Some days I feel stronger. Most days I don't. Lots of days I'm depressed and sad and exhausted. Just so plain tired. But sometimes I feel a bit stronger.
Upsi commented the other day on my conversation about my dad that she was impressed that I could say something. Truth be told, so was I. I actually had to stop myself, collect myself, gather my courage and circle back around to his statement (He was talking about writing both me and my sister off because he couldn't get a hold of us. However, while my sister is just ignoring him unless she needs him, I'd made several attempts to get back to him. I felt he was painting us both with the same stroke and it felt very unfair.). After I stated my piece, I felt winded. I shook. I trembled. I felt a bit surprised at myself. I didn't get any validation back from my father, but at least I didn't get nastiness in return. The thing was, it took all my energy and strength to say something to him. Something, that in the grand scheme of things, shouldn't have been that big of a deal. But I had almost felt my knees buckle. And the whole thing challenged me so much, that later in the phone call, when he said something that bothered me equally as bad, I couldn't say anything.
His second comment bothered me for days. And that seems to be more the "normal" course of my interactions with people. Someone says something hurtful, or mean, or spiteful and I'm left dumbstruck. Unable to say anything. These incidents would wear on me, drain me, and I would still be hurting by a lot of them, many years later.
I've recently been thinking about why these things bother me so much. Comments that were said so far in the past often feel like freshly opened wounds. Why? Why couldn't I let it go?
One such incident happened almost 14 years ago. I had been dating my (now) DH for about a year. We were at a party in his honor. Around 50 of his family and friends were in attendance in a smallish room. My (now) MIL was sitting at a table with her sisters a bit away from where I was. Suddenly there was uproarious laughter. Someone asked what was going on. Oh, nothing, nothing they said. But they kept laughing. The whole room was now paying attention to the table. We pressed again to know what was so funny. MIL spoke up and said "Oh, was just telling them how I read a study that laughing could increase your breast size. And I told them that (DH) must not make Jessie laugh very much!!!". This was followed by more cackling and laughing.
I was humiliated and embarrassed. I had been held up as a public joke in front of 50 people. It stung, I was mortified, but I stood there laughing too. I was really still just a girl and I had no idea how to react. It took me a long time to sort through my feelings on it. At first, directly after the incident, DH dismissed it as "just a joke". It hadn't felt like a joke to me. Over the years, I would circle back to this example when discussing my MIL with DH. I would point to this example as her being harsh. A few years later, he said, "Well, if it bothered you, you should've told her you are sensitive about your chest." But the things is, I'm NOT sensitive about my chest. While I'm no where near top heavy and I'd been insecure in the past, I had come to terms with my body as it was. It wasn't about me or my chest. It took me several more years to come around to the fact that what bothered me is that I felt she had bullied me. She had used me as a punchline to get herself a couple of laughs. She had humiliated me in front of tons of people for her own fun. I had felt like the "new girl" in a room full of popular girls in the lunch room. There they all were pointing and laughing at me. She had taken a moment where she was comfortable, surrounded by people she knew, to put me down. DH has come around to understanding why I was so hurt, but we both struggled with why I was still so upset about it.
And recently, it dawned on me. I was really angry at myself. I mean, I was angry with her too, deservedly so. But I really was mad at myself. I was mad I stood there. I was mad I took it. I was angry that I didn't stand up for myself. And in this incident, and many more like it, I find myself agonizing over it for days (or weeks or months). Replaying it in my head and beating myself up for not responding differently. I'm angry that I've allowed people to treat me like shit over and over and I just take it. When I was a child, I didn't have a lot of resources to protect myself, but as an adult, I should've been able to defend myself. I should've stood up for myself. I should've valued myself more than to allow someone to treat me like that.
The times I've stood up for myself have never been easy either. I sometimes have obsessed for days about saying something, hoping I wasn't mean, hoping I wasn't offensive. Shaking with my anxiety. Wondering if I had had a right to say something. But after a few days, I'm able to let it go. It's those times when I don't stand up for myself that I'm haunted.
I want to stand up more for myself. I want to do it in a way that's respectful (not for their sake, but because that's who I want to be), dignified, and maintains my integrity. I want to put a stop to being bullied. I want to learn to speak up. I don't want to live with my regrets or my feelings that if I don't stand up for myself, I'm devaluing myself. If I can't defend myself, who will? I want to be stronger.