Bridging the Gap

*Trigger Warning: This piece references sexual assault and suicide.

I launched this blog on the eve of 2016. A sugary lifestyle blog about parenting, wedding planner work/life balance, and home renovations. My goal was never to depict a perfect life, but rather a sugared life – a life with a little sweetness. Within 2 months I was tackling issues like white privilege, racism, rape culture, and politics, you know, sugary stuff. I was unpacking things that I had hidden away about myself and writing about what I now know were PTSD triggers, in real time. The process helped me to trust myself and speak up when a boundary had been crossed or a hurtful or offensive thing had been said, and in doing so, I made people uncomfortable and burned bridges that can never be rebuilt. I stopped writing at the end of that year because I thought writing itself had made life painful. But here’s the thing, the pain was always there, simmering beneath the surface; writing just let it breathe and gave it a voice. And that’s how healing happens.

For years this blog has largely sat collecting dust and racking up page views and SEO ranking, thanks to a few popular posts on Pinterest, until I started giving it a facelift about 6 weeks ago. I almost started writing again under a fresh new website, because I thought I wanted separation from all the ups and downs of the last time I wrote, but, I decided that the journey that lives here in the archives is part of who I am. As we all navigate this historic time that we are living through, I want to write about how we show up in this moment and how we can bridge the gap toward each other. But first, I have to bridge the gap on this blog, before I can write about the shifting tectonic plates of our world. These are the things I think you need to know about me and the charged history of my writing…

I am a feeler; I feel things deeply and I am empathetic to my core. Which is probably why I am a fighter; a fighter and advocate for social and racial justice and I’m not afraid to use my voice. Using that voice explains why I am a talker; kids in school used to call me Loud Mouth Lauren and the moniker would still apply now, as I approach 40. And when I am tired of talking, I still use my voice because I am a writer. In fourth grade, I took the spelling words every week, the directive to use each word in a sentence, and stitched those sentences into a story about an old lady and a detective, performing a theatrical reading of my semester-long story for the class. Writing eventually grew into a form of catharsis, with cringey middle school poetry and high school papers where I processed painful experiences.

In 2004, my senior year of college, I had to do a “vision” project where we were instructed to dig deep about something we had overcome and represent it in the medium of our choice. I chose to write. My professor shut down my first idea and told me to go deeper, to dig into my soul. So I dug. And I wrote. And I cried. I read my piece to the class, with the lights turned out and just a candle in front of me so I could see the words on the page. I thought I could hide from the shame that I carried, but instead learned that even darkness can’t bury the shame that sexual assault survivors feel in their bones as they move throughout the world. I thought the silhouette of my now-husband in the back of the classroom would give me strength, but I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t write again for a very long time, because I didn’t want to feel the rawness that comes from writing, so I buried my trauma. I quickly built an entire world around that avoidance and instead of looking inward for my self-worth and my identity, I looked outward for approval and ultimately needed that approval like I needed air.

I lived like that for 12 years – got married, had kids, built a career – all while centering myself around whether or not people liked me. Over the years, the real me would peek through the protective shell and dip her toes into the waters of authenticity, only to pull back with the shock of the chill. And then the summer of 2016 hit, with all of the divisiveness and horrors that it held, the real me said, “enough with this bullshit!” and did a running cannon ball into truth. In a particularly heated conversation, I made people uncomfortable by challenging views regarding white privilege, women’s roles in politics, building a wall, and police violence toward the Black community. I stormed out of that conversation and onto a bathroom floor in silent sobs. I sat there, hugging my knees with the realization that I had been physically unable to stifle my voice for the sake of maintaining the privileged calm of our space. I wrote about the experience, then everything exploded and I found myself on a second bathroom floor. Without the approval of others, my sense of self had completely shattered and I felt like an empty husk of a person. I realized the world I had built didn’t have a foundation strong enough to support the full weight of my humanity. I took a lot of photos of my feet during that time, because I felt like I was floating and almost needed photographic evidence that my feet were firmly planted on the ground. I’d hit a fork in the road and there was no turning back, so I had to choose a new road: numb myself and attempt rebuild the protective shell OR risk losing everything. Ultimately, it wasn’t really a choice, because I knew that if tried to live a half-life of numbness, that it would eventually release a landslide of self-hatred that I likely wouldn’t survive.

I don’t mean that metaphorically. I sat on that bathroom floor with suicidal thoughts pin-balling around in my head and thinking about my friend who had died by suicide ten years earlier. She was vivacious and the epitome of the ideal popular girl of the early aughts and when she died, it was as though we’d all been knocked off the monkey bars, landing on our backs, gasping for air. It could happen to anyone – even the people you least expect, so could that be me someday? I wondered if my friend’s mental illness had collided with a similar feeling of despair. I can’t say what lead to her final moments of desperation, but in my bathroom floor moment, I knew that living a life, constantly shrinking myself on the inside, so I could show up in the world as a bubbly, likable, peace-keeper, would be soul crushing and could eventually lead me toward a similar path. My two small children, sleeping on the other side of the door, deserved better. I deserved better. Like the line from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” The only choice was to peel myself off the floor, leave those thoughts on the ground, and face my gaping wounds directly, to live life as my full self – whoever that self was. In choosing myself, I had to chip away at the shiny, polished shell, in order to get to know my own soul. I had to let go of the relationships that made-up my quicksand foundation and grieve those losses. I dug up my old trauma, processed it, and found a psychologist who diagnosed me with PTSD, and we still have our weekly appointments.

It turns out, the chilly waters of authenticity aren’t cold at all, they are a hot spring in an icy world.

Looking back on it, maybe it’s on brand for me to relaunch now, in this, the most charged and volatile time that any of us have ever lived through. We must fight against our tendencies to lean away from discomfort, to take the path of least resistance, because it is only within the discomfort where we grow. That is why the most difficult conversations in life are the ones we most desperately need. Those conversations are how we become whole. So, that’s what you can expect from the next chapter of this blog: conversations that aren’t easy. I will not shy away from my experiences as a survivor, anti-racism work, parenting, politics, living with PTSD, the intersection of all of it, and the never-ending pursuit to find the sweet spots of life.

xx

Published by laurenlehmancarter

Heart on my Sleeve // Social Justice Fighter // Survivor // Mama // Wedding Planner

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