Choosing an alternative lifestyle helped me break the chains of my upbringing.
It’s a lovely memory. Sitting outside at an Italian cafe in Cuenca, Ecuador, drinking a complex Argentinian Malbec, noshing on a spicy charcuterie tray, and sharing travel stories with new friends. But what really sticks out for me was a comment a girlfriend made about a story I told. The situation of the story literally would have never crossed my mind again, even writing this, I barely remember the actual circumstances of the story, but rather I remember the retelling and the reaction.
I was on a bus, even now, I have no clue where I was or why I was on that bus. But I remember, the people a few seats in front of me had their window open and it was cold outside. I am sure they only felt a nice refreshing lightness of air, but I was in the direct line of the wind from the window, and I was freezing. So, I got up and asked them to close the window. They were great about it. They apologized for freezing me out (though there was no need) and I went back to my now much warmer seat and continued the ride.
That’s it! So, YAWN, boring! So why am I retelling this for you to read? It’s all about my new friend Marie’s reaction. She was surprised that I stood up for my freezing-self and asked them to close the window. “I could never have done that!” Hmm, to be honest, a few years ago I might not have been able to do it either. Say what?
Like many of you, I was not raised to think of myself. I was not trained to consider my inconvenience important. If they want their window open, who am I to ask them to consider otherwise? Suffer in silence dear girl! That’s the right way to go.
SUFFER IN SILENCE
I am sure no one actually said to me “Suffer in Silence” but that is the message I heard over and over again. Don’t dress the way you want, because a boy might see you and be turned on. Suffer in Silence. Don’t report a sexual advance by that DJ at the school dance because he’s the best and if you do he won’t be able to come back. Suffer in Silence. Don’t tell your mom when your step-dad exposes himself to you, that would disrupt the family. Suffer in Silence. Good Lord! An open window with a cold wind blowing on you doesn’t even rate in that narrative. Suffer in freaking silence.
I still hear those messages in my head from time to time. I don’t stand up for myself in many “small” ways every day, every week. But I am learning, seeing, growing. When my friend said to me, “I could never have done that!” She also asked me an interesting question, “How did you become so assertive?” That surprised me because I don’t really consider myself ‘assertive’. But, as I sipped my wine, I took a minute to think about the question. I AM more assertive than ever. How the heck did that happen anyway? I promise you, it was equal parts accidental and deliberate action.
CHOOSING A DIFFERENT PATH – Travel
Leaving an abusive marriage, I fled first to the safety of my best friend’s home. But even before I left, I knew my heart longed for the healing only the sea and sunshine can provide. Just three months later I was happily ensconced in a condo on the beach in Costa Rica. What started out as a two-month reprieve ended up a 15-month beginning to a new life of full-time travel.
While in Costa Rica, I met amazing people who opened my eyes to the possibilities of a different way of life. A way that would challenge my beliefs about who I was and what I was capable of. A new way of life that required me to be accountable to my own decisions, to be bold, and to step out of my comfort zone every single day. Living your life like this requires confidence and quite a bit of assertiveness too. Have you ever been completely exhausted after a long hot sweaty day, then tried to get the last bus out that night, in a crowd of people you know won’t all fit on the bus? If ever there is a time to be assertive…
It’s difficult to suffer in silence after you have flown through the mist over Victoria Falls in a lite-flyer. It’s difficult to suffer in silence after sleeping on top of a safari truck under the full moon in the Namibian desert. You can’t suffer in silence after joining hands with the people of Thailand celebrating the lantern festival of Loy Krathong, releasing your own wishes and dreams in tiny vessels of flowers for the gods and watching thousands of the large lanterns of fire released into the night sky.
For 5 years now, I have lived outside the USA, visiting and/or living in more than 45 different countries. I experienced things I never imaged were out there and began to understand I could reach out and these things could become part of the fabric of my being. It’s difficult to imagine that I was afraid to be me before. Now, I look over the canvas of the world and choose my destination- one might say ‘my destiny’ every time I book a new trip.
One of those destinations I chose was Berlin. After spending a month there at the beginning of my travels, I knew I would go back. It was a place that tugged at my heart, started a process that challenged the way I saw love and relationships, and helped me to begin to understand who I really am beneath all the things I had been TOLD I was. I made the choice to go back there when I was ready to stop moving about quite so much.
Oh, Berlin! The gritty streets where I discovered polyamory, sex clubs, and swinging, as well as deeply rich and beautiful friendships. Berlin is a city that forces you to be assertive but also allows you the freedom to do so. You can ask for what you want and need. You can do what you need to do. No one cares. No one judges. They might look over at you, nod their head a few times, then shrug their shoulders and move on. “You do you!” That’s always the sense I had when I was in Berlin. Freedom to be me. No more suffering in silence.
CHOOSING A DIFFERENT PATH – Relationship Structures
I believe a huge part of my newfound ability to be assertive comes from my choice to turn from monogamy as my primary relationship structure. Practicing polyamory has taught me more about good relationships, communication, and boundaries than any experience I had before. When you are managing more than one relationship at a time and your partners are managing more than one relationship at a time, asking for what you need becomes imperative. No more suffering in silence.
I realized one day, after asking for something I felt I needed in a newish relationship and having that need accepted and met, that I had never really asked for what I needed in a relationship before. (See- Suffer in Silence…) I asked a partner to send me a pic while he was on a weekend away with his daughter and one of his other partners. He was not much of a selfie guy and I don’t think he had ever sent me a photo before this. But that weekend, I received what is STILL one of my favorite pics, a selfie of him, his partner, and his daughter in an elevator in their hotel in Prague! Smiling and waving hello to me!
It was one small thing that in the end was a catalyst for so much! I was feeling a bit left out, so I wanted him to show me that he did indeed include me in his life and was also thinking of me when we were apart. He didn’t argue and tell me my feelings were invalid or ignore my needs. He gladly showed me his love and respect by meeting that need. Why was I shocked? Why did that simple act of sending me a photo change my world? Because I had always been taught to suffer in silence, so I had never really asked for something like this that would give me comfort in a relationship.
No more. With this simple act of loving me where I was at, I learned it was safe to advocate for myself. And advocate for me I will. No more suffering in silence. The tricky part was, after a lifetime of more or less ignoring my own needs, I had to learn what those needs were. I had to look inside and discover what I needed and what I wanted, and figure out the difference between the two. I also had to learn that it is ok to ask for what I want too. THAT was an uphill battle. Asking for what I need? OK, I can make that fit, but asking for something as ‘frivolous’ as what I want? That was a tougher lesson. But learning it, I am.
Every relationship. Every trip. Every interaction. I get to learn these lessons over and over. Sometimes I forget and revert to the woman who allows others to make her small so they can feel good about themselves. I try to recognize those times and work to course correct. Sometimes I actively choose to let another’s needs come before mine, and there is value in that too, especially when it’s a conscious decision.
Every day I am learning to overcome the social norms that taught me to suffer in silence and become the strong ASSERTIVE woman I am and always want to be. It’s ok to ask for what you want, to know your boundaries and not let anyone violate them. You are ok too!
Were you raised to suffer in silence? Have you learned to overcome those messages? Tell us about it!
***All photos were taken by me on my travels!
This post has been submitted to the very last Masturbation Monday Weekly Meme! I am so sad to see it go- I have met so many incredible people through interacting with this meme and made some beautiful friendships! I wish Kayla all the best in her next adventures and I will always be grateful for the safe place she gave us to explore all things sexy and relationship-y! Much love!!