Tag Archives: relationship

Of Love Languages & the Power of Physical Touch

If you’ve not read psychologist Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages yet, make that the first thing you do after reading this post. Yes, it’s kind of a “girly” book, but I’ve gotten a few of my male friends to read it and they’ve admitted that they learned a lot from it.

Within the chapters, the author speaks of how teaching people to find their own and their partner’s love language can save a relationship. At the core of any association between two people, communication can make or break their union. We show people we care about them by way of a love language and we also know that people care about us when they speak our love language.

Chapman believes five universal love languages exist, and that we should learn to speak each of them. However, we tend to want and give some more than others. You can take a quick quiz to find out which language you speak. The five languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

friends

I didn’t need to take the test to know that my dominant love language is words of affirmation. The saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” has never been true for me.

But words of affirmation isn’t my only love language. I’ve spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) analyzing my past relationships, and in many of them, my love language wasn’t spoken (literally). However, more recently, I’ve realized another love language missing in my daily life: physical touch.

Most people automatically assume physical touch equates to sex, and therefore many couples assume that this must be their love language. That is often not the case. However, it’s important to note that physical touch means so much more than sex.

From hand-holding to hugs, from a passionate kiss to a peck on the cheek, physical touch is something we all crave to some degree in life.  In a famous experiment by psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow, baby monkeys were placed with one of two fake mothers that both offered milk, a “mother” made of wire and another covered in soft terry cloth. The babies with terry cloth mothers clung to them after nursing and were well-behaved little monkeys, unlike the others. Harlow’s experiment showed that tactile comfort offers emotional reassurance.

hugs

Few can come up with an argument to debate this study’s findings. Physical touch can be both positive and negative–a terry cloth or a cold wire. Most of us have seen or experienced how both a slap and a kiss can be exclamation points that make words superfluous. Physical touch exudes strength and power.

In the past few months, I realized how little physical touch I have in my day-to-day routine. Seattle is the first city I’ve lived in. Everywhere else has been little towns where everyone knows everyone’s business, but where everyone hugs one another after four hours apart like it’s been four years.

Snuggling and head scratching and spazzing on each other happens a lot with my Florida Keys friends and my college and gradeschool friends. My best friend and I have a relationship built upon physical touch. Ten seconds can’t go by without one of us jumping on the other’s back.

friends hugging

But when I’m not around these people, I’m lacking this emotional reassurance, and it’s not just because I’m single. Physical touch isn’t always guaranteed when you’re dating someone, and in fact, I recently wrote about how one of my relationships actually caused me to flinch in response to certain corporeal gestures.

Some people just aren’t huggers, and in city life, it takes longer to build the level of friendships you made in college or small town living. It’s harder to find those people that feel comfortable doling out the kind of bear hugs that knock you off your feet.

After going through some recent hardships, I realized how much I just needed a good hug. When I got that hug–a wave of hugs–my struggles seemed to momentarily melt away. In so many of my trying times, I have felt utterly alone. I have always had wonderful, dear, true friends who will make a routine out of talking to me for hours, on the good days and bad, to get me through. But too often, they’re still on the other end of a phone line. Their words of affirmation can only help me so much.

friendship

I wonder if any of my past pain would have been easier to bear if I was also able to lie next to someone I cared about (and who cared about me) while watching a movie on the couch. I’ve realized how many times I have simply needed a friend to hold me while I cried. I’ve realized how electric a handhold can be, how soothing it is to feel a reassuring thumb rub on my forearm.

I’m working on recognizing my needs. As I do, I’ve begun verbalizing them to the people who surround me. I tell them my love language and ask them to tell me theirs, and then we begin to practice speaking each other’s.

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I Was Sexually Assaulted & This Is My Story

For quite awhile, I didn’t know if I would ever publicly share this story. I didn’t even know how much I’d personally share it. Part of that is because I felt so very, very ashamed.

Another reason is because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to feel any better after telling it, largely because people don’t know how to appropriately respond.

The more I noticed how much I feared other people’s reactions to my story, the more I saw that I needed to share it—when I was ready.

In the networking, research, and self-help I’ve encountered since long before I realized the assault, one thing I’ve learned is that too many people don’t understand.

I want people to understand what is going on inside a person’s mind days, months, or years after he or she has been sexually assaulted so that the humans hearing these stories can be empathetic, not judgmental or dismissive.

I want other survivors to know that they are not alone, and it is important that we talk about it.

Too many people think that the assault was an isolated incident. It happened, it was horrible, and that was the end of it.

Too many people don’t realize that the incident, the memory, the trauma, lasts for years. Relocation doesn’t solve the problem. Addiction doesn’t sweep the issue under the rug. Staying busy doesn’t block it all out.

Too many people question the strength and integrity of a woman who let herself get into a situation in which she could be once, twice, repeatedly sexually assaulted.

Too many people don’t realize that it is often strong, loving, giving people with good hearts who find themselves in these situations, who hear that it’s their fault, always their fault, and so they try to do better because that’s the humans they are. But nothing was ever their fault in the first place.

Too often these people are the victims themselves.

I didn’t do anything wrong. But I was told I did. I collected stones in an invisible backpack with each transgression. I collected stones each time I did something I didn’t want to do because I was coerced, manipulated, humiliated, and dominated into doing it. I collected stones until the weight held me down and the only way to pick myself up was to start unloading those stones until my bag was empty.

Sexual assault commonly results in post-traumatic stress disorder. The realization, acceptance, and effects are not always immediate.

In my case, it took me more than a year to realize I was sexually assaulted. And it didn’t occur to me on my own.

The effects of a past relationship slowly started to trouble me. I became nauseous when I heard his name or saw something tangible that reminded me of him. I began to flinch when men gingerly put a hand on my shoulder, making a move. I became hypervigilant and hyperaware, lending toward a constant state of anxiety and subsequent depression. I had nightmares that were only memories. And yet, I still obsessively thought about him.

My mind concluded there was something wrong with me. It didn’t help that this is what most of the world was telling me.

But one day I couldn’t take it anymore. One day I picked up the phone and told my story to someone, with as many painful details as I could remember, from beginning to end. That conversation positively changed the course of my healing, because I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was not alone. I felt listened to and respected. I felt empathy instead of judgment.

I had been carrying this burden that I didn’t fully understand and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t carry it alone.

But understanding the truth of my past relationship was only the beginning. From there, I had to go through heartache all over again. I had to break up with the memories—all while continuing to function in my daily life: go to work, cook food, make new friends, sleep. Most importantly, I had to forgive myself, because in the first months of the healing process, I blamed no one but me.

I thought I was weak for getting myself stuck in this situation in the first place, for being blind to the red flags. I felt guilty and shameful, dirty and disgraceful. In my mind, I had become infinitesimal.

The man who assaulted me took my virginity. I lost something I can never get back. For a very long time, I felt that this man took with him a piece of my spirit.

Since realizing the assault, I have been trying to redefine what intimacy means—without being intimate with anyone. That’s a very hard thing to do.

But by opening up to a select few people and sharing my deepest, darkest, most vulnerable secret, I am learning. I am understanding that romantic passion between two people is not supposed to be selfish. It is not supposed to cause you gut-wrenching, incapacitating pain that leaves you unable to walk for a week. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are merely a body—inadequate, disposable. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are just an ant crawling across this great big earth, trying to escape the magnifying glass that taunts you.

I have wanted so much to forget the man who assaulted me. I have wanted to never hear his name or see his face again. On the other hand, I have wanted to stare him hard in the eyes and show him what a strong and capable woman I’ve not only become but have always been.

Sometimes what we want doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s what we need that counts, and what I really need is peace in my heart. The only way I know how to do this is with forgiveness.

He doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I won’t be doing it for him. I’ll be doing it for me.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a woman who feels helpless, unworthy, or ashamed. I see a woman who is confident and self-aware, who is not afraid of men or love but who is learning what it means to be respected and dignified in a relationship and most importantly, within herself.

Too many people put a timeline on someone else’s healing. We often even do it to ourselves. But the truth is, time is irrelevant to matters of the heart. And sometimes, we never fully heal.

Sometimes, fresh wounds become scabs that shrink in size but remain intact, picked at accidentally on rare occasions down the road. But those wounds, those scars, make us human. Those broken pieces of us somehow make us whole.

We cannot change the past. We can wish a thousand times over that the past never happened to us, or we can learn from our unique experiences. We can be open about them so that we invite healing scabs into our wounded hearts, so that we don’t live our lives in fear of love or other people’s reactions, and so that we realize no matter how much it feels like it, we are never truly alone.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve written and revised these words in an ongoing draft over the past year, knowing that I would only publish this story when I was ready. I am ready. This article isn’t about pointing fingers. It’s about sharing vulnerabilities in an effort to inform, unite, understand, and—ultimately—heal. Thank you for letting me tell my story, and for being there for me on the other side.

**This is a public post. If you feel this story speaks to you or can help someone, feel free to share it.

No I Don’t Drink, Yes I’m Vegan, And Can We Move On?

When I was twelve years old, I sat in the back seat of my dad’s car rifling through the beach bag looking for something to drink. I saw the word “lemonade,” opened the bottle, and took a swig.

“Dad?” I said. “This lemonade tastes weird.”

My dad peered in the rearview mirror and calmly told me, “That’s because that’s not lemonade.”

I gave him a confused look.

“That’s alcoholic lemonade,” he said.

I promptly proceeded to spit out the window and dab my tongue on a towel, following that up with a dramatic montage that involved me asking my dad what was going to happen, was I going to be drunk, was I going to die?

When I was 23, I poured some of the punch bowl contents into my cup at a party, being sure to plop the enticing sorbet on top. I then filled up my cup again. I was really unexpectedly emotional that night. I found out later that was spiked punch. Considering I had zero tolerance for alcohol, that may have explained my emotional state. Maybe.

When I was 24, I was playing with my plastic water glass and my friend’s plastic whiskey glass, which looked exactly the same. I took a swig of what I thought was water, then immediately spit into the cup. I told my friend I’d pay for a refill of his whiskey. He denied the offer. He wasn’t mad; he was simply amused.

Those are the only times I’ve ever had alcohol in my life.

In the first five minutes that I begin talking to someone new at a restaurant, based on my ordering, they ask me two things:

1. Why are you vegan?

2. Why don’t you drink?

Despite my attempts to steer the next 30 minutes of conversation in another direction, the table topics continue to revolve around my lifestyle choices, usually due to incredulity and discomfort from the other party because, ohmygod they could NEVER give up cheese and have I really NEVER had alcohol?

It exhausts me.

I’m so very tired, people, of being the spotlight of attention just because I am different from you. Just because I make unique choices. Just because I make you uncomfortable.

I don’t sit at that table and lecture people on their cheeseburger and the beer they are sipping, but somehow, my salad and water make people uncomfortable.

I am all for deep and meaningful conversations, but this is not going to turn into one of those. This is going to be 30 minutes of you trying to mask your judgment of me but failing miserably. This is going to be 30 minutes of me hearing the same insulting jokes I’ve heard a hundred times before. This is going to be 30 minutes of me taking deep breaths while the walls close in and I get backed into a corner with no one to defend me but myself, bored at this point and just waiting for the organic leap to the next tête-à-tête to determine if you’ll ever be able to get past me being different.

Why do I have to explain myself? Why does my being different make you uncomfortable? Why do you feel you have to defend yourself when all I’ve said is “No, I don’t drink” and “Yes, I’m vegan”?

Since I’ve already put out there why I don’t eat animals, I’ll talk about my sobriety, since at this point in our table talk, without knowing my full and short-lived relationship with liquor, you’re probably weighing the odds of me being a recovering alcoholic or a crazy religious nut. I can assure you, I am both. (Just kidding.)

I don’t owe you an explanation for why I don’t drink, but I’m going to give one to you anyway. And you’re probably not going to like it. You’re probably going to have some reflexive retort back at me because I’ve somehow hit a button I didn’t know was there to push. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll say, “huh” and move on.

I don’t drink because I want to be in control. I don’t drink because I like reality. I don’t drink because I like to be present in the moment, no matter how shitty it is. I don’t drink because I like to face my problems head on and then learn and grow from them.

For the record, I don’t smoke pot for the same reasons (and yes I live in Seattle where I CAN HAVE ALL THE POT IN THE WORLDDDDD).

I am in fact often mistaken for being drunk–sometimes the drunk person–at a bar because there I am making my own dance floor with my signature crazy legs moves, singing at the top of my lungs, laughing my loud and wild and pure and unrefined laugh, and making an utter fool out of myself with absolutely no care in the world.

Maybe I am weird because I’m different. Because I naturally have no inhibitions. Because I’m not easily embarrassed. Because I’m okay with staring my fears and insecurities in the face without any vices and letting the world wash over me leaving me scarred and scared and oh-so-bring-it-on ready.

Because I want to always be wholly, truly, honestly and authentically me.

My lifestyle choices don’t define me. I am not just a vegan and just a sober person. I am a woman who craves integrity and humor, who has insane attention to detail, who is increasingly more curious about the natural world and our role in it, who loves love, who speaks her mind, who has lived here and there and done this and that.

So please. The next time you meet someone who is different than you, don’t define them by a label. Accept that they are different, embrace that they are different, ask yourself why their being different bothers you, make a mental note to address that issue with yourself later, and move on.

The Stranger on a Plane Who Saw My Broken Heart

I held the pink, laminated reusable boarding pass in my hand, rubbing my finger over its bubbled edges. The weight shifted in my backpack as I re-situated it on my shoulders and picked up my laptop case. I handed my paper ticket to a woman behind the metal fence and walked along the concrete to the plane’s steps.

No security checkpoint and no overhead storage bins awaited me. My ears would not be alerted by an announcement that the plane was about to lift off. I could reach into the cockpit and touch the pilot. I could hold hands with nearly everyone on the plane without having to leave my seat.

Though it felt like the 1940s, it was 2015, and I was leaving the place I’d learned to call home.

I was saying goodbye to an island whose people, simplicity, and natural beauty I’d come to love.

And yet, at that moment, I wanted to be away from people, floating on a cloud among the birds of the sky. I wanted to be free but have all the answers, I wanted to feel loved and worthy and adored, and I wanted the fissure in my heart to be miraculously healed.

As the plane took flight, I leaned against the thick, sweating window glass, trying to become invisible. I didn’t want to look outside because that meant accepting the daunting truth that those turquoise blue waters I’d come to know would no longer be present in my daily life. I didn’t want to look down because then I’d see that I was moving away from those white sand beaches of quiet isolation, not toward them.

I didn’t want to look out the window because then I might see my reflection, and that would feel like staring into the face of someone I didn’t know.

Instead, I closed my eyes tight and hugged my backpack to my chest, trying to shield my face from the other passengers on this 14-seater plane, trying to hide my pain. But the tears falling down my cheeks coupled with my silent sobs gave me away to the man sitting across the two-foot aisle from me.

Wordlessly, he removed a tissue from his bag. I was burying my brokenness into the nylon cover of my travel backpack when he tapped me on the shoulder. I raised my head a couple inches to see the tissue dangling by my cheek.

The stranger on the plane smiled at me.

Without saying anything, I took the tissue and wiped my eyes and runny nose. I crumpled it into a ball for later use and then made eye contact with the man. My lips turned up ever so slightly, a genuine smile but one that took effort nonetheless.

The stranger on the plane nodded his head and turned to look forward, giving me privacy to process my feelings.

His kindness reminded me that I am not and should not feel alone in this world, and that I am also allowed to have my feelings–no questions asked.

I didn’t know that the next two years of my life would be the hardest two years of my 29 years. I didn’t know that they would also be the most rewarding.

I didn’t fully understand all that I was leaving behind, that it was a testament of self-love to jump headfirst into this new unknown–lost, scared, confused, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious, and in that moment, so very broken-hearted.

I didn’t fully grasp that taking this first step on the next part of my journey would, in time, prove to be one of the most valuable and meaningful chapters of my life.

It took me two years to recognize that abandoning the island life to chase opportunities in the city was one of the most courageous things I have ever done. Two years and I realized that leaving that island home–one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done–was also one of the most loving things I could ever do for myself.

I am not, I was not fearless. But I did stare fear in the face while navigating an increasingly rocky path to become the incredibly self-aware woman I am today.

If you asked me if I’d do it all over again, I don’t know that I’d say yes. But if you asked me if the loneliness, heartache, and utter confusion were worth it, I’d look you in the eyes and tell you that believing in myself and knowing who I am and what I want in life is my biggest achievement, and I have those feelings to thank for that.

You Happened to Me, Parts I-III

PART I

“She’s a good person, you know.”

“I know.”

“She deserves.”

“Deserves?”

“Deserves.”

PART II

The bath grew cold twenty minutes ago. Water fills the gaps between her toes like air fills her lungs. (Vital.) (Necessary.) She tilts her head onto the tile, the hard surface relentless against her scalp, forcing her to forget.

At least here. At least now.

She is not remembering; she is listening to the methodical, meticulous drip-drip of the leaky faucet that the landlord refuses to fix. What once was her vexation is now her solace. Funny how things change.

(Change.)

And just like that, she is sucked back in, drowning in the mirage of what she once knew, melting into a horizon of revelation.

Heartache is no longer a hyperbole when it screams inside one’s chest.

She inhales, exhales, inhales and disappears beneath the agitated surface, entering a pool of sensory deprivation. But she is not deprived of her mind.

He is there and you are there. You’re there because you’re him.

PART III

You happened to me

On an ideal day

At an ideal time

In an ideal place

 

I painted you in pointillism

Made brushstrokes of your cubism

But we were never surrealism

Only caught up in impressionism

 

You were particles

Seeking me to make you whole

I was already whole

 

Then you happened to me.