There is no Part 3: Trauma Bonds, because Alice decided she needed to fully let that stuff go. All of it. Maybe she will come back to it later and see if it helps the story at all for others. But for her, she is more than happy to let it go - all of it. The childhood shit, the adult shit, the marriage shit, the extended family shit. She put it in a bag on the porch of the Devil and set it on fire.
Fuck you. Alice thinks. Fuck all your shame. You can have it back.
Anyone who has been reading this novel who is worried that Alice is going to rant about what they did wrong can breathe freely. Alice has found the wound within her and has forgiven both you and herself. Everyone who has participated in the forgiveness process can now move forward, ho! For the morbidly curious about any way she may have perceived hurt from them, and is interested in potential opportunity for growth and to hear how they helped her grow, feel free to contact her and she will gladly share. Otherwise, rest assured that she sees The Divine in you, and hopes you can see it for yourself, too.
These things helped her learn the most important lessons of her life and grow, and for them, she is grateful. Every time her heart is broken by friend or family, and she figures out how to forgive, her capacity to love expands significantly. She was just stuck there for a while. But she found her voice and is no longer afraid.
She spent way, way, way too long thinking about her trauma. She's fucking done with it.
She has decided to practice radical self love, so she can not only mitigate future trauma, but also help others.
She is going to do whatever necessary to pursue happiness, and knows, for her, this means continuing the path of spiritual enlightenment and growth.
Alice has written extensively about how sad she feels that people judge each other and themselves for the very things that make us human - specifically our bodies and our feelings. To this end, she has been participating in vulnerable expression of herself on her blog and on social media. She's hoping that by sharing her feelings and her trauma, that people who see her experience will be able to forgive themselves for their reactions to their trauma.
For Alice, a lot of her shame comes from her body image and her sexuality. She has always kind of known about her distorted body image, but her shame about her sexuality was very deeply rooted in the slut-shaming culture, and having felt slut-shamed.
Alice was always a girly-girl growing up. She saved up her allowance and bought cosmetics as soon as she entered the 6th grade. Painting her nails while watching movies or sitcoms was a ritual, and she prided herself on her strong, but feminine hands, and her nails which rarely broke. Her hands worked magic. They made music, they made art, they fixed things, they built things, they gave her pleasure. She was lucky to have them. She wore high heels and pantyhose to high school on a regular basis, because she had secretarial work after school. She had lots of temp jobs through high school and college, working in lots of different industries - research, medical devices, construction, defense, real estate - and they all had a "professional" dress code. Dressing maturely may have been intimidating for the boys in high school, but it opened the door of opportunity for her in the working world.
When she was a girl, she and her sister would pretend to be fashion models. They would fill rolls of 110 film with dark, blurry photos of themselves - knock-kneed and buck-toothed - dressed in frilly dresses with bows, in sexy poses.
It felt good to feel beautiful and sexy.
Then, adolescence happened.
Does anyone make it out of there unscathed? Alice doesn't know very many people who have a healthy body image, and she thinks it must have to do with the weight gain that happens normally right before puberty, and the associated difficulties in reconciling one's identity with a rapidly changing physique, and watching those peers who developed more quickly seemingly "have all the fun." Throw parental control structures into clothing selection, and you've got a veritable tinderbox of karmic lessons for later in life
Typically, after completing a karmic cycle and learning a significant lesson, one begins again as The Fool. Alice does, anyway.
Alice has been putting her nose to the spiritual grindstone. It has been exhausting and exhilarating. She's surveyed herself, looking for remaining sources of shame, and she has identified a biggie - it just happens to be the thing in which she spends 100% of her time - her body.
She has to learn to love her body in order to love herself unconditionally.
She has to let go of her shame.
The funny thing about forgiveness and letting go is that it is kind of like Zeno's Paradox. It's really, really difficult to let go 100%. Each time one lets go, one gets halfway closer to the goal of full release.
Alice drew self portraits before, and she had her portrait painted by her friends. Her friend Adam had asked her to model soon after they met, and she thought he was just asking to be nice.
She really saw herself as fat and ugly on some level.
How could she feel both fat and ugly, and beautiful and sexy?
Both of those voices were there in her head.
When she thought about why she thought she was ugly, she thought about how there was nobody else who looked like her. She especially rarely saw a woman like her in the movies or on TV unless that woman was cast as the jester character in the show. But really, it wasn't until she read Tina Fey's Bossypants, talking about how Second City had a saying that if there were more than two women on the set, that a scene would fail that she realized exactly how sparse and shamed femininity had become.
But there was an inner voice - the voice of the child inside her who delighted in playing fashion model and cheerleader - who took joy in her body, and saw it for all its beautiful potential in her lifetime. This inner voice knows that Alice has given life to two human beings, loving them absolutely unconditionally. This inner voice knows that Alice's body has given pleasure to both herself and her husband for several decades. This inner voice knows that this body has given comfort either through touch or simply being to many, many people during its existence.
The inner voice who finds Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer hot AF. (That is "as fuck" for anyone not familiar with the current vernacular).
That is the voice Alice wants to hear. The one at the center of the onion.
If she can choose how to view the situation, she is going to choose to view it with a positive filter - a lens of abundance. She can choose the inner voice instead.
That alone could be seen as narcissistic. But there's a critical difference. Narcissists actually don't love themselves - and in their quest to find love or money or whatever, they hurt the people around them. Self-love is mindful of its effect on others, but has good boundaries and gets what it needs.
In understanding this about self-love, she has been able to be a lot more vulnerable in her relationships, and has reached new levels of connection and compassion with people in her community. She was asked to draw pictures of herself in yoga poses, and just the consideration of the request was so triggering, she realized that she had a lot of work to do to fully love herself, and that not fully loving herself kept her open to random traumatizations wherever she went!
An onion layer.
She is not the same person she was yesterday, or last week, or last month, and definitely not last year.
For about two years, she was finally figuring out how to take care of herself in a sustainable way. And in this time, without much effort, she lost about 50 pounds. She walks 3-6 times a week, has plenty of sex, sleeps enough, eats enough, eats regularly, eats carbs and protein together, balances fructose and glucose, balances amino acids, avoids serotonergic and estrogenic foods, and gets enough dietary calcium, vitamin D, AND infrared light from the sun. It sounds way more complicated than it is. Think French and Mediterranean diet, minus legumes. And the good thing is, for most people who have shed their authoritarian mindset about nutrition, it is a very pleasurable way to live. Dessert is not a sin; it is a right in life. The most miserable people Alice knows are afraid of dessert. People a little less miserable have the dessert and admonish themselves for it. Happy people eat the dessert and then do something joyful to make the best use of the energy supplied by the dessert. Maybe it is dancing. Maybe it is making love. Maybe it is fucking with shameless wreckless abandon. Another onion layer.
Dammit. Why is it so hard for people to get this?
But anyway, let's just say that some stuff happened, she thinks, because she had no idea of the energy she was putting out (she supposes it might have something to do with sugar, sex, progesterone, and her attraction to all things taboo). Well, maybe there was a little part of her who hoped she was putting out that kind of energy, but because of all the shaming she experienced as a kid, she didn't realize what the hell she was doing. And the hurt she experienced from all the stuff that happened (people coming into her life, lying to her, telling her anything to gain her confidence and then betraying her), made her realize that she has to get a handle on her self worth. Which means understanding and owning the power of her body. Another layer.
Furthermore, she doesn't want her daughter Sally to feel that her own body is not beautiful. Another layer.
And she doesn't want her daughter Sally to feel that she can't make her own decisions about what to do with her body. Another layer.
She realized this was a HUGE feminist issue. People usually tie the sentiment to abortion, but it's more than that. It is about a woman's right to control how much space her body takes up, where her body is, what and who are touching her body, what she does with her body, and how her body is seen by others, how her body is adorned, and how her body is covered, or not covered, and her level of satisfaction with her own body. Another layer.
When Alice was losing all that weight, she had to buy new clothes every season. At first, she bought what looked comfortable, but as she became slimmer, she got a better sense of what looked flattering on her. Carl liked to have discussions about what he'd like to see her wear, and they generally didn't have the same taste. However, as the time went by, Alice got better at finding new clothes at a bargain by shopping the sales. So it didn't feel like such a scarce resource. Another layer.
Since she was having to get new clothes every season, it meant that she got to donate her plus-sized clothing to thrift stores in the area, where plus-sized clothing was often hard to find. So away went the guilt for being wasteful. Another layer.
For most of this time, Alice ordered clothes from retailers with unique design philosophies. One of them has a retro-cosplay kind of vibe (her friend Charlotte called it "Sexy Schoolteacher" much to Alice's shock - Alice liked the girlish charm, a la Zooey Deschanel - something she felt inside herself). The other retailer kind of has a girl-next-door/rockabilly vibe. Alice gets compliments on her clothes all the time, and the clothes Alice wears make her feel bubbly. Many of the themes and designs seem like they came straight out of her own head, if she were to design clothing for herself. She also just loves wearing dresses because they are so comfortable - like wearing pajamas! Both retailers had a lot of plus-sized garments, and with the girl-next-door one, the models were especially gorgeous and voluptuous. Alice loved scrolling through the pages of the new clothes, because she saw aspects of the women's bodies that reminded her of herself.
Big eyes, thick hair, cleavage and curves forever. And they were beautiful. So she must be, too. Carl loves the way her calves look in heels, and she secretly loves that they don't fit into regular women's boots, since she read somewhere that calf size is correlated with intelligence. Yeah, she thinks. I am smart, strong and sexy. Where in the hell did I go wrong?
That same retailer gives a percentage of every purchase to domestic violence shelters, too.
But now she has enough clothing. Enough already!
Yes, it is possible to have too much. She knew this already, though, from watching her mother's fetishes for purses and shoes, and having more than benefited from wearing the same shoe size from her mother. She's not really a shoe shopper, nor does she have to be.
Twenty-five days after she drew herself for her yoga instructor, Alice watched Christine Blasey-Ford give a testimonial about her sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh on CNN. It was extremely difficult for Alice to watch, because of her own experience with rape, which her was the ultimate experience of rejection - having someone she cared for know her, use her for his own validation, and reject her on such a fundamental level. Blasey-Ford's radical vulnerability on the national stage was an inspiration to Alice. Alice, in those days, wrote about a lot of her own traumas, and processed the ones she wasn't able to share without violating the confidences of loved ones in private. The day after the trial, she decided to be vulnerable on Instagram. She posted a picture of herself in her spaghetti-strapped silk negligee, makeup smudged in the morning, talking about the profound ways that her sexual assault affected her mental health over the years.
One more layer down in the onion.
Here, very close to the center of the onion is Alice, who realizes that she needs to feel love and connection, and she has to figure out how to give that to herself. This is where she makes serious headway. She realizes how to mindfully navigate potential triggers and work with whatever the Universe brings her in a loving and compassionate way, but making sure to care for herself, daily, through connecting with her intuition.
She can get there several different ways. The most reliable are sexual release, which she posts about on Instagram, Tarot and cannabis, all of which, she realizes, she can use fairly reliably to manage her PTSD and depression. They are all forms of play. She has gotten over the guilt about the reliable solutions which nobody but her controls. This knowledge makes her feel powerful. The cannabis has other benefits, which may or may not be related to the connection with her intuition, and she is keen to write about it. She figures out that alcohol is a sticky wicket. Because of its metabolic effects, it is more likely to put her into a negative mindset, and so she mostly avoids it. She knows she is privileged in that she has the unique background to brave handling her mental health challenges in this way, knowing that she has a unique perspective on both addiction and psychology because of her educational background. She has monitored her progress like the most expert navel-gazing n=1 scientist, having had lots of experience tweaking her diet to the same end (DUH. HOW DO YOU THINK SHE FIGURED OUT THE THING ABOUT ACTUALLY ENJOYING GODDAMN DESSERT?).
Meditation is good, too.
Being satisfied with herself when she is happy just being and not feeling guilt about happiness.
Between these things, she finally feels the feeling she has been chasing all her adult life.
Ownership of herself.
Each time she braves this sort of vulnerability, she is able to let go of one more layer.
She realizes her role in the economy. She realizes that her compulsion to project an "acceptable" image of herself or her family in the interest of gaining acceptance from society ultimately means acquisition of material wealth, driving the economy, and ultimately enslaving Carl. She realizes that Carl will do anything not to lose access to her body. She realizes that on some level, she knew that all these years, and has had her very own economic slave. She feels sorry for Carl and all the disrespecting employers he had.
But Alice and Carl have not been totally asleep for all these years. In choosing to stay home with her children, and homeschool them, she was making a specific choice to care less about the values of society, and cultivate (or brainwash, depending on how you look at it) self-love in her children. Money was spent on fostering creativity and intelligence as much as possible. She spent way more than necessary on resources (strewing), because she was worried about her children feeling isolated, which they never seemed to feel. She asked them a lot. She asked them if they wanted to go to school every year, and they made sure to thank her all the time for providing them with the childhood they had. They talked with other kids. They knew what Alice and Carl were providing for them. Alice and Carl needn't feel badly for how they spent their money, even if there were things around the house that didn't get fixed for a long time, and the weeds got out of control in the yard from time to time. They were putting their effort where it mattered, to raise children who will hopefully live lives with an emphasis on love and spreading messages of unconditional love, and love themselves. They have no reason to feel any guilt for what they have done. They followed their hearts.
And then she realizes that her body is not her own. Through the institution of monogamy, she had given her body to Carl.
Was her body for her pleasure, or his?
Over the years, Carl was opinionated about what Alice wore. It made her angry. She wanted to dress her body as she saw fit.
When they first were together, they had a pregnancy scare right away, and Carl said he would pay for the abortion. It turned out that Alice's period was just a bit late. But Carl apologized for assuming that Alice would want an abortion, and she was very touched by his thoughtfulness. She had always been pro-choice, because she believed that a woman should have control over her own body. And the reason why was because she thought women should have control over their own destiny, which is not only controlled by reproductive function, but also by appearance, and also by state of consciousness. Alice believes that all women should have control over these parts of themselves, so that they are able to love and express themselves completely.
Alice would like to get a tattoo someday. She can tell this will be hard for Carl. Carl loves her unusually blemish-free porcelain skin.
They are entangled, and she needs to fully love who she is without his validation.
She posts a picture of herself on Instagram, carefully edited so that her nipples don't show, but she doesn't have to cover anything, while showing as much skin as possible. She talks about how her body has enslaved her over the years. Another layer.
And now she is done with that. She is ready to fully love her own body for what it can do for her. For how it might help her advance her career, and free other women to love themselves.
Campbell reaches out to her about making a library of casts of each others' bodies for a long collaborative project. It is a tremendous opportunity for both of them to explore a new direction with their work. He is a very well-known and successful sculptor, now excited to explore, on a deeper level, who he is in relation to sexuality, and, while just a fledgling artist, she is the perfect partner, strong, intelligent, sexy, and willing to try almost anything without shame. Able to detach from and observe even her deep sensuality now without it scaring her.
She is excited for the chance to grow. To push herself in a new direction. To unify these different parts of herself into a whole being.
She is afraid she will not like what she sees of herself. She might not be ready to get rid of that much shame at once. The process is exhausting and risky for someone with depression.
"Do I need to get a wax?" she asks him the first time they meet in person.
"Yeah, unless you want me to do it. I can do it," he offers, gesturing and making a noise that sounds an awful lot like duct tape coming off a roll. She thinks of the one time she and Carl tried to wax her pubic region before their Mediterranean Cruise, and she winces, knowing that it's going to take a lot of cannabis to handle that kind of torture on her tender parts.
She remembers the lessons from when she drew herself - she cheated a little bit by tracing the photos of herself, to depersonalize the process. She remembers the lessons from the Business Innovation Factory conference she went to in Rhode Island. The talk she saw about starting in the middle, with what you have.
Body casting is an intimate endeavor. Campbell assures her that no matter when, if she is uncomfortable, they will stop the process, even if they are only seconds from the mold setting. He tells her she can have anyone there with them. She trusts him, implicitly.
Carl is initially not sure. He is worried Alice will get hurt, because she has been hurt so many times before, and it is so hard to live with her when she is hurt. Her feelings ooze out of her like a river of sadness, and he can't help but take it as a judgment of his ability to keep her happy. But what he doesn't understand is that Alice needs challenges. She needs to feel. There were years of seeming happiness with just being, but they evolved into complacency. Alice needs to feel her heart racing on occasion.
They reminisce about all the of the crazy risks she's taken in her life just because they felt right, and they both agree that this quality of hers is not something to be ashamed of. It is the thing that is special about her. She knows how to squeeze the sweet nectar out of life. She is foolish, and in being that way, inspires courage in Carl and others.
She let him know that she would get a bronze cast of her body out of the deal. What a way to celebrate all the beautiful experiences I have had in this body while on earth! she thinks. She has evolved from when she hoped Jeff would broach the topic. At that time it was a desire for validation from him. Now, this is all for her. It is empowerment.
She feels tremendous gratefulness for both Carl and Campbell.
On some level, she's still worried about the intimacy of the body casting.
In another post about her unwitting flirtatiousness, her long-time friend Adam suggests modeling again.
She realizes they need to talk. She sees what he has been saying all these years about helping women through helping them see they are beautiful through modeling.
And she texts him to let him know she is ready.
He says he will ask their other friend if he is free on Thursday. There is no worry about extra water weight she might be carrying at the end of her cycle on his end. He tells her stories of people who say they will do it "once they lose 5 pounds." She doesn't know how much she weighs, as she gave that up a long time ago, instead choosing to measure her health based on how she feels.
She can't believe this is happening so fast.
It's happening fast enough that she doesn't have time to get a tan or do her nails or have that bikini wax. It's going to be just her, as she is. Alice, just being.
John will help her with the poses and Adam will take photographs, just for her, so she can see how her body looks in different positions. From there she can decide if she wants to be an art model, or be photographed nude, or...
She is thankful for Adam and John and their support of women's journey to self acceptance.
She remembers her friend who used to do Boudoir photography for mothers, who took nursing portraits and pregnant belly photos, and wished she had done it then. She remembers going with her other friend who knows everyone at the Clocktower Cabaret in Denver, and thinks how amazing it would be to dance in joy. She remembers in college and high school how she bankrupted herself buying sexy lingerie, music, perfume, and clothing, because she enjoyed it. She needed these things for her soul.
And so, she opens her heart to the possibility that maybe this long path to loving herself again was all part of a Divine plan.
What is going to happen?
Alice is really not sure. But she knows one thing.
She is happy. She is a Fool on a new adventure, of a full-figured 43 year old considering nude modeling. She can change her mind at any time, though usually when she sets her mind on something, she doesn't stop until she gets what she wants. She stops when things become a drain on her soul.
As she has always said since her very first near death experience at age 14, "Life is short. Then you die."
She's pretty sure this won't hurt anyone, and hopes it will help others as much or more than it helps her.
What is there to fear? Judgment from others who lack the bravery? The idea that men might think of her in anything less than a puritanical way? We cannot control what others think.
She is not deluding herself. She has seen the way men look at her, even covered up. How she stokes a desire in them. How it scares some of them. She's not afraid of that. She has come to accept it and thinks it is good. She thinks it is much better that men redirect that primal force into sexual energy and creativity than vengeance or other destructive soothing mechanisms, like alcoholism or opiate addiction. She knows how persistent some of them can be, even subconsciously, to groom her for a sexual encounter, and she knows her weakness to that energy is primarily rooted in a need for validation of herself.
So, she chooses to take charge of her own body. To own it. To love it. To feel confident in her choices about what she does with it.
You can love it or hate it - it's no matter to her anymore.
She is hopeful that she has found her freedom at the inside of the onion.
She shuffles the oracle cards from Alaina Fairchild's Sacred Rebel deck, recommended to her by her Boudoir photographer friend, and one jumps out - Release The Dark Wound, Let Love Live, it says. Her Celtic Cross tarot spread reiterates the message. She is getting better at trusting her own voice, but she still asks and asks - am I on the right path? This feels right. I hope it is right.