Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Space Between

My husband has been getting on my nerves lately.

And, um, vice versa. 

Which was basically my inspiration for my last post. Relationships are hard, even when they're healthy and mostly happy. I feel like it's a big deal to admit that and say it out loud, even though it shouldn't be. We all know it, of course, but it's almost taboo to come out and say, "Hey! Sometimes I hate your face! Sometimes this sucks!" Or...

Okay, so I didn't go that far with Rob.

The main issue in our case was stress. Stress at work, with our loved ones, with our schedules. I've mentioned the book The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell on here before (although maybe not by name), but it bears repeating. It is truly the best book I've read on marriage yet. I learned so much from the idea they presented that there is a sacred space between you and your partner, and you have to pay attention to that space and what you bring into it. And lately, we have been bringing a lot of crap into that space that just does not need to be there (see above). Work does not belong there. Other people do not belong there. One of the things they present in the book is that the space between a person and his/her partner is extremely sensitive. If you have something going on in your life, there is no way it could not affect your relationship with your partner.

Last weekend, we had a bad day. We kept bugging each other to the point where I just said, "Can we please start over?" Rob agreed we could. "Hi, I'm Ashley...are you single?"

This weekend, we did the best possible thing. We got in the car after work and drove to Tampa for a weekend I had (in a moment of genius) planned months ago. The only thing on the agenda was to be together and relax (and go to a favorite restaurant one night). We've been reading, talking, laughing, napping, and just reconnecting. This morning, while my husband held me, I felt like we were back where we needed to be. I had missed him, missed us. It reminds me how easily things can slip away if we're not conscious of it. There will never be a time when my job, or his job, or drama is more important than our marriage. But it's so easy to focus on the minutiae of our lives and allow it to impact the quality of our interactions. As I said last time, I am still learning how to be a better wife, a better partner, a better woman. Right now, I am just reminded of how wonderful it is to be partnered with someone who is also learning, who is willing to dive into this with me every day...who won't let me take anything, including life, too seriously.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Learning Curve

Out of the two of us, I've always been the one who is a little more doubtful and afraid of this institution called marriage. Rob never seems to doubt anything when it comes to the two of us, but even before we took our vows, I was the person asking, "What if this doesn't work out? What if we end up hating each other?" I am the type of person who always wants to have a backup plan, an exit strategy. I imagine how things could go wrong and I plan for the worst case scenario. It drives my therapist nuts. But Rob is the opposite. He doesn't think as far into the future as I do, and he's less emotional and more logical. To him, it seemed unlikely that something so catastrophic would tear us apart after nearly nine years together, most of those years living in the same house. Most likely, he's right.

But sometimes the responsibility of being a wife, of being part of a marriage, weighs on me. Even though the day to day of living together hasn't changed, there is a shift. In many ways, it is a great shift. When we first got married, it was such an emotional change. It hit me in such a deep way that we were bound together legally and spiritually, that we had made this commitment in front of the people we love. It felt like falling in love with Rob all over again in this new way. I would ask him if he felt it, too, and he would agree, it was different. It's an amazing feeling, being married. But then there's the gravity of the entire thing. I'm not sure if it's my religious upbringing, or society, or my own expectations, but I expect so much of myself as a wife. I wanted to take care of everything for my husband, to make his life easier, to be the perfect partner. I wrote previously about realizing after we got married that I could bring more to our relationship and be better, and that is certainly true. When we got married, I raised the bar for myself. I think a lot about our vows. I sometimes mention parts of my vows to Rob in difficult moments to remind him of what I said I would do for him. We wrote our own, and they mean all that much more to me because I want to live up to my own words.

I think I'm doing that, but I also think at times I've taken too much on in the spirit of trying to be this perfect spouse. I become overwhelmed by the standards I've set for myself and also by the idea that marriage is supposed to be permanent. At times when we're having difficulties, there's this voice in my head that says, "And this is what it's going to be like FOREVER. AND YOU CAN'T RUN AWAY!!!!" Did I mention I am always considering the worst case scenario? God bless my therapist.

In reality, we're a pretty happy couple. We have our issues like anyone else, but they never last long. We respect and love each other and enjoy being each other's best friend. We put up with each other's anxieties and try to understand. We correct each other in love. We dig in our heels sometimes. We hurt each other, but we more frequently help each other. The fact is, marriage is a learning curve. I think we are always going to be figuring things out, especially in the beginning. I read a wonderful book recently that said that marriage is a conversation that never ends. I agree wholeheartedly. I'm glad I'm with this person that allows me to be insecure, perfectionist self, and who allows me to bring all of that to this lifelong conversation. Despite my fears, I am so excited to see where this journey continues to lead us, and what I learn from it as we go.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Time Hop

The universe is funny sometimes.

All day I've been having conversations with people about my career. The ups, the downs, the learning experiences, the unexpected blessings. I was going through some of it with Rob just now when I realized that today marks two years exactly since I became a professional, post-graduate counselor. It must have been somewhere in the air, in the back of my mind, because I've been thinking about where I've been and how far I've come all day.

Two years ago today, I started my first job as a therapist. I was working in transitional housing with the homeless. As expected, the adults I worked with initially ate me alive. I wanted so badly to be liked. I wanted them to embrace me, accept me. More than that, I think I wanted their validation. I wanted to deserve to be their therapist, and I wanted them to tell me that I did deserve it. It took me some time to realize that it didn't work that way, not at all.

Today, I was sitting at a table with my coworker (a social worker) and someone we've been working with who just graduated with his college degree. He's an aspiring social worker and the two of us were telling him about our experiences, sharing wisdom. Actually, in my situation, I was probably just sharing my horror stories. But our intent was the same: these were the things we wished someone had told us. I get this feeling every time I meet someone who is about to get into this field. I want to warn them, and I realize how bad that sounds, but that's how it feels. I remember that feeling of just wanting a job, being so desperate to be hired and not have to bag groceries at Walmart (my second option) that I would have done anything. I did do anything. I remember crying when I got the call that I had been hired because I didn't feel peace about taking it, but felt like I had no other option. (I was right to be wary, as it turns out, but I don't regret my decision).

I didn't ask the questions I wish I had asked. I didn't know how much I was worth, even at that very first job.

"Ask a lot of questions," I told that aspiring social worker today. "Be really specific and make sure you get answers."

He asked me if I learned anything, even with the bad experiences.

"Oh yes," I said. "Absolutely." I told them about the clients I worked with at my first job, how even my clinical supervisor was impressed with the variety of issues I was working with so early in my career. It shaped who I am as a clinician. It was baptism by fire. It gave me the confidence and the conviction that I could handle anything. And while I suffered a great deal personally while I was there, the experience of working with those individuals was absolutely priceless. More than that, what I went through taught me I was stronger than I knew not just as a person, but as a professional.

Tonight, I was telling Rob about a client of mine who told me straight to my face this afternoon that she didn't like me. When it happened, I heard another staff member gasp, poised to tell her it wasn't nice. But I just said, "Okay." I remembered this piece of advice I was given in school: Don't take it personally, because they don't know you well enough for it to even be about you. 

There was a time, I told Rob, when a statement like that would have hurt me. And I won't lie, sometimes the kids I work with now do break my heart just a little in my weaker moments. But it was a moment like that today when I realized how far I've come, and that I'm in a new place personally and professionally. I'm grateful for all the difficult and beautiful moments in equal measure, because they've gotten me to this place. I know I'll be looking back again, years from now, at this moment, and I look forward to marveling once again at how far I've come.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Actually, Put Me Down For Cardio

Remember that time I made some New Year's Resolutions? Now, typically, I write a big list of what I'm going to do and I forget the whole thing about two weeks later, like most Americans...and then we all promise never to talk about it again like the good invisible friends we are. But this time, it's different. You know why?


So of course I had to come back and brag, because this is history in the making. This post is about my progress with exercise.

If you've been reading this blog a while (and thank you, if you have), you know that exercise is my Achilles heel. I've never been one of those people who dreams of Crossfit or loves to run or lives for the elliptical. But when I sat in the bleachers at this year's NEDA Walk, I finally had to acknowledge that I was feeling stagnant in my recovery, and had for some time. There was only one way forward.

So about two months ago, I started exercising. I started with this app that I mentioned in my New Year's Resolution post, called Yoga Studio. If you like yoga at all, or if you are curious about it, this app is amazing. You do pay for it (I think I paid $2.99), but it's so worth it. On the app, I have a huge collection of classes at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. Plus you have the option to create your own class, pose by pose. I love it. I am still in the beginner classes, and will be for the foreseeable future, but I love having tons of options and the ability to challenge myself. This does not mean that I cannot be found in my living room, cursing at the soothing voice on the app about how I want nothing to do with her crabs or her boats (both are poses). But we're getting there. It's becoming a more spiritual experience every day. ;)

I've learned a lot about my body through my yoga journey. Because of the shape of my body,  my poses won't look the same as the much smaller instructor. I'm learning that this is okay, and I am also learning how to properly modify the poses to get the most out of them. Just because my body doesn't always allow me to do the same thing as what I am watching doesn't mean that what I am doing isn't equally valuable.

When I'm not doing yoga, I'm on my bike. After I pumped up my flat bike tires, I got back on the road. I've had this fear since I was small on riding with traffic, but I managed to ditch that pretty quickly. I rode to my mom's house as a surprise, which was a big deal since I had to ride next to a lot of cars. (She wasn't there, by the way, but she was sweet enough to drive back home just to see me!). I've also been riding through local neighborhoods checking out houses, since that's one of the next big steps Rob and I will be taking as a couple.

I'm amazed at how exercising regularly has made me feel. It's so different for me this time because it's not about losing weight, or fear of my body's size. It's finally about celebrating what my body can do, and challenging myself to do more. I feel more in touch with my body than ever, and I am so proud of the progress I've made in my recovery in just these couple of months. I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Reason To Get Married

If you haven't heard, I'm married. 

It's been four months now since our magical wedding day. I honestly have a hard time believing that it all happened. Sometimes I have to look at the photos to remind myself because it doesn't seem real. 

I'm in awe of the whole "married" thing. I feel like a student of it, almost. I read books on it, articles, watch shows about it. And because I'm a therapist and it's kind of my job to notice every little thing, I really pay attention to it. I pay attention to this new, living thing we are creating as we move forward in our marriage. Lately, I've noticed one thing in particular...

...and it's not just that my husband is really handsome and sexy. Because I knew that. I also can't promise you won't see this picture a million times, because I actually have it in two places in my house...

Don't judge me. 

What I've noticed, what I am so grateful for, is the promise that we made to one another that we would be there in the difficult times. My theory is this: you get married for the bad stuff. When things are good, who doesn't want to be your friend? If you have money, if you're happy, if your job is going well, if you're healthy, if everything is sunshine and ponies (ok, maybe not ponies), who doesn't want to be there? Right? But when life sucks, you may have noticed that you tend to have less of an entourage. The people who are really there for the long haul won't move, but other people will. There's a noticeable shift until things come back around again to the sunnier side of life.

I've made no secret of the fact that I struggle with depression. My husband knows that better than anyone. Lately, it hasn't been easy for me. But what amazes me about the man I married is that even when I feel like the fungus that feeds on pond scum (if you didn't get that My Best Friend's Wedding reference, you have some movie-watching to do), he will look at me and say, "You're beautiful." Or tell me he loves me. Or will send me texts that tell me to come home and do my yoga, and not worry about cooking because we will just get pizza. 

The other day, I looked at him and just started crying because I realized all over again that the way my husband looks at me never changes. He always sees me as the woman I am at my best, even when I am feeling my worst. Even when I feel like I am the lesser version of myself, he sees me as Wonder Woman. I am so grateful for that part of our love and our marriage. It's hard for me to believe that he's not thinking, "Here she goes again...", or keeping score of how many times I get into that "lower than pond scum" state of mind. I know that he has faith that things will come around, and that he knows who I really am even in the most difficult times. 

And that, my friends, is a reason to get married. 

All the photo credit goes to Ashley McCormick Photography.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Today I attended the 5th annual Orlando NEDA Walk. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know this is an event I attend every year. Actually, my first time in attendance was about a week before I started this recovery journey. Every year, it's a reminder for me of how far I have come since that first walk, and where I want to go.

This year was the first year I attended by myself. I wasn't sure if I would even go at all. This morning, I woke up and decided I could handle the 35 degree weather (I am such a Floridian, don't judge me!). I wasn't sure what to think of this year's walk as I sat in the cold, listening to people speak about recovery and sing body-positive songs. That is, until the very end. We had all been given small containers of bubbles, and at the end of the presentation, my therapist (who helps organize the event) said that we would all be blowing bubbles to symbolize what feelings we want to release as we go through our recovery journey. Fear, shame, guilt...we would let it go.

The idea seemed silly to me, initially. I was feeling a little cranky and having difficulty connecting with what was being presented. But I opened my bubbles, and they put on "Try" by Colbie Callait, which you really need to listen to (and watch the video) if you haven't already.

I teared up for a moment, and I stared at the wand in my hand, dripping slightly with bubble solution.

What do I want to let go of? 

Fear. It came to me right away. I have so much fear right now. Fear of failing at recovery. Fear that I am not doing it right. Fear that I am not making enough progress. Fear that I will disappoint others...or myself.

Limiting myself: Last night, I watched the finale of a TLC show I have loved, called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. If you haven't heard about it, it's about a woman named Whitney Way Thore and her journey. It's a very body-positive show and has really taught me a lot about my own body image. Whitney is almost 400 pounds, and she does so much more than I do. She's braver and more confident than I am. Watching the show, I saw her teaching dance classes (check out her YouTube), wearing a bikini, and just living her life. The show made me recognize that I have thin privilege and am really limiting myself. I don't have as much privilege as someone who is actually thin, but there are so many things about my body I take for granted. Things I can do physically, things I have never had to think about. I see myself as being a much larger person than I am, and because of that, I tell myself there are things I cannot do, like taking an exercise class or wearing certain clothes. I tell myself I could never keep up, and should not even attempt it. This isn't due to any shame about my body or my size. I love myself as I am. I think I have just spent a long time telling myself that I am limited by the number on the scale, and I fully bought in to that lie. I know how ridiculous the lie is. I look at women like Whitney Thore and Ragen Chastain (who is training for freaking IRONMAN...that is so amazing!), who are incredible dancers and active people. Women who face more prejudice and bullshit and adversity than I ever have because of their size. And they are out there doing what they love while I'm sitting here telling myself I can't, or doing yoga in my house because I'm afraid to go to a class with other people.

Guilt: Over food. Eating. Not eating. What I'm eating. What I'm not eating. Over exercise. It's pointless and it has to go, too.

Perfectionism: I keep feeling like I'm "not good" at recovery. Like everyone else is doing it better, or faster. I forget that recovery is not a sprint, but a marathon. It's a journey and not a destination, although one day I do hope to be "recovered".

I watched the bubbles float away on the wind, and imagined what it would be like to release all of these things. On my way out, I grabbed new recovery beads. My old ones from last year were faded and worn. I wrapped them around my wrist and put the new ones up on my rearview mirror. I couldn't help but notice the symbolism. Another year gone, and even though I don't always notice it, I had made progress. My recovery got a little bit deeper and more mature. It's not this shiny, brand-new concept for me anymore. And yet there's another new year ahead of me full of promise and progress to be made. I'm looking forward to it. Year 5, here we come.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mad As Hell

"Forgive? Sounds good.
Forget? I'm not sure I could.
They say time heals everything
But I'm still waiting..."
-Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"

Before I wrote all of this, I kept asking myself, "Why?"

Why now?
Why so publicly? 
Why say anything at all? 

Even after I hit "publish" and started putting it out there, I was nervous. I questioned myself. That is, until some people started reaching out to me and telling me their stories. Then I knew I had done the right thing. I thank you all for that from the bottom of my heart. Writing all of this made me reflect, but putting it on my blog made me think about it in another way. Last night, I was talking to Rob about the whole experience and just broke down. As hard as it was for me to do this, I am so glad I have. I never realized it before, but it is a relief for this not to be my secret anymore. It's a huge weight off of me to know that I don't have to wonder if someone knows my story, or should know. It's out there, and if it's out there, maybe I can finally let more of it go. Maybe now, I can really be free.

I'm not thrilled to be a rape survivor, but I don't feel sorry for myself. I've made the most of it. People have reached out to me over the years and asked me if I ever felt normal again, because it happened to them and they were curious if they would ever get there. I do. It's a different normal. I live in a different world and I believe that in many ways I am a different person. I have often seen being raped as a kind of death, believing that in a way, the girl I was before this happened died in J's apartment that night. I struggle to look at photos of myself that same year for that reason. There's one in particular of me in front of my dorm, wearing a favorite t-shirt that says, "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Amsterdam". My hair is wild and curly. My smile is contagious. And just looking at it breaks my heart every single time. I want so badly to tell her what will happen. To somehow prevent it from happening at all. But I can't. Looking at that photo makes me realize how young I was, and it hits me all over again what J did to such a young girl.

I have moved on with my life. As you know from reading this blog or knowing me, I have a career as a therapist. I finished my education and hold my Master's Degree. I am this close to being licensed as a mental health counselor. I'm married to the most incredible, kind, supportive, loving, loyal, brilliant man on this planet. I can't wait for our future together: to buy a home, to have children. I have a family that loves me, and friends that are my family of choice. I have interests and passions and decent health. There is truly nothing more that I could ask for, and I am blessed. So yes, there is a normal after this. There is a life after rape, and it's as beautiful and full as you want to make it. Sexual violence only has to ruin your life if you let it. The healing is hard. I am still healing. I struggle with symptoms of PTSD, although it has improved over the years. I acknowledge it and even laugh about it at times. Sometimes it's not as funny, like when my husband accidentally triggers something that sets me off, screaming a scream that seems to come from somewhere I cannot control. He'll tell me he's sorry, but he has nothing to be sorry for. Neither one of us did this. Being a survivor is just another part of my life. It informs my decisions, and is the cause of some of my fears, but it has melded into the background of who I am.

So why talk about this at all?

I started to feel a genuine need and desire to write all of this and share it more publicly after it became public knowledge that FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston, had been accused of rape. I remember reading this article from The New York Times on the case, and I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I remember texting my husband, my mother...anyone who would listen. It had taken eight years, but something finally made me feel validated in my anger towards the Tallahassee Police Department and the way that my alma mater (and frankly, all college campuses) handle sexual assault and sexual battery cases. Rob and my mom both responded and said, "This is what you've been telling us all along."

The entire thing just broke my heart. All at once I felt vindicated and disgusted. I wasn't alone, but...I wasn't alone. I have never been under the misguided impression that I am the only rape survivor on a college campus, but I was also not aware that there were quite so many of us who had been treated like garbage by the same school. I was horrified to read about the experiences of other girls, many of whom suffered far more than me. I cannot imagine what it would be like if J, the man (I hesitate to use that word) who raped me, were a famous football player. My heart is with Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused Jameis of raping her. She has been called every name in the book. Her name has been publicized when it should never have been, and the only reason I am putting it here now is because she has now gone public. I've seen so many comments that called her a slut and a whore. That accused her of being a woman scorned (sound familiar?). That made fun of her and talked about running her out of town. That attempted to invalidate her experience as a survivor. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to attempt to cope with such an experience publicly, while many people are making threats against you, taunting you, and not believing what you have to say.

The song lyrics at the top of the page are from my anthem for getting through all of this, a song by the Dixie Chicks. I've been hanging onto this song, these lyrics, for so many years, because it so accurately describes how I feel.

"I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell..." 

I have no intention of letting this go in terms of saying that what happened is ok. I want to use my story to impact others and create positive change. I won't stop talking until we start seeing improvement. Colleges have to take sexual violence seriously. Survivors are not a number or a statistic you can fudge or lie about. We are real people with real stories and real pain, and mine is only one. But it matters. Every single story matters. I realized very early on in this journey that while being raped took many things from me, it did not take my voice. That man, this crime, can never, ever take that from me. So I will use it. I will use it until we see change. Until every woman (and man) can feel safe. Until every report of sexual assault is taken seriously. I am not done. Not even close. There is so much more to do.

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