I turned 36 on Tuesday. I love celebrating my birthday. I know too many amazing people who haven’t had the chance to grow old, so I cherish the opportunity to do just that. This birthday is different though. It follows a particularly bad year. A year where anything and everything that could have happened, did. A year when there were days that I struggled to get out of bed, let alone function as a mom.
But the thing that is the hardest thing for me to face when it comes to turning 36…
It means that this year, I will have lived as a survivor for as long as I wasn’t a survivor. I have been living with this shadow for half of my life now. (Well in December.) I am not really sure how to feel about that or even how to begin to process the emotions that come up with that thought.
You don’t ever really know the full effect of being a survivor unless you are one yourself.
You don’t ever really know the pain of your old self being ripped away unless you have experienced it yourself.
You don’t ever really know what it means to not recognize yourself in the mirror unless you have sat there and stared at your distorted reflection.
You don’t ever really know what it means to lose yourself in pain so deep that you would rather die than fight unless you have been in that darkness.
WHEN YOU ARE RIPPED AWAY FROM YOURSELF
I don’t think we talk about this often enough when it comes to trauma. Most people won’t understand what this means because they have never experienced it before.
There was no choice.
There was no moment where I was asked if I wanted to change my life.
There was no decision that I had to make.
It wasn’t a slow transformation. Who I was in that moment was ripped from me and that girl was never coming back.
For years I fought this. I didn’t want to be ripped away from her. I wanted to be her. I wanted to know her. I wanted to remember her.
All the while, secretly, I didn’t want anything to do with her.
She reminded me of who I could have been.
She reminded me of who I lost.
She reminded me of the future that I was so hopeful to create.
She reminded me that I was never going to be her again.
So every day I fought to be her again. I pretended to have her dreams, her goals, her aspirations. I pretended to exist in her life when in reality, I felt like this fraud. I felt like this woman who looked like her and spoke like her but wasn’t her.
It is a strange feeling to be surrounded by people who know the before version of you. They have no idea that you are struggling with being a fraud because you have this secret. You had this massive explosion happen in your life and everyone around you is walking around you as nothing had happened. You can’t relate to them but you can’t tell them.
You get angry at their happiness.
You get angry at their success.
You get angry at their ordinary life.
You get angry at their lack of knowing.
So I eventually quit trying to be her. Well, I quit trying to be anything because life was too painful. I locked myself away. I became a shell and wandered the Earth, pretending that I was fully capable of living. As I look back on those days and months and years, I don’t know how I survived. I don’t know how I made it to be 36.
THE JOURNEY TO THE AFTER VERSION
It wasn’t even when I began my healing journey in 2014, it was more like months into my healing journey in 2015, did I realize that there was no going back. I couldn’t be her again. I couldn’t even pretend to be her because I was nothing like her. It was in these moments that I realized that I had a before and after version.
A Samantha before the sexual assault and a Samantha after the sexual assault. If you want to hear more about this, check out my podcast interview on It Could’ve Been Me.
I didn’t need to get back to her, I needed to love the woman that I now was. I needed to love this 30-year-old woman that was riddled with scars and barely mended together. I needed to learn to love and embrace the hard-to-love version of myself.
This meant that I needed to relearn who I was. I needed to see what others saw in me. I needed to learn how to see what they saw. I needed to learn how to love me as they loved me. I needed to be seen in a way that I hadn’t been seen in many years.
Before I could take that journey, I needed to be okay with not being the original me. I needed to accept that I had changed. I needed to accept that the change wasn’t my choice but I still needed to adapt and learn to love her.
That was the hardest part of this whole journey. Why?
Because I loved who I was at 18.
I was a bit shy and reserved but I knew who I wanted to be. I had a big vision for my life. I had lofty goals that I wanted to reach. I loved that girl. The girl who had been the class president, who had been nominated for awards and loved by most people.
Loving her was easy. Loving her was uncomplicated. Loving her was natural.
I wanted to have all of that again. I wanted that confidence. I wanted the freedom that I felt. I wanted to feel that self-love again. It wasn’t going to come easy.
But I needed to learn to love the 30-year-old me.
This woman was hard to love. She lacked confidence. She doubted herself more than any person should. She was emotional. She was exhausted. She was confused. She didn't understand how anyone could love her. She fought every day to not be loved.
LOVING THE HARD PARTS
For a class assignment that I had to complete the other day, I interviewed my husband. Well, he had to pick out 12 words from a list that described me. As he was sitting across from me, he looked at me and said,
“There are moments I forget that you aren’t always confident. You can question yourself like the rest of us and I need to remember that.”
This man, who I met about a year and a half after my sexual assault, has seen me at my lowest. He has been there through the tears, through the darkness. He has talked me out of many deep places in our 16 years of being together.
We have not only grown up together, but we have also overcome a trauma together. No, he wasn’t with me when it happened but he was with me for the after-effects of it. We have learned to love through the darkness. We have learned to battle through the darkness. He has seen me grow and change so much over the past 7 years that I can only imagine what goes through his head when he looks at me.
I was shocked at first when he said that to me. I want to be seen as confident. It is a piece of the before me that I want to return to but I love that he said it because it reminds me that I am still a work in progress. That I am still allowed to question myself AND know who I am all at the same time.
That I am still learning to love the after version. I am still learning that I am growing and changing and accepting the new version of myself. That I can be a walking contradiction and still be okay.
So how did I do it? How did I learn to love the after version? Well, that is what you are here for after all, right?!?!
1| I looked myself in the eyes every morning. I would go to the mirror in the bathroom and look at myself. I would cry. I would curse. I would spew hatred but I showed up every morning because I knew that I needed to accept that reflection. I knew that I needed to see the pain in her eyes, the joy in her eyes, the tired in her eyes. I needed to see it all so that I could begin to name it and feel it. And oh, did I ever feel it?!?!
2| I got naked and looked at my body in the mirror every day. This was hard!!! This brought up so many emotions that I almost walked away from doing it. I didn’t trust my body. I didn’t appreciate my body. I didn’t love my body. I had this thought that my body was bad. That it was unlovable. That it was ugly and worthless. I had this idea that even though my husband told me I was beautiful, he was lying. He was just using me. There would come a day when he wouldn’t want to touch me anymore and so I couldn’t allow him to do it.
I needed to overcome this fear. I needed to learn to embrace my body because it wasn’t my body’s fault for what had happened. It had nothing to do with how I looked or how I carried myself. My body was just used as a tool to make me feel powerless.
3| I did a boudoir shoot. The first time that I had decided to do a boudoir shoot, I was a nervous wreck. I had told myself that I was doing it for my husband. I wanted to treat him to a special Christmas gift. I didn’t realize before walking into that room that how I viewed my body was going to change FOREVER! I left feeling empowered, feeling beautiful, feeling incredibly sexy and confident. Ways that I had NEVER felt about my body before.
I saw my body in a whole new light. I saw how magnificent a woman’s body is. I was one of those magnificent women. I felt like I walked differently after that photoshoot. I walked taller. I walked like I had the confidence of a woman who had NEVER been torn down before.
It returned my power to me. For the first time in years, I felt like that I had total control and power over my body. That it wasn't there for anyone else but myself. I walked into that room thinking I was doing it as a gift for my husband and walked out of that room having given a gift to myself.
4| I gave myself permission to stop doing hobbies that I no longer enjoyed. For a long time, I thought that I needed to keep doing something because I used to do it. Even if I hated it, I just had to suck it up and continue to do it. And so my hobbies began to make me miserable. It wasn’t until I decided that it was okay for me to try new things and throw out hobbies that I had outgrown, did I begin to learn who I was.
5| Accepting that loving my current self is hard but entirely worth it. For the past 6 years, I have been learning to love the messier, complicated version of myself. It is exhausting. It hasn't come easy. I am still transitioning from my thinking that loving this newer version of myself should be easy.
I finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle and throughout the book, she talks about life being hard. How she thought she was doing life wrong because it wasn’t easy for her.
Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you are doing it right. Glennon Doyle
Loving yourself as the after version is not easy. Every day is a fight. Healing doesn’t end and you will always be moving forward and then taking a few steps back. In this blog post, I talk about the step we need to take after we say, #metoo.
6| I allow my mind to get quiet. This took a lot of practice and in reality, it never is really quiet. I allow myself to bring thoughts in and just let them float away. I allow myself to just feel in these moments. I have sat through meditation with tears streaming down my face. There are moments that I don't know why I am crying, I just know that I need to.
My body now craves this time. It looks forward to it every single day. The time when I get to notice what my body is saying, where it is feeling all the things and where I am feeling nothing.
You are not doing anything wrong learning to love yourself. You are learning how to navigate a world that you were thrown into, a world that you didn’t have a choice to join. You are learning to honour yourself, honour your body, honour your wants and needs.
You are no longer putting in the effort to hide. For years you thought that you needed to look shiny and pretty.
You are attempting, learning and growing in your own space and on your own time. Learning how to feel safe within yourself. You are on a journey to embrace the rough edges, fall in love with the broken pieces and embrace the roughness of your healing. You are learning how to thrive in ALL of the emotions that you are living in.
Loving the version of you that was meant to break is how you BECOME everything that you thought you couldn’t.