Work, Hustle & Coffee

Can I just repeat that the man fed me while I worked?

I did NOT phone it in yesterday. I cried my way through therapy, turned out work and volunteer work, went to a very productive lunch meeting and went back to work and volunteer work. I think it’s important to give back, so to speak.

Since I was feeling a bit out of sorts yesterday and had A LOT TO DO and places to be, I decided to check out a new coffee & beer joint on the other side of town, not far from my lunch meeting. It was in a light industrial complex, and when I walked up the large garage door was rolled up and the place was open air, which felt good on a warm and humid morning. I ordered a latte and a chocolate croissant, and sat at the bar to finish a small knitting project before I hopped on my laptop.

I liked the place so much I asked David if he wanted to join me after lunch, and a scurried off for a very productive and pleasant lunch meeting (quiche Florentine), then headed back for the afternoon. Afternoon turned into evening, and as the sky darkened they opened the big door back up, left the overhead lights off and placed votives on the tables. I was still cranking out work when we decided to order dinner, and the coffee and beer bar is a dinner restaurant. We got the grilled cheese sandwich and the chickpea salad, both very yummy, and David fed me while I typed away, trying to beat my battery dying.

Can I just repeat that the man fed me while I worked?

I’ve scraped a lot of things out of my day to protect myself so that I can be really productive over the next couple of weeks while hopefully not being triggered so frequently or severely. I still don’t feel great, but I’m told to keep doing what I’m doing.

Onward, with coffee.

Burnt. Toast.

“It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’m back from my brief stint in relative seclusion, and I have nothing left today. Everyone is going to get “no” as a response. Everyone.

I deeply enjoyed my weekend in the desert. I did not enjoy coming back to sub-freezing temps, and that short break was enough to highlight the things in my life that are really weighing on me.

It really bothers me that no one asks me how I’m doing. No one close to me, that is. If they do, it’s a surface level question, and any response I have that isn’t “great!” gets dropped as though I didn’t just say “I’m not doing well today.” My people aren’t checking in with me. Strangers and acquaintances, sure, but not my family and close friends. No one asked how my flight was, and I’m scared to death of flying. No one celebrated with me that I didn’t have to take Xanax for either flight. My Mom wanted details of my trip while I was hauling my luggage upstairs. Yes, I want to give you every detail of my weekend while I’m struggling to drag a suitcase and a couple of small bags up to my room. Can it wait ten minutes?

I hide most of what I experience because sometimes I don’t even understand it, and because I have yet to see it help for me to say what’s going on. “I’m having a bad day” or any other version of it gets met with the appearance of indifference. I can understand it must be hard to look at me or talk to me and know that I don’t blurt out what I feel, I need time to work out how to talk about it. If I ever did blurt it out, I would terrify everyone, because I exist in a painful reality. There would be screaming and yelling and probably a few punches thrown. So I keep it in, and I don’t get the time to slowly release it to someone. And they otherwise don’t see it so…it’ doesn’t exist? And I’m fine. And I can do anything. And Ashley is so strong and capable.

I am because I don’t have an option. There is no space in your life for me to be anything else. I do what I have to do to survive.

Therapy was rough this morning. I cried a lot. When we got to the root of my tears, it was that I don’t feel like I matter. I have been busting my ass for a lot of people, and don’t feel like I’m getting any of that in return. My business partner picked me up from the airport in the cold yesterday, and that was the most someone has gone out of the way for me in…ever? As much as I can grouse about him, he can hear what I need and just do it, no questions, no judgment and no making it about him. He said such a kind thing to me yesterday when I thanked him for picking me up, “It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’ve been driving around, working with clients, writing documents, getting us more work, taking care of my increasingly frail grandma, trying to keep the chaos at home to a dull roar and being emotionally supportive to the point that I feel burned up. I wanted to say “no” to everyone today. I don’t want to answer calls or respond to emails. I certainly didn’t want to comfort my grandma or work on my business partner’s project to help him finish or be supportive of David while he swoops in long enough to be supported and encouraged then disappears again to go help someone else. Anyone else but me. Because for whatever reason, me not having a good day only merits an, “I hope you feel better.”

Well shit, I hope I feel better too. It’d be nice if I didn’t have to do it alone…

Life is a Gift

I cried.

I got triggered while driving again last night. Two cars stopped IN A LANE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HIGHWAY to deal with their fender bender. No pulling off the road, no hazard lights, no brake lights…until the line of speeding cars in front of me slammed their brakes and started swerving.

It set me off…lately imminent threat throws the trigger switch. I stayed calm and breathed until we got to David’s house. Then I cried and had to lay down for a bit. I drove home rather than staying the night, and I hated every minute of that drive. Every. Minute.

This morning I’m still a little shaky, and I got maybe 5 hours of sleep last night because I got home so late and was up early for the weekly walk and talk with my business partner. He failed to wake up, however, so I grabbed some bagels for myself and my parents and ended up in a long talk with them about what’s next for me.

I’ve been given a very substantial gift, they let me know this morning. It’ll let me focus on what I want to for the next six months or so without having to worry about having to sustain myself. No strings attached, just a gift.

I cried.

I don’t understand something like this landing in my lap. I’m still trying to process this kind of generosity. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to work as hard, it just means that I have some room to fail or grow or both without it taking me out. It also means I don’t have to side hustle this weekend, so I’m taking that opportunity to rest and recover and think about what I want to do.

Grateful doesn’t even get there, but it’s a start.

Reclaiming Sex (And the Words that Got Me There)

I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was.

I have had so much negative association with sex. David and I have been held off, aside from some fun times fooling around, because I wasn’t ready, and I had a lot to process and figure out. It’s been hard. It’s also been really good. And, for the first time ever for me, sex is really good.

I’ve been reading Come As You Are by Emily Negoski. It’s a game changer about sex for every woman (I think men would benefit from reading it, and I was sending pages to David as I read it), and was especially so for me post-rape. I like science, I find information freeing, and I would rather have the information and make a decision than not know. Every time I learn I have a choice (abuse, rape and assault are not times that you have a choice, and that infects so much of your life), I get to move forward toward healing. This book gives a lot of information about how our bodies and our brains can better enjoy sex, and how people who have survived trauma don’t have to stay stuck.

There was so much I didn’t know. And now I know. And while reading that book, I started to think that maybe I might actually be ready for sex.

One of the things I appreciate so much about David is that he has changed his language to be more supportive of me. He’s listening and he’s willing to learn, and while our verbal communication styles are different, he’s saying very specific things that tell me he cares, he’s prioritizing me feeling safe and he’s making space for my experience to be valid and not crazy (I still often feel pretty crazy). I’ve also worked really hard to be clear and specific about my experience without assigning blame or shutting down. Go us!

He did the most incredible thing today. We had planned to spend the day in our “couple bubble”, and that got progressively interrupted by other people. I’m not interested in throwing fits or demanding things, and life is what it is, so I rolled with it, and when we finally rolled into his bed, he wanted to talk about expectations for when I was ready for sex so that he’d know.

Y’all, that man is a gift.

I had just read about making my sexuality my own, making it what I choose to make it rather than only what serves someone else and just making the goal pleasure and fun and curiosity rather than performing to some kind of insane and conflicting societal standard or the demands of an abusive past. Hearing him reinforce that I get to make the choice about when I’m ready and what will make me feel safe and comfortable? I wasn’t ready, but I was. All that negative shit about sex that has been drilled into me for years? I don’t have to make it my own. That belongs to someone else. I get to choose. And I chose yes.

I chose yes to today, yes to what I was comfortable with and who I was comfortable with and yes to whatever that brought up. I got to give consent and, to my great surprise and delight, sex was fun. It was good, it was pleasurable, I enjoyed him, I enjoyed me, and when I got home I felt no shame and no obligation. Those words? Those words are the words of someone who had earth-shakingly good sex. Not because we scared the neighbors a mile down the road with a deafening climax (haha, yet), but because everything I’ve felt before that was negative was gone. And because we communicated expectations beforehand, he wasn’t surprised when I cried, he just held me. I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was. Then tears. Really good tears that needed to happen a long time ago.

It is really easy to make me the center of this, to work around my needs, but his are important too. So when he breathed “I needed that.” after he finished I was glad – not because I had met some kind of performance standard, but because I want to see both of our needs met in this relationship, not just mine because I’m the needy one right now.

Naturally, I had a panic attack when I got home. I was in a safe place, had just showered, and had time to process. I wasn’t very emotionally connected to him during sex, which I wasn’t surprised about since that was a feelings overload. It was enough that I felt safe and comfortable, the rest will happen as it happens. But here’s the really great part, and the part where I did the real work of reclaiming sex: I handled the panic attack without meds and by facing it head-on, not by letting it control me.

My experience has been to be raped and abandoned. That sounds harsh, and it is, because it was harsh. It was cruel. It was meant to manipulate me, and feel horrible about myself so that I could be controlled. There is so much shame in that experience, and so much reason to shut down. Which is why I texted David to let him know that I was feeling a little bit of separation anxiety and may need some reassurance…JUST KIDDING, TOTAL MELTDOWN. The wave of panic hit hard and made everything that had just been so good out to be so bad.

PTSD is a bitch.

I got called Boss Bitch today, and that’s funny to me now because that’s kind of accurate. I made a decision to be open, to not feel shame, to communicate my experience, to give myself some space to acknowledge the panic and to face it and use the opportunity to reprogram those neuron pathways that wanted me to panic about sex. I settled into a meditation pose, acknowledged my feelings, inquired whether those feelings had any basis, worked though what I knew or had evidence for (basically talking back to the fear that I had just been used and was about to be abandoned, noting to myself that he wanted to stay with me longer, he had no expectations, he was being responsive even though he had other things going on that I had known about ahead of time, that he had made sure I felt safe, that he had checked with me for consent, that he was being intentional about communicating how his work schedule might be challenging for me given what he knows about my communication style), and told myself that I got to make the decisions, not anxiety. I told my brain what it actually needed to think, and that if it still wasn’t sure, we could ask. But I didn’t have to.

David called me my favorite nickname, supported me and stayed responsive until I let him know I was calm and ok. Short texts, big impact. The words that helped me get there as I reclaimed sex.