An Experience To Never Forget…..
I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box:
When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.
It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.
You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:
In Our Home………
We Honor Vulnerability
Teach and Practice Compassion
We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….
We invite Beauty in being Ourselves
We are Imperfect
We are Good Enough……….
All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS
May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me.
Here is My Recent Speech, Guest Speaker for TAKE BACK THE NIGHT
My name is Alicia Gregory and as you have heard, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, working in the field for the past fourteen years. But, I do not stand before you in my role only as a therapist, but also, A Survivor. I come to the table of this moment, an adult sexual abuse survivor. I was abused for much of my formative years and can genuinely say….. the reason I am a therapist today is because I am certain I would be dead without therapy myself. I now know that we do not recover without it and my gift to this world is to hold space to others while they show up to their life …sometimes, for the very first time.
So, I stand here- BROKEN.
I used to want to hurry and find ways to hide it- even FIX IT.
But Not. Anymore.
Please don’t try to change me. I am BROKEN and I am Beautiful. I have come to love the scars that are ALL MINE. If we have met, you may think what many do, “OoohhhH, She has it ALL Together.”
Just a few days ago someone looked at me and said, “You must not ever have a bad day.” I thought to myself’…..Oh SISTER, IF you only knew.
And in many ways I am together. I have healed from the major wounds of my trauma and currently it has been 12-13 years since my last intense therapy process.
But…… I am just a mere five months out from finally breaking the bread of peace with my mother.
Life is not an EITHER/OR. IT is AND/BOTH. We traditionally want it simple. We want answers that allow us to navigate towards a singular end point. But I have learned, mostly from my own clients, it is rarely that way. ……
I am full of scars and fresh wounds, but I am beautiful. I can be a mess, crying and wallowing in self doubt, and although I am an UGLY Crier, I will still smile with gratitude once it has passed.
I am WHOLE/BROKEN. And I don’t need to be “Fixed”.
So, I come with a message of Hope.
If you are a trauma victim, “The worst thing that could ever happen, has already happened.” The working through will never be as difficult as the trauma you endured. Sexual Assault and Abuse are attempts to steal our SOUL. And for me, the most compassionate gift (and frankly, the best revenge) in this life is to find happiness again. To LOVE Again…..or maybe, for the First Time. I often tell my clients when they have No Hope, I am just holding it for them until they are ready.
If you love a trauma victim, Take Care and GET READY. When we arch over from victim to survivor, we wake up to this life in a way that most consider impossible. Even the trauma victim thinks impossible for a very long time. One day, you will watch them take the deepest breath they have ever taken (TAKE A BREATH) and you will know, the world has shifted.
For a trauma survivor, sleeping through this life is no longer an option and you as their loved one have two options, “Get Busy Living with Them, or get Busy Dying Without Them.”
The work is often an unpaved, unmarked road and we cannot do it alone. We need each other.
We can be Brave and Afraid—-and STILL Do Hard Things. But we cannot do them alone.
From my perspective today, My trauma is my gift. It is my scar that circumnavigates across my messy and sometimes ungraceful life. It does not define me any longer, but instead I AM defining it. As bizarre as it may sound as a victim and those who have not experienced it, I would not take it back. I have no idea what it would mean to be me without it. AND...I need to be reminded every day that I do not have the capacity for perfection, room for constant negative self judgement, or even the worry of appearing ‘uncool’. I try not to go down that road, it is simply a road paved with hell.
But I charge every person here to listen carefully. I believe…. that your story is my story. You may take out the circumstances and many of the details, but MY shame is universal. We all have that one thing that we dare not speak, or that we speak quietly in tight circles. We all have that one thing that we do not want anyone to know out of fear that we may be found out. Fear that we are unloveable and unworthy.
We celebrate Take Back The Night and honor victims and survivors, but honestly, regardless of your truth, I celebrate your courage to just SHOW UP. I celebrate that you knew, somewhere inside you, you were taking a leap with Courage to share that one part of you that perhaps you do not want anyone to see whether you are a trauma survivor or not..
So, I HONOR YOU…… Because Vulnerability is the first thing you look for in me and is the ABSOLUTE last thing you want others to see. But here you are. HERE YOU ARE. Present with me. And no matter what that struggle is, I hope you can say, “Yeah, that— (that thing) which makes me feel ashamed of who I am… I do not have to hide from it anymore.”
From Victim to Survivor. That is the work. It is a difficult journey. But I can tell you with my whole heart, waking up to this life and honoring who we are is the most precious, sweetest gift we can give to ourselves. I am Broken, but I am fully HUMAN.
** I give thanks, praise and credit to Brené Brown and Glennon Melton, two of my heroes in this season of my life for this piece.**
Today, I am in awe…I am toggling between Waves of ‘Oh Holy Shit! and overwhelming Gratitude. Do you SEE what WE DID? Do you know what happened to us? Look at these photos….Aside from a few weird faces I am making, people are smiling- GLOWING even.
WE. DID. THIS.
The one thing I did not begin to fathom when we began this journey was how utterly magical it would be. My family traveled from other states, many survivors ran, volunteered and supported. My friends SHOWED UP. and I mean REALLY Showed UP. You poured your heart into this and we have collectively given birth to something beautiful.
You have all showed me the power of what a small handful of people can do. Change OUR world….One Beautiful Tutu at a Time.
I understand there are some things we want to protect our children from for as long as we can. But for me, my daughter does not get to know who I am without knowing my story. If I practice authenticity, even though sometimes with haphazard grace, the most important person I can practice with – is my daughter Lyra. I am an adult trauma survivor. I was sexually abused for many years as a child, some occurred while I was eight, the same age as my beloved Lyra is now. I have written about this part of me for many years now. How could I share it with the world and not her?
We began talking about this as early as three years old. Understanding what I do, both personally and professionally as a marriage and family therapist, it is never too young to start “The Talk.” I am imagining some parents right now are screaming and wanting to pull hair out (mainly mine) at the thought of starting such a squeamish conversation so early. We had the ‘okay touch, not okay touch’ first, attempting to demonstrate how her body belonged to her and no one, including me, was allowed to touch, squeeze or hug without her permission. I had hints of regret when she would gladly explain to other people how she was in charge of her body (with her hand on her hip), but I had to shrug and smile while other adults rolled their eyes at me.
Later came the first sex talk at the age of six. We got a new kitty and he was going to be neutered. She asked one night while taking a bath (a place where many deep conversations take place, NOT the dinner table -Apparently) what ‘neutered’ meant and I blurted out, “He gets his balls cut off!” Oh, I was rightfully chastised for this because by this time we had many conversations about using proper language. As usual, when you decide to not put your kiddo in a bubble like some trauma survivors do, you have a few mishaps with the sex information being shared . This time, she readily informed all her friends at school and later told me proudly that one of her friends already knew the details of how babies were made. Yes, I did a face palm because how could I forget the power of knowledge? But as the years have raced on, her wise use of knowledge astonishes me.
One aspect of a trauma survivors recovery often entails giving back. So, this year marks the second Annual Phoenix Rising 5k, held in my little rural town, Georgia. When I began private practice, I had in my mind that I wanted a way to support sexual assault survivors in my own community. By raising funds and publicly modeling for all trauma survivors that they are not alone, I could continue to support others in shedding away the shame that every trauma survivor carries. My lovely Lyra decided after I explained to her what happened to me (in as much of an age appropriate way as I could) and why we were hosting this race, that she was going to be the Phoenix, calling herself ‘The Race Mascot.’ In a way that she does not even understand yet, she IS the mascot. Together, we have ended an intergenerational cycle of sexual violence and she is what I have birthed out of the ashes of my strength and hope.
But, like all good truth tellers, especially the Phoenix kind, she didn’t let it end there. Within weeks of the first race, she presented me with a drawing on her favorite colored paper- purple. I beamed!
“I Want to Change the World by Bieing a Masscott at a Race.”
I inquired and the first thing she said was,“Ms. Student Teacher asked us to do this project in art with her. She wanted us to draw a picture of how we felt we could change the world.”
She went on, “I wanted to write that I could change the world by supporting rape survivors, but when I asked her how to spell the word rape, Ms. Student Teacher shushed me and said I couldn’t write that.”
Okay…a little internal dialogue:
“WHAT- THE WHAT! S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y. Student teacher lady, you did what to my daughter???!!! Shushed HER??!!!!” …..then that was immediately followed by, “Oh, poor-poor student teacher, poor 20-something-who-has-no-clue what in the hell to do with such a difficult, complicated and taboo topic (especially with a seven year old in second grade).
I took a deep breath. Then another….. AND Another. Geez, why didn’t I just stick with the bubble? I then asked, “How did you decide this instead?” She flippantly said, “Well, since SHE had a problem with it, I decided to write what I was doing AT the race.”
Yes, we had a lengthy discussion about how it was inappropriate for her teacher to not explain herself and followed that up with the usual, ‘we’re not your typical parents’ bit, but that her teacher was right in this case, ‘Cuz, remember when I let you know that you may not want to tell all your friends about what sex is? Well, this is kind of part of that.’ I explained that we needed to let other parents decide when they were going to talk about certain things and it wasn’t our place to make Ms. Student Teacher have a lecture on rape to her second grade class.
Are you dying inside or jumping with joy? I always wonder what parents would think of my decisions around this part of my relationship with my daughter. I would be lying if I said that I don’t worry or don’t care and I did especially care about my daughters teacher and poor-poor Ms. Student Teacher ‘s feelings. After a few days, I followed up with an email to her teacher explaining what I understood to have occurred and offered understanding and support, but continued to stand my ground around what I believed my daughter deserved in that moment. Not for one HOT MINUTE did I believe Ms. Student Teacher was prepared for such a conversation with a seven year old, but perhaps my daughter helped for future sake.
All I know is that when I made the decision to host this race, I wanted to give back to my community. I wanted to search within and continue to push myself to grow and change in ways I felt were not happening by staying small. What I did not consider was that when I committed to Phoenix Rising, my family did.
For all the struggle that modeling authenticity has been with my daughter, one thing I know for sure: She believes that she is changing the world. And from my point of view, She Already Has.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us: http://momastery.com/messy-beautiful-warrior-friends! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy,Beautiful Life, just released in paperback: http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior!
P.S. In case you were wondering….Yes, We are wearing Tutus. So Fabulous!
Check Out the New Website that went live last night!!