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Soul Deep out in audiobook! — Jack West, widower, rancher and former Army Ranger, gets his own love story in this special I-Team novella, which was picked by readers at Grave Tells as the Best Contemporary Romance of 2015. It will be out in audiobook any day now.


Seduction Game is out in paperback, (I-Team #7) — Holly and Nick’s story is out in all formats — ebook, audiobook, and paperback. Look for it in Wal-Mart, the Kroger chain of stores, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookseller.


Dead By Midnight: An I-Team Christmas is out! — The grand finale of the I-Team series finds all the couples you love brought together when terrorists attack holiday festivities at a historica hotel in downtown Denver. It’s bad news for the terrorists. They have no clue what they’ve done when they take Marc Hunter and his friends hostage. Featuring cameos by the men of New York Times bestselling author Kaylea Cross’s Hostage Rescue Team series. Available in ebook and paperback.

About Me

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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Project: Happiness — The Body


 Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been writing and doing other things that have resulted in my having less time to be online.

Last time I wrote about Project: Happiness, I wrote how I was dividing life into three areas: body, mind and spirit. I wrote how I viewed those as a kind of personal trinity, these three aspects of each of us coming together in a whole. My goal, I wrote, was going to be to make sure each of those areas of my life received attention each day.

Today, I wanted to write about the body part of it, which is in some respects the most difficult for me and, I suspect, many other women. Our bodies are objectified, commodified, politicized, hyper-sexualized and subject to abuse and violence. This isn’t new. It has always been true.

During much of history, women were viewed as less capable, weaker, less intelligent creatures whose purpose in life was to serve men in and out of bed and to have babies. At one point, the male leaders of the Catholic Church actually debated whether or not women had souls. It’s not surprising that so many men and women viewed being born in a female body as a kind of curse.

Many still do.

In ancient Greece, as in many places today — Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, parts of Africa — baby girls were often killed after birth because they were viewed as useless and expensive. The ancient Greeks sometimes gave their daughters to brothels, a practice mirrored in Nepal and India, where young girls are often handed over to traffickers or straight to brothels by their own family members in exchange for money.

Even here in the United States, being female comes with strange expectations foreign to men. No one debates the need for Viagra, because it seems clear to people that Men Need Sex! Erections are important! No one asks whom men will have sex with once they pop their blue pill. Their wives? Their lover? A prostitute? Their porn co-stars? (Viagra is used widely in the porn industry to help men perform.) Apparently, we don’t feel the need to question men when it comes to sex.

But when it comes to contraception for women, some folks can’t accept that Women Need Sex, Too. The discussion becomes religious and revolves around chastity, marriage, and motherhood. The double standard is still alive. Men can enjoy sex for its own sake, but women must be chaste till marriage and then pay for sexual pleasure with the suffering of reproduction. Women who don’t live according to those standards can expect to be called names. There are even people alive today who think women shouldn’t be given pain relief during labor because of some words in Genesis. Give me a break! Can you imagine such widespread debate regarding what men can do with their bodies? It won’t happen. Ever.

I have strong feelings on these subjects, which I don’t intend to debate. You’re free to believe what you want—and to post it on your own blog. From my point of view, a woman can choose for herself what she does with her body sexually and reproductively. Period.

But let’s not get sidetracked by the culture wars. The point I’m getting at is that we still haven’t reached a point in human history where women’s bodies are considered their own. So if you grew up feeling confused about your body, whether you were supposed to be a fertile Madonna who lives to please her husband and her 25 children or a skinny, sexy nymph with big breasts who knows how to adorn a set of satin sheets you’re probably not alone.



So that was the macro view. Now let’s get personal. Every woman has her own unique relationship with her body. What follows is a history of mine. You may not wish to read this.

I was a skinny, very active little kid, who hiked, played outdoors all day, got stung by bees every summer because I ran around barefoot, who climbed trees in dresses and generally enjoyed being alive in a body.

That changed when I was 10. I went to a friend’s house after school to play. She wasn’t home, but her father invited me in to wait for her. He raped me on the living room floor. Soul Train was on TV, and I remember an ugly black velvet painting of a burro on the wall. He threatened to tell my parents what a dirty little girl I was if I told anyone what had happened, and so for a year I was silent and terrified and alone.

I saw a program about sexual assault on television, and I told my mother. What followed was in some ways worse than the assault, as I was taken to a male doctor and examined. I remember thinking that all men really cared about, whether they were a friend’s father or a doctor, was whatever was between my legs. It was horrible and humiliating. There was no concrete evidence by then—no semen, no DNA—and so the whole thing was basically shoved under the rug.

The fallout from both experiences was devastating for me. Night terrors in which I woke up shaking and terrified and thinking I was going to vomit. A withdrawal from the world into myself. Serious depression. A desire not to be alive any longer.

Kids picked up on this in school. I’d been a little on the shy side before, but after that I was bullied, truly bullied. I pleaded to stay in for recess because being on the playground meant being shoved around and called names. My parents actually had to call the school, and I was sent from the classroom while the teacher chewed out the entire class for picking on me. I remember it vividly.

I hit puberty, and it got worse. My hormones added to the confusion I felt about sexual assault. I avoided boys like the plague, while finding fault with the body that had been such fun when I was a little girl. My body went from being a partner, an ally, my friend, to being something to be controlled and manipulated. A part of me wanted a boyfriend, and another part of me didn’t. A part of me wanted to be attractive, and a part of me just wanted to hide.

I ended up joining the track team, where I pretty much blew everyone else away when it came to long-distance running — both boys and girls. I outran every girl and half the boy’s team every day. Running became a refuge for me, but it wasn’t necessarily positive. I learned to abuse it, running to stay thin. Six days a week. Three to 10 miles a day. Rain or shine. Up at 6 AM and out the door. If I ate too much, I’d make myself run more. I think it may even have been a form of exercise bulimia.

Rape victims seek above all else control over their bodies. Eating disorders run rampant. But I digress...

Gradually, I made friends again starting in junior high — pot-smoking artsy friends — and the worst of the pain of what had happened to me just kind of slipped away. Except that something like that doesn’t just go away.

My relationships with men were rarely positive. As I posted before, I was beaten up when I was 14 while stoned at a party with adults in their 20s and 30s for refusing to have sex with a guy who was 22. In Denmark, I met a man, fell in love, and then fell into a depression when he couldn’t find it in himself to be faithful. I called off the wedding and came back to the U.S. reluctantly, got married on the rebound and got pregnant (by choice) my freshman year of college.

Some women enjoy pregnancy. I did not. I was very sick throughout my first — pre-eclampsia and hyperemesis. I had high blood pressure and constant nausea and vomiting for nine months. It sucked. I wanted natural birth. That sucked even more. The pain was obscene, ridiculous, brutal, unforgiveable. More than that, the entire experience conjured up the nightmare of being raped and left me traumatized. I actually had nightmares about it. Some 7 percent of women suffer from trauma after giving birth, and most of them are... rape victims. Sounds crazy, right?

Well, think of birth as losing control of your body again, as suffering inside your body again, as being in pain because you’re female. I have no idea what most women feel emotionally during labor. I felt rage and despair. It felt unfair, like a form of torture that was being inflicted on me because I was a woman. I asked for pain relief, and I didn’t get it because I had no insurance. (The second time I had health insurance and demanded an epidural the moment I hit 4 cm, and that was that.)

Of course, I love my kids. The one very female thing I’ve done with my body that has been very positive is breastfeed. There’s no relationship more pure than that of a mother and her newborn. And although there were challenges learning this new skill, I stuck with it until we had it down. I breastfed my older son for 15 months and my younger for 10. 

 For a lot of women, childbirth and breastfeeding bring them a greater appreciation of their bodies. For me... Not really. Though I came to a place of comfort with sex, learning to enjoy it and even revel in it, I can’t say I made peace with my body.

I was eager after my second child to get fixed so that I would never get pregnant again. Some would argue that having surgery to control your fertility is a form of violence against yourself. Whatever. For me it was a great help and a source of comfort to know I couldn’t get pregnant again. I was taking control. Permanently. I had never intended to have more than two kids, in part because I had other things I really wanted to do with my life and in part because I just didn’t want to go through all that again. Nor did I want to risk getting pregnant through sexual assault. Yes, I actually thought about that.

And why wouldn’t I worry about that? Alec was only nine months old when the creeps with the switch blades broke into my apartment. Almost being raped again — this time by two men — threw me in to a tailspin of post-traumatic stress disorder, complete with waking nightmares, panic attacks and severe depression. My body became a thing that did work — child care, cleaning, making meals, going to the store, carrying laundry. I used food to escape stress and depression. But I didn’t nurture myself. I was barely surviving.





 That pattern continued after therapy and after the PTSD was brought under control. I began working at the newspaper, and I channeled a lot of rage about what had happened to me into my work. I covered women’s issues primarily, and somehow writing about other women’s traumas gave me strength and was immensely healing. But I still wasn’t in sync with my body. Although I was still working out at the gym and running, I moved into the “work till you drop” phase. It didn’t matter how tired I was. If I needed to write an article and it kept me up till 4 A.M., that’s what I did — while still raising two little kids. And if I ate a pound of M&Ms while writing that article so that I could stay awake, so be it.


Then I fell off a mountain, broke bones, lost about a third of my right quad, had a brain injury. (Click here for the gory details on that story.) No more gym. No more running. It was infuriating and frustrating, and I think this revealed the truth behind my relationship with my body. The two of us, though intimately joined, were adversaries. The only things my body and I enjoyed together were food and sex. And now I had finally reached a point where I could no longer banish the calories I ate by running too much. So I just forgot about my body and focused on work. My body was a tool, nothing more. This went on for 15 years.

Which pretty much brings us up to the end of 2011.

 So now what?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that, and I’ve concluded the only thing I can do is become friends with my body again, just like I was when I was a little girl. I need to recapture that joy. I need to rediscover the fun of having a body.

If I think of my body as a person, I can feel great compassion for it. It has survived sexual assault, violence, a serious fall down a mountain. It has been neglected, overworked, deprived of sleep so that I could write news articles and books. It has been fed too much junk and too much caffeine in an effort to make it stay awake so that I can keep working. It’s had multiple surgeries, the most recent to repair my cervical spine. Its needs have been ignored no matter how loudly it shouted for me to pay attention and help it. And yet it still serves me as faithfully as it can each and every moment.

Why do I neglect this ally of mine, this lifelong friend, my body?

This is going to be the greatest challenge I face in Project: Happiness because it brings together so many things — sexuality, food, physical injury and limitation, overall health, self-image, how I deal with stress, my need to get work done vs. my need to get enough sleep.

I came up with a set of goals to help me navigate these rapids, some of which are physical and some of which are emotional:

1. Go to bed on time and get enough sleep.
2. Stop eating sugar and other empty calories.
3. Go to the gym, hike or walk six days a week, but don’t go crazy. Start slowly.
4. Find new ways to deal with stress.
5. Rediscover ways to have fun (riding my bike, swimming, horseback riding).
6. Don’t let emotional stress build up in the first place by demanding too much of myself.
7. Listen to my body.
8. How I look and what I accomplish matter less than how I feel.

I’ve fallen short of these goals already, however, I’ve also taken steps to meet them.

Although I’ve stayed up late to write (I’m up too late now so that I can get this done), I’ve gone to bed on time lots of times and have taken naps.

I’ve eating things that weren’t good for me, but not for a while. I can feel a difference.

I’ve missed the past two days at the gym because I was writing — not a good excuse — but I’ve been to the gym four times. One of those times I went swimming — first time in more than a decade. That was amazing, as was the five seconds of running I allowed myself to do on the track. I just took off running, and it felt so good. I knew I couldn’t do it for long without hurting myself, so I stopped. Benjy said, “That’s not something you see an overweight person do everyday.” Because I still run fast. Even though I’ve been injured and have no feeling in my lower legs, I’m still pretty darn strong. All of those years of activity are still inside my body somewhere. If I care for my body, maybe I can have that back.

I’m having an easier time not hating my own guts when I’m not happy with how my writing is going. I tell myself, “It will work out. It always does.” And then I do something else for a while, because nothing is worth getting so upset about that I put my body or my spirit through hell. The tortured author thing has to stop because the impact it has on my well-being is extreme.

I can’t expect to forge this new relationship with my physical self overnight, but by consciously focusing on it, by trying hard to hear the voice I’ve ignored since I was 10, I can help bring balance to my life overall and become healthier in my late 40s than I’ve been in a long, long time.

Now I think about it this way: I’m having fun with my body, and I’m in training not for a race or to look sexy in a bikini, but to live a healthier, happier life.

This was a very long post. Thanks for reading through it, those of you who made it to the end. I didn’t intend for this to be so long. I hope that by sharing it, it can help other women who face similar challenges.

I hope those of you who’ve committed to your own version of Project: Happiness are making progress, too.

Next Project: Happiness update: The Mind

13 comments:

I read to the end and I'll only say this.... You are amazing, and an inspiration to everyone around you.

*hugs*

Anonymous said...

It's been many months since the last time I read something on your blog, and it just so happens to be this. For such a vivid romantic author as yourself, I would never in a million years have guessed that this was the childhood you had. Never.
If I can say one thing about you, Pamela, it's, 'You have balls, woman!' - pardon the crudeness.

Reg

Ellie C said...

So many parallels...so much insight that relates to my life experience. Thank you Pamela, from the bottom of my heart.

Phyl said...

Although I've never experienced the level of trauma you have, my own body was not in much better shape than yours most of my adult life. At age 48, several years ago, I realized that my body had become my enemy--it was keeping me from my goals. I was tired, lethargic, and in pain. It was time to pay attention to it. I'm so glad I've learned to listen to it. I feel productive and creative and eager again.

I really appreciate what you've shared here and the reminder that our bodies are important in ways that we don't tend to think about.

bharrelson said...

Sad to say so many of us can relate to some part of what you have lived through. You are a survivor and inspiration for all. Sharing your story is a difficult and selfless act. Thank you. I pray for your healing and that your Project Happiness brings you all the peace and joy in life that you deserve.
*hugs and love*
MRI lately?

Anne said...

What a great affirmation this post has been. I am amazed that you are still upright- it just shows what a strong woman you are. I have been a similar journey of rediscovery as well. We all have baggage some more than others to deal with. Divorced,special needs child is/was my baggage. I felt I had lost myself not knowing who I am. So I went to a counselor, hired a trainer (who rocks) and getting back to me. I have no idea who/what she is yet but I am on my way. Good Luck Pamela- I see success for you in this "project"

landin said...

Absolutely wonderful post, thank you for sharing this with your readers, it's incredible all that you've overcome, you're a real inspiration.

I think a lot of women(including myself a lot of times)feel that they're body is their enemy, it's not easy to get over that feeling but as long as we're actually trying and fighting to shut out that negative voice that whispers in our minds I think that's a big step in winning yourself back.

Again, thank you for your bravery in sharing such intimate, personal details about your life. I'm actually sending this post to a few people I know that would really appreciate and feel inspired by what you've shared here.

*Big bears hugs*

Rose said...

Pamela, thank you for writing and sharing this with us. Your ability to not just survive but channel such traumatic experiences into positive things is inspiring. I wish you all the best with your project and hope it'll help you make the changes you want.

Tricia29 said...

Many of us have the same mindset as you Pamela wanting to see changes within ourselves, changes that will give us strength, courage and hope. We want to believe in ourselves. You have endured so much and are an inspiration to many of us as we follow you along your own journey to Project Happiness. Many of us are doing the same.

My present career is that of being a Palliative Nurse. I've worked in every area of nursing including research, and that only within past 5 years I truly found my calling. After experiencing life's trauma, my daughter's diagnosis and recovery from leukemia, this set me on a different path. When you're dealt a harsh blow, you tend to look at your own mortality and ask yourself where is my life going. I've learned so much about living from those I've cared for who were dying. It's what we all should stop and think about. What is truly important to us, what really matters most to us, really, what really is it that matters? Happiness: Mind, Body and Spirit You can't take anything materialistic when you go and we all know that money does not make a person happy. Those are illusions. In the end, we are left looking back on our life wishing things may have been different. So why not start the changes now? Pamela, you hit the motherload, Project Happiness: Becoming one with ourselves, mind, body and soul. Only then will you find true love. Love = Happiness

WOW, Pamela. You've been through a lot. Keep taking care of your body and above be happy with who you are. :)

Lori said...

What a fantastic and giving post this is. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's inspiring and I'm sure you know that so many are here to prop you up during your journey.

Pamela, this is inspiring on many levels. I've also neglected my body because other things seemed more important at the time. I'm under five feet tall, unathletic, hypothyroid and I love food, so I've struggled with my weight since childhood. I can gain five pounds by suppertime. I've never really been friends with my body. Thanks to you, I'm going to make another effort to see it as an ally and do something for it every day.

Cindy W said...

WOW. This was so powerful, you have courage to post this and I pray that you will have strength to make your goals.

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