By Holly Herring
I love being able to write things that people enjoy reading.
For one, writing is a form of self care for me. Secondly, I have had such a challenging relationship with my writing that it’s nice to be able to simply enjoy it.
I was raised by my mother and it seemed as if I was a burden to her.
There was a very confusing thing happening in my household. My mother criticized every bit of schoolwork I did. She would accept a paper in her hand from me with an exasperated sigh as if this homework checking was a losing battle she was fighting. She’d toss the paper back at me with the explanation, “you will do this until you can make it acceptable.” I would return to my bedroom feeling disappointed that I had failed…again. I had let my mother down.
However, when there were visitors to the house, I heard her tell stories about her daughter, the genius, who did better than all the other kids in school at just about everything. It didn’t seem possible that this daughter she bragged to people about was me. I know what she said to me when the audience was gone.
When I was in high school I entered college preparatory classes.
The standard school tests all indicated I was a kid who would surely head off to college and make something of myself. I had this image in my head of me standing at the end of a high dive with my mother at the judging table as I plummeted to the water, making the world’s largest belly flop.
In my imagination, my mother would hold up a bright red zero on a sore card for everyone to see. I was prepared for failure right out of the gates.
I actually did really well in high school; I started strong and I was getting amazing grades. I figured that since I was doing so well on my essays and term papers that my mother would finally be proud of me. I took her a paper that had just been graded and she took the paper in her hand, and sat down at the breakfast bar to read it. I saw her brow furrow as she flipped back and forth through the stapled pages. Finally she stopped reading and looked at me, “Any teacher that could give this kind of drivel a passing grade is incompetent and should be fired. I ought to call your principal and let him know about this.”
I finally accepted that my writing wasn’t any good.
I felt that if my mother kept seeing good grades on my papers, my teacher would be fired for incompetence. I loved that teacher. I didn’t want him fired. A year later, I stopped attending high school. I gave up believing I could be someone my mother would ever be proud of.
I left home a bit earlier than most government agencies believe is prudent and I wandered around the country aimlessly for a long time. I had decided that I wasn’t terribly bright and I knew there was no future in college for me. I just needed to find a good job in sales that could support me.
There was no love lost between myself and my mother.
She was critical of other areas of my life as well as my writing. She taught me to be ashamed of my body and to keep it covered up. She taught me that I didn’t know how to do my own hair, makeup or how to do my own laundry right. I aged up feeling like I was lucky to even have a job seeing as I was so incapable of, well, everything.
In 2001 I enrolled in college and attended for a year.
My life was complicated and I didn’t have much of a support network. I had a preschooler to raise and I was really juggling a lot in my personal life, so I dropped out. I made another attempt to attend college a decade later and I completed one class and dropped out again. It was about that time that the social media bug bit me.
The internet had already opened the world up to me.
Old friends had joined social media platforms and I did too. I read about what all these old friends had been up to all these years and I started updating on these platforms about myself as well. I didn’t really type much in the beginning. There was a lot to fill people in about, but I didn’t really want to.
I was, well, embarrassed.
The year 2016 was very pivotal for me.
I was living life walking a tightrope and there was no net. I kept people as what someone once referred to as “mushrooms.” That is, I kept them in the dark and fed them bullshit. With nothing but mushrooms for support I finally hit the ground with a big SPLAT emotionally. This was a place I had been before, SPLAT on the ground, and I was not a fan.
But after a year of struggling harder than was necessary, I got myself the help I needed and completed some programs that served women like me who had overcome adversity. Now, with a little confidence, I started opening up. I spilled my guts on social media and my life as a victim turned survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence became common knowledge.
My truth came spilling out and my shame—not just the shame of 2016 but of a lifetime—was typed out on the internet at first, then in survivor speeches in public.
It’s very difficult to feel ashamed of your life once you take the opportunity to tell your story yourself in front of whole rooms full of people.
There isn’t much out there about my life that’s a dark secret anymore. I had embraced social media as an opportunity to become who I am today; a woman who lives out loud.
I went back to community college in January 2018 as a 44 year old woman. There was an English requirement and I was still so convinced that my writing skills were poor so I signed up for English 50—remedial English. Somehow the mother I hadn’t seen for over half of my life was still taking up space in my head and I wasn’t sure I could pass even a remedial English class.
I finished that first English class with an A. I went on to complete another English class with an A. I decided I needed to silence the critical voice of my mother and accept a new reality.
One of the practices I undertook was writing affirmations for myself. One affirmation I wrote has become my personal #hashtag. In the near future that #hashtag is going to be added to the tattoos that adorn my body. I think it is fitting to share it with you today.
I am healing.
I am not broken, I’m breaking through.
And you know what else? I can write, too.
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