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I Still Feel Brave

Many think of Lavender as a stress relieving, relaxing, calming herb. While these are all qualities it does posses, Lavender has a strong side to it as well. It’s long been known and valued for it’s ability to bring strength and courage to the user, traditionally, sprigs of lavender were tied in bunches and given to women in labor. Squeezing the bundle was believed to give them added strength and courage during childbirth. Rosemary Gladstar, a well known herbalist, wrote in her book, Herbal Healing for Woman, “I’ve found it can be very healing to women undergoing periods of intense stress to place sprigs of lavender and lavender oil in the rooms of their home. It’s essence brings calmness and inner strength to the user”

Today we dive into a relationship story about a woman named Alex: how she coped, how she survived and how she left an abusive situation. While reading through her words I knew lavender was the herb I would pair with her: strength, courage, calming, beauty; it all fit. Our shoot took place in an outdoor bath. Many have spoken of healing waters; in baptism someone goes fully underwater and comes out new. Alex has come out of this situation new and we wanted to represent that. A bath also represents taking care of ourselves and relaxation, all important parallels to her story. We are so thankful that Alex was brave enough to share her story and we hope it will strike a chord with our readers.

I have difficulty finding a way to begin my story. There is no easy way to tell a story that is painful to share and to hear; a story which,after almost a year and a half since the “end” of, I finally feel (mostly) ready to be completely honest about.

Let me start by saying this; the big secret, the huge, scary, shameful thing that I kept hidden for the past several years? It’s a thing that, if statistics are to be believed, is relatively commonplace.  I am not a one in a million freak occurrence; I’m an unfortunate part of an even more unfortunate statistic that many women, and men, are part of.

For almost four years I stayed with a man that abused me and took advantage of me emotionally, mentally, monetarily, and sexually. It took until I was completely out of the relationship to see our “difficulties” for what they really were, and what they were caused by. Our difficulties were the product of isolation, intimidation, gaslighting, minimization, denial, and blame perpetuated by my partner. And there were “difficulties” from the very beginning. I think that fact is the thing, more than anything else, that made me so reticent to share what I was going through, and then caused me to become ashamed of my experience; I saw there was trouble at the beginning, and I allowed it to continue and overwhelm my sense of worth, of individuality, of self, and of safety, and then stayed in that situation for much longer than is comprehendible by those who haven’t been victims of an abusive partner themselves.

Here is the thing about abuse at the hands of a partner; in my experience the truly “bad” stuff was insidious, and as each manifestation of our power imbalance appeared, it was explained away by him or by me as a minor “personality” flaw on his part, and “overreaction” on my part. I would not consider myself a person that is ruled by their emotions, or a person that would unnecessarily apologize, not to mention feel truly genuine shame and fear, but I was that person. For almost four years.

During every fight, and there were many, many fights, I believed that I was reacting irrationally, because that is what he wanted me to believe, because by dehumanizing me with his actions and words, and by his disregard for me, I dehumanized myself and saw myself as not a complete person. Every time a phone call or text message I sent wasn’t responded to for over 24 hours (when he knew that was a trigger for me from earlier trauma), every time he came home at two in the morning with no explanation as to where he’d been, or an explanation coupled with a derisive accusation of mistrust, every time I was made to feel guilty for not having sex with him, every time he compared me to his previous partners and implied there was something wrong with me because I didn’t orgasm during oral sex, every time he got angry when I didn’t orgasm during sexual activity at all, every time I was made to feel as though it was my responsibility to pleasure him, feed him, create happiness for him, or loan him money for gas or cigarettes or bills after he’d wasted his entire paycheck at the bar or on car projects, every time he spent hours complaining about his day and never asked me about my own, every time he made a decision about our lives and didn’t consult me, with every friend of mine that he alienated and enabled me to alienate, with every single promise he ever made to me and that I was somehow again surprised he didn’t keep; I hated myself just a little bit more, I hated my gender a little bit more, I hated my perception of me own shortcomings as a partner, as if that had anything to do with the way he was treating me. In my own mind I was a thing, not a human woman.

During that time, I believed I loved him and that I couldn’t do any better than him. I felt like a shadow of the vibrant, funny, sarcastic, strong-willed woman I had once considered myself to be. I felt ashamed that I continued on in the relationship, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt that shame. I told all of my friends over and over again that he was “getting better” and we were “working on it”. The truth of the matter is, I felt completely and utterly trapped. I would barely sleep at night or if I did it was plagued with nightmares, I fed myself and bathed myself out of routine and not wanting to appear as if I was “depressed” or “sulking”. He was constantly asking me “What is with you?” and not bothering to delve any deeper after I would let my facial expression melt away and timidly say “Nothing.”  After four years, he couldn’t recognize my unhappiness. I dreaded going home every single night.

Then one day, I realized I didn’t have to go home any more. After agonizing over my decision, after seeking advice and support (albeit obliquely; remember, you who are reading this are the first people to see it all as it truly was), from many friends, after being reminded that there is selfless, adoring, respectful, supportive love for me, that life is possible – and not just possible, that I deserve it, purely for the fact that I am a human and I am a woman and therefore I am deserving of every good thing that life can give me, I finally saw the light at the end of a four-year-long tunnel. For the first time that I could remember since I began that relationship, I felt brave. I felt completely and utterly terrified, I felt that without my abuser I was nothing, I would have nothing, and I deserved nothing, but I felt brave, because I knew I would get out. And I felt hope.

Today, I still feel brave. And I feel happy, and sad, and angry, and joyful, and silly, and ecstatic, and I feel love for myself again. I look in the mirror and I’m finally looking at myself again, not a thing wearing my face. I have impassioned conversation again, I have opinions again. I read my favorite books and sing along to the radio.

Sometimes, on the bad days, I will constantly apologize. And on those bad days, the man I’m with now will lovingly remind me that I have nothing to apologize for. On the bad days, all I want to do is cry or scream, and I there are people will talk with me, cry with me, or scream with me.

Those four years left little landmines in my soul and my heart that still explode, but with the support from the people that love me, I am learning how to navigate them. And I still feel brave.

Lavender: Lavandula angustifolia

Uses: Lavender is a beautiful herb. It can help relieve stress headaches, clear depression, aid in sleep and strengthen the nervous system. As I mentioned above, emotionally it can give strength and courage to the user.

Preparation and Dosage: Pour 1 cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb, cover and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. This can be drunk 3 times a day. The essential oil should be used externally or in a bath.

Combinations:

Headaches: Lavender, Lemon Balm and Skullcap

Muscle Spasms and Cramps: Lavender and Valerian

Depression: Lavender and Borage

References: Herbal Healing for Women and Medical Herbalism

Repost from @mstiffynichole via @igrepost_app, it’s free! Use the @igrepost_app to save, repost Instagram pics and videos, Everything the enemy sent to break me, God used to shape me! Your past does not define you. It tells your story of strength!
Today, take one step toward pumping up your volume. Stand up in yourself! Stand up and be yourself! 💜 #SuperWoman #StrongWoman #FaithLivingWoman #Ladies #FaithOverFear #NaturalWoman #MsTiffyNichole
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Julia and Karl

We are so excited to see how far reaching the blog has become in it’s short life. Today we bring you two stories from a couple that lives in Indianapolis, IN, Julia and Karl.


Besides the, “I will only wear a dress”phase I went through as a very young girl, I wasn’t a very girly kid.The thought of shaving and body hair never really occurred to me. When I was 11years old I spent my first summer at an amazing girls summer camp in NorthCarolina called Green Cove. I remember other girls in my cabin pulling out supplies to shave their legs before dances with boys. I put the shaving cream on my face as a joke. Shaving was the farthest thing from my mind.

 In sixth grade my legs started to get hairy and for the first time I was explicitly told that hairy is not how a woman should be. One day I wore shorts to school, I walked up to the front of the room in Reading class to write an answer to a question on the board. I was nervous, a shy kid anyway who hated getting up in front of the class, and as I made my way between the rows of desks, one boy leaned over and whispered in a disgusted voice, “Look at her hairy legs!” I was mortified. Not soon after that I asked my mom if I could start shaving. The next year, in seventh grade, a boy in my Social Studies class made fun of how hairy my arms were. I had never considered my body hair, but suddenly there was too much of it.

 So, I started shaving. I read beauty magazines with my friends as I got older, I listened to boys on my rowing team categorize my fellow female teammates’ thighs based on their size and I saw girls pile on make up in high school. My safe haven was that summer camp. Most summers, I headed off to the mountains of North Carolina where I was surrounded by strong, confident women. The hiking and climbing staff was notorious for not shaving. I saw them every day, sporting their hairy legs and arms, and I thought they were, well, just normal. Here, every girl was just herself, no fakeness, no make up, no cool kids, no weird kids. It didn’t matter how weird you were (and I was a weird kid in so many ways), at camp there were no standards for fitting in. Looking back, I know those summers as a camper influenced my decision to go natural today. My summers on staff there did, too. I’d go for days without a shower, I’d forget to shave all week, I’d rarely wear make up. But at the end of the summer, I’d always end up back in the real world, and find myself giving into the pressures of society and ideas of what feminine should be.

 Fast forward to May of 2013,                                                                                                               I met a guy named Karl. He was everything awesome. As the fall approached he decided to do No Shave November, and with a bit of convincing, I joined him. We were so excited to start not shaving that No Shave November began at the end of August. For me, the excitement was doing something out of the norm. How many women join their men in not shaving? When people asked why I wasn’t shaving, I responded with, “Why not?” November passed and eventually Karl’s beard took on epic proportions, and he had to trim it. But I kept on not shaving. As summer approached, I started to get nervous. My coworker and I frequent the pool at the gym connected to our office. Was I going to lay out by the pool all natural in my bikini? And what about when I wanted to wear t-shirts to work that didn’t cover up my pits entirely? My armpit hair was pretty long at this point and was starting to sprout out of certain shirts. I’m also an avid runner, and I wasn’t about to spend a hot Indiana summer wearing t-shirts, but what would other runners think?  Turns out I didn’t have much to worry about. No one in my office told me to cover up my pits and no one at the pool gave me more than a lingering glance. And runners? Please. It’s like I’d momentarily forgotten that we sweat, spit, and otherwise are disgusting in front of each other, so a little extra body hair wasn’t going to turn them off.  

 It’s been a little over a year. I’ve shaved my pits a handful of times, but they’ve mostly gone natural, and my legs more regularly. Legs get itchy! I like shaving when and if I feel like it, being hairy when and if I feel like it, not because I feel like I have to. And I somehow feel more like myself when I’m all natural. Maybe it goes back to those summers at camp and those “crunchy,” “granola,” confident counselors I looked up to so much. And some days I still get nervous about baring my natural hair. I recently trained for a sprint triathlon at my gym. Before the first swim practice I worried about what the coach and other people practicing would think about my unshaveness. But swimming was just about the swimming, and no one was looking at each other’s bodies and being critical.

 All this time, there has been Karl. It turns out that Karl is really into an all natural lady. Maybe this story would be better if I had discovered on my own that going all natural felt beautiful, but in reality I needed a little push. I needed someone to tell me that my hairy legs and arms, the things that boys had mocked before, were sexy. Karl’s encouragement made me realize that I didn’t have to shave my way into a certain beauty standard to be beautiful for him and to feel beautiful for myself. We women are bombarded by how we should look, sound, every second of the day. We compare, we judge, we wish we were different. But shouldn’t we just want to be ourselves? Shouldn’t we take the time to figure out how we each individually feel beautiful? I feel certain that beauty is different for each woman, each person. I am lucky enough to be able to have someone who doesn’t prescribe to the normal beauty standard, who encourages me to be all natural if that’s what I want, and who is proud of me for displaying my hairiness.  Every time I have a positive experience or get to shake up someone’s idea of femininity with something as silly and little as my arm pits, I feel surer and more confident in my choice. It’s a journey. This year, I’m looking forward to summer and to setting my all-natural pits free.

-Julia Goodman

Julia said, “I find my boyfriend Karl’s perspective on my pit hair so interesting and it blows my mind that he likes it.”

So we asked Karl to write about his perspective:

Hmmm…my perspective on women with hair…good question. In short, I think it’s great! It’s naturally beautiful. I wished more women would feel comfortable to be just how their bodies intended to be. I’m not really sure how I came upon such a perspective…I don’t remember one defining “aha” moment. I think it was just occasionally seeing a woman here or there lift their arms in public and I would catch sight of full tufts of hair. I found it to be so exotic! Or so alien…as if a hidden world was being uncovered piece by piece. I remember thinking, “women grow hair under their arms like a guy?!” And when you think about it, and remember middle school health class, you know that of course they do. But, being in such a visual/media society one tends to forget that.

I think that dovetails nicely into your question about a media/society disconnect in regards to what a “true” woman looks like. Society and the media have gotten to the point that women are pressured into stripping away very natural parts of their bodies to “fit in.” And then when you look more into the history of it and find out that women shaving their pits came about at the turn of the last century as a marketing ploy to sell more razors, it’s even more appalling. If a man is not shamed for letting his hair grow then why should a woman? There should be no shame whatsoever in how anyone truly is.

Another disconnect I see, and maybe this is me just being anal, is in historical films that pride themselves in their historical detail and accuracy. They put out a movie set hundreds or thousands of years in the past and all the women have silky smooth armpits and legs. Not very historically accurate at all. I see it as yet another attempt by the media to make women believe that their bodies must be “tamed.”

But, it’s nice to be with a woman, Julia, who embraces her natural beauty. I couldn’t be happier with that choice of hers. Years ago I had a friend at church who didn’t shave her pits and she was proud of it. I remember thinking to myself “I hope I end up with a woman who would be proud to be hairy too.” And, I did.

-Karl Bolter