How to Avoid Everything (Notes on Self Care)

Keeping it real is a full-time job. This truth goes directly against my work ethic. I’m not passionate about much in life except living comfortably without toiling through all of the time-consuming, laborious tasks that usually entitle people to that kind of comfort. Basically, I want to live like a rapper without being a rapper. If you happen to meet anyone who’s never laid down a single track or been taken into custody for disorderly conduct and unlawful possession of a firearm but still lives like Rick Ross, then you may have a better understanding.

I’m not a fan of hard work, but very occasionally, I can force myself to do it. So at the end of June, when I made the commitment to get real and work through the ugly shit I’ve kept cordoned off in dark corners, I thought that a monthlong break would be enough time to address my demons, and I would come back, like, perfect. Allotting 36 days to clear away debris like addiction and anger and depression seemed pretty generous, and I actually made a list of things I might try in case I finished a few days early. I watched a tutorial on how to make an owl zipper pull using the Cra-Z-Loom, and of course that bitch was #1 on my list.

I’m not sure how 36 days turned into 102, but I just want to take this opportunity to mention that if any of the coping mechanisms you use to stay functional involve pushing down grief and pain and rage about your past or your present, and you unlatch the gate that’s been corralling those feelings and they all escape in a mad rush and you have to chase each one down to see if it really belongs to you or it can be returned to the wild, um, you’re not going to have time to make that owl zipper pull. Yeah, I know, it was a surprise to me too.

Since I’ve been going to therapy again and giving it an honest go this time (instead of just sitting there thinking it’s a crock of shit and counting down the minutes till it’s over), I was initially surprised by this overwhelming stampede of emotions because I thought I had been dealing with them. And I was. But it was kind of like when I used to smoke crack and then I would to do lines of cocaine as an intermediary step to come off my binge. Sure, I wasn’t smoking crack right then, so congratulations to me, but I wasn’t really addressing the whole problem.  I was just using stopgap measures to lessen the blow.

In therapy, I was working through smaller issues because I wasn’t yet ready to face my past as a whole. At some point, I realized that the smaller issues existed because of a bigger problem.

I realized this about three weeks ago at Target.

I don’t want to share too much of Cal’s personal business, but I was at Target looking for bras for her. She’s wearing “real” bras now, and prefers the wireless kind, but all the wireless ones I found in her size were really expensive, so I decided to check out Target. Cal is such a good kid, and she’s not the type to complain, so my goal at Target that day was to find a wireless bra in her size and buy the same style to test it out first to make sure it was actually comfortable. My bad for sharing that personal piece, but I think it’s important here.

Until I was a young teen, my aunt sexually molested me. It still causes me an immense amount of suffering just to think about it, and it’s permanently affected the way I handle certain situations. I’m extremely uncomfortable about breasts because my aunt used to touch mine. Being in the bra section at Target started a chain reaction of thoughts that drew me deeper and deeper into a pit of misery.

When I was 11, I finally told my mother what was going on. To simplify what happened between then and when I left for college, I’ll just say that my family didn’t come to my defense. It’s not so much that they denied the existence of the abuse. They just…didn’t think I should make such a big deal about it. To this day, they are upset that I won’t let it go.

I know it’s the compassionate and forgiving thing to say that I no longer blame my family for not protecting me. Or that I have overcome my misery and forgiven my aunt, but I can’t. It’s not the truth. I still blame my aunt for ruining my childhood and I still have trouble understanding why I wasn’t worth it to my mom for her to protect me. I thought that being a mother to Cal would help me understand my own mother better, but I’m the type of mother who can’t bear the thought of my kid wearing an uncomfortable bra (even though that would totally be my fault because I should have just shelled out for the $60 bra, but I ain’t about that life), so my empathy lessens the longer I am a mother myself.

Before I drove home, I sat in the Target parking lot to calm myself. I thought that scrolling through Facebook would be a good mental break, but clearly, I am not that bright. That Monday, TMZ released the video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiance in an Atlantic City elevator. It was all over my Facebook feed.

Eventually everything connects, and for me, I finally made my connections in that parking lot. The years of abuse I suffered while I was a child altered the way I viewed my own self-worth. Which then led to years of abuse as a young woman. I thought about the man I dated who repeatedly asked if he could sell me to his friends for sex. I allowed others to treat me like I was valueless, and I treated myself the same way.

But you know what? I’m too old for that stupid bullshit. I’m not valueless. I can still be a good mother even if it wasn’t modeled for me as a child. Just because something is unfamiliar does not mean it is unknowable. 

When I got home from Target, I booked a photo session I’ve been thinking about for 4 years but never had the nerve to actually do. I’ve been the black sheep of my family for so long because I had a baby before I was married and because I didn’t finish college. Photos like this would mean that I was still just that dirty and dangerous girl. I’m not. And I will no longer allow anyone to determine my self-worth. I got the pictures back yesterday. One day, when I’m old, I’ll look at the pictures and think, “Yup, that homegirl didn’t give a fuck. You go, EJL.”


These past 102 days have been life-changing. Well, most of it happened in a two-hour span at Target, but I still wasn’t making no Cra-Z-Loom crafts on those other 101 days. I’ve cut out a lot of people who have been in my life for too long. It feels strange, and I’m dealing with a lot of guilt about it, but I have so much more space for the goodness I couldn’t take in before. And I understand now that I don’t have to hide negative emotions like hate. I just don’t really give a fuck anymore if my family accepts me or thinks I’m “worth it.”

I still have a lot of hate in my heart, but there’s more room for love and kindness too. If you think about it, I’m the living embodiment of a Coexist bumper sticker. I mean, yes, those bumper stickers are more about religious tolerance and my focus is more about how much I hate people, but get past that stupid detail, and there I am.

Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks in it.” -David Foster Wallace

Holler at me:
Flourish in Progress on Facebook: Lots of not-seen-on-this-blog stuff. Sometimes funny. Mostly a waste of time. But who doesn’t love to waste time?

Instagram @flourishinprogress: One more picture from the photo session posted on Instagram. Profile reads:  “Hallmark ornament collector on the outside. Ghetto as fuck thug on the inside.” Not a good match for people who want flower pics and shit.

Mad props to photographer Joshua McCaghren and makeup artist Renee Kim

Basic Rules For Good Living #1: Move More Than A Dead Person

understandstupidI haven’t confirmed this by actually asking anybody, but I get the sense that a lot of people think I’m fierce and emotionless. These people might use labels like “scary” and “thugnificent” if you mention my name in conversation, but I want to dispel those myths right now. I would agree that, yes, my general appearance is menacing, but take a minute to look past my gruff exterior.

I feel many feelings. When a baby smiles at me, I am thrilled for a moment but then I am sad because my own baby is growing up. When I rescue a 20% off one single item Bed Bath & Beyond coupon from my neighbor’s recycle bin and it doesn’t even have any food stains, I am happy. And whole. When I check my Fitbit every few minutes for an updated daily step count, I feel devastated. Sometimes I am able to push down my bitter anger because I just breathe and remind myself that I didn’t move for the last 5 minutes so of course the number is going to stay the same.

The Fitbit came into my life by accident. I didn’t really care about any of its functionalities. It reminded me of the black pager I had in 1994. Ninth grade was a pretty good year for me.

Shortly after I got it, I read somewhere that the average person takes 6,000 steps per day. The base level for good health is supposedly 10,000 steps. I smirked when I saw those numbers. When I am extremely thirsty and no one hears my repeated requests, I go downstairs to get my own beverages. It takes me at least 3 trips to move all of the groceries from my car to the kitchen. Obviously, I’m a very active individual. I pitied the fool who could only manage 10,000 steps a day. What a stupid dummy.

I allowed two weeks to pass before I averaged out my step count data because I planned to humblebrag about my number a lot so I needed a decent sample size. Daily average: 1700. Since one of the new things I’m trying is not lying to myself, I devoted an afternoon to sitting with the truth that I move about as much as a dead person. I stared out my window a lot that day. And then I decided to live a good life. My list of Basic Rules For Good Living sprouted from that belief and I knew what the first Rule had to be: Move more than a dead person.

I wasn’t sure I could do it but January proved otherwise. My daily average has bumped up to 9,000 steps per day. It helps that I’m Groupon-ing my way to fitness. I bought two exercise class packages and I alternate between them each day.

The only problem is that exercise is stupid. I hate it. What I’ve gathered over the last month is that, basically, you move your body for no real reason. Suspicious elements of exercise: 1. Forced to look at myself in mirrors for extended periods, 2. Salty sweat stinging my delicate eyes, 3. Burning hot physical pain and/or nausea, 4. Ok for strangers to yell at me through microphone headset, 5. Lululemon prices.

2014 isn’t about lofty goals or wow value for me. I’m just trying to get used to the fundamentals of what it means to be a decent, functioning adult. I have never been that before, but if I can follow my Basic Rules, maybe I’ll know a little about Good Living. Join me if you want. Real friends suffer together.
P.S. I’ll be sharing my other Basic Rules for Good Living throughout the year. Watch me get real good at adult-ing. “Like” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page or follow along on Instagram (username: flourishinprogress).

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