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Surviving or Thriving?

People that preach constant positivity bug me. I wish I lived in that fairytale land where everything comes up roses. I don’t. I live in reality. Life is great, and then it isn’t. Attitude is important and it will carry us through the tough times if we embrace a positive outlook, but let’s face it; it’s ok to acknowledge sadness or deep disappointment. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to not be on all the time. My late grandmother was our family matriarch. She was a teacher. She was a lady. She was a hard worker at a time when when women didn’t go out to work often, especially in farmland communities in rural New Brunswick, where she ended up settling with my grandfather.

She grew up poor but lived in the city so unlike many women of her generation, she was educated. She was also a very devout Christian. This is where we butted heads. I have so much to thank her for though; primarily for my love of English and the gift of good communication skills that she bestowed upon me. The thing is, she placed crazy high expectations on the women in our family; sometimes unintentionally, but the end result was the same for each of us. We put immense pressure on ourselves to perform at a very high standard. When we fail to meet these impossible standards 100% of the time, anxiety issues arise. Questions and self-doubt creep in. Mental illness found its way into our family psyche and embedded itself into our brains. It proved to be too much for my grandmother’s daughter, and ended with her suicide a number of years ago. My aunt was a beautiful, accomplished nurse and mother. She had every reason to be proud of herself and her life. A classic example of someone that appeared to have it all, only to have it end so tragically. It seems to be a common theme. “She was always laughing,” is the thing I hear most often.

I never wanted to show any vulnerability in my life. My natural instinct is to show no weakness. My age and experience have taught me to see the beauty in being vulnerable and the magic that happens when that vulnerability is shared. The women that have reached out to me to share their own traumatic experiences have helped me grow through mine. I’ve been learning to let go of my own ridiculously high expectations and be easier on myself.

There have been some key incidents in my life that have defined me. I’m a child sexual abuse survivor. This changed how I saw myself from the moment my innocence was stolen, as well as acutely changing my view of the world around me and the people in it. I keenly understand why women hold onto their pain and don’t confront their abusers. Things don’t work our well either way. It took me years to get to a place where I’m ok with who I am and what has happened to me. I went through the proper channels of accountability and felt the relief when he was found guilty of abusing me. I was believed. I was vindicated. It didn’t make anything better though. I was a young woman struggling with usual issues of teenage angst compounded by the weight of guilt and shame that I felt.

#metoo

I became the strongest woman I could be. I would never allow myself to be victimized by a man again. I was a hard ass and I owned it. I still do. The school of hard knocks has hardened me in one hand but softened me in another. It gave me the strength to cope through my young daughter’s heart failure and subsequent surgery in the early 90’s. It led me through the trying times spent by my son’s hospital bed when he was a teenager; his brain being ravaged with seizures. Waiting anxiously while he was on life support, not knowing if he would live or die.

This inner strength allowed me to hold the hands of two of my loved ones as they took their last breaths and death welcomed them. I am a woman. I am a survivor. I am resilient. I handle whatever is thrown at me with a ferocity befitting of a mother lion guarding her cub. Sometimes I get down. Not often and never for long. I aim to thrive but some days I just survive. The world today is not for the feint of heart. As women, we need to work a little harder, a little longer, and be a little stronger to take our place in this world, because power only comes to those who seize it.

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