My whole life, the magnanimous one has protected me.
There is a difference between confidence and bravado. There is a difference between the charisma of a woman in love and the dripping saccharine of a woman in heat. There is a difference between a strong woman and a woman who is brash.
There is a wildness in me that can never be tamed. But she is not a beast unless I allow her to be. This wildness, this passion, this strength and beauty -- for too long I believed that I needed to show her to the world in sex and cackling and the ways we make ourselves bigger. This wildness in me kept me alive, the warrior spirit of my truest heart. But how I showed her to the world was full of machismo and bulldagger swagger. And not very much of me.
Being magnanimous for 29 years kept me alive. Making myself bigger, filling more space than I wanted or desired, kept people at a distance safe enough to gauge them fully before perhaps letting them a little closer. But never too close, even when it seemed I bared my heart and soul to someone. There was always a layer, a sheer curtain behind which I hid.
And then, there was a reason not to hide.
Except I got too close, my face pressed against the curtain and begging for it to tear apart. Instead of machismo, I chose to cling. Neediness. An insufferable ache, a childishness. I tossed all my defense mechanisms out the window but didn't replace them, so I was like a tiny puppy weaned too soon. And that, that feeling was so much worse than bravado.
From one extreme to another, and all the while making choices I knew would push away, not bring closer Not consciously knew, not intentionally doing, but happening nonetheless. And then silence.
When I learned how it feels to sit quietly beside someone, each of us reading or writing or just listening to the trees, I understood finally what it means to know peace. Then I spent days reacting to the kindest and gentlest experience with nothing short of absurdity and horror. Once the silence came, I had a choice: look at my actions and confront them, or lose the peace of a quiet morning forever.
Living with abuse-related PTSD is hard. There may always be triggers we don't know exist until they happen. There may always be people who cannot help us when we are scared, and small, and childish. And there may not always be words for our feelings, the ways we ache and fear in the darkness that can never be expressed.
But there is having PTSD (a constant, daily experience), and there is living with PTSD, like one lives with a scar from an old wound. I didn't understand the difference before, the way that one sits just below the surface while the other sits in a far corner, not looming -- as a reminder.
I have good days, every day.
A wise man told me this, and it shook me. To have such complete control over our actions and choices that every day we wake and move through the world with intention. The words we speak, the way we act and react to others, the way memories flood our bones and how we let them move through us (or how they get stuck because we cling to them).
I've spent the last few months wading deep into this memoir, writing snippets and withdrawing, plunging deep and surfacing for air. I didn't recognize how thick the memory coated my skin until I could no longer see my way forward, how I begged and pleaded for someone else to hold me up. Not because I couldn't do it for myself anymore, but because I gave up. I gave in. I handed over my willpower and I said "it's not my job anymore."
But holding ourselves up is, perhaps, our only job. It's okay to break down, it's okay to cry and scream and be furious at memory. It's okay to be angry, to get mad about some injustice that befalls us. It's okay to put on bravado, machismo -- to be completely charismatic with wild abandon.
But through all this, we must not lose sight of our true self: the wildness that sits in us is not our only voice. Using the power of that wildness, we can create incredible things with intention, focus, and courage.
It takes an incredible amount of strength to live with PTSD, to live with trauma, to live with challenges every single day. But being a quiet, strong, gentle soul doesn't make us any less. It is easier to fill 1200 miles with silence than it is to fill it with noise. So I am learning to trust the silence, the quiet company of others, the spaces between sentences in conversations from the heart. It isn't easy, but I know it is worth it. I know that speaking from the place of strength will be more meaningful than speaking from a place of charisma.
Join me for a cup of tea. Together, let us sit. Not forced into conversation, but resting and trusting that the words we say are here for a purpose. And that if we say not a single thing out loud, the conversation our hearts have had will fill us to overflowing.