TRIGGER WARNING: Going in tonight on some thoughts on the phrase, “Just relax …”.
“Breathe. Relax.” I was appalled that those words came out of my mouth (well, my fingers) to a friend last month. That’s not something I would say normally because the word relax when used like that is not one I enjoy hearing. In fact, for years I hated it because it brought up really bad memories. I find it dismissive and believe people who use it don’t always realize they are telling you, “Shut up! Sit down! Don’t tell! Stop thinking. Stop being.” As soon as I saw what I had typed in the heat of the moment, I immediately had to apologize and ask for forgiveness for being so rude. There is no way I meant to be rude to this person… it is not something I would ever do. So of course that got me thinking, and we all know what that means.
“Just relax … ” – That’s what he said to me as he pushed me into the art closet and shoved his tongue down my throat. I wanted to say something but he assured me no one would believe me. Over the years, he would grope me as I walked through the hallways, push me into the bathroom and kiss me further, and even come into my store as an adult and do strip teases for the camera (my coworkers always enjoyed it, at least… and I can’t say that I didn’t). This relax was to ensure he didn’t get in trouble. He never did; I never told. The thing is, had he just asked, I was desperate enough for attention back then that I probably would have been willing to kiss him. He was my first kiss and I always hated that he ruined that milestone for me.
“Just relax …” – That’s what she said to me when we were enjoying time together after school and realized her brother had come home early. I was certain he had heard us and panicked a little. She was older than me and I was sure he would not stay quiet. This relax was to ensure our families didn’t know their daughters weren’t like other kids. Mine would find out a few years later when they found letters between a girlfriend and me; hers still doesn’t know. The thing is, I wasn’t worried about me but about her and I don’t think she ever realized that.
“Just relax …” – That’s what he said to me when he tried to kiss me and I pushed him away. He proceeded to remind me of my record and how his authority would allow him to pull it all back up if I didn’t do as he wanted. This relax was used to intimidate me and remind me of my position. Who was I, a lowly 16-year old drug addict, to deny his and his badge? The thing is, I had always looked up to him during all those softball games and later learned he wasn’t any better than the folks he put behind bars.
“Just relax …” – That’s what he said to me his first night out of jail. After an intense argument, he’d beaten me so badly the neighbors called the police because they could hear the punches. He left in the car and I was left on the floor of the apartment in my own blood. I remember lying there until the cops showed up and how they took pictures of me from every angle. My naked body on display for all six officers to see. The sideshow of the night. The woman who refused to leave her abusive husband because she believed he would change. They’d heard it before and were certain that I must be asking for the beatings since I stayed. After checking out of the hospital, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life, I arrived home to clean the carpet and clean up the mess left behind. He was in jail and would stay there for a few weeks until he was released with an order to not come near me. Of course, we didn’t listen and he was home that night. This relax was to tell me we wouldn’t get caught and he wouldn’t do again. He didn’t… for a few weeks. The thing is, I lasted another nine years believing he would be better and would one day love me enough to not touch me in that way. He went almost seven years without punching me with his fists and changed to hurting me with his words, but I finally started loving me enough to not want the emotional and mental abuse. Today a man who did such things wouldn’t enter my radar – at least I trust that is true.
“Just relax …” – That’s what she said to me as she told me I would be okay and that many women experienced nightmares and pain and I just had to breathe and let my feelings flow freely. As I spilled my feelings out, she proceeded to tell me I needed to stop overthinking things and not call it murder when it was a procedure done to ensure my safety and that my living child would have a good life. This relax was meant to reassure me that I had made the right choice. The thing is, I have never doubted my decision but let me call myself what I am. I murdered my babies because I felt my life and my daughter’s future was more important than theirs. I will have to answer for that and I accept that. I did before I made the decision to have the abortion so late. I do wish I knew I would have those nightmares for years and would continue to miscarry pregnancies until the day my son died and my daughter lived and I finally gave up on having a son. Her relax was one of the hardest because I was paying her to help me heal and instead walked away feeling like I needed more healing than I’d started out needed.
There are many more that I don’t want to give any press time to because they are memories that haunted me for years and took many years of therapy to reframe in my mind and ensure I can now speak about with anxiety and fear. “Just relax” is one of the worst phrases people can say to me because I hate it so much. I wonder what strings come with it. If I could “just relax”, you wouldn’t have to say it to me. I would do it naturally.
While I have done a lot of therapy and have begun to understand that some people speak without thinking about their words, as I did to my friend, I still dislike this phrase. I long for the time when I can relax and sink in to a place. Where I can find that place called “home” and know that it is okay to breathe and put my feet up again. Until then, I push forward and make every change I can and get into my head to ensure I rid myself of the junk and learn how not to let my body know how repulsed I am when I hear the phrase “just relax”. I haven’t exhaled deeply since I was 11. I have been taking short breaths. I don’t dare let all my breath out because if I do, I may not have air left to hold on when I most need it. This writing was easier than I thought it would be though… so that means the day I find the place I can call home, where I can rest and finally “just relax” and know it comes from a place of allowing myself to feel, not avoid, emotion and heal, is close. I know there will come a day soon when I realize “I’m home”. I will know that longed-for place because for the first time in my life I will know what it means to exhale deeply.
If any of these thoughts triggered emotions for you, please talk with a professional to process them. Don’t do it alone. There is NO SHAME in asking for help processing your emotions and talking about pain. Your counselor, pastor, or trusted adult if you are a teen reading this, can help you navigate the emotions and feelings based upon your diagnoses and personality. We work together as community and we rise together when we seek one another out to help us through things.