Last week, I saw my “therapist.” I think I’ve written about the coaching relationship I have with Monique. Maybe I haven’t, and I don’t want to get into it now. But for all intents and purposes, I see a beautiful, wise, passionate woman named Monique, who serves as a spiritual mentor, life coach, and therapist to me. She’s incredible, and one day I will write lots and lots of incredible things about her. But not tonight…
Tonight, I am writing (about) the assignment she gave me last week. As I see her every two weeks, I was recapping all of the wonderful and all of the crazy that had happened since our last visit, as well as what had challenged me. Towards the end of our session, she gave me “homework”—to create an “inventory of grace,” as she put it. Basically, a list of both positive and challenging things I appreciate or have come to appreciate in my life. The original context was for me to write about the hard shit I’ve survived, but I decided to tweak it.
Anyways, as soon as I heard my homework, I knew I wanted to put my gratitude inventory on this blog. I am not able to update as often as I’d like to. I’m busy learning the ropes of a new job, producing a web series, and some other stuff that I don’t feel like putting on the Internet. But I promised myself that I would be more transparent in this blog, as I often feel a need to censor myself. And I’m never interesting when I’m censored.
So, without further ado…
My Inventory of Grace
1. My parents’ divorce. Growing up, I had a number of friends whose parents divorced. And a number of my cousins’ parents were no longer together. This seemed like the scariest thing in the world to me—to have your parents separated, and not in love with each other. I would get really anxious and cry anytime my parents argued, as I thought it meant that they would get divorced. I remember one particular argument when I was 7 or 8 years old—they were so mad at each other, they still weren’t speaking after a few days. I started crying, and told my dad that I was crying because I was afraid they were getting divorced. He comforted me—his irrational, hysterical, overly sensitive daughter—that him and my mother were not splitting up. He was so convincing, I stopped crying. I believed him.
A few years later, my mother would move out—cleverly disguised as her staying with my maternal grandfather, who had dementia and couldn’t live on his own full-time. The following year, my father would move out—cleverly disguised as him staying with my paternal grandfather, but he was really living with his then girlfriend (who is now my step-mother). And the year after that, their divorce would be finalized around my 12th birthday.
My worst fear came true: My parents split up. And it wasn’t a simple, civil split. It was messy and angry and loud. There were fights and threats and, for lack of a better term, violence. They may not have seen it this way. Ugly, yes. Difficult, yes. But they will never admit to how violent it was, but it was. To this day, I still think I suffer from PTSD from what happened. Let me be clear—my parents were not physically violent towards me, my brother, or each other. But they were verbally and emotionally abusive towards each other, and this often spilled over to their interactions with their children.
The point is: I survived. The one thing that seemed so impossible and horrible to me as a child happened… and I survived it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever forgiven them. And I’m not sure I ever will. Now that I’m older, I understand what happened and why. They had been in each other’s lives since they were 15 years old. They had really gone through some deep shit together. And then suddenly, their partner in life for the past 25 years was their enemy. I know it wasn’t easy for them. I know they were ordinary people put in an awful situation. But I don’t think it excuses their behavior. I still love them. I still respect and admire them, and believe they were the best people to raise me. But I still feel some type of way about what they did to each other, to our family—and yes, to me and my brother.
2. My relationship with Atu. I haven’t said his name out loud or written it down in a very long time. I think about him quite often. Still, after almost five years. But not as much as I used to. And I stopped needing to say his name a while ago. But in writing this list, I think it’s important that I am as honest with myself as I can be. I also think it’s important that I name the people, places, things, emotions that I can name, when I can name him.
From ages 18 through 20, I was involved in an older “man” named Atu. I met him during my freshman year in college, when I began working at the grocery store near my house. He was charismatic, funny, and easy to talk to. He was also ridiculously attractive, with dark skin and big muscles and a kind face. He took a liking to me, probably because it took me a long time to notice how attractive he was. And even when I did realize it, I didn’t act the way I’m sure he was used to most girls responding to him.
We became friends. We flirted. We moved past flirting, into that weird space between “talking to” and “dating.”He was the first person I ever liked who liked me back. I felt honored to be an object of his affection, and he knew this. I fell in love.
I was a stupid, naïve, inexperienced teenaged girl. He was a 27-year-old man. There were many warning signs along the way. There were many times I tried to end things with him, or when he tried to end things with me. But when you’re in love, logic is easy to ignore. And so, I ignored the way he mistreated me and the way he manipulated my emotions. I ignored the way he played games, and the way he lied.
I was ignorant, because it was easier that way. When he sexually assaulted me in my home, I forgave him. At that time, I didn’t know that sexual assault could happen between partners. When he gave me an STD, I forgave him. At that time, I had moved away to finish my undergraduate degree at NYU and there was nothing he could do to change the fact that he had given me chlamydia. And when he told me he was in a relationship, just two months after I had moved away, I forgave him. I told myself maybe it wasn’t serious, or that we hadn’t made any promises to each other. But in a way, we had. And he had broken every single one. I stopped being able to forgive him. And when I found out he had married that girl, and she was pregnant with their first child, I stopped forgiving myself. I had let myself be hurt by him, again and again.
Even though that relationship ended almost five years ago, I still haven’t been able to move forward completely. I am a different woman after Atu. I do not love or trust easily. I do not see myself as beautiful. I do not know how to feel at home in my body. I guard my heart fiercely, so much so that I have barely been able to let anyone in since then. I am a little harder around the edges, a little less forgiving.
This is both a gift and a curse. The gift is that I know never to lower my standards or relinquish my boundaries for another person ever again. The curse is everything else.
3. My time in New York. I love New York. I always have, and I always will. So much of my growth and learning happened in New York, and I’m not just talking about school. In New York, I learned how to be revel in my solitude for the first time in my life. I learned how to both rely on myself, and ask for what I need when I need it. I learned how to be broken and strong at the same time. And I learned that I was worthy of my dreams, and my dreams were worth making come true.
I miss New York everyday. It’s a bone-deep yearning. Even though I was only there for two years—those two years were monumental. I had always known I was smart and creative and independent and ambitious, but New York magnified those qualities. New York made me tough, made me hungry, made me appreciate the Bigness of the world.
New York was also two of the toughest years in my entire life. There, I found out I had chlamydia. There, I experienced one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve ever had. There, I damn near killed myself. There, my body began to fall apart. There, I was incredibly alone. There, I was homesick. There, I was a strange and unfamiliar version of myself. There, I lost and found myself.
I constantly feel a need to make it back. I want to move back, to prove to myself that I am worthy of New York. Or maybe to prove to myself that I could be whole and happy and balanced and not crazy in New York. Or maybe, because it’s the only city I’ve ever been in that had all of the things I loved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have all of the people I love.
Still, I dream about New York. And I hope that I’ll make it back there one day. Maybe not for good, but for a long, good while.
4. My depression. I’ve battled with depression for what seems like my entire life. I remember being in elementary school, and having days when I felt sad and wanted to be alone. While the other kids played at recess, I would walk around by myself. After my parents split up and I went through puberty, it got worse. I would miss school. I would cry all the time. I would think and write about harming myself. In high school, I began cutting and scratching myself.
I have spent most of my adolescence and young adult life dealing with depression and mental/emotional health issues. I have been on antidepressants. I have seen therapists. I have tried to self-cope, self-heal. I have even tried to convince myself that I am not depressed.
But in the last year, I have come to name depression what she is: an old, unwelcome friend. In the same way that my depression makes life seem impossible sometimes, I believe she is also what makes me such an empathetic artist and compassionate human being. My depression is triggered, in part, by my hypersensitivity and emotional intelligence. These, too, are gifts that, more often than not, feel like burdens. My depression is the price I pay, I guess.
I have learned to be smarter about my depression, if not smarter than her. I know that when I am lazy, I am more depressed. When I stay in the house for too long or go too long without having real, meaningful human interactions, I am more depressed. When I am tired, I am more depressed. When I am stressed, I am more depressed. When I have to deal with unpleasant people—or just spend a lot of time with people in general—my energy gets zapped… and I am more depressed.
But I have also learned that talking to people helps. I have learned that speaking my truth helps, however inconvenient it is or uncomfortable it makes others feel. I have learned that spending time outside, breathing in fresh air and letting the sun shine on my skin helps. I have learned that eating a fresh vegetable or fruit every once in a while helps, as does exercising and moving my body. I have learned that being creative helps—whether singing or dancing or writing or drawing or performing. I have learned that helping others helps. I have learned that getting out of my head helps.
And so, as I get older, I make a conscious choice to grow with my depression, if I can’t grow out of it.
5. I know who I am and what I want. For the most part, I have always been clear about who I am and what I want from myself, from others, from the world, and from my life. It has not always been easy. There have been plenty of times where things got murky, where I doubted and questioned myself. But at the end of the day, I really do know who I am and what I want. This is a gift, a small and precious and invaluable nugget of a gift that I keep hidden and protected at the center of my very being. Because this world does not want me to know myself, or the things I want. This world wants to kill this knowledge, this certainty. Instead, it wants to replace it with emptiness and confusion, so it can tell me what I want and who I am. And I will not allow this to happen.
As I get older, I become more militant and determined in my self-assuredness. I know that I am a writer, a storyteller, and an artist. I know that I am unwilling to waste anymore times doing anything that is not in service to my writing or my art. I know that I am a Black woman, and I am unwilling to spend time with people who would want me to deny this identity and its implications. I know that I am many things, and all of them are good and whole and messy and unfinished.
But I know myself. I am unwilling to compromise my dreams and desires. And how many people can say that? How many people are blessed and privileged enough to say that?
6. I have been fortunate enough to have dreams come true. If I were to die tomorrow, I think I would be OK with that. I do not want to die tomorrow; I have a lot of unfinished business. But if I were to die tomorrow, I would be satisfied up to a point with the life I have lived. For I have been love(d) and given love to others. I have travelled to some of my favorite places in the world. I have created art and told stories that mattered. And I have had dreams come true.
Right now, today, I am living a dream. It is nothing like how I pictured it. In fact, it feels like the bootleg version of it. But it is not. It’s the real, full version of the plastic, shiny, empty version I fantasized about in my head. I fought for this dream and I worked hard to earn this dream.
It’s 12:47am. I am exhausted, and should get up in a few hours. I’m posting this up without editing it, so I apologize for how sloppy it is or how crazy I sound. But I wanted to say these things when the moment was fresh and here for me to hold.