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Domestic Violence: Even Good People Can be Abusive


As a college counselor, I hear incredibly painful, unbelievable stories when students come into my office. It’s expected because most people go to counseling when they’ve reached crisis level. But there’s one topic that continually leaves me baffled and struggling to keep my focus. That topic is domestic violence. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because I’m noticing a pattern where students are blaming themselves for other people’s bad behaviors.

College students are at that critical point of figuring out what life looks like away from Mom and Dad. They’re learning how to manage roomie conflicts, deciding the best way to express their sexuality, and trying to figure out how to match their career with their calling. So, when I hear someone tell me they were hit, or verbally abused, and they excuse it, my heart hurts. My head hurts. Today, I’m sharing  3 assumptions today that need to be changed before we can stop domestic violence in any relationship.

Assumption 1: To be in a  relationship, I have to accept behaviors that are hurtful and harm me.   ABSOLUTELY FALSE.  And it isn’t just one person’s experience. A beautiful, intelligent young woman  clearly grasping at straws says, “I did something to make him hit me.”  Huh? I nearly jumped out of my chair when she said that. What can you possibly do to MAKE someone hit you? Nothing. They are CHOOSING to hit you in response to their poor communication and inability to control their anger. Please know that everyone  at the very least should have their boundaries respected EVEN  when you disagree with their opinion or choices. In other words, just because you and your significant other are screaming at each other does not mean you can hit them to express your point. So the next time you hear “you made me do it”, understand it’s a lie.

Assumption 2: Good people can’t possibly be abusive. This goes back to blaming ourselves for other people’s behaviors.  Get this concept mixed up and it will have you questioning your sanity if you aren’t careful.  There are supportive and loving spouses who unfortunately  beat their children until they have bruises on their back.  You may have grown up with men and women highly involved in church activities who were also physically fighting behind closed doors.  So, take this to heart. When someone shows you who they are, believe ALL of it. It doesn’t matter if your boyfriend is on the fast track to success at work when he comes home and slaps you for being a “smart-mouth.”  Nor does it matter if your girlfriend is the “Top Chef” of your kitchen  if  she belittles and threatens to leave you when behind closed doors. In other words, if their goodness only exist when you behave the way “they” want you too, you’re in an abusive relationship.   It’s been said that we teach people how to treat us. And every time we allow disrespect and then take the blame for it, we’ve silently agreed to being mistreated. You are worth far more than allowing anyone to treat you poorly. So yes, even good people can do bad things.

Assumption 3: It’s not abuse unless he/she hits me. This is a biggie because we assume a person can’t be abusive unless there’s physical proof.  Words are sometimes more powerful than physical force. Constant insults about your weight like ” You’re too big, don’t be surprised when I find someone else.” Nitpicking and constant criticism like “no one wants you”.  And what about the threats…”why do you always make me angry?” or “No one will believe anything you say.” Verbal abuse is often overlooked because it’s subtle and it often plays on our insecurities. Heard someone say “you’re just too sensitive?”  It doesn’t matter if he/she never lifts a hand towards you. If you are constantly questioning your value due to your significant other’s words, its time for an emotional check up. If you are afraid of displeasing them or worried they will lash out at you, another sign for a check-up. Verbal abuse leaves you questioning, doubting yourself, and it’s not healthy. It’s still abuse.

I haven’t had a physically abusive relationship but I have experienced the painful mess of verbal abuse. It was the “relationship” in which my then boyfriend was never pleased.  Every encounter left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough. So I know how some of my clients feel when they wonder….what did I do and how can I get out of this mess? It took counseling, prayer, and the realization that after I ask and believe “Who does God say that I am?”, all else  (including his criticism) falls away.   Invest in yourself to do the work to get over your past hurts, your family junk, and learn to take better care of yourself.  The right person for you will value you and encourage you in your strengths and your weaknesses.  Doesn’t matter if you have a good man/woman if  they don’t  know how to share their goodness with you.

**Written for  college students, but applies to any age group or gender struggling to understand their worth. Stop assuming and find the truth about who you are, the peace you deserve and the peace you can have.**

HIV and the Dilemma of the Black Church


Black Women. Unprotected Sex. Faithful in church. Christlike. Love the Lord.  Pure in heart. Still having Sex.

HIV is killing  the Black  community one by one as the CDC reports the highest HIV + rates exist in the Black community. Black Americans account for only 14 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 52 percent of all new HIV infections each year. We are at risk more than any other group.   Obviously, this is  a social issue that could easily be addressed by the cornerstone of our community, the Black Church.  Why? Because black women make up the largest populations in the predominantly black church settings. An article written by Theola Labbe’-Debose indicates that ‘black women are the most religious people in the nation.’  But with that comes the quandary of faith and sexuality.  The elephant in the room. That thing. That  belief. That church folk don’t have sex. Right?  But admitting that church going members are sexually active  is almost acknowledging that what’s taught scripturally  is not being received.  HIV is a touchy subject because initially, the assumption was it’s a gay man’s disease. With 52 percent of heterosexual women testing positive, nothing could be further from the truth.   One in five people (adolescents and adults)  in the United States are unaware that they are infected with the virus.   So, the blind folded dance continues. Many churches (in general)  are aware that many of their  members are not abstinent,  but find themselves in the precarious position of addressing safe sex or ignoring the reality of risky behaviors and praying one day their choices will change.

I’d like to challenge the notion that HIV is  a social issue worth addressing and propose that the church is the perfect place to do so. It’s clear that the majority of  Black women use  their  faith as a strength regardless of  denomination.  So, it stands that women who are carrying the HIV virus may be in your pew on Sunday morning. While we don’t expect teachings about sexuality to change, we also must acknowledge the risk  Black women  place themselves in when sleeping with men without protection, without regard for their self-esteem or physical health.

Questions to think about:

  • Would you willingly get tested in a church setting for  HIV instead of going to a clinic?
  • Would you support your church creating a ministry devoted to those who suffer with HIV but are thriving in spite of the disease?
  • Would you have compassion for someone with HIV just the same as a member with cancer?
  • While your pastor, spiritual leader  may not agree with risky sexual behaviors (as he shouldn’t),  would he consider tailoring sermons to teach the need for “knowing your status?” as a part of honoring the body God gave you?

Bravo to the  churches who are getting involved and tackling the heavy topic of HIV and not shrinking from the stigma that sex shouldn’t be discussed in church. If you’re a woman of faith, you may sit next to a  member who is HIV positive. They may have even contracted it from another member sitting in another pew. Married couples are at risk if there is an issue of  monogamy. It’s risky to connect the two topics of sexuality with spirituality but I’d rather have folk uncomfortable for an hour or so than living with a disease that will change the course of their lives. And if risky sexual behaviors is a constant for Black women, perhaps there needs to be more  talk why the  faith we cling so heavily too for our hopes and dreams, fades away when sex comes into the picture.  

Your thoughts?

Hair Chronicles: Weaves, Wigs, and Simple reasons why we should love our own hair. #30in30


(as I write this, please note my wig I wore today is lying next to me on the couch)

I’ll never forget the night I was out on a date, walking in cute jeans rockin’ my  bob wig with the wispy bangs  as we walked downtown to hear friends play at a new jazz club.  I had just taken out my microbraids, had my wig cap on underneath my “alternate do” until I could get an appointment to put my hair back in. Notice how I called “my hair.” I didn’t want to perm my real hair so the wig was the easiest choice to cover my eagle’s nest for the time being.  The wind was blowing so I could only turn my head a certain way. He would make a cute joke, and I’d turn my heard towards him, then quickly back so I could make sure my hair was in place. The wind blew so hard one time, the wig shifted and I had to turn the other way to make sure my  cap wasn’t showing. This was way before the clips and half wigs had made their debut into the hair stores. It was a mess. I can laugh now but back then I was trying to be cute fake giggling/grabbing my hair to make sure it didn’t fly off  and I end up looking like I was getting ready to rob a bank.

My hair has always been up for discussion as I’ve tried one style before going long to short to permed then natural then to wigs to weave and back. Sometimes it’s fun, but other times it’s honestly been traumatic. Hair is a deeply personal part of a woman’s image and for Black women, even more so. Ask a black woman to go swimming and you’ll get two responses. “Sure, it’s easy exercise” or “Hell no, I’m not getting my hair wet!!!” Black women will also rip a woman to shreds based on her kitchen or lack of “combed-ness” when it’s natural. It’s the  “pretty perm or die” chicks who would rather have their hair fall out due to disease than let it be chemical free vs. the “you can’t make me comb my hair like a white girl” natural crew. While we shouldn’t be defined by our hair, we can be wise with how we treat it.

The Grio just published an article about the dangers Black women risk when they continually pull and tug at their hair with braids, too tight weaves, and wigs. The article interviews a dermatologist, Dr. Phoenyx who says, “It’s easy to forget about maintaining your own hair when a weave or wig is on top,” says Dr. Phoenyx. “It’s about taking care of what’s underneath — now you have another layer of hair you pay attention to.”

It’s uncomfortable to see Naomi Campbell’s edges or what’s left, but she ain’t the only one.  Black women continue to cover their heads to the detriment of nurturing their real hair. And this includes women with their own mane of healthy hair adding a piece to give themselves the length they see on many reality shows.  What is it that makes us risk our own hair’s health, the best version of us we could give, to take a short cut and stress our “crown and glory?”

Maybe it’s self-inflicted pressure we put on ourselves to hide the stress and toll of not taking care of our spirit and mind.  Maybe it’s the tendency to try to please the men in our lives. And add to that the fact that we neglect being physically fit to save the $60.00 we spent on the perm and cut and we have an unhealthy (but fly lookin’) woman.

I don’t like to wear wearing wigs because I feel like I’m giving a false presentation. Ask the many men who are sadly disappointed when I show up the next day after a date with my baby fro. But I do experiment from time to time with a new hairstyle  when I’m in a bind or just want to exercise daily and and still need to look together for my auditions and work. Fake hair is an alternative and not the solution.  I don’t know about everybody else, but when my hair is done and  it’s  not a question if it’s mine or some Indian lady from overseas, you can’t tell me nothin’. If there’s any reason to give up the weaves, and wigs though, it’s because we are always the best version of ourselves when we use what’s natural to showcase our beauty. So, the next time the wind is blowing, or your coworker suddenly fawns over your long tresses that appeared overnight, or your friend tells you to try a quick weave, remember your real hair is underneath just begging for a chance to shine. Tell your edges to thank me later.

My Personal Treasure: Rest


In a couple of weeks, it will be exactly one year since I decided to pursue performing arts and entertainment again. Early on, I doubted my decision and wondered aloud if I was being flighty or I had simply lost my mind (as my mother would prefer to believe). Overall, it’s been a great experience and I’m in awe of the opportunities I’ve been granted.   I’ve learned a lot in the last 12 months, but the most important lesson is that I have a new personal treasure.  It’s called rest. After having bouts of low energy and a sore throat, I needed a couple of days off. I made a doctor’s visit who decided this was the perfect time for me to stay home and go on vocal rest.  Vocal rest requires that you not talk, hum, or even think about singing along to your Pandora station so your vocal chords can rest.  It wasn’t easy  to sit still and it was even harder for me to avoid talking. (who does this? LOL)   But the quiet time gave me a different perspective on what’s important at this point in my life. Today’s blog is a simple reminder of what taking a “time out”can do for you.

 

For one, what worked in the past may not work in the present and you better adjust if you
want to stay in the game.
Ten years ago, I was at Disney as a 20-somethin’ with braids in my hair, short shorts, and a sassy mouth. Now, I’m 30-ish, have adult acne, still sassy, and no longer princess like but queen worthy.  Back then, I strolled into work and didn’t even think about warming up. Not only that, but I’d drink a soda and stuff a Snickers bar down my throat right before show time without any problem, other than maybe having a nut in my teeth. Now, I pay for it if I don’t do some sort of vocal exercise, and have at least three cups of water before show time. For those who don’t sing, it’s kind of like remembering the days when you could stay out until 4am the next morning   and still be wide awake for work without any
“Five Hour Energy” to help you make it through the day. Coming back to Disney  was a reality check for me. While I realize I’m talented, I can’t just show up unprepared and expect excellence. For me, that means doing what I used to laugh at others for doing. Now, I’m a better performer when I warm up  and watch what I eat.  For me,  it’s  all about healthier choices, even taking time out to rest even when others don’t seem to have the same needs.  Which leads  me to my next thought.

I can’t worry about what other people think when doing what’s best for me, especially when it
comes to my health.
  So accepting the doctor’s request for vocal rest meant I had to miss work. It’s easy in corporate positions to roll into the office when you’re sick and swallowing pills and orange juice to get through the day. But it gets a little fuzzy when your money-maker is your voice and the office refuses to let you use a background track to cover my voice
cracks.  So, I had a choice, either continue singing on swollen vocal chords just to “seem” like a good employee, or take time to heal from over singing and so I don’t damage my voice in the long run. I felt a little guilty at first missing work, but then realized that life goes on with or without me.  I’m learning to not so feel bad when I take a day off. And honestly, that’s why we have coworkers, substitutes, understudies, and contingency plans on the job. Look at the response of managers when an employee puts in their notice to leave the company. What happens? They accept the two-week notice, have a going
away party, but not before posting a notice for a job opening. Just like that. So just like that, I’ve learned to do what’s best for me  because when I’m no longer a valuable part of the show, someone will  step right in and fill in like I was never there.  In entertainment, they use the phrase “the show must go on.”  I guess I’ve adopted the mantra for myself, I need my life to go on as well. And not be stuck. So I rest. When I need to, because sometimes that’s whats best for me.

 Sometimes we can get stuck in a place because it’s ………..too comfortable. Entertainment is a fickle business and the younger you are, the more valuable you are. The older you are, well  the more your stomach may stick out and give
your age away.  And so it is that every year in entertainment,  human resources either provides you with the stability of employment for one more year, or pushes you out the door by saying “thank you, but we are moving in another direction.”
Vocal rest forced me to stop and think: what’s my goal with performing here? What if I don’t get another contract? Did I
intend to stay here or use it as a litmus test? Now, I focus on what it means to create my own opportunities.  I’ve picked up classes to improve my acting skills, audition as much as possible for commercial and singing gigs, and have been able to see that longevity in this business is really about always being connected. With any position, we can get too comfortable with the sick days, the 401k, and forget the long-term goals that led us on this path in the first place. Vocal rest forced me to slow down and really begin to plan for what’s next. It’s empowering to realize I do have other options if I am willing to create them. Not being complacent and putting all of my eggs in one basket is what I call being responsible in this shaky world.

Vocal rest is now something I look forward too with or without a doctor’s orders.  It’s my time of rest but more importantly,
another way to have a shhhhhh moment to focus. There is only one me, so I take care my health and spirit seriously regardless of what others think.  I’m more focused now on maintaining my value by constantly building my craft. And finally, I am responsible for creating opportunities and will not wait on others to approve or affirm my gifts. To do so gives away my power and I just can’t allow that to happen. When I say I found a new treasure, I really mean it. Good things happen when we stop talking, stop doing, and just take time to rest.