The Stories We Tell

Last month marked the 14th anniversary of my move to the Carolinas. It’s always such a strange marker of time for me because it requires an acknowledgement of the truth. The truth of why I moved away from my hometown and not the glossed over version of a simple move post graduation. The real reason I moved four states and nearly ten hours away from my family and the home I grew up in was to escape an abusive relationship.

I was 19 years old and a freshman at a university in my home state when I first met this boy. At first I couldn’t stand him and in hindsight I wish I would have listed to my intuition and steered clear. He could be very charming and over the course of a year we eventually began dating. In the early months he continued to be very charming despite early warning signs.

Grand gestures in front of other people meant more for how it looked to his audience and less for my benefit. Gas lighting me by starting fights or behaving terribly and turning each and every situation around so that it was somehow my fault. Controlling behavior and needing to have access to me at all times and going ballistic if I wouldn’t respond to text messages or answer his calls. I vividly remember one night having to disconnect our phone because he would not stop calling and leaving horrible, abusive messages. There were multiple incidents where he broke into my house. Near constant attempts to start fights with my friends to leave me isolated and dependent upon him.

This went on for three years and progressively escalated to the point where if I had not got out when I did, I know with utter certainty the verbal, emotional and psychological abuse was going to turn physical. And most people who know me today have no idea that this is part of my story. I don’t talk about this time in my life because I feel ashamed; ashamed of what I tolerated, of turning into a person I hated and didn’t recognize. I feel shame over things that were done to me and for allowing someone so small to steal that much of myself and my power. That shame is what has kept me quiet for over a decade and shame is probably what keeps the women in your life quiet too.

The last few weeks have been hard for so many, particularly those who have survived abuse and trauma and suffer in silence. They stay silent because deep down they have convinced themselves that whatever happened to them is somehow their fault. They stay silent because they don’t want to hear “It wasn’t that bad”. They stay silent because they know more often than not they simply won’t be believed.

I recently shared a story with my husband of something that happened to me when I was in high school and he was shocked that in the fourteen years we’ve been together I’d never told him. There’s a lot of stories from my teen and early twenties that I haven’t told him or anyone. It’s too painful as a grown woman to wish with all your heart you could go back and rescue a prior version of yourself. While I can’t time travel and save a younger me, I can reclaim this chapter of my story and the power I give it.


Sweat, Tears, or the Sea

As a kid, I had an overactive, very noisy mind. I didn’t understand it at the time or how to get quiet and the only thing that ever worked to stop the never ending stream of thoughts was dance. I first experienced a state of mental quiet and, unknowingly, meditation in motion through methodical movement. While I studied ballet for over 12 years and I wish I could say I carried that practice into my young adulthood, I did not. It wasn’t until many years later I fell in love with movement again via morning walks.


In the summer of 2007, I adopted my rescue dog, Charlie, and this was the beginning of my morning walk ritual. For years it was just him and I in the quiet of the morning and then our walks eventually included a baby in a stroller. Fast forward a few years and that baby would get dropped off at school and then I would load up the younger two babies and head out with our dog. These hours were precious to me because it was a time to nourish my soul while moving my body. I’d fire up a favorite inspirational podcast or audio book and roll through nature with my boys. It was about a year ago that this shifted when Charlie started to get sick. Over the course of a few months our hour long walk route dwindled to 45 minutes; to 20 minutes and down again until all he could handle was going around our block.  During this season of learning how to say goodbye I experienced another pivotal loss; one that is still so raw and undefined for me it’s too emotionally charged to speak about in detail. Charlie stayed with me for six more months after this event; then he just couldn’t hang on anymore and it was time for our family to say goodbye to one of our greatest loves. The combination of this experience and the loss of my beloved dog broke open a well of emotions and sent me into a time of heavy grieving.  In this time of darkness I did the only thing I know how to do when times get tough; I went to yoga class.
It was two days after Charlie passed that I made myself go to a studio class and I purposefully chose one that would be loud, hot and sweaty. I needed to focus all my energy on the movement and push myself to prove that as broken as I felt the heaviness in my heart would not break me. I pushed myself  to my edge that day, maybe even a little past, and when I collapsed in savasana I wept as quietly as I could and let my tears stream down my face along with my sweat.
I’ve heard that the cure for anything is salt water; sweat, tears or the sea and I’ve tried various combinations of all three as I move towards my own healing. Shortly after saying goodbye to Charlie, our family took a beach vacation. There were many days I was up with the sun or awake with the moon watching the tide rolling in and out as I simply sobbed over his loss and all the constants in my life that had changed in the last 12 months.  Each day when we walked down to our chairs there would be phantom paw prints in the sand and I couldn’t help but think it was Charlie sending me a sign.
In the days and weeks since there are times my mat is too quiet of a space for my grief and I’ve turned towards cycling. I’ve had many a ride where I hustled until I was breathless and my sorrow ran in rivers of sweat down my body. I’ve cried a time or two. I know that a year from now things will hurt a little less but the only way to get over something is to go through it.  One breathe, one pedal stroke at a time, putting one foot in front of the other until I’m on the other side.
~Emily South
*Post originally written for SweatNet Charlotte