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Choosing Myself

I opened your letter on the bathroom floor with the shower water running, anticipating the tears that would be streaming down my face when your letter would likely break my heart, again. Everyone knows showers are the best place to cry. Some of your words surprised me. Some were kinder than I anticipated. Others held the honest truth I knew would inevitably come. But the part that stoked the fire in my belly was this: You admitted it had been easy to walk away from the Erin that was in pain, and you told me you were happy I seemed to be back to being the ebullient Erin you fell in love with. You seemed to lack the understanding that those two parts of me are one whole, and not separate entities. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard the good parts of me are easy to love, and the hard parts that hold reckless, stubborn, harsh pain aren’t. In your words - you didn’t have the patience to see that through. Your words brought me drifting into familiar territory. You see, years after my father both silently and violently separated himself from my young cancer-riddled body fighting for its life, he wrote me a strikingly similar letter, apologizing for not having the capacity to be there for me during the hard times. And he let me to believe that it was my pain that burdened the weight down on everyone’s shoulders. I was a child at the time, and I learned early to suppress the parts of me that weren’t so easy to be with and ignore them until they vaporized into some black space in my body unknown to me. Subsequently I began to repeatedly exhaust myself in an attempt to flaunt all of my “best parts” and to desperately cling to love and acceptance from relationships that never fully saw all of me.

So I am here to put into writing that I do not accept that kind of love anymore. Not from myself and not from anyone else. I damn will be loved by others in the way that I have worked so fiercely to love my whole damn self… So I put your letter back in the envelope and stepped into the shower. I didn’t feel the need to cry. There comes rare moments in life when you recognize that you can make a decision that will determine how you carry yourself forward into your life and into how you show up to the rest of world. I knew this was one of those moments, so I made a choice.

I thought about writing you back, but I decided to write to myself instead. Your letter was just what I needed to realize I’m choosing myself; fulling loving myself and putting that out into the world for the first time in as long as I can remember.

The beautiful words of French Feminist, Hélène Cixous elegantly remark on what I so strongly feel, but am lacking the ability to translate into tangible language. “Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst - burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn't open my mouth, I didn't repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What's the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who, immersed as she was in her naiveté, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism, hasn't been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a ... divine composure), hasn't accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn't thought she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble” (Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa).

I’ve always had intense emotions even as a child. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs, with tears streaming down my face, begging my parents to tell me they loved me.

My father used to silence my crying by putting his hand over my mouth and nose, suffocating me. I learned to cry silently. I learned how I was supposed to show up in this world. I received praise for being “nice”, adorning my external beauty for the satisfaction of others, not causing trouble, and delicately balancing on the egg shells around me. Over these past six months I have been consumed with learning about the histories of women and the extent to which we have been suppressed and silenced for far too long in this patriarchal capitalistic society (I acknowledge that men grow up with their own set up limitations and reinforced stereotypes, but I’m not here to talk about that. Additionally, most of my knowledge and research has been around Western Societies. The systems of oppression of women in other cultures around the world are varied and vastly present as well). I feel like for the first time in my life I am learning my own history. I am angry that our education systems and cultural societies have failed to teach us this earlier and I am angry that my own mother, sister, and grandmothers struggle to see this as well. We have learned through this patriarchal society to censor our bodies, our voices, and to override our own intuitive powers that were given to us at birth. Knowledge of our history is what will ultimately liberate us, not just as women, but as a species.

So in breaking through my silence I am putting this writing out into the world. I chose my voice over my silence. I chose to believe that I am enough over wondering if I am enough for anyone else. I chose to dance with my joy, my depression, and my anxiety over choosing to dance with another body that cannot move to the rhythm of my music. Because you don’t get to have just the good parts of me. For so damn long I have suppressed the parts of myself that aren’t easy to love. And I have worked so damn hard to be vulnerable with and face these aspects of myself. I am not putting that away for anyone.

I wear my scars as adornments, and I sit with my pain of the experiences that didn’t leave visible scars. I own the hurt I have caused others in my life through my actions and my words - I am sorry to you and to myself. I inhabit the soft fleshy body that is mine and I have battled harder than you know to do this with compassionate ownership. And some days the burden of a painful past is too much to bear. Some days I don’t want to be a survivor. Some days I need to just give in and scream “It’s not fucking fair!”. The words vaporize into the unseen air; the pain doesn’t. Suffering is like a gas; it fills whatever container it is held in. We tend to hurt the ones who are closest to us. I cannot vow that I will never hurt another person. I cannot vow to myself that I will always love my body and mind in a way that is healthy. But I have come to reason with the tides. I know that the ebb is forever holding hands with the flow. I can sit on the sandy beach at noon as surely as I can sit with the water slapping at my neck line at dawn. Can you say the same?

The parts of me that are easy to love do not come without the parts of me that are not. I am all of those things. My smile got me through the years vomiting out my sickly body from the chemo. My light green eyes brought back color to my lifeless gray body after mental illness had starved and overwork it to the tipping point of death. My fight is because I promised my childhood best friend that I would always fight for life after he died. My honesty is because I held on to silence of molestation and abuse for so long it nearly destroyed me. My body is strong because I learned to rebuilt after I broke it down. My laughter, sense of wonder, and excitement over the tiniest details of our natural world come from intimately knowing the fragility of existence.

How wonderful is it that I get to love this body that is mine. I have the patience and the love to see me through. Today is my 27th birthday. Today, for the first time and forever moving forward, I chose myself.

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