In order to say “no” effectively, I started to study assertiveness. Being assertive is the practice of stating your limits clearly, and firmly holding the line if/when someone pushes. Over a period of months, a handful of self-help books and many, many conversations in therapy my real issue seemed to be self-esteem based. It’s impossible to state limits when you don’t feel worthy to set limits.
My body wasn’t mine. I had been used by people for sex since I was a child. Even in college, when I’d been actively healing and trying to get better, some man I thought loved me took advantage. Maybe the issue wasn’t in me being assertive enough, I thought. Maybe the issue was that I don’t have the right to say anything in these matters.
In one therapy session, I pitched the idea of a Pity Party during one of my rants. I wanted space and time to sit in the grief. I wanted recognition for the internal pain that my family denied. I told my therapist that I was going to invite my best friends over for a Pity Party. We’d all wear black and chop onions, so I wasn’t the only one crying. We could play sad country songs about dogs being accidently run over by ex-wives on the way out, or whatever those rich white men have to sing about. My therapist challenged me to flip the idea. She asked me what it would look like if we had an upbeat party instead, to celebrate rather than feel bad. I was sent away with the task of considering what that would be.
I hated editing my own self-talk. I was constantly fighting with myself, about myself. Between matches, I’d soak in fears of being a narcissist. I’d cycle from not deserving anything because I really should be dead by now, and wanting to force myself to believe the good like I made myself trust Erica in 2005. I could choose to believe these statements, about being good and innocent and so on. I could own those as facts. It was a decision that I knew I could make, even if I didn’t feel that decision wholeheartedly. I hadn’t felt trust in Erica when I started therapy, but I’d told myself it was ok anyway, and did it. I felt confident that I could do anything I had to do.
The truth was a concern. I was trying to find the truths, especially in what I’d told myself over the years. I didn’t want to tell myself that I wasn’t at fault if I was, in fact, at fault. I wished for my father to be alive so he could tell me what had happened between us. The people around me were polarized on the issue: my allies believed me more than I believed myself, and Jim’s side of the family denied it more fiercely as time went on. I didn’t want to be kind to myself unless I was worth being kind to, and I was not convinced. The simple idea that if the abuse hadn’t happened, that I’d defamed my own father, who was dead and couldn’t even defend himself kept me up at night. It seemed very likely that I was a terrible person.
In my journal, I worked out “party games” for a positive themed party. I drank a bottle of wine as I wrote out the ideas that would make me feel appreciated and seen. I cried frequently. It was a long night.
The next week, I brought my “Yay Brittany” party outline to therapy. My therapist used one of her favorite phrases, “This is huge!” After much encouragement, I wrote an invitation to my party. Then I even sent them to people.
The party would be broken down into three events: a collage, a Rainy Day Book, and a circle toast. All three things were geared specifically toward things that I knew I would use, and things that I knew would make me uncomfortable.
I sent invitations to everyone who had supported me throughout my life. I asked guests to write to me in my Rainy Day Book if they couldn’t attend in person. I got cards and letters from past partners, previous therapists, and even my kindergarten teacher. I scotch-taped the notes into my Rainy Day Book.
The date of the actual party arrived. I was blown away by the number of people who attended. I had three men in the same room, all of whom I’d dated or was currently dating, all cutting out pictures and putting them together on the collage. My co-workers were playing board games with my college friends. People wrote to me in the Rainy Day Book and passed it to others. Everyone was laughing and having fun.
When it was time for the circle toast, I stood against my kitchen wall, facing all of my friends in a crowd around me. Each guest, in turn, told a different memory or story about me. Compliments were layered like the magazine images on the growing collage.
People had been seeing and hearing me for years.
A line cook at the Melting Pot talked about how I was always upbeat, always bringing smiles and light into the kitchen. A mentor of mine talked about how I’d taught her things. Someone who was a guest of my friend, a woman I’d met twice before, spoke of my bravery. I cried along with memories and laughed when silly stories were recalled to life. The words blended together into the message that I was far more supported than I knew. I had love coming up around me from sources previously unknown.
For that night, everyone had something in common that was enough to create friendship and joy.
It was me.
I was a power for good things happening. It wasn’t God through me, or the church, or being well-read and good at answering things. It was me at my worst, with all my drama and bullshit exposed. I was accepted. More than accepted, I was admired and desired as a person. I was wanted in the world.
I still have my collage and my Rainy Day Book, filled with notes that I go back to when I need that reminder of support. What started as a throw-away therapy idea became the foundation for loving myself as an adult. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.