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.