Virgin At Love

I am forty two years old and, until fairly recently, I was a virgin at love.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not claiming to be a virgin IN love.  I have been in relationships before.  I have even been married.  I have children.  I have had sex.  I have just come to realize that I was a virgin AT love.

Love for me has always been fairly confusing.  From early on, I was bombarded by polar extremes.  Like many young girls, I dreamed of a fairy tale romance that ended in that cliched happily ever after.  Yet, at the same time, reality and my parents showed me how volatile and destructive love could turn.  I knew what I imagined love should be like and I knew that truthfully love didn’t always end up with fairy dust and carriages riding off into the sunset.

I had a handful of relationships that, looking back, were filled with fondness, caring and compassion.  I was with my high school sweetheart for five years, my ex-husband for eight and an ex-fiance for eleven.  I have spent the majority of my life since I first blossomed in a relationship of some sort.  Children were even conceived out of two of those relationships.  Those partners were each a big part of my life and mattered a great deal to me at one time.  But if I have to be honest, looking back, I don’t believe I was ever truly in love with any of them.

We had connections and sparks.  We had interests in common and activities to share.  Yet it always felt like there was something missing, something forced, like I was desperately trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  I went through the motions, trying to be who I felt they needed me to be, who I thought I should be, never quite feeling like I fit into my own skin.

There’s an old saying, something about not knowing quite what something is but that “I’ll know it when I see it”.  I cannot think of a more fitting way to describe love.  Until you finally have it, feel it, find yourself emmersed in and enveloped by love, you only have a vague concept of what love truly is.  It took falling deeply, thoroughly, hopelessly in love for me to realize that everything else I have ever felt was but a pale reflection and a poor substitution.

The love of my life started out with all the sweetness of an after school special.  I knew him years ago when we were both growing up.  He was my older brother’s childhood best friend and my first crush.  Even back then, we had an undeniable connection, though we were honestly too young to explore it.  We had a series of fairly innocent interactions that never quite led anywhere.  We never even shared a single kiss all those years ago, though I had often wished he had been my first.  Fate would ultimately send us on different paths and in different directions for decades.

After twenty five years apart, our paths crossed again.  He found me on Facebook of all places, listed as a friend of a friend he might know.  From first contact, we talked almost nonstop through every free moment we could find for the first couple days.  By the third day, we knew we had to see each other.  We arranged to get together that next evening.  Sparks flew that night and we have been together ever since.

While I have always been a hopeless romantic to some extent, I always fell short of believing in love at first sight or soulmates.  I had been in relationships before and cared for them all equally, yet differently, in their own way.  I stood firmly in the belief that people could, and would, love many different people over the course of their lifetime.  I could never wrap my head around the idea that anyone could just KNOW they wanted to spend the rest of their life with anyone else right from the start.  That is, until he and I were sitting down by the river, in the town we grew up in, talking all night under the stars.  Now, I could never imagine spending even a portion of my life with anyone else.

Right from that first night , I had never before felt so comfortable, so safe.  It was like I could say anything to him, knowing that nothing would scare him away.  Likewise, there was nothing he could have said that would have made me turn away.  I knew him and he knew me.  We were those same children we once were all those years ago, only grown and somewhat scarred by life.  That first night, we shared things with one another that even our closest friends do not know.  Because on some level, we just KNEW.

I’ve discovered that I am different when I am with him.  Not a different person.  If anything, I am more myself with him than I have ever been with anyone else.  For the first time, I don’t have any walls up.  I have no need for them.  I don’t have that overwhelming need to keep up my guard or protect myself from him like I have always had with others in the past.  I no longer worry about letting my true self come out.

I don’t want him to be anyone but himself, either.  I love him not for what he has or what he does, but for the person he is inside.  So much in life can change.  Appearances, wealth, stability.  If you choose someone for fickle reasons, you’re likely to turn away when the wind blows them in a different direction.  First and foremost, at the top of my list of reasons I love him, is his heart.  He has the same warm, beautiful, compassionate heart I knew all those years ago.

We have been together just over a year.  Circumstances and tragedy thrust us closer together less than a couple months in.  Yet it never felt rushed or forced.  Nothing else in my life has ever felt so right, has ever made so much sense.  We have spent virtually every day together, with very few exceptions, over the last year, though we never tire of each other.  On those rare moments we are apart, it feels as if a part of ourselves is gone and we genuinely miss each other.  When people ask how we are not sick of each other yet, I respond that it is because I love him with all my heart.

With ll this talk about love, it begs to wonder what exactly is love?

From time to time, I see people trying to sum up what love is.  I honestly don’t think you could fit an accurate explanation into the characters of a tweet or the square graphic of a meme.  Love is too complex to be summed up that tersely.  Love is so many things, so fluid and abstract, yet solid and concrete.  It is the both coveted and feared, misunderstood and misidentified.  You’ll know it when you see it.

Love goes far beyond the comfort and trust of communication I described earlier.  Love is both fragile and small, appearing in a thousand little ways to remind someone they matter.  At the same time, love is immense and all-encompassing, never wavering or faltering.  Love is the for better or worse of the wedding vows and yet it is also so much more.

Love is sitting up all night with their head in your lap because they do not feel well and their comfort is more important in that moment than yours.  Love isn’t about giving up your own identity or sacrificing your own self-care.  Rather, it is about being willing to put them first when they need it because you trust them to do the same for you.  It is about accepting that everything is not always a clear cut fifty-fifty split and being willing to make adjustments on the percentages as needed so neither person feels unappreciated or insignificant.  Love is a lifetime dance of back and forth, give and take, where you learn to move through life as one.

Love is being perfectly content curling up together with a tray of chili cheese fries and a nostalgic movie or sitting down by the river, talking under the stars.  Love doesn’t have to provide excitement and the thrills of an adventure.  Love itself is the adventure.  Whether doing something momentous together or doing nothing at all, love will always be present.  Love isn’t about the thrill of the hunt or the victory of the capture.  If you look for your partner to provide continuous excitement in your life, your attention will waver whenever a peaceful lull occurs. Love is cherishing those lulls, being content with each other, even on mellow days.

Love is about accepting one another completely, without demanding change.  When you love someone, you do not pick and choose what parts of someone you are willing to take and which you will not accept.  Even their quirks become endearing because it is part of who they are.  Love is about cherishing their cracks and their scars because they would not be the same person without them.  Love is not about taking the good with the bad.  It is about seeing them wholly for who they are and loving it all because they would not be themselves any other way.

Love is about craving each other’s touch, not just as a precursor to intimacy but because you genuinely long to have them close.  Love is reaching out in the middle of the night just to have a part of yourself touching them, of not being able to resist kissing the top of their head when you pass their chair or wanting to clasp their hand in an unspoken “I love you”.  It is about holding hands whenever we’re driving anywhere because it just feels natural to touch.  It is about the way you feel inside when they react to your touch, as well, knowing those cravings are reciprocated.

Love is knowing you can share interests without judgment.  It is being able to put on a childish or obscure movie for comfort and having them curl up to watch it with you, not because they would have ever chosen it themselves but because it means something to you.  Love is about being able to let your nerd flag fly, knowing your partner will embrace it all, too, simply because it matters to you.  It is about creating a home together that truly reflects yourselves, complete with racing walls and nerdy shelves, and everything else you both hold dear.

Love is about feeling secure about your place in each other’s lives.  It is not about being reminded that you were their first choice but rather knowing you are their only choice.  It is about trusting one another to never go searching for those fabled greener pastures.  It is about never worrying that someone else might be waiting in the wings, searching for an opening.  Love is about only having eyes for each other to the point that the rest of the world is romantically irrelevant.

Love is all-inclusive.  There should be no one in either of your lives who does not know how much you matter to one another.  Your partner does not have to always be involved in whatever you do, but they should always be welcomed along if they choose to go.  Love is building a life together that encompasses both of your lives into one new life together.

Love is about highs and lows, for better or worse.  Love is knowing that they are in it for the long haul and not only for the good times.  Love is standing by each other even when the world feels like it is collapsing around us because our worst day together is still better than a great day apart.  It is believing we are stronger together and will find a way to get through everything as long as we have each other.  Love is about not giving up on each other.  It is about facing everything life throws at you, all the hardships and traumas, together.

Love is about the way their smile brightens your whole day and their touch warms you inside.  Love is about knowing the curves of their face by memory and the sound of their voice in a crowded room.  Love is about being so in tune with each other, knowing each other so well, that they feel like an extension of yourself, a piece that you miss dearly when they are away.  Love is about the way their touch settles your nerves and makes the rest of the world disappear, if only for a moment.  Love is about finding peace in their presence and knowing them as well as you know yourself.

Love is being happy when simultaneously together and apart. It about not needing to always do everything together but still enjoying having them near.  It is about being able to do different things while still in the room together, feeling content knowing they are still close by doing their own thing.  It is not about losing your own identity but rather being able to both maintain separate activities in tandem while still relishing each other’s presence nearby.   We could spend hours in the same room, each doing our own thing.  Yet we still reach out to caress and kiss each other every time we pass one another and to send errant love you messages and memes throughout it all so we always know we are in each other’s minds and hearts.  We are as comfortable doing our own thing as we are doing things together.

Love is about always appreciating one another.  It is about not taking love and kindness for granted, acknowledging how we each go out of our way for one another.  It is about doing things in return, not because it is owed, for balance or to fill a quota but because you legitimately want to show one another how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Love is about doing things for one another you would never do for anyone else.  It is having that one person who will always go above and beyond.  It should never be expected nor demanded. It should always be freely given or done because you know it is truly appreciated.  There are so many things I have done for him that I could not even imagine doing for anyone else.  Things he never asked for or expected.  Things I did purely in the name of love because I knew it would make him happy.

Love should have its roots in friendship.  It is not enough to consider someone the love of your life.  They should be your best friend, as well.  You should be able to say anything to one another, share anything, be partners in crime.  When you want or need someone there, your partner should always be on the top of your list, even if only for emotional support.  Love is about being able to laugh together, cry together, depend on each other and trust each other.  Love is the strongest bond of friendship.

The evolution of love, in many ways, is much like friendship.  As a young child, friendships are simple and transparent, lacking any true depth.  If a child shares a cookie with you at lunch, you consider them a friend.  As time goes on, however, your understanding of friendship evolves and deepens.  Looking back, you cannot believe you ever considered something as trivial as a cookie as the core foundation of a friendship.  Yes, a friendship may be built upon that first interaction but it is not strong enough to stand on its own as the sole foundation.  Cookies crumble.

Likewise, I cannot believe I ever considered the relationships of my past to be on the same level of the love I have now.  I am surrounded by the crumbs of a past that did not have the strength to withstand the test of time.  I may have once thought it was love but that was only because I didn’t truly understand the depth of love.  Looking back, it all feels superficial in nature, going through the motions without ever diving into the deep end.

I could spend all day going on and on about love, giving example after example from my own life.  It would easily be enough to fill a dozen fairy tales or turn a hundred stomachs, depending on who you ask.  Unfortunately, though, love is truly one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” things, something you will never truly understand until it is right in front of you, staring you in the eye.  Until then, you’ll be how I once was, stumbling through life with a vague idea of what you think love is and a concept of what it should be.  A virgin at love.


Why You Cannot Blame Guns for Violence..

Following the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas, a friend of mine challenged everyone to give him one example of how guns do not equal violence.  He stated that, whether for hunting, protection or defense by the armed forces, the end result remains the same.  That guns serve no purpose but to create violence.  When others counted with examples such as shooting ranges, he countered that places like that exist to increase the users’ proficiency for later violence and insisted once again that the sole purpose of a gun is violence.

This friend of mine is an incredible person, a true inspirational soul who spends a great deal of his time promoting the goodness and kindness of others.  He has made it his mission to make the world a better place by highlighting the best in people at a time when the media seems intent on showing us the worst.  I have the utmost respect for him and decided to take his challenge.

I am in a unique position to speak about gun violence.  When I was 16, my mother shot my father.  That one event was the catalyst that sparked many years of struggle and torment for me.  I am intimately aware of the fear and devastation that guns can cause.  For many years, I avoided guns like the plague because they were tied directly to one of the most traumatic periods of my life.

Last year, however, I made the very unconventional decision to go shooting with friends.  It was not an exercise in violence but rather a journey in healing and self-empowerment.  There was no intent to harm any living creature, neither that day or at any future time.  It was something I felt I needed to do to free myself from demons that had controlled me for far too long.

Before I was able to even shoot a gun, I had to come to terms with a couple hard truths.  The first being that I am not my mother.  I am not responsible for her actions.  The second is that a gun is an inanimate object and nothing to be feared.  A gun was not responsible for my father being shot.  My mother was.

Going shooting was honestly liberating.  I was able to shed myself of decades of fear and pain just by accepting those two truths.  More importantly, it forever altered my view on guns.

I completely understand the panic following tragedies like the shooting in Las Vegas.  Our knee jerk reaction when a senseless tragedy occurs is to pinpoint the cause and prevent it from ever happening again.  But I do not believe guns themselves are to blame.

Guns are inanimate objects.  Tools.  To place blame on guns is to take away personal responsibility for actions.  Any item can be a weapon if used in that capacity.  A hammer can be used to damage or destroy, or to build and create.  The difference is intent.

Similarly, we cannot call for all guns to be confiscated due to the actions of a select few.  Penalizing an entire group of gun owners for the actions of a lone gunman also negates the shooter’s responsibility for his actions and lays blame on millions of people who had no part in the shooting.

The problem with senseless tragedies is that you can find no sense in them.  You cannot use logic to understand the illogical.  There is no easy solution, no one thing you can pinpoint to blame and snuff out to avoid it from ever happening again.

There are many pieces to the puzzle that contributed to this tragedy, some of which are gun related.  One has to question how easy it is for someone to acquire a multitude of weapons illegally or to purchase kits to modify those weapons.  But once again, the blame lies not with the guns themselves or those who legally own guns but with the circulation of illegal firearms and gun manufacturers themselves who have cut corners, allowing their guns to be easily modified.

Other contributing factors honestly have nothing to do with guns themselves.  Mental illness and the lack of adequate mental healthcare is the elephant in the room very few want to address.  Some take it to the opposite extreme, declaring that anyone suffering from mental illness should be denied access to guns.  Once again, that is punishing the majority for the actions of a few.  Taking away the right of gun ownership from law abiding citizens who have acquired their guns legally in no way prevents tragedies like this where guns were amassed illegally.  All it would do is put gun owners in the precarious position where they had to choose between getting treatment for their mental health and having their rights stripped away.

I know it’s the quickest and easiest thing to lay blame on the guns themselves, to say if the shooter did not have all those guns, the tragedy would never have occurred.  But to blame the guns themselves is to negate the responsibility that should rest elsewhere, from the shooter himself to the ease of access of illegal firearms to the gun manufacturers who release products that are so easily altered to the lack of adequate mental health treatment in this country.  The events in Las Vegas were a senseless tragedy.  But to place blame on inanimate objects for the failings of people is just as senseless.

Ashamed & Afraid for My Country

This honestly isn’t a political rant.  Whether or not anyone agrees with who was elected, what’s done is done.  There are checks and balances in place, as well, so no one can run amuck unchecked.  I believe we have to have faith in our strength as a country to persevere and pray that the people in office use good judgment and listen to the voices of experience placed around them to guide them.  Hope for the best.

What makes me fearful for my country are the actions of a small portion of the population who sincerely believe that, due to who was elected, they have the right, the duty, to go around harassing and assaulting minority groups.

In the aftermath of the election, stories keep surfacing from all parts of the country spewing hate and division.  People are legitimately afraid to go outside, to go to work and send their children to school.  People are getting harassed, accosted and assaulted in broad daylight in public places because of their race, religion, or sexual preference in unheard of numbers.  Decades ago, behavior like this was more commonplace but I had sincerely thought that we as a country had grown beyond it.  I am ashamed that there are people who truly think this is okay.  And I am fearful.

The perpetrators aren’t just adults who should know better.  There are stories of children in elementary school telling their classmates they’re going to get deported.  That type of learned behavior is abhorrent.  Their parents should be ashamed.  As an American who grew up in this beautiful melting pot of a country, I am ashamed.  And I am fearful.

I have heard there have been attacks going the other way, as well, with minorities assaulting Trump supporters solely because they voted for their chosen candidate.  Though these stories are appearing less frequently, they are no less disgusting.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  Attacking each other does nothing but create more division at a time when this country desperately needs unity.  I am equally ashamed of people on both sides of the fence that think that violence and hatred could solve anything.  And I am fearful.

I honestly found myself at a loss for words, something that is very rare for me.  Writing is my lifeblood.  As I sat thinking about the state of my country in abstract terms, reality hit.  This wasn’t just something floating across my newsfeed, happening to others, mortifying me from the safety of my home.  I thought of my friends, some of which I have known for well over twenty years.  I opened up my facebook and looked, truly looked at their faces.  I was mortified at how many of them might be affected by this wave of insanity.  I became sincerely afraid for their safety.

I found myself penning this note to put out there to them because I honestly didn’t know what else to say:


I reached out to some of them personally.  None of them honestly wanted to talk much about it.  They were fearful for themselves and their families but they were weary of everyone checking in on them.  It is all they keep hearing about.  They are bombarded by it.  They are cautious.  They don’t understand how any of this is happening today.  But they just don’t want to talk about it anymore.  They want their lives to go back to normal, back to a time before they felt this way.  I am truly ashamed that my friends should ever have to feel like this.  And I am very afraid that things might one day hit closer to home.

I kept reading the news, watching and listening.  I know that these occurrences aren’t widespread.  Half the country is not actively up in arms, attacking the other half.  This is happening in small pockets, though, throughout the country.  These aren’t isolated incidents.  Stories keep popping up.  While the vast majority are not committing these crimes, enough people are that people are genuinely afraid.  We should all be ashamed that this is happening in our country.  And we should be fearful about what it says about our future.

I heard about the safety pin movement.  Though it originated in England, related to Brexit, it has been adopted by people in the United States as a way to let those who are afraid know that they have their support, that they will stand by them and protect them if need be.  I immediately searched for one to add to my jacket, even adding a large heart to it so there would be no doubt that the pin has been placed with love and compassion.


In all honesty though, I am five foot two, there is not much I could physically do to fend anyone off.  I am by no means a warrior, at least in any physical sense of the word.  Writing, though, is my lifeblood and words are my weapon of choice.  I have spoken out openly and loudly in support of mental health awareness and fighting the stigma attached because I believe it to be a cause I wholly believe in and support.  Likewise, I stand firmly behind those who are fearful for their safety in a world gone mad.  I may not have much in the way of physical force to use to defend you, but I will stand by you and I will speak out for you.

I am truly ashamed of my country right now.  And I am afraid for everyone that is being targeted by harassment, abuse and assault by people who should truly know better.

Fearful or not, though, we all must stand up and say Enough! We must stand by each other in support, not only symbolically by wearing pins or messaging friends to make sure they are okay, but by speaking out, putting our words out there, saying THIS IS NOT RIGHT!

We are a country built upon a melting pot of great people from all different areas of the world, all walks of life.  We are better than this.  I am tired of being ashamed and fearful.  You should be, too.

Speak up!

Sheer Stupidity

Sometimes the sheer stupidity of some people honestly blows my mind.  These days, my ex-fiance is on the top of that list.  I’ve tried so many times to understand his choices and decisions, but there is just no way anyone can rationalize stupidity.

He had IT. Unconditional, Unadulterated Love.  That blessed thing that people spend their whole lives looking for and sadly, some never find. Love.  That thing people fight for, kill for and die for.  Love.  That beautifully amazing thing that people live for, that makes the darkest day feel brighter and the hardest task or largest obstacle seem manageable.  That thing that truly makes life worth living.

He had a woman who had seen him at his worst and loved him anyway.  He had a woman who had forgiven him time and again for his transgressions and urged him to be that better man she knew he was inside.  He had a woman who stood by him when he had nothing, nursed him back to health when he was sick and treated his wounds when he was injured.  He had a woman who always stood proudly at his side and always had his back, defending him against anyone who might treat or view him as anything less than she felt he deserved.  He had a woman who longed to be in his arms, to feel his kisses and to wake up and fall asleep at his side every day for eleven years.

Every. Single. Day.

He had a woman who would get out of bed in the morning to make his coffee and set out his clothes while he got ready for work.  He had a woman who would greet him at the window when he came home with her hands shaped as hearts, then run to the door to give him hugs.  He had a woman who would happily have dinner on the table when he got home, knowing he’d be hungry and who would massage his sore muscles whenever he asked, always appreciating how hard he worked.  He had a woman who would pamper him for no other reason than because she loved him, never asking anything in return.  He had a woman who showered him with compliments and praise, even when he couldn’t see it in himself, and who was always generous with her love and intimacy.  He woke up and went to bed knowing he was loved every day for eleven years.

Every. Single. Day.

He had a woman who loved him more than she ever had any reason to, forgave him more than he ever deserved, and still held him tight to comfort him even as he broke her heart again and again.  He had won the proverbial lottery in a way because he had stumbled onto that beautifully pure and enduring love that hopeless romantics dream about and lonely hearts spend their lives pining after.  He truly had it.  He had it all.

And yet he threw it all away, eleven years of that love, for a random lay.  He threw it all away to go be with another random woman he openly admitted to not even loving, because she had more money and a nice house.  He touted her convenience and all the money she kept throwing his way.  He threw away something priceless that deserved to be cherished for material things.  A new phone.  A nicer house to live in.  Random inconsequential bullshit with a price tag attached.

If that isn’t sheer stupidity of the highest caliber than I honestly don’t know what is…

White Privilege in the Black World

Living with the Fear of Unintentionally Offending or Overstepping because I Honestly Don’t Know How to Respond

Growing up, my mother was very bigoted.  If you were not white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and straight, you were somehow less in her eyes.  She had derogatory names and jokes poking fun at people based on their race, religion, color and sexual preference.  It honestly turned my stomach.  I always swore I would never be like that with my children.

Admittedly, I believe I have done a good job raising my own children.  I have taught my children to get to know people as individuals and to look for common links instead of identifying them by one trait.  My children spent a portion of their childhood not even realizing that there were different slang terms to describe same-sex couples.  They grew up knowing the men who lived in the apartment below us as just another couple in love.  Love was love.  I never treated them as anything different so my children grew up feeling the same way.

One of my favorite stories to share about teaching my children to be colorblind happened on my daughter’s first week of kindergarten.  She came home on her second day of school, excited to tell me that she made a new friend.  When I asked what her friend’s name was, she admitted she couldn’t remember but that “she was a really nice black girl”.  I honestly worried that, by not saying anything, I would be condoning her beginning to identify and segregate people without ever getting to know them.  I chose to use it as a teachable moment.  I asked her how she would feel if someone picked one thing about her and, instead of learning her name or something else that made her an individual, I only referred to her by that trait.  She stared back at me blankly, not quite understanding.  So I began calling her “brown-eyed girl”.  For the rest of the afternoon and evening, every time I spoke to her, it began with “Hey brown-eyed girl”.  I made a point of doing it often so that was all she kept hearing.  Finally, after dinner, she asked me to please stop calling her that.  She told me she had a name and what I was doing was not very nice.  I asked her how she thought her new friend might feel.  My daughter had her “a-ha!” moment.  From that point on, she always came home telling me about her friends by name, talking about their interests, hobbies, pets and everything that made them an individual.

That is how I’ve always aimed to live my life.  I have never treated anyone differently because of their race, religion, sexual preference, or any other factor that makes up just one facet of who they are as a person.  I have friends from all walks of life and adore each one for the individual person they are.  I am forever looking for common bonds instead of divisive factors because I believe it’s easier to show compassion and empathy to people when you can connect to them in some way.  I honestly credit my depression in a strange way for that. I know firsthand what it feels like to feel lost, alone and inconsequential, like you just don’t belong in this world.  I never want anyone else to feel that way so I am forever trying to reach out and pull people in, let them know they are not alone.

It is through my battles with depression that I found my voice and also where I found myself questioning for the first time how to respond and to react.  After writing my first book about my experiences with abuse and struggles with depression, I had begun blogging more about mental health issues.  It had become a passion for me.  I was on a mission, determined to keep writing, keep fighting the stigma that surrounded mental health issues and try to make a difference in some small way.  Surprisingly, my writing began taking off, being republished on larger sites and being shared by different advocacy groups and counseling centers.

Every week or so, I would do an internet search to see the reach of my writing and always find myself honored and humbled at the shares I stumbled upon and the encouragement I received. I usually linked all the shares back to my author page, and went out of my way to thank everyone for their support. However, I came upon one share that I hesitated to respond to and openly share.

One of my posts was shared on a group that had a mental health awareness campaign committed to building an online community of support for Black women with mental health concerns. I understand mental illness well – it has been the demon on my shoulder my entire life. Yet as I scrolled through their page, I admittedly felt out of place because they struggle with very real issues that, based on my skin color alone, I will honestly never fully understand.

In the end, I chose not to post on their page, not because I didn’t find the cause worthy or wholly support it, but because I didn’t want my presence there to distract from their mission in any way. I did not want even one person questioning why I was there or whether I had an agenda by thanking them for their share. Instead, I quietly sent the head of the group this message:

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you for sharing one of my blogs on your page (I write under my maiden name B. L. Acker out of respect for the privacy of my children). I normally post thank yous on the blog share itself but I didn’t want to distract from your campaign and possibly cause anyone to get sidetracked into a discussion of whether or not I should be on your page – your mission is too important to let anything derail it or distract from it in any way, even temporarily. mental illness is colorblind and the stigma is strong – everyone needs somewhere they can feel is a safe place without judgment where they can turn to discuss how they feel and are struggling.

I honestly cannot even fathom the struggles you face based on racism and being made to feel like you are somehow less important based solely on your ethnicity. I will not even pretend to relate because some things can never be understood unless you’ve walked that path yourself, but I do understand how hard it is to function when you’re battling your own mind every day.

I write about my struggles with mental illness not only to heal myself but in hope that it might help others know they are not alone. While I know any support for a cause is a good thing, I also respect that sometimes it’s better to quietly send support rather than do something that might distract from the movement itself.

What you are doing is a very powerful and noble thing because no one should have to suffer in silence and there are many segments of society that aren’t getting the support, education or advocacy they truly need. I sincerely thank you for sharing one of my blogs on your page – I am honored that you found my writing worth sharing. And please never forget that you a truly a blessing for reaching out to help those who are suffering and feeling alone, like no one understands how they feel or where they are coming from. The world truly needs more people like you. Stay strong.”

Part of me still questions whether I did the right thing by messaging quietly instead of posting because their cause is so great and they deserve everyone’s support, yet my mind keeps going back to that young woman who needs help, needs a safe place to go to talk about her struggles with others who can fully understand them. That group is about helping those young women, not about my linking yet another page back to my author page. In the end, I think I did the right thing but I’m honestly not 100% sure.

I have always considered myself to be colorblind yet I know the whole world does not see things the same way.  There is so much bigotry in this world on all sides because some people have been taught to hate and others have learned to hate in response to the wrongs committed by others.  I hate even having to question whether I had made the right choice or having to walk on eggshells, worried I might offend people by my sheer ignorance in not knowing how to respond.  I want to stand up and encourage unity and strength, but I’m afraid I won’t be heard above the deafening roar of all the battles others are fighting.

I’d love to be able to understand fully what other people are going through, but admittedly, I’ve only walked in my own shoes.  I can relate strongly to those struggling from mental illness, suffering from abuse and trauma because we have walked the same path.  There are so many others in this world, though, being persecuted and belittled every single day, people dying, because of their skin color or who they love or the faith they choose to practice.  Try as I might, I cannot fully understand or empathize because I have never lived it myself.  All I can say is that I am so sorry for the cruelty in this world and beg them to please stay strong and don’t let it beat them because I know far too well the road of depression.  I have been walking it my whole life and wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  To those who have wandered onto my path because of everything you’ve endured, please know that you are not alone.  Never give up hope.  Other people care.  We might not always know the right words to say, but we genuinely and sincerely care.

I Never Needed You

A Look at Love and Relationships from the Mind of a Woman who was Never Taught How to Love

I grew up in an abusive household, tainted by untreated mental illness and scarred by the dysfunction of addiction.  I never really was taught growing up what a healthy relationship was, let alone was shown how to love properly, if there is such a thing.  I’ve been learning through experience over the years, trial and error, and have developed my own opinions on love, emotions, relationship and commitment.

One of my earliest memories involving love and relationships dates back to when I was six years old.  During that impressionable age, so many young children get bitten for the first time by the love bug and play their game of adulting, planning pretend marriages, playing house and mimicking the lives around them.  A neighborhood boy that I absolutely detested and I had decided to get married, thoroughly convinced that people get married to argue.  He had grown up in a dysfunctional family, as well.  We fought all the way down the aisle, calling each other names.  He pulled the tops off all the dandelions in my bouquet.  We vowed to hate each other and fight for the rest of our lives.  Sometimes from the mouths of babes comes great insight into the future ahead.

By the time I reached dating age, I had already lost much of my own identity.  I was raised to believe that appearances mattered more than anything, to put on that smiling mask and be the person others expected me to be.  I had boyfriends because it looked “good and proper” to have them, not because I had feelings one way or another.  I had been a cheerleader so I dated the jocks.  I dated boys from “decent” families because it looked good for my mother to say her daughter was dating their son.  How they treated me was irrelevant.  It didn’t matter if they were cruel or unfaithful or were struggling with alcohol and drugs.  All that mattered was that outer veneer stayed shiny and clean.  Love was an illusion.

My first serious relationship was my high school sweetheart.  We had this puppy love that I was convinced was destined to last forever.  He was from another school, another town.  His role in my life had no impact on my mother’s bragging rights, but none of that mattered.  We bonded over our dysfunctional upbringings.  We were “in love” and determined to make it last forever.  In the beginning, it was sweet, pure and beautiful.  Over time, it warped into something else entirely.  Originally, it was us against the world.  By the time we had my daughter one month before I turned 19, we fought more than we loved.  When I found out he had been cheating, I packed up our daughter and left.  He moved his newest conquest into what had been our apartment that same week.

All of my serious relationships have followed that same pattern.  They begin beautifully, with us madly in love, convinced we can conquer anything with the power of love alone.  Over time, each has changed and warped into something unhealthy and unnatural.  Once, the mere thought of each of them set butterflies fluttering in my stomach and made even the darkest day feel infused with sunshine.  By the end, I was left each time with an aching in my heart by the vaguest thought of them because I knew, deep down, love was never supposed to feel like this.  Love was never supposed to hurt this badly.

They say everyone has a type.  Mine has always been someone raised with abuse and dysfunction because I needed to feel like they understood where I was coming from in life.  I needed a kindred spirit who was damaged, as well, so they wouldn’t look at me as broken and inherently flawed.  Time and again, I was drawn to that fellow injured soul, hoping that through love we could heal each other.  Every single time it has failed because the hard truth is that two unhealthy hearts cannot build a healthy relationship.  This was never more glaringly true than when my last relationship imploded.  To say this relationship was dysfunctional and toxic was an understatement.

As I was left once again surrounded by the debris of my life, I was determined to never find myself back at this same crossroads again. I began taking a very hard look at myself and my views on love and relationships.  There were a lot of ugly truths to accept.  Underneath it all, however, was this beautiful ray of hope.  I am, in my heart of hearts, forever a true hopeless romantic.  Though my heart has been tainted by abuse and dysfunction, I still believe in love, wholly and completely.  However, over the years I have developed some very firm and unwavering views on exactly what love is.  I am on a journey to become healthier in mind, body and spirit.  I want to love again, and to build something lasting and true.  Before I can seek it out, however, I need to define honestly what love is to me and what it should be.  I need to approach love from a healthier standpoint, otherwise I am doomed to continuously repeat the same unhealthy mistakes.

So I am left to ask myself some hard questions.  What exactly is love to me?  How do I believe love should and shouldn’t be?  What do I truthfully need from someone else if I let them into my heart?  And where do I draw the line so I do not find myself repeating my past?

Love has become in so many ways a cliche.  So many people talk about wanting it, having it and losing it, yet I’m thoroughly convinced only a fraction of these people have even an inkling of what love truly is.  It has become a sound byte people throw out there to imply “more than like”, without ever considering the commitment that love implies.  Love isn’t something you fall easily in and out of on a whim, nor is it something you can shut off.  I still carry love for a handful of people from my past.  It may have been scarred over with hurt and pain, but that love is still there, enduring as always.  I don’t think love ever truly dies.  Sometimes, however, the bad outweighs the good, the pain is too much to bear, and some love needs to be left in the past because it is not healthy for you.  Unhealthy love can be toxic.  But love endures.

While I cherish the idea of soulmates that are destined by some sort of kismet to be together, I do not believe there is only one person out there for everyone.  With so many people on this planet, the odds would be astronomical to find your true partner.  Likewise, I do not believe there is only room in your heart to love one person.  I believe some people come in and out of your life and your heart at different periods of your life like people going through a drive-through at a fast food place.  Others leave a more permanent mark, as if they had carved their name into your heart much like you might carve it into an old tree.  Years later, the letters may be weathered and worn, a faded shadow of what they used to be, but you can still trace your finger over the grooves and remember when they were freshly carved and beautiful.  Either way, love at it’s heart and soul is a beautiful thing.

Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to relationships is the statement “They complete me”.  I’ve always believed that you should never look toward someone else to make you whole.  To say that someone completes you is to infer that you were not whole before they came into your life and that you would somehow be less than a person if they left again.  I prefer to think of it as someone who compliments me and helps me grow as a person into a better version of myself.  I often compare it to two candles.  Alone, each can still shine in the darkness.  However, when together, they shine more brightly.  Removing one candle, however, does not steal away the other one’s light.  They can continue to burn on.

I do not believe you should have to change in order to be loved.  While I believe that people should continue to grow, learn and expand throughout life, I don’t believe that anyone should have to change a fundamental piece of their identity as a prerequisite to being loved by someone else.  Statements like “I could be with you if only you’d change this…” reflect control, not love.  At love’s core is acceptance.  You should see beauty in their flaws because it is part of who they are.  There is a unique perfection in imperfections.  While you can continue to grow and change as a person or a couple, no one should ever have to sacrifice their identity in order to be loved.

While I adore having someone there on an intimate level, I do not NEED anyone, not in a romantic sense.  Need implies an urgency or insistence.  I do not consider myself needy because while I cherish having someone there, I will survive if they are not.  Admittedly, part of this stems from abandonment issues from my past.  If I never fully rely on anyone, I can never fully be let down.  However, it goes deeper than that for me.  For me, need implies something that you cannot live without.  I NEED food, water, oxygen to breathe.  I will not die if someone withholds their love and I never want anyone assuming they have that kind of power over me.  I appreciate love.  I cherish it.  But with or without love, I will continue on.

That being said, while I can truthfully say I never needed anyone does not mean I loved or wanted them there any less.  I feel greatly and love deeply.  I believe you should always love fully and completely.  Love is perhaps the most addicting force I’ve ever experienced.  If someone is in my heart, I crave them, long to talk to them, see their smile, feel their touch.  I by no means need them in order to survive, but much like the two candles I mentioned earlier, the world is just a much brighter place for me with them in it.  Never mistake the depth of my affection or passion, however, for neediness because I survived before each person I have let into my heart and I shall survive after they’re gone, as well.

There’s an old saying that “Love makes you do crazy things”.  People talk about “falling in love”, or “making that leap” and other statements implying spontaneity and risk.  While I am in many ways very intellectual by nature, thinking and overthinking everything, weighing out consequences before action, I believe wholeheartedly that love is one of those things that are beyond our control.  Love happens whether we’re ready or not.  There is no perfect or ideal time for love.  Love, like life, happens when we are doing other things.  I believe we have to cherish it when it happens and run with it.  If we wait for circumstances to be ideal, windows of opportunity may close and we will have missed out on something beautiful.

You never know how long a person may be in your life.  Death and disease are realities in life.  Life happens.  I don’t believe you should ever pass up a chance to love and be loved, whether it lasts a month or a lifetime, whether it flourishes and grows or crashes and burns.  Love, in it’s deepest essence, is a beautiful thing that deserves to be cherished each and every time it comes into your life.  I don’t believe you should ever run from love because life can be fleeting.  Even if that particular love affair does not last, it is always better to carry those beautifully bittersweet memories of a love shared then lost for a lifetime than the regret of never having tried.

One of the biggest truths of love that I have come to accept is that I need to learn to love myself.  While I am fully capable of loving someone else wholly and unconditionally, I think my lack of self-love has been glaringly obvious to my past partners.  If I could not fully love and respect myself, truthfully why should they?  I believe I’ve set myself up in the past by choosing partners that I felt I deserved instead of looking for ones who would treat me how everyone deserves to be treated.  In turn, many times they treated me with the same disrespect and disdain I showed myself.  I need to love myself and know my own worth before I can expect anyone else to see it in me.

I think in the past I have settled, too, more often than I should have and accepted more than anyone deserves to endure.  Whether it was because I did not feel I deserved any better or because I was so accustomed to dysfunction being the norm that I was unaware how unhealthy those choices truly were is irrelevant.  I need to stop settling for less in life.  I need to be firm and uncompromising when it comes to my own worth.  Nobody deserves to be treated like they are inconsequential or less than a person.  No one should be made to feel like they don’t deserve to be treated with love or respect.  That is NOT love.  That is abuse.

This aspect of my heart is under construction currently.  I’ve spent too much of my life encased in a shell of dysfunction that I have not been able to see the hazards for what they were.  When you are never taught what healthy love is, it is easy for someone to pass off a sub-par version as the real thing.  Imagine if throughout your whole life you had never seen or smelled a rose, yet again and again you had people telling you that a skunk was a rose.  You hear time and again that roses smell beautiful.  You’ve never experienced the beauty of a rose, only the foul odor of the skunk.  However, over time you come to accept that the foulness must be somehow beautiful because it is a truth everyone else agrees upon.  In your head, you begin to think of the skunk as a beautiful rose until the day that you are taught otherwise.  That is my past experiences with love in a nutshell.  I had only experienced a dysfunctional love but overlooked all the bad because others always talked about the beauty and perfection that was love.  However, I have learned the truth.  I am no longer willing to accept the foulness of abuse or dysfunction as a normal part of love.  I want a real, genuine, pure and beautiful love next time.

I admittedly was never taught how to love so I am learning as I go.  I love deeply, with a passion that may be overwhelming for some, but I believe that you should never hold back when it comes to the pure and beautiful things in this world.  I cannot promise anyone “forever”  because life sets its own schedule, however I can always promise that when I love, I do so wholeheartedly.  Though I will never say anyone completes me and refuse to consider them a necessity in my life, I will cherish every moment they are with me, shining more brightly with them at my side, and mourning their loss deeply when they go.  I believe fully in love.  It is a truly beautiful thing that should never be taken for granted or cast aside and ignored.  Love is one of those beautiful blessings we have in life that make it truly worth living.

Why I Write

I often joke that where most people put in their two cents, I usually stop closer to a quarter.  My mind is often going a mile a minute, thinking and overthinking about everything.  I ramble and I rant, with so much to say and to feel about everything.

When I found my voice, I began writing about my own life and experiences.  When I made the conscious decision to start living life more fully, I began a second blog to focus on my new experiences.  However, my mind is still overflowing with thoughts and opinions to share.  Like many other things in life, better out than in.

I write to share my oddly skewed view of the world.

Though I have struggled with major depression my entire life, I am the eternal optimist in many ways, with my rose-colored glasses firmly bolted to my head.

Though I have had my heart broken more often than it has been whole, I am forever the hopeless romantic that believes in true love and tries to see the best in everyone.

I lean just enough left on some issues and just enough right on others to piss everyone off about something.

I am both open-minded and opinionated.

I am both flexible and stubborn.

I am both passionate and reserved.

I am a living, breathing oxymoron.

Somehow, despite all the contradictions, I make sense in my own mind.

I write because I have so many thoughts inside my head, bubbling, percolating, dying to come out.  I write because I see good in the world and want others to see it, too.  I write because I believe in kindness and possibilities.  I write because I hope that, by sharing my thoughts, I can get people thinking and talking.  I write because I hope to make a difference and leave the world a little better off.  I write because words fuel my soul like food fuels my body.  Writing has become my lifeblood.

I write because words have the power to take you anywhere, move mountains and impact lives.  My life has become a journey of words.  You’re welcome along for the ride.