the best version of you is not a series of stolen bits and pieces of other people.

There is room for everyone in success, but that’s only possible if everyone commits to staying in their own lane. You can look at other people’s lanes to find inspiration, but at some point, you have to go back to your own lane and get moving. The only competition allowed is with yourself.

Read Part I: There Room For Everyone: Racial Equality?

Read Part III: There Room For Everyone: Compromise and Chemistry in Relationships

Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and numerous alleged sexual assaults, I could not figure out what I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Many articles questioned the authenticity of the women and others desperately tried to defend one of America’s favorite TV dads. I am not sure why I questioned why sexual assault victims stay silent because I too have been silent.

Will People Even Believe You?

Many people watched The Cosby Show hoping to someday attain a similar American Dream. Not to mention, there were not many successful African-American families portrayed on TV at that time. So, if you were a black person, you could not help but support and love it. Overall, it was an endearing show that appealed to people from many backgrounds. Thus, people’s first reaction was to question how a man so adored and loved could have drugged and assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were more likely true. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life speaking out. And, if someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) is a lot of money to spend just to ruin another person’s reputation.

The accusers were vilified in the media by the average person and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6, news outlets revealed thatCosby admitted in 2005 to obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and that he used these drugs on at least one woman. Although these documents increased the chances the allegations were true, people still wanted to know why the majority of the women waited so long to say something.

Me Too: Finally Sharing My Truth

Bill Cosby never assaulted me and I could never speak for why these particular women kept their silence. However, I can shed some light on why I waited so long.

Fact: I am a sexual assault victim that has been keeping silent.

This is the first time I am sharing this with more than a few people. None of my siblings know. The majority of my friends have no idea. I finally told my mom a few months ago and my father still has no clue (I think). To be perfectly honest, I hope he never reads this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to share. Hopefully, my story helps someone understand the emotional maze that can form in the mind of a victim of sexual assault. I also hope this gives insight into why sexual assault victims stay silent. When the assaulter is someone you have known and respected for a while, the mental maze is even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you know me personally, please refrain from guessing the identity of my assaulter. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you would like to know or have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly, and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person. For that reason, I will not include too many details here.

So with that, let’s get into my story and the mental maze.

Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

  • Shock: Without getting too deep into the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how (it would be very long and likely blow your mind), I will undoubtedly say that the first emotion I experienced was SHOCK. I never in a million years thought that I would be a victim of sexual assault. My assaulter was someone that I respected and interacted with on a daily/weekly basis throughout my high school career. My friends and teammates also highly respected this person and he was very close to some of their families. Never believing this would happen to me is probably one of the reasons my first emotion was shock. I watched movies and shows involving sexual assault and always imagined that I would use some major fight moves to escape such a situation if it ever happened to me. Sadly, my moves failed me.

  • Questioning: “What is he doing? What should I do? How do I get out of here? What did I do to give this person the impression that I wanted this? Were there signs about this person that I missed? What will my parents say? Will my friends who love this person believe me? Has this happened to anyone else? What will happen to this person if I tell? And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my case, the biggest question in my head then (and to some extent now) is “what did I ever do to make this man do this to me?” Logically, I know that I absolutely did nothing. All my interactions with this person were always surrounding sports or life, yet this question still baffles me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.

  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion follows the many questions. Regardless of the innocence you know you have in the situation, it can be extremely difficult to refrain from second-guessing how you handled the situation before, during, and after the act. This person assaulted me numerous times, so I blame myself for not saying something to someone after the first instance. I always considered myself to be a strong person, so I was disappointed that I didn’t speak out. I felt weak and ashamed. Instead, I worried more about how all my friends’ lives would change if I said something. This person was a father figure to some of my teammates and others depended on this person’s expertise to open doors for athletic scholarships. If I said something, I might ruin their lives, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I blamed myself for my silence.

  • Feeling Guilty for Ruining the Abuser’s Life: This one might be a little hard for you to understand. Since I spent a significant amount of time with this person, I knew a lot about this person’s life. He was not married, had no kids, very few friends, spent the most time working, and spent little time with family due to distance. Before the incident, I often felt very bad for this person. My friends and I even spent time joking about how he should date different older women that we knew or how he needed to go partying with his friends and switch up the work-home-work routine. I felt pity and could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So, when faced with the option to put this person in jail and destroy the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went through. He should have thought more about his life before he chose to assault young women.

  • Letting other people down:  As I contemplated whether I would speak up, I was torn between the right thing to do and the many people that would be devastated by the news. First, my parents. One of my parent’s warnings and concerns was always to be safe at all times. They did everything they could to keep their children out of harm. How was I going to break this news to them? I was afraid they would never let me go anywhere else throughout high school, and more importantly, that my little sister would never get to go anywhere without my parents panicking. So, I said nothing. Secondly, my friends. How would they take the news that one of their favorite people was a creepy assaulter? I didn’t know if he was assaulting them too. I tried to watch for changes in their behavior, but I couldn’t find any. In my uncertainty, I kept quiet. In the end, I confronted the person about it (it didn’t go well) and used my strength to navigate away from that person. The sad news: I couldn’t avoid being around the person on a weekly/daily basis so I pretended to be okay so that my friends would not figure out the truth.

  • Feeling tainted and unwanted: I know. This emotion/thought makes no sense. Because of all the varying ranges of sexual assault we see in the media, I thought that people might view me as scarred and damaged goods. How will my boyfriend react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image stay in his mind forever? Will he still want me? I was a teenager and these were the thoughts running through my teenage mind. Sad, but true.

  • Comparison: Who am I to complain? At least I wasn’t raped in a back alley by some stranger and then strangled to death. At least I wasn’t molested by one of my family members. At least… At least… At least. You know the saying “someone always has it worse than you?” Well, this is probably a sexual assault victim’s worse enemy. Although what happened to me was traumatic, it was not the worse case of sexual assault that I ever heard of. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop feeling sorry for myself and be grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Why ruin this person’s life and make a big deal when it wasn’t “that bad?” Right? It made no sense, but like I said, the emotions are like a roller coaster and the mind like a maze.

  • Feeling Alone and Misunderstood: Carrying the burden of silence sucks both emotionally and mentally. You really want to scream at the top of your lungs about the emotional confusion you are going through, but at the same time, you know that you can’t bring yourself to say something (for some of the reasons already outlined in this post). Of course, I thought I never changed emotionally and believed that no one would see the pain that I was in. However, I may have been successful on the outside but was failing miserably on the inside. It manifested in many different ways. I didn’t want to get up for school in the morning and was constantly late. I felt depressed behind my laughs and bubbly personality. I failed classes in school that as an A and B student I never thought I would fail. I overcompensated in other relationships because they felt safe. And, I strained my relationship with my mom because she confronted me on different occasions about the “change in attitude” and of course, I always replied, “I am fine.” For a long time, I felt alone and misunderstood. I isolated myself from certain people to cope and would keep many people at arm’s length so they wouldn’t indirectly figure out my secret.

  • Depression: It is a great misconception that the only depressed people are those that never get out of bed, eat tubs of ice cream, cry often, isolate, and walk with their heads down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression behind my bright smile and all my laughs. This is not to say that my love of laughter was a facade, but it does mean that sometimes my laughter was to keep from crying. It also means that at night when the laughter stopped, I often cried. Yet on the bright side, I can unequivocally say that it means that my laughter and smile saved me.

For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

The emotions and thoughts above are from my story, but I know so many other victims can relate. I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every situation or every person. It is sad that society and certain circumstances make it difficult for people to feel that they can speak out against respected and well-known people when they have committed wrongdoings. And then we have the nerve to wonder why sexual assault victims stay silent.

Unfortunately, at first, the 39+ women in the Cosby case were thought to be liars. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers in the life of someone that never had the opportunity to share their hurt and trauma is complex. It undoubtedly affected many areas of their lives that they might never be able to go back and change. They often carry the burden alone and have to figure out different ways to cope with their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence, they were able to find healing.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, and Black people in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education; and, he might also be a sexual abuser (technically in the American justice system he is innocent until proven guilty). If guilty, his successes should not trump the pain he has caused many women. [Update from the future: He was found guilty and sentenced to time in prison.]

Let’s use this as a lesson. If you are still questioning why sexual assault victims take so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light on that.

If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted and has had to keep it a secret (for whatever reason), or if you have been the victim of sexual assault, I hope that one day you will be able to share your story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

Related Post: The Conundrum of Being Strong

Dealing with Crappy and Sh*tty Stuff

I was talking to my cousin the other day about some shitty things that have been happening in my life lately. Well, it’s more like crappy things happening to someone else that in turn affected me. I guess this area of my life has just been somewhat of an adventurous ride recently. Naturally at this point I feel the need to say that by no means is it the end of the world or a life-shattering development, but it still has the slight smell of crap (and what others might call “shit.”) But, I digress. After discussing my anticipated responses to the situation, the therapist in her pointed out that the positivity current moving through my mind was something to be proud of. I was a little surprised by her response because despite seeing myself as a positive person I know there are many people out there more positive than even me. Yes, I made the cardinal mistake of comparing my crappy situation and reaction to other people and I minimized my feelings to the too often heard phrase “someone always has it worse.” Nonetheless, I took the compliment and listened.

“Not everyone knows how to see their way out of a situation,” she said. She continued to remind me that too often people become overwhelmed by the moment as if given situations are the end of the world. As she spoke I couldn’t help but think about all the times that I too have been in those situations. I recalled all the times when I felt overwhelmed by the ignorance of tomorrow all complicated by the “what the heck am I going to do” thoughts. I also imagined all the moments in the future that I might be guilty of thinking that circumstances are the end of the world. However, as she spoke I realized the reason I was able to change my thinking from overwhelming and paralyzing to hopefully and positive. The answer: I had the privilege of living through enough tough moments to notice that they never actually were the end of the world. Guys, in some way “time” does have a slightly healing quality to it. If we allow ourselves to learn and mature in and from situations, wounds/pain are eased/healed in time, forgiveness is given in time, solutions are found in time, true love is discovered in time, and stability/success is found in time. Inevitably I will continue to have crappy moments in my life, but as I get older I have discovered that I don’t have to let my life become crap because of one crappy moment… or two…or three. Life is too short.

Another perspective I have tried to adopt during crappy times is the thought that maybe God is testing me. I always think that life is trying to see if I have learned anything in the time that I have been alive. Ok, this might be a weird collision of my belief in God and the teacher inside me, but I really do believe that something-someone out there is watching to see how we respond to “situations.” How else might you explain the fact that typically positive people go much further in life than negative thinkers? There is definitely something to be noted about the perseverance and success of people who find the positive in any given situation (even if they have to dig down deep to find it). For me, one word separates the times in which I am more positive from the times in which I am more negative — faith. Most people associate faith with God (which I personally do), but being hopeful doesn’t necessarily have to be that deep. Listen, I still doubt, question, get depressed, and discouraged about crappy situation, but I always try to conclude my personal pity-party with positivity and hope. I figure if this is a life test to see if I am capable of handling more success or more challenging portions of life I had better try to pass it by rolling with the punches, cleaning off the crap, and adjusting for the next move.

I remember reading about this man named Job in the Bible when I was younger. His life was utterly destroyed. Although he was a worthy man, he still experienced the loss of almost everything. Oddly enough the people around him were trying to get him to blame God and denounce his faith. He did end up crying and mourning his loss, but ultimately he never gave up his faith. I don’t know why but that story always stuck with me. Maybe it is because it seems bad things often happen to good people in this world. After hearing this story numerous times, I still had one question. Would denouncing his faith have saved him from having to experience negative things in the future? Personally, I don’t think so; I think he would have had to deal with both the good and the bad at some other point in his life.That’s life.

Ultimately, when I look around me I see both people who believe that life will get better and those that believe life will always SUCK. In the end, crappy things do happen to everyone. Maybe I am delusional but having the belief that there is always some light at the end of the tunnel, even if I can’t see it in the moment, somehow helps me eventually get through crappy times. If I didn’t think this way, I don’t know how I would handle life. I mean really; even watching the news for 3 minutes is enough to make someone transition from happy to crappy to hopeless. The good news is that for most crappy situations I have experienced thus far,  I can definitely say that there has always been a lesson, a blessing, or something greater on the the other side…. in time of course.

So, what tips do you have for getting through crappy times?

Let it Go.

Don’t hold on to things or thoughts that are clearly making you sink. How silly is it that we feel ourselves sinking but refuse to release the weight pulling us down. What’s the worse that can happen – you float? Isn’t it at least better to float than drown? Let it go. No really, let it go.

Violation.

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Being violated in any way, shape, or form changes you. It affects your mind in ways you never thought possible. But one thing it doesn’t have to do is permanently change you for the worse. You may never forget it and you may even think about it everyday; but, you should never let it ruin everyday. Once you’ve taken time to hurt – and yes you will think about it even after that – keep living through the thought. Whatever you do, don’t stop living the life you desire. If you’re having trouble moving on, seek help, talk to someone you trust, and get it off your chest so you can find some relief.

What are some things you do to get over a violation of any kind (friends, family, strangers, etc.)?

I Have a Mental Handicap.

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I think I have been living with a slight handicap. Though positive, sensible, and intelligent, my mind likes to drift toward over-thinking. I start out thinking about the great possibilities and outcomes, and then my handicap kicks in. What about the negative? What if this happens? What if that does not work? There is simply too much “what if it doesn’t” and not enough “what if it does.” In my world, everything negative “could” happen to me, but the reality is that it “doesn’t” happen to me. Yet, when it is time to take the next risk, my silly mind disregards the reality that I am more success-prone than failure-prone. If anyone else has figured out this phenomenon, comment below and explain this brain complexity to me.

In a world where we are surrounded by negative news, rare cases, and the need to report it all on local and national news sources, it is easy to believe that “bad” things are more likely to happen to us than the “good.” It is easy to fear that we are just one poor decision away from the “negative” knocking on our door.

I am starting to believe that there is some negative we can prevent and some that we cannot. If we reject the idea that perfection is attainable for humanity then we must also accept that the universe will not deal our life a “perfect” hand. The end result may look perfect but the process never is. As a child, if even one child was reported to have drowned on the news, my parents likely didn’t want us to go swimming that summer. Well, I should note that one of my siblings actually drowned before (but survived), so that might have contributed to their fear. The funny thing is that in my case I was actually on a swim team in 3rd and 4th grade so I knew how to swim. I was no Olympian in the making, but I could swim across the pool and back. Despite my training, my mind always considered the possibility that I might drown if I was not careful. So, instead of learning how to become a better swimmer, I learned to always keep the edge of the pool in sight. To make it worse, I heard of one man on TV drowning from a leg cramp, so I was quite sure that if I wandered into the deep end for too long my leg muscles would rebel against me too. I was letting the negative outweigh the positive possibilities. I assessed the risk and decided to be cautiously complacent.

There is nothing wrong with considering the risk in any situation, especially when it comes to goal setting and trying new things. My problem has been in balancing the pros with the cons. For every negative outcome there is also the possibility for a positive outcome. Yes, it may not work, but what if it does? Yes, you may get hurt, but then again you might not. Yes, your life may be altered, but maybe it might change for the better. All you need is one more pro than con for the entire scale to weigh in as positive. If there was any negative at all, I considered it a loss or potential failure. However, I don’t think life works that way — the positive just needs to outweigh the negative.

So what have I been doing to overcome my handicap you ask? For every negative fearful thought, I try thinking of the corresponding positive outcome. Then, I try working toward the outcome which will bring me the most happiness or success in life – usually that outcome is on the “pros” side of the list.

How do you balance your thoughts?